Jane Bradley: The trouble with the Facebook Motherhood Challenge

Ironically social media can leave some people feeling very alone, especially  for first-time parents who are struggling with their little bundles of joy
Ironically social media can leave some people feeling very alone, especially for first-time parents who are struggling with their little bundles of joy
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The ‘Motherhood Challenge’ is the latest social media trend that feels just a little bit too exclusive, writes Jane Bradley

I am not a person who is keen on challenges. Formal ones, at least. Couch to 5k? No thanks. If I want to go for a run, I will run. Or more likely, I probably won’t.

Give up booze for a month? Why? I’d prefer to drink moderately year round. Yet every time I log into social media, I face a new challenge.

First there was the no make-up selfie challenge, then the ice bucket challenge. I suppose at least those had a fundraising element.

Almost every day, there are the incessant “I know which of my friends will post this and which won’t bother” passive aggressive “raising awareness” challenges.

Now, just days after Way Back When Week, when our Facebook feeds were flooded with pictures of small children from the 1970s and 1980s, yet another so-called challenge has popped its ugly head over the parapet.

“The Motherhood Challenge”. Even the name alone, reminiscient of its smug cousin, the word “mumpreneur”, makes me shiver in horror.

Motherhood is already enough of a challenge in itself, is it not? What is more, the decision by the mysterious founders of the challenge to confine this to the female of the species just highlights everything that is wrong with feminism today.

Like most Facebook trends, it is unclear where this idea has come from, but it has spread like wildfire, splattering itself across our news feeds on a daily basis like a pot of exploded soup inside a microwave.

It goes along the following lines: “I was nominated to post five (or three, or six) pictures which make me proud to be a mother. I am tagging ten people that (sic) I think are excellent Mother’s...” (sic again). Why these memes have to be grammatically incorrect – and why no-one who reposts them has the nouse to correct such a glaring error - is beyond me.

Post six pictures? Not really much of a challenge, considering that most parents, myself included, have enough cute pictures of their offspring to fill a thousand albums.

Yes, it is quite easy and, dare I say it, unchallenging, to do something which most of us do anyway, albeit in not quite such an organised way.

Perhaps I am a cynic. It is nice that people are proud parents. I am myself a proud parent. But I cannot bring myself to take part in this “challenge”. For, while the vast majority of those taking part are inevitably doing so with the most positive and upbeat of intentions, this trend no doubt has had others ready to chuck their iPads through the nearest window. For those who are unable to have children but so desperately want to, it must be excruciating to have their friends’s and acquaintances’s success in that department paraded in front of them like some kind of major achievement.

It differs from spontaneous cute child pictures on Facebook in its overt clubiness – only those who are tagged can take part. Only mummies (and that word itself sends shivers down my spine) can understand what this show of parental pride is all about.

We are a club of amazing mummies, it says. We have procreated and look what a good job we are doing. Of course, few will mean it to sound like that, but for the childless or even some of the parents among us, it can feel like something of a jibe.

Are the smiles of the children in that large family just that bit wider than that of my only child because they have constant same-age company?

Is my daughter spending as much time outside as those friends who live in the countryside and seem to pass their days in an Enid Blyton-style haze of tree climbing, den building and hiking?

They may only be fleeting thoughts, but they undoubtedly add to the burden of parental guilt which we all carry around.

I hate to think about how I would have felt if this challenge had taken place when my daughter - now three - was a newborn and we were struggling first-time parents. There is an enormous amount of pressure piled upon new parents - with the vast majority of it coming from social media.

That person is still breastfeeding; that one only feeds their child organic food. That one is going back to work part time - or not at all.

What the Motherhood Challenge pictures don’t show is the newborn-stage three o’clock in the morning times when the baby is in tears, the parents are in tears and everyone is wondering just why they gave up their comfortable lives for this newfound hell.

Even the self deprecating, humerous shots, the angry looking toddler throwing a tantrum, the baby chucking a bowl of food on the floor in red-faced rage - they are all seen through the filter of hindsight.

Those laid-back old-hand parents might laugh about it now, but when that was the 15th vegetable puree to be made and rejected that day, or everyone was looking at them as their two-year-old lay prostrate on the floor of John Lewis, they probably weren’t in quite such a chipper state of mind.

Those currently going through it feel alone - very alone, driven, ironically, by social media. But we don’t post the pictures which show the flip side to this apparent utopia.

What is more, parenthood is already a club, one which this “tag your friends who you think are excellent mothers” is just reinforcing and making even more exclusive. What about if you have a friend who is a terrible mother? Do you tag them, do you not? Should the fact that only my best friend has tagged me in this so-called challenge make me question what everyone else thinks about my parenting abilities? I hope not, but you never know.

Even within that parenthood club, there is a desire to form subsets: for mothers and to a lesser extent, fathers, to find people even more like them.

One old school friend announced her third pregnancy on social media a few weeks ago. Within minutes, people were already keen to embrace her into an even more exclusive group.

“Welcome to being in the mum-of-three club!” proclaimed one commenter.

“Having three is the BEST!” announced another.

Others are always ready to praise up-the-duff acquaintances for following the identical path to them: “Having all boys rocks!” one comment I saw insisted. “Who would want to have a load of whingy girls as children?”

Parenting seems to bring out in people the strongest need to group, to form clans and networks, in a constant round of self affirmation. Perhaps from a caveman point of view, this is natural: mother hen forming a protective network around her chicks.

In the modern-day world of social media, however, it feels somewhat exclusive.