Tribal Motherhood: The Day I Realised I am a Wanker Mum


Organic Camper Van Mum Tribe: Fully Paid Member

The playground is the most tribal place I have ever been, and I’m not talking about the children. The first time you enter a school yard as an adult, you may feel naked and small all over again just like you did as a child. Perhaps, like me, you will come over all foetal and experience flashbacks,  huddling up on a bench, hiding and snotting yourself into the nylon sleeve of a kindly dinner lady while Goliath-sized boys play football two inches from your face.

The thing we don’t anticipate about school when we become parents is that we have to learn, all over again, how to navigate the disorienting waters of playground politics, staffroom statesmanship and results-oriented hysteria. But here’s the thing; it is all much easier if you are part of a clique team. Therefore, all parents are advised to find a playground tribe. These are parents paddling the same kind of canoe in roughly the same direction on vaguely the same river as you.

After a few weeks in the playground, you will start to notice other parents who clearly drink the same amount of caffeine and who are in a similar state of disarray/grooming as you. This is the first sign that they may be a kindred soul. An affinity will develop. You will start to chat and find that you share the same thoughts on what time it is ok to have a V&T (7pm if you must know) and you will begin to rely on each other for support and practical help. Others will join and you will feel that you have found a kind of tribe bonded by shared experience, this journey with your children that lasts for years. It is only in retrospect you will learn that it is more akin to being on a submarine with a bunch of people who, like you, are ever-so-slightly doomed to never resurface. Nevertheless, if you find a parental tribe, however small, cling to them, cling to them like badly flipped pancakes on a suburban kitchen ceiling.

There is an assumed ‘tribe of motherhood’, but actually, there are so many variations, interpretations and individual experiences of bringing children into and up in the world, that giving birth in itself is not a unifying experience. Perhaps the huge disparity between mothering styles and expectations is one of the reasons we still command so little political power. Nowhere are the differences between us more apparent than the playground, the first place you see a lot of mothers in one place after the labour ward if, like me, you studiously avoided hell ‘mother/toddler’ groups.

Hovering near the limescale-ridden playground drinks fountain which acts as an equivalent of the water-cooler at work, you can get a sense of the extraordinary scope of mum tribes. Like a binocularless playground twitcher, you’ll catch sightings of No Stains Mums (aka. OCD mums), Rock n‘ Roll Mums (who miraculously still seem to go out in the evenings), Overly-Attached Mums (child wrapped around each leg, usually on the verge of tears), No Boundaries Mums (their children wrapped around other people’s legs, other people in tears), Organic Camper Van Mums  (weirdly calm – possibly on valium), Perpetually More Exhausted Than Anyone Else Mums (husbands do even less than yours),  On the Verge Mums (their volcanic anger festers like an abscess) and the scariest of all, The Four Mothers of the Apocalypse aka Judgmental Mums (these are the ones you bump into just as you give your child a blue ice cream as a bribe to stop them shouting “cock” at everyone).  You won’t even catch a glimpse of the Mysterious Mums except at the Christmas fair. Sighting of these mothers is rare; they’re like endangered and magnificent snow leopards. They not only work full-time, but are statistically likely to still be doing more housework than their partners.  The list of parent tribes is endless and this doesn’t even include the religious, gender-based and cultural subsets such as Freelance Meedyah Dads, Vicar Flirts and The Women of the Sad Eyes whose  private histories are hidden beneath their many skirts.

I thought I vacillated between the Camper Van and On the Verge tribes until one day,  I realised I am part of a whole other mummy tribe…

It was a beautiful autumn morning; a gorgeous low sun filtered through the trees of my local park where I was walking. The occasional horse chestnut descended into the leaves with a thud, cobwebs glistened, busy London squirrels made winter plans. A pregnant friend called me on my mobile. She was having a serious wobble about the huge life-change ahead of her. “I mean…” she sobbed down the phone. “I mean, I just can’t bear to become one of those middle-class wanker mums pushing their baby around the park in a Bugaboo wearing Birkenstocks, sipping lattes and spending all day pureeing organic vegetables. I mean… I just can’t bear it.”

“Er…no… that won’t happen to you, you’ll be fine,” I said reassuringly, looking down at my powder-blue Birkenstocks. I dropped my mobile back into my handbag which dangled off the handles of an orange Bugaboo, a monstrous four-wheel-drive type of pram that cost more than our car (it was a gift I might add).  I decided not to pop into Gail’s for a latte after all. Instead, I pulled an organic apple from my ‘I Love Kensal Rise’ reusable shopping bag and crunched into it ruefully. So that’s it, I thought, I am a Wanker Mum.


31 thoughts on “Tribal Motherhood: The Day I Realised I am a Wanker Mum

  1. So funny!!! I love this.
    Don’t worry, we are all ‘wanker mums’ in our own little way! I also wear Birkies and had a Bugaboo (handed down I have to add).
    I am sure, in the eyes of your kids, you are most important of all…
    The BEST Mum

  2. Well you know I love this article!!’

    Overworked , exhausted trying ti be a rocknroll, working, camper van , queens park individual yet sensitive to all tribe… Naive… Mum Xxxx

  3. Personally I am chief tribeswomen of Slummy Mummy, today my children have mostly brought themselves up.

  4. Oh this made me laugh – I’m going to enjoy sitting in the playground trying to see who’s who now (does that make me a Judgemental?) – not sure which I fit into, somewhere between Camper Van, On the Verge and Religious I expect 😀

  5. i loved this! so great to see the different categories of moms. i am sure i know at least one of each. you hit the nail on the head. regretfully, i think i am a combo of the perpetually exhausted moms and rock and roll moms (i go out to relieve the stress of doing so darn much!)
    but, i too am a bit calm (in some people’s eyes)….and a bit “no stains” too!
    well…thanks. this gave me a good chuckle!

  6. Brilliant post – so true. I’m part wanker (no bugaboo), part mysterious (only work part time), part on the verge (when tired/hungover) and part rock & roll (if going out for book club counts).

  7. This was really, seriously funny. And true and brilliantly acerbic. First smile of the day. And ‘wanker’ in the title got me. I must start putting that into my blog posts. Sophie

  8. I’ve never read your blog before, but I must say you are a very good writer… you wanker. A very funny piece.

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  10. OMG – I’m a freak, I don’t fit into any of the categories you just mentioned. I pine for a campervan, but just know that even if I could afford one I would no doubt reverse it into a bollard at ASDA – not even M&S, which is somewhere I visit when I need to impress the in-laws with ‘Parsnips soaked in asses milk, tossed in pomegranite syrup and slow roasted over a cub scout bonfire’, just to prove I can go to work all week then do a magnificent Sunday roast at the same time as a spot of gardening.

    I never even had a buggy that evoked the smallest amount of envy, it was a Mamas and Papas for God’s sake, and tartan to boot! Don’t people who have Campervans surf? I can’t even go down the baby slide at the local pool. What about PTA mum? you didn’t even mention her, the woman you know without asking has an ‘ology’ in something creative, whose husband earns such a ridiculous amount of money it would surely insult his manhood to even think of returning to work after Zion has started reception. The woman who makes it her life long ambition to make more money out of ‘Mother’s Day ‘ bouquets made out of bog roll than any of her predecessors.

    No, I probably sit firmly in the camp of of another tribe you haven’t mentioned, ‘Happy-Pill addicted red wine swigging, only iron the bits you can see, you need WHAT by Monday? well go an live with Charlotte’s mum if she is so damned cool, single mum! You can recognise members of this tribe by their unkempt appearance, quite often talking to them selves on their way to Asda.

  11. So insightful! Made me laugh out loud. I wonder if I will brush my hair before the school run today? Must remember not to shout “cock” when we collect our son to go off for the weekend in our camper van! Almost all of those types I can relate to, sadly the rock and roll type remains elusive to me!

  12. Oh god. I have just recognised myself. I am a judgemental x no stains hybrid, with a touch of on the verge and a good measure of gimmick mum. That is to say, I must have the best of everything, brand new and kept spotlessly clean, and cannot possibly understand people who allow their children to eat in the car or buggy…or who don’t have a clean school uniform everyday and as for husbands, nobodies, but nobodies works longer hours or more weekends than mine. I really want to be organic camper van x rock n roll. Isn’t happening, is it?

  13. Brilliant post Sara. Weirdly, my friend Rhonda posted this on Facebook saying that when she was reading it she thought of me. I told her you are my soul sister and I certainly join you in being a Wanker Mum. I also like that you say maybe the reason we aren’t ruling the world is that we all approach motherhood so differently. And why would we want to be uniform, and why would we want to rule the world when we have so many other things to do (ie be Wanker Mums, while drinking lattes and writing novels or excellent blogs like yours, not to mention all those stimulating chats we have while supping G&T) When are we going to meet, Sara? We have so much to talk about! xxx

  14. Brilliant made me laugh out loud. I’m at a reception school kids party this aft and am still worried about which tribe mums will be there today!! I’m firmly fitting in the wanker mum tribe…may see if anyone wants to join me! Thanks for making me feel a bit better!

  15. This is so funny because it’s so true. I avoid the playground at all costs and put the kids on the bus.

  16. Mine are now at secondary school but I still recognise all those types! Pissed myself laughing at ‘Women of the Sad Eyes whose private histories are hidden beneath their many skirts.” And all the dads were freelance meedyah Dads. I was somewhere between campervan mum and wanker mum – only too skint to be a proper wanker mum. Keep up the good work. I need a tribe name for the Scary Clique Mums who despite seeing them every day and smiling at them for 8 years, refused to ever acknowledge my presence…..

  17. I particularly enjoyed the bit about giving blue ice cream to stop the child shouting “cock” really loudly. I AM that mother with the autistic child who can distract said child with blue ice cream from any number of socially embarrassing gaffes.
    Fabulous posting.

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  19. A brilliant post. Scary Clique Mums i can imagine only too well. My daughter is 3 and \i can imagine being TERRIFIED dropping her at the school gates (for me and for her). Ohsoweary…a fellow single mum i chuckled at your observations. Fabulous. Pill Addicted Single Mums unite (at the school gate!). ENjoyed reading this. Thanks

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