'Phoney Love' (cropped) by Michael Leunig in The Age/Sydney Morning Herald

Emily Writes: Enough with treating mothers as punchlines and punching bags

Parents editor Emily Writes on everything wrong with Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig’s latest work on motherhood.

Two of the most beautiful and profound friendships I have had in motherhood were conceived in similar ways.

When my son would not stop crying, I developed a habit of walking up and down our steep street. I was so exhausted in those days my hands would shake. I walked past a bus stop where a mother was sitting, weeping quietly. She had her pram too. She was pushing it back and forth as her baby screamed inside.

We sat down together and she started to talk about her incredibly ill foster baby who could not be comforted due to their high health needs. Her baby had come into her life with almost no warning and was suffering withdrawal symptoms from having a very ill mother who could not care for them due to her addiction. She had stepped in; it had been exhausting in incomprehensible, tragic ways.

Another friend admitted to me a year after we had met that she first saw me on “her” crying chair at the park. It was the chair that looked directly at the big slide. When you are so exhausted your vision gets blurry, you can sit on that chair and cry and have privacy while also being able to see your child go up and down the slide, sometimes for hours.

I look back on those days and sometimes all I can remember is the pram and the walking and the feeling like I’m drowning. But I got through it with a supportive community of mothers, some anti-anxiety medication, and a wonderful kindergarten.

Those two friendships and others kept me going – other mothers who so understood the exhaustion, the acceptance and surrender to motherhood not being as you thought it might be due to serious illness or isolation.

So when I first saw Michael Leunig’s cartoon published in Australia’s The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, my reaction was snarky. I’m just fucking sick of men doing this. I’m sick of them treating new mums as punching bags. I’m sick of other mums defending these pigs doing it because they think he might decide they’re good – as if there’s some kind of reward in some misogynist garbage comic with small man syndrome thinking they’re virtuous mothers.

I’m exhausted by other things now despite still having to wake every two hours due to a new diagnosis for my son. I’m not that bone-tired ‘wish I’d have a car accident so I could rest for a few hours’ kind of sleep-deprived anymore. Instead, I’m just fucking tired of men who spend their days piling shit on tired mothers.

I’m sick and tired of their shit about daycare.

I’m sick and tired of their shit about mums with tattoos.

I’m sick and tired of their shit about mothers who protect their children and other children from preventable disease.

I’m sick and tired of their shit about mums looking at their phones.

I’m sick and tired of their shit about helicopter parents.

I’m sick and tired of their shit about mothers these days.

I don’t know how many times I need to say this: suicide is the leading cause of maternal death in our country. The leading cause.

In a 2015 survey on New Mothers’ Mental Health, it found that 14% of respondents met the criteria for EPDS-PND (postnatal depression). Respondents who met the criteria for EPDS-PND were more likely to give responses that indicated greater life difficulties, lower coping self-efficacy, lower social connectedness, more isolation, lower whānau wellbeing, and lower life satisfaction.

“Lower social connectedness”

“Isolation”

We hear this every single fucking day, and it’s like screaming into a void. Because apparently, it’s just so fun to label mothers these days as caring more about their phones than their kids.

It’s not about this comic, or at least it’s not just about this comic. It’s about how many people just don’t give a fuck.

Do you know what I wish? I wish mothers were as loved as people love this fucking guy. I wish mothers were considered beautiful, deserving of support and care. I wish mothers were allowed to spend time on Instagram getting the social connection they need and deserve without judgement.

If only they could parent in the way that mothers have in the past been able to – in a way that is healthy for them and their child. In a way that allows them to be whole human beings who don’t need to tattoo their child’s faces on their inner fucking eyelids lest they miss ONE GOOD DAMN FUCKING CHERISHABLE SECOND OF THEIR CHILD’S LIFE.

Parenting these days is a minefield. Check your phone and you’re a monster. Express any fear or complaint and you’re a shit parent who should be grateful. Do it all, but not too much.

Don’t be angry. Don’t be sad. Don’t be over it. Be everything else but not that.

Be blissfully present every moment of every day.

I wish that mothers could be free from all of that. Instead, they have to contend with some fucking turd shaped human walking past them and rushing home to use his pen as a sword against them.

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Mummy wasn’t allowed interaction on Instagram.

Nobody saw her, they saw only her pram.

She struggled to live, unseen and alone.

If only, if only, she was allowed a phone.


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