Do mums have it easier now than ever before? Or is bringing up children always tough?
- Credit: Archant
There’s a reason there is a universal look among parents in those early weeks of having a baby. Sleepless nights and constant feeding demands means you operate on auto-pilot as your brain and body adjusts to monumental changes.
Yet a few weeks in, when the congratulatory balloons have deflated, and the cards have been taken down, the fog slowly lifts and you feel ready to face the world. But what to do with this tiny bundle of joy who can barely focus, still spends most of the day in the land of nod and can’t hold its head up?
Well, plenty actually. From baby yoga and massage to mum and baby salsa classes and cinema outings, the options for parents these days are endless. But today’s version of motherhood is a far cry from just a few generations ago when the woman was expected to stay at home, and her only social time inbetween chores was spent with the neighbours and their children.
A major research project called ‘The Changing Face of Motherhood’, undertaken by P&G in conjunction with the Social Issues Research Centre, revealed that the decades of 1930s and 1940s were the least preferable periods to be a mother.
Though the women of those eras would have felt so many similar emotions as we do now, from fear to isolation, there was less help available, fewer social activities and generally less understanding in society about what a hard role it can be.
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Whatever the generation, becoming a mother for the first time has its challenges. Naomi Gornall, 34, describes her experiences of being a new mum and talks to two other mothers from different eras to find out what life was like for them.
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Before you become a mum, write Naomia Gormal, mum to Maria, one, you hear all the stories about the highs and hardships to come but not many people mention boredom. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you’re too tired or busy to notice, but once you get the hang of things, you start to seek out more interesting things to do than just walks in the park and stops in coffee shops.
Once I emerged from the chaos of the newborn days after having my daughter, I began researching things to do in this county with a young baby and was reassured to find a whole host of activities.
I joined a weekly baby yoga class run by Lazy Daisy (a national chain that began in Ipswich), which proved to be a godsend in those first few months. It was a relaxed environment where I got to meet other mums, share stories on sleepless nights and had bonding time with my baby.
Free classes at the local children’s centres and a baby singing class at the library were also enjoyable additions to my week, which gave me some structure and routine.
I found it was nice to do stuff just for me too. I used to love regular trips to the cinema before becoming a mum. When you have a baby, it’s one of those pleasurable pastimes that you realise may be consigned to your former life. However at the Riverside Cinema in Woodbridge, they have mother and baby screenings (showing ‘non-children’ films). The lights are slightly up, the sound is down, and no one bats an eyelid if you need to feed baby or walk up and down the aisles rocking them to sleep.
Baby massage is also increasingly popular and there are classes (both free at the children’s centres, and private) held all over the county. I discovered a unique way to combine both a massage for me and my baby with a special treatment held at the SK Clinic in Bury St Edmunds where we both got massaged at the same time, on adjacent beds.
The friendly staff and dimly lit room meant I felt totally relaxed, while knowing that my daughter was just a foot away.
Life as a mum can still be difficult despite all the activities we are lucky enough to have access to nowadays, however I’m certain we have it a lot easier than my grandmother’s generation.
For Angie Gettings, the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) was her lifeline when she had her first child, giving her access to a whole network of mums.
Angie, from Kesgrave, had only lived in the area five years before her daughter, Laura, was born in 1992 so she was keen to meet others in the same position.
The 52-year-old, originally from Liverpool, says: “Initially I felt quite stuck at home and isolated. The people I knew were at work and I didn’t have any family locally.
“I became quickly involved with the NCT and found it really useful. I got to know lots of other mothers who were in the same predicament as me.
“We used to have coffee mornings and go to toddler groups. There was a yoga class I went to and I could bring my child along when she was quite young. I also did baby massage.”
Angie, who also had a son, James, two years later, says she and her husband, Nigel, made the decision that she would not to go back to work until the children were at school in order to devote time to them growing up, but admits there were difficult moments.
“Everyone I knew went back to work. It got to the point where I needed adult company. Once the network started though, there was always something to do and organise and so I got really involved in that,” she says.
“It is my opinion that people sometimes use the excuse that they wouldn’t be able to live unless the mum went back to work. You have to pick the standard of living you want. Some people aren’t prepared to give up things.”
Even though the amount on offer for mums to do was increasing when Angie first had children 22 years ago, she believes things have changed in today’s world.
Angie, who works as a learning support assistant worker at Suffolk New College, adds: “Things change so much and they keep changing. I still think time and love is the most important thing you can give your children and from what I can see lots of people do not give their time now. They give their money – but not always their time.”
1940s and 50s
Great-grandmother Peggy Burch, whose first child was born more than 50 years ago, says she would never dream of giving advice to her grandchildren about how to raise their kids as life is so different now.
Peggy and her husband Walter paid the Brook Street Nursing Home in Ipswich a hard-earned £20 when they had their son, Walter, in July, 1948. But as the National Health Service had just been launched a few days before, their money was refunded.
Despite the preconception by some that women back then ‘just got on with it’, Peggy, who lives in Ipswich, remembers it was tough.
The 88-year-old, originally from Naas in county Kildare in Ireland, first moved to Ipswich when she was 18 and had five children. She says: “I did not have a clue what to do with Walter when I first had him. I was scared.
“We used to go out for walks, visit family and went to the baby clinics.
“Mothers did not go to work generally so there were a lot of us around. It was more of a community feel than nowadays.
“We hardly had any toys for the children. They were scarce and expensive. At Christmas they got one large special toy.”
Peggy, who now has eight grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren, believes it is good that the mums of today have so much choice.
“Mothers now have more of a life than we did. In my day you stayed at home and looked after the children. You just accepted it.
“It is absolutely wonderful what you can do with children these days.
“I would never try to offer my grandchildren advice on raising their children. I say, ‘I know I’m old and know things but it doesn’t matter what generation a mother comes from, they always know what is best for their child.’
“I think the dads take more of an interest now and look after the children more.”
Although many of Peggy’s generation faced tremendous hardships, she thinks it is tougher for mothers today as some have to leave their children to go to work.
She adds: “I think the mothers have a harder life now. Some have to go back to work once the baby is 10 months old or even younger.
“I admire the young mothers these days. It’s hard on them to have to leave their babies. I would have hated to leave my babes at that age.”