I’d be fibbing if I said The Mumsnet thread hadn’t rocked my somewhat rainbow hued boat; or, at least temporarily punctured my Instagram-bubble of confidence in people’s kindness. I’d managed to learn from its well-hidden teaching with regards to a layperson’s understanding of all the garb surrounding #ad or #gifted and adjust my posts to ensure no one was left unclear as to whether money had changed hands, I’d been sent a freebie or if it required #Ipayforshittoo! I’d taken the constructive feedback and managed to move on to a more positive place, until the subtext of that thread was thrust back in my path amongst the comments on my instagram, similar to a mouthful-of-Weetabix sneeze coming your way – it was unexpected, a bit grainy and not wholly welcome.
It was a well-meaning comment on an average Instagram post; the image is irrelevant to this tome, but the comment, in part, tickled my goat again. It’s the perception that ALL “insta-mums” are “well-off/middle-class” and occasionally flouted as “elitist” that irks my tits.
I’ve reworded and rewritten this post to ensure I don’t sound like a complete privileged twat in trying to convey, what is to me, very important to me.
It keeps cropping up, particularly among the Instagram naysayers and those with a dim-view on the “insta-mum” phenomena. Perhaps it’s a sensitive point due to the pigeon holing and judgement of a whole swathe of women. White mothers showcasing their lives via social media in a bid to “out” motherhood as a bit of a hard slog to unite the masses and hashtag the arse out of #authenticmotherhood, may all “look the same” – but just like life in general, we’re not all the same – and within that swathe there’s a wealth of diversity to tap into.
But just because a few wankers happen to hold this view point, it doesn’t mean there’s not some truth to it – but is it the whole truth?! I’m advocate seeing even more diversity on those little pixelated squares, particularly in the parenting arena, but that doesn’t mean flagrant misjudgements can be banded around about the current selection.
I suppose this misjudgement (or is it a miscommunication on my part?) grinds my norks as it diminishes the struggle; my family’s financial struggles.
I’m hardly stepping into revelatory territory when I disclose that that square image (on Instagram) is only a highlight (or cherry-picked low-light) of someone’s day, it doesn’t inform you of the many other minutia of the 24 hours preceding that moment, or in fact, the carnage (be it physical or emotional) that lay out of shot. In the very same way depression, PND and grief don’t always look like what many expect – neither do financial struggles. Struggling doesn’t have greasy hair, snotty nosed kids, pallid skin, an ankle tag, discarded appliances in the garden and a staffie tugging on a chain; it lives in London suburbs, terraced houses and, in our case, a newly extended (thanks to a loan from my parents-in-law) ex-council house in Sussex.
To give it some perspective, we’re far from the 21% living in poverty within the UK1; similarly, we are not what is considered comfortable – in fact, some months can become quite uncomfortable. I guess, we’re what Tessa May might label the “just about managing” or the hip-titled “JAMs”; we have jobs, live month to month, struggling to save for that new patio, along six million other UK households2.
From the outside I can see why I may be pigeon-holed –
- 5 kids in clean clothes
- posh accent (thanks mum for slogging your guts out to send me to the posh school!) and a penchant for showing off big words.
- we live near ‘swanky’ Brighton
- we both work
- two cars
- semi-detached, 4-bed, newly extended and refurbished house
The reality (which I’ve never hidden) –
- Our recent extension was funded by loans (predominantly from amazing relatives) and thanks to a lot of research looks modern/on-trend and bloody fab thanks to Ebay, shopping around and carboot sales. It was essentially done on the cheap. There are parts of the house completely unfinished and due to lack of money, won’t be finished in the next few years. But we all need goals, right?!
- We haven’t been on a family holiday that hasn’t been gifted as we can’t afford to – it’s amazing that I’ve created this ‘ere blog so companies are willing to quite literally give us a break.
- Although I now have the job of my dreams and work part-time (while also blogging and all that entails!), only 5 years ago I was a single mum on benefits, then a cleaner and ironing lady. In fact, I would have been better off staying on benefits (financially) but didn’t see that as a long-term solution.
- Our two cars are both over 10 years old and collectively worth about £500!
- We shop in Lidl, Aldi and Asda – not out of choice, but they’re the cheapest. I sometimes treat myself to a few bits in Waitrose!
So, the comment of “it’d just be really great to see a normal, not well-off mum on here!” is blinkered, as you’re looking at one! Coo-eeee!! Our family is part of the whopping 60% of households that consider themselves JAMs, and some months we join the 44% of those JAMs who admit to regularly running out of money before the end of the month3.
So why am I bringing this up? Why am I running the risk of sounding like a privileged knob-clanger “insta-mum” sitting in her cosy house, with 2 jobs, bemoaning being labelled as “well-off”? It comes back to the cheesy cliché that is blogging, and those bloody little squares on the gram – it’s about people knowing they’re not alone! Sure, I’ve related to a lot of parenting chat over the years and appreciated the solidarity of motherhood; realised shared stories about depression, breastfeeding or a child struggling with behavioural issues have had the power to make even a dark day brighter just knowing you’re not the only one crying about this shit. But for me, one of the most powerful shares by the likes of Mother Pukka or Clemmie Telford are the financial ones – the sharing of a declined card or having no money – it’s not shameful, and by the looks of the statistics it’s more common than you might think! Talking about money, especially the lack of it, can be embarrassing but it shouldn’t be taboo.
There are so many great stories of motherhood to be shared and listened to, diminishing the importance of any one of those stories and the background of that story is like closing our eyes to the multifaceted beauty that is parenthood. We urge our children to listen, understand, question and be compassionate – we should all give it a whirl!
- Data from The New Policy Institute via The Joseph Rowntree Foundation – Monitoring poverty and social exclusion 2016 (MPSE).
- According to research from Resolution Foundation think tank.
- From a 2016 survey of 1000 UK households with children by comparison site Money.co.uk