Roisin Ingle


. . . on busy mums

Speaking as a busy mum of two . . . no, sorry, I just can’t finish that sentence. It’s one of modern life’s little catchphrases to which I am allergic. People become female parents and suddenly it’s all about “juggling” and being “on the go” and you can’t read an article about a woman who has a child or three without amazement being expressed at her achievements. My mother had eight children, raising them pretty much on her own but they didn’t make medals for motherhood then. Now there’s “play dates” and “hectic” schedules and “momversations”. Stop the Busy Mum Martyrdom Bus, I want to get off.

For a start, we were busy before the children came along. We were busy people. (Incredibly, a lot of people without children are busy too.) We had stuff to do, people to see, midnight oil to incinerate. It was a different kind of busy-ness, the kind that doesn’t involve in-depth consultations about when to ditch the pull-ups at night. And just because some of us are now busy with the business of being mothers doesn’t mean we want to be defined in that way. We are still busy with other stuff too. Busy reading, daydreaming, watching Borgen.

Busy with non-parenting business. And sometimes not so busy. Sometimes quite lazy actually. So a one-size-fits-all phrase like busy mum just doesn’t work.

Speaking as a busy mum of two . . . see, no, I can’t, it just sticks in my throat. Where are all the busy dads? They are everywhere, I know loads of them, but there aren’t “dad and child” supplements in newspapers. You don’t read interviews with chief executives saying that in addition to their super powerful job they have three children who keep them busy. Somehow, it’s not relevant when you are a male parent. Somehow, it’s only female parents who are never allowed to step away from their mothering role.

It’s not just me. To prove this I did a highly scientific survey and asked a friend, a busy mum of three (argh), who said: “Hearing ‘busy mum’ makes me want to reach for one of the assorted lightsabers littering the floor and club myself over the head. Ditto ‘soccer mom’ and any other mum/mom term used by adults to describe other adults.” She reckons there’s something reductive about being called “mum” by anyone who isn’t your child. It starts in the maternity hospital where “mum” becomes your de facto name.

Busy mums do exist, though. I met one before Christmas. Cathy Kieran got so busy being a mum that she set up a business of the same name selling stuff to help cope with all the busy-ness. She has a range of Busy Mum stationery, which includes a weekly planner and a family organiser. You can find it on The main illustration on the materials is an archetypal busy mum who has a teddy under one arm and is jiggling a pair of keys. She has a sensible haircut and a huge smile, the kind of smile that could be saying anything. Personally, I think she is saying in a small, scared voice: “Help!”

I told Cathy how I felt. How I wished she’d called her range of organising materials Busy Family or the less catchy Incompetent Parents Trying Their Best Muddling Through. And Cathy, because she’s a lovely person, patiently explained that while she understood where I was coming from, her market research found Busy Mum was a name people engaged with. And she left me with jolly coloured stationery, which I put on the sideboard forgetting about it until this week when I got a panic attack about all the parenting-related appointments that were looming. All those birthday parties and mid-term breaks and Easter holidays. I mean according to my schedule they get two weeks off Montessori school at Easter. Two! I’m nearly positive we didn’t get any holidays at Easter. We were just sent to pick up coal from passing lorries for larks. Happy days.

Anyway, as a busy (bleurgh) mum (ewww) I’ve been forced to fill out the family organiser so that the rest of the year now looks vaguely manageable. As a kind of rebellion I customised it with a photo of our family’s busy dad. (For continuity he has a smile that could be interpreted as a plea for respite care.) I also covered the planner with porridge and wine stains and put it in an impossible-to-find safe place because it’s going to end up that way in a week anyway and, speaking as a busy mum of two, it pays to be prepared.