x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

A baby is born and so is a mother

The day I gave birth to my child was the day I was born as a mother.

I enjoyed life as an independent career woman with no responsibilities. Then a few years ago a husband came along, but that made the enjoyment of life even sweeter, someone to share it with, a wider circle of friends, more and more interesting people and places to visit. But all that's about to change. I'm becoming a mum.

After spending the past nine months reading pregnancy guidebooks, I've moved on to manuals on how to be a good mother.

The thing is, I don't know what being a "good mother" actually means. In social, religious as well as modern terms motherhood is placed on a pedestal, with enormous pressure to live up to high standards. What if I fall off?

So now I ask myself: what flavour of mummy do I want to be?

The problem for the 21st-century mum-to-be is that there is no clear-cut answer.

Is the stay-at-home mum the best kind? Fifty years ago this was the only available option. Then one day mothers found that their children had flown the nest and suddenly they didn't know who they were or what life had to offer them. Today there is an additional problem that, increasingly, marriages break down, leaving stay-at-home mums with little financial or career options, and often with families to care for.

The stay-at-home mum is still considered the "best" kind of mother.

A mother who chooses to continue working - even if it's out of financial necessity - is second best. And what of someone like me, who has worked for many years: isn't it natural that any total change of lifestyle might come as a shock to the system? An almost overnight switch from career woman to full-time child care is a huge life change.

Of course, I could opt for the more modern and more glamorous Yummy Mummy option. This is a woman who takes good care of her family, but is just as careful of her appearance and looks luscious at all times. She's just as likely to be baking cupcakes with her little girls, as leaving them with Dad to go have a manicure and pedicure. But again, isn't that too much pressure? Why should the wonders of motherhood have to be squeezed into the modern expectations that women must look fabulous all the time?

Of course I could try to do it all and be a supermum. But I worry that might instill an impossible-to-achieve aspiration for perfection in my children.

Or I could swing to the opposite extreme of chilled-out '60s hippy mum, home-school the kids and offer a holistic childhood experience - but then I worry they will miss out on opportunities they will need to get ahead in later life.

It occurs to me that I am worrying too much about what kind of mum I will be. What I am told in anecdotal advice is that the best kind of mums just "go with the flow".

The public and the media rarely offer this option to women. Instead, they try to prescribe what motherhood means and set standards that, even as I begin this new part of my life, already seem impossible to attain.

But I refuse to be set up to fail just as I've begun.

Instead, the day my baby was born was the day I was born as a mother. And between the two of us, we'll find out in our own good time what kind of mother I will be.


Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and writes a blog at www.spirit21.co.uk