Mother, Not 'Other'

I'm often asked to write, or give talks at conferences or on cider-soaked park benches, about women and work. Women who write, women in business, women going back to work after having a baby, women deciding not to go back to work after having a baby, juggling motherhood and work, the work-life imbalance and so on.

I'm often asked to write, or give talks at conferences or on cider-soaked park benches, about women and work.

Women who write, women in business, women going back to work after having a baby, women deciding not to go back to work after having a baby, juggling motherhood and work, the work-life imbalance and so on.

And so it was that I recently took part in a panel session about blogging, and specifically about blogging and its effect on self-esteem and confidence, at the UK's biggest conference for mothers who blog - the Mumsnet Blogfest.

This annual chat-a-thon brings together hundreds of women who blog about everything and anything from cupcakes to corporate deals, breastfeeding to business ventures, divorce to something-else-that-starts-with-D, to absorb vast quantities of caffeine, sugar and inspiration, and share experiences, tips and toddler-germs.

Key to surviving these events is to find some alcohol, and my nose honed in on the mulled wine stall within seconds. Armed with hot booze, I started to weave my way through the oestrogen haze, walking up to random, coffee-clutching bloggers, and asking them the question that seemed most relevant on the day, and indeed the ONE question that everyone present should expect, and want, to be asked:

"Hi. So, what do you blog about?"

I am hoping for a reply that sounds interesting enough for me to want to read it.

Instead, what I get time and time again, is this:

"Oh.....hahaha, well, ....ohhh, umm....I suppose just.....I'm not sure, really. It's...well, not really anything. It's just....things I think about, my life, my children, just stuff like that, I guess."


You came all the way here, paid for your ticket, your train fare, a hotel room and, by the looks of it, a new pair of shoes, to tell me...THAT?

And since when is 'things I think about, my life, my children' classed as 'not really anything'? It's everything!

This answer is the equivalent of saying: 'I feel of less importance in this world than a slug that's just been run over by a bus, and then dumped in a fresh dog turd.'

And then apologising for it.

Yet this is how millions of women portray themselves, their work and their interests and passions.

It's a reflection of how they FEEL about themselves.

And how they feel is clearly....almost non-existent.

These are intelligent, educated, interesting and interestED women; yet when you ask them what they do, they just...dissolve in front of your eyes.

Or look as if they wish they could.

I have almost never met a man who has described his work or himself with so little confidence or self-belief. And I've asked quite a few.

Even the ones whose jobs involve nothing of any interest or importance whatsoever and who spend most of their working days farting behind a desk while playing Forces of War and scratching their balls, manage to tell me this in such as way as to leave me thinking they are the CEO of the most innovative, shit-sizzling company in the world, have three Nobel prizes, a previous career as an astronaut, and a huge package between their legs, if you know what I mean, darlin'.

If I asked some women I met at the Blogfest what they do, and they actually WERE astronauts with three Nobel prizes, I would still leave thinking they spent all day looking at their feet and playing with string.

This catastrophic tendency to self-annihilate and play down to the point of making oneself invisible, is very often practiced by women.

And it gets several thousand times worse when we become mothers.

I shall let you into a secret here, as nobody ever tells you this in GCSE biology classes: when a sperm fertilizes an egg it also immediately short-circuits the link between your brain and your sense of self-worth.

BANG. Gone. And it can take a decade for a new fuse to be installed and get the system up and running again.

I remember a conversation I overheard a few years ago between two new mothers, both clearly educated and with previous lives on the career ladder.

Pushing a shiny new pram, and looking exhausted and emptied, one said to the other,

"So, what did you used to be?"

Not what did you used to DO. What did you used to BE.

The implication being, before you became...nothing.

They both looked at the ground, and shuffled on.

The loss of self-confidence and indeed just loss of SELF, when one becomes a mother is inexplicable to anyone who has never experienced it, and requires no explanation to those who have.

Formerly outgoing, strong, successful women can turn, almost overnight, into confidence sink-holes.

This, I firmly believe, is a direct reflection of our culture's image of motherhood, and how little it is valued and respected in our society.

Motherhood - that menial, unimportant task of raising the next generation to know not to spit on bus shelters, shit their pants and become decent enough citizens to look after each other, and us, and the world - is given less respect that downloading clips of cats wearing clip-on moustaches.

Most people would rather go into a room full of strangers are say 'I SCORED 10,000 POINTS ON CANDY CRUSH!' than, "I am a mother, and I'm raising my children well."

This makes me enormously sad. Sad for the women who feel so little sense of self-respect and self-worth that they can't hold their heads up, look me in the eye and tell me who they are and what they do.

Even if what they do is go to the park every day with their 2-year-old, sing nursery rhymes and wipe snot off a high-chair, that is a THING!

I know. I did exactly that Thing for ten years. And I'm very glad I did, because my children, so far, are not sociopathic arseholes.

This is a triumph of parenting, as far as I am concerned, and I should be offered a flipping DAMEHOOD, not be made to feel that this 10-year period of intensive educating and caring was in any way an embarrassing stop-gap between in my 'real' work.

I know exactly how it feels to have a low sense of self-worth - because I felt that way for years, when my children were young.

I was 'just a mother'.

An 'other.'

And it's why I started writing. To express the feelings I was experiencing as a new mother, and share them with others who I felt sure were feeling the same. And sure enough, thousands were.

And this is exactly why many mothers blog. Not because it's 'all they can do'. Because they enjoy it, and it helps them - and others.

(I had my children in the distant pre-social-media era, when cappuccinos hadn't yet hit these shores and foundation looked like creosote. Blogging was almost unheard of, so I plunged straight into writing a book. Quite how any of us survived is a miracle, really.)

Blogging can change your life. And other people's lives. It can make you feel worth something, and connected with other people who share your experiences. And this is not only good for YOU, because you feel better, but good for you children, for exactly the same reason.

'Happy mummy = happy child' isn't quite the full story, but it's a darned good start.

It's also worth remembering that your children will leave home one day, FAR sooner than you can imagine when you've just changed a nappy for the 200th time in a week, so it's a very good idea to hang on to your own sense of self, separate from your children, to have something to turn to when they sod off and only text you when they need more money.

So if you write a blog about your son's first tooth or a beautiful walk you went on today or how to negotiate the supermarket with a double buggy and not clear the entire bottom shelf with the rain cover, that only five people skim-read, be proud of it - or at the very least not ashamed of it.

And if you write a blog about miscarriage, or widowhood, or same-sex parenting, or WHATEVER, that people on the far side of the world read, and whose lives you have genuinely touched and helped - as was the case for many bloggers I met at the Blogfest - then you should be extremely proud of it!

You, and your ideas, are WORTH something. Something huge. Use your blog to develop your 'writing voice', and just write it clearly and confidently. Even if lots of other people don't agree with you - that's fine!

It's not about pleasing everyone; it's about being who you are.

An outwardly confident person is often just a person who fakes confidence well.

If you fake it for a while, eventually you can start to feel it. And then, even for fleeting moments, it becomes true. And the results, outwardly and inside yourself, are amazing.

Practice it in front of a mirror before you leave home, if you have to! Look at yourself in the eye, give yourself your own KICK-ASS elevator pitch.

(Best to do this when there's nobody else in the house. There's confident, and there's Ever-so-slightly Unhinged...)

And you go to Mumsnet Blogfest next year - I hope you will - and I come up to you and ask you what your blog is about, or what you do, stand tall, take a breath, remember that you ARE SOMETHING, look at me straight, and please tell me.

Tell me what you do. Tell me WHO YOU ARE.

And be proud of that person.

I really look forward to hearing it.

Liz Fraser's new book, Lifeshambles, a hilarious survival guide to Midlife, is available to order NOW.