Mummyland is the place you land around 3-4 months post baby, when you stick your head above the parapet and start to think about your mummy-life as something to live rather than something to just grit your teeth and stumble through.
It is NOT the same as parenthood – that’s a quite different place to negotiate. It is very much a ‘social scene’, and in Sheffield it’s particularly vibrant.
Possibly you already dipped your toes into Mummyland with pre-natal classes, which will stand you in good stead. NCT classes are a great way to meet other future Mums, giving you an instant set of new mummy mates. Then there are church playgroups, breastfeeding support sessions at various children’s centres, sing and story times at various libraries, and the plethora of baby-stimulating classes that provide an opportunity to meet a whole host of other Mummies.
There’s baby swimming, baby massage, baby yoga, baby sensory, sign language, foreign languages, baby cinema sessions, mums and babies exercise, sling surgeries, tots climbing (this IS Sheffield), tots sports, tots gymnastics, baby craft classes, even baby skydiving. (That last one may not be true).
For the most part your baby won’t give a crap about any of them until around 9 months of age. These classes are for you, make no bones about it. They help you get out of the house, get some semblance of your life back, and yes, meet some people who will be able to offer solidarity and sanity. Being a parent is hard – doing it in isolation is even harder.
I found classes something of a lifeline first time round, and possibly went slightly overboard with a rigorous timetable of activities which kept me out of the house for a good part of each day. Basically I didn’t know what the hell to do with the new baby, or how to play with it. Left to my own devices – desperately dangling stuffed animals in front of her face – I felt I was slowly going mad (or madder). I hadn’t had much to do with babies, and I needed other people to show me what to do – preferably without having to admit to my failings. To this day I often find it easier to be a good mother when we’re out and about.
Having support from other mums is incredibly important. Yet having said that, entering Mummyland is not something to be taken lightly! It is fraught with dangers, and breaking into it can actually be isolating in itself.
The first problem of Mummyland – other Mums
The first problem is of course that the only thing you will actually have in common with a lot of other Mummylanders is that you just so happened to pop out a bubba at approximately the same time. Yes that might give you a lot to talk about in the early days, but as the dust (and the baby) settles, you could find these relationships falter. So it’s important to choose wisely.
Fortunately I’m here to help you with a quick guide to some of the Mums you’ll meet on the Sheffield scene.
The Stepford Mum
Perfectly turned out and made up, probably back in her size 10s, sporting a super-organised designer change bag, with her baby dressed beautifully in trendy wee outfits. Don’t let any of this put you off! The Stepford Mums may be annoyingly perfect, but they’re often annoyingly NICE to boot. What’s more, by befriending them you’ll have instant access to supplies and snacks that you’ve inevitably forgotten.
Try and get yourself invited round to her hoovered and dusted house for a playdate, where your baby will engage in orderly messy play without further trashing your carpet, and you’ll get to eat home baked cakes. Yum. Eventually you may even discover a messy drawer or other proof that she’s a) human and b) a kindred spirit underneath.
The ‘IT’ Mum
Not to be confused with the Stepford Mum, the ‘IT’ Mums tend to swarm, and are basically the ‘popular crowd’ at your school or college, just a bit older and with babies. Possibly they already know each other from ante-natal or other classes, or even BC (before children) and they may have very little interest in expanding their social circle. They might have mellowed since the teen years, but equally there might be a subtle or even overt edge of competition – particularly over their little darling’s key milestones. You don’t need this shit.
Cliques will inevitably form in Mummyland – amongst all groups – although the ‘IT’ Mums are particularly quick to clump and close. But fact is you simply can’t make friends with everyone who had a baby in the same quarter year you did. If initial attempts at infiltration are rebuffed, give it up and move on.
The Second-time Mum
This Mum might not be that interested in expanding her circle either – but she’s not being rude – she’s probably just busy and rushing round while her Big Kid is in childcare. During my first time in Mummyland I very much got a ‘been there done that’ impression from the second (or third) time Mum. As a second time Mum visiting Mummyland again, I actually found that the first time mums were busy bonding over their new experiences, and I was too busy to join in on the new Mummy cafe culture. Swings and roundabouts.
This Mum could be a great source of info and advice (not in my case, but definitely in others!) so always keep your options open.
The Earth Mother
The Earth Mother doesn’t own a pram – she baby wears all the time, breastfeeds on demand, uses cloth nappies, epitomises attachment parenting, probably practices elimination communication (look it up), and might well be wearing comfortable shoes and personal piercings. She could be heavily made up or wearing no makeup at all. She is often an oasis of calm, and definitely someone you need in your life. She’s never as scary, evangelistic or ‘alternative’ as she looks. And some of the stuff she does with her baby could really work for your family too.
The Mumzilla does everything by the book (possibly even Gina Ford) and to a very tight schedule. There is a is a programme for the week’s activities, from which she will never deviate. She can never be anywhere between the hours of 1 o’clock and 3 o’clock, the Sacred Hour of the Nap. Needless to say her baby goes down perfectly in its cot, and sleeps through at night to boot – it says so on the schedule. She will organise your Mummyland group events and help you establish your version of a ‘routine’.
Not everyone you meet in Mummyland will be a bosom bow for all eternity. That’s okay. The Mumzilla may be someone you need in your life right now, and may or may not be there forever.
The Mumm-Ra is named after Mumm-Ra the Ever-Living from 80s cartoon Thundercats, but she is the Never-Sleeping and takes a similar Zombie-like form. You’ll be lucky if she’s washed, let alone brushed her hair, and she’ll be wearing random combinations of maternity clothes and her husband’s sports wear. The baby is never out of sleep suits, probably with mysterious stains, which also grace her shoulders and, inexplicably, her knees. On particularly bad days, she may have forgotten to put her boob away after the last feed. The bottle-feeding variety will have four old bottles in the change bag that have yet to make it to the sink back at her chaotic home.
She is also the only type of mother who will admit to being pissed off with the baby, and with motherhood in general, which will of course come as something of a relief. In short, she’s a keeper.
[These are of course caricatures, and very few people are 100% of any type. In the same vein, we’re probably all on the Mumm-Ra scale somewhere or when. Believe it or not if there’s one thing that becoming a parent has taught me, it’s not to judge as much. As the saying goes, I was a fantastic parent before I actually had kids. Whatever is getting you through the day, my friend, is fine by me. However you’re making it work, work it, baby].
Now you have your guide to some of the Mums you’ll meet in Mummyland, you’ve still got to actually engage with them without causing undue mayhem. That’s where I personally came a bit unstuck.
The second problem with Mummyland – YOU
The second problem in negotiating Mummyland, you see, is that this whole new world also comes with a whole new world of social anxiety. And you get to experience it when you are most sleep deprived and least mentally equipped. Yay! Certainly this was the case for me, a classic combination of the Mumm-Ra and the Mumzilla.
At one stage in my life, I think, I remember having social skills. I could talk to people, without them thinking I was weird. Sometimes people even used to like me! Or maybe I was imagining it. Probably, I was just pissed.
The thing is, if I say so myself, I am a MAGNIFICENT drunk. There is dancing on tables. Singing. Hugging. Some flashing. A lot of bad jokes. And everyone is my bestest friend. The trouble is, as I’ve got older (and my mornings have become considerably earlier and my hangovers considerably worse) alcohol doesn’t really agree with me anymore. And I’m therefore missing a massive social crutch, which has obviously been significantly lubricating my relationships since the age of around 16.
(I often think that some of my older friends must be surreptitiously checking their friendship contract, fearing they have been sold a false bill of goods. Because without alcohol it turns out that I’m not the super-happy life and soul of the party they met in the pub).
Sadly, it’s pretty much always tea rather than wine in Mummyland, and whatever social skills I ever DID have were obviously disposed of with the placenta.
Luckily though I’ve only been left with two major character flaws. Phew.
Not being quite enough
This can be broken down into various sub-categories, including but not limited to:
- Inappropriate mirroring
- Zoning out
- Inability to respond to normal conversational gambits or basic social cues
- Inability to multitask, and therefore unable to hold any sort of conversation at the same time as feeding/changing/comforting
- Neediness and neurosis – quietly
- Not being able to remember anyone’s name or their baby’s name
- A tendency to retreat into hermitage if overwhelmed
- Simply agreeing with stuff everyone says to fit in.
Being too much
Likewise, handily broken down into the following:
- Verbal diarrhoea
- Talking over people
- Premature oversharing
- Hyperbole for comedic effect
- Over familiarity
- Repetition. Repetition.
- Neediness and neurosis – loudly
- Exaggerated hand gestures, which can (and indeed have) caused accident or injury
- Expressing random opinions I don’t actually have to fit in.
I am, by the way, available for parties, weddings and bar mitzvahs if you’re short of a guest! Call me!
Basically, I spent quite a lot of time in Mummyland sticking out like a sore thumb – or feeling like I did.
The good news is that if you pick your Mummyland friends with suitable care, they will in fact overlook even the behaviour described above and help you pick your way through parenthood, Mummyland, and if necessary any personal demons or personality failings exposed by procreation.
Mummyland can help you meet people, and motherhood can actually help you form some very strong bonds. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some very wonderful women in Mummyland – from Mumm-Ras to Stepford Mums – who are now friends for life.
And if I can do it, so can you.
Good luck out there, soldier.
P.S. If you’re a Sheffield Mum looking for activities for you and your baby/small person, visit the lovely folks at Little Sheffield – www.littlesheffield.org.uk. Completely run by volunteers, with loads of great listings and ideas. Love ’em.