There are many reasons to envy mothers in the United Kingdom. They’re entitled to 39 weeks of paid maternity leave, have access to heavily subsidized child care, and are more likely to get paid equally to their male counterparts. Still, life’s not all a cup of tea for those mums across the pond. Over the past few weeks they’ve had to endure something called the Motherhood Challenge.
Here’s how it works: One mother nominates another mother to post three pictures that make her “happy to be a mother” or “proud to be a mum” and to tag other people she considers “great mothers” to do the same. Most of the Motherhood Challenge photos on Facebook are sweet and banal—the kinds of pictures parents share on social media even when they’re not taking a challenge. There are vacation shots, baby shots; sometimes dads even make the cut.
Still, there’s something off-putting about sharing these photos in the context of a “challenge” for “great mothers.” Flic Everett wrote a scathing critique of the Motherhood Challenge phenomenon for the Guardian, questioning whether its purpose “is to prove what a great mother you are, or merely to challenge your friends to prove that they are too.” Everett sees the challenge as yet another example of the simultaneous fetishization and diminishment of motherhood, a modern-day incarnation of the Victorian era’s “angel of the house.” Others are joining in the fray, questioning whether the challenge is insensitive to women who have lost children and struggled with infertility, and why there isn’t a challenge for fathers.
Non-mom comedian Ellie Taylor has chosen to protest in the medium of the challenge itself. She posted a series of photos on Facebook featuring her passed out in bed with a bottle of wine. “I was nominated by myself to post five pictures that make me happy to be a non-mother. Such special memories.”
While I personally don’t use Facebook to share happy parenting moments, I get why moms want to do it. Being a mom su-ucks sometimes; it can be thankless, exhausting, and can even make you worth less at the office. Sure, there are moms who use social media to idealize parenting, but there are also a good many who would just like to take a moment to share the good stuff. Posting the picture of the cute baby or the soccer game becomes a chance to stop and recognize what is gratifying about the whole endeavor.
The problem with the challenge isn’t the way it encourages moms to share the moments that make her “happy,” but the way it reinforces the idea that there is such a thing as a “great mother” and it is up to one’s peers to determine whether a woman is one. As I’ve written before, mothers would really benefit from less scrutiny and judgment, no matter how they fare. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be tagged as “great”—nor would I want to be not tagged at all. If a friend called me great it would make me feel as if they’d been studying me and my child and comparing us to others. That gives me the creeps. If nobody tagged me as a “great mother,” then I would wonder why I didn’t measure up. It’s kind of a lose-lose.
Facebook’s recently been doing some analysis on the way moms and dads interact with their service and they found that parents post more photos, videos, links, and status updates that non-parents. Also, “new parents’ posts about their babies receive 37 percent more interactions from relatives and 47 percent more interactions from friends than their general posts.” This suggests that parents don’t need the Motherhood Challenge to encourage them to share more on Facebook. Whatever benefits are to be gained from posting those happy moments are happening already—for the “great mothers” and the rest of us.
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