Why BBC Two’s Motherland may be the most perfect reflection on modern parenting
When I had my first child back in the noughties, the keyword for parenting was ‘yummy mummy’.
It was the mantra we all had to live by as soon as that baby came kicking and screaming out of our wombs.
We had How To Look Good Naked and What Not To Wear to show us how to dress (shapewear, statement jewellery and massive belts to cinch in our waists – natch).
Shows such as Little Angels and The House of Tiny Tearaways (which I loved – all hail Tanya Byron and her expert advice) helped us get our kids in order.
Jamie Oliver was on his school dinners campaign because we, as parents, definitely would never, ever by choice feed our children a turkey twizzler or similar shaped meat product. Ever.
Something you would never admit was that child rearing was a little bit difficult and children could slowly but surely drive you up the wall.
You would have been ostracised from the baby group.
Scroll forward a few years, and attitudes have shifted to the other end of the spectrum.
These days, we are a bit more honest and, if you were to admit that you enjoyed spending time with your children there would probably be a sharp intake of breath followed by an awkward silence.
Perhaps this is thanks to the rise of confessional parenting bloggers such as Slummy Single Mummy, Constance Hall and Hurrah For Gin.
Also, shapewear is usually bloody uncomfortable and most of us don’t have time to cook a meal from scratch every evening.
Riding the wave of this new style of honest parenting is the BBC 2 show Motherland – written by Father Ted’s Graham Linehan and Catastrophe’s Sharon Horgan.
Its opening moments are instantly recognisable to anyone who has juggled parenting with full time work.
An exasperated Julia, played by Anna Maxwell Martin, stands in the stairwell at work taking a call from a school receptionist about a missing swim kit.
‘I think we both know he’s going to be missing swimming,’ she tells the caller.
It’s the response we all wished we could give when we receive the inevitable call of doom from the school office.
Sadly, needing to spend years at the same school usually means we have to agree through gritted teeth to retrieve whatever it is we’ve forgotten or needs to be sorted.
It is no surprise that Horgan is behind this – anyone who has watched her show Catastrophe knows how she manages to find hilarity in the nuances of everyday life.
Whereas Catastrophe hilariously captured the minutiae of married life, Motherland does the same with parenting.
Among the boredom, tearing your hair out and repeating the same stock phrases again and again and again, child rearing is bloody hilarious.
Usually in an ‘if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry’ way or a ‘this will be funny when we look back on it’ way.
The moments the show picks out – children’s parties, the mums and dads you’re forced to encounter, the reluctance of time rich and money rich grandparents to give up their newly found freedom to look after the grandchildren – are recognisable.
But it is the more mundane moments it depicts which sets itself apart from other comedies about parenting – the scene where Julia and her children are crammed into a swimming pool changing room trying to dodge plasters and other gross bits on the floor was hilariously relatable.
As someone who breaks into a cold sweat at the thought of a child’s birthday party and found manning the bouncy castle at the school fete the most stressful moment of her life, it is a series of wonderfully observed moments.
Motherland does, however, rely on some trusty stereotypes – the alpha mums are there to make the others feel like they’re not doing good enough and dads are still a bit hopeless.
Don’t get me wrong, there are glammy mummies on the school playground but fortunately they are as exclusionary and self involved as Motherland’s Amanda (Lucy Punch).
And, not to be a traitor to my gender, but us mums are every bit as useless as dads at times. Perhaps we are better at hiding it.
This aside, it doesn’t rely on schmaltz, freakishly witty children or an over arching message about families always loving each other or whatever to underpin the humour.
Instead, it is a truthful glimpse into modern motherhood – we’re all frantically treading water while not really buying into the lie that we can ‘have it all’
Like looking into a mirror and seeing your own exhausted face looking back at you, Motherland is instantly recognisable to anyone who is working there way through the social minefield that is parenting.
Perhaps it should be handed to new parents fresh out of the delivery suite.