Madwomen or mothers of invention?

My eye alighted on this letter in last week’s Sunday Times, addressed to the Editor from Lynnea Shrief, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire:

“Your article “When mums go mad” (Style, last week) contained out-of-date information about me and my children. Furthermore, I understood it would be about my placenta encapsulation business, not about my mothering skills or preferences. It portrays me and other mothers like madwomen. But if everyone stayed average all the time, never questioned the norm and had a “go with the flow” attitude, methods in science, mothering, birth, schooling and so on would never improve and the human race would never evolve. I find it ridiculous how car makers and pharmaceutical companies get praised and awarded for coming up with new and innovative ideas and designs, or vaccines and drugs. Yet when a mother comes up with a different way of raising her children, she is criticised and made a mockery of.”

You can read the original article (if you subscribe to The Times online). Its title, “When mums go mad” should give you a clue to the tone taken by the journalist, and while it is fair to say that some of the approaches adopted by the mothers discussed in the article would not suit others, it is surely entirely wrong to condemn them out of hand. Our society is very quick to criticise those who do not conform; it is even quicker to lambast mothers, whatever their choices in parenting and mothering. Mothers are often caught in an impossible place in what they choose to do – open one of our tabloid newspapers and you will see them criticised for not remaining at home with their children; open another, and you will see them criticised for not bringing enough stimulation into the home by working.

Ms Shrief – who has also posted a long and revealing comment online about how she felt she and her family were treated by the journalist and photographer who visited her – feels, quite clearly, betrayed by those who interviewed her. Reading the article carefully, I can imagine very easily that the conversations reported were actually considerably longer and more balanced, and I can certainly see no evidence of neglect of children, or abuse; on the contrary, the mothers presented seem genuinely and honestly to be forging paths dedicated to doing the very best for their children. If this is so, then why are we criticising her, rather than holding her up as an example (one of many, many examples) of how to go about the very complex – and hugely important – task of parenting?

Whether you agree with Ms Shrief or not, she has the right to her opinions, and the right to be valued for her strong motivation to do the best for her family. She is also spot-on in her comment about progress: if everyone stayed the same, then the human race would indeed never evolve. Let us value diversity.


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