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Motherhood Challenge: Smug, insensitive or a bit of fun?

Baby sucking fingers

It has been accused of being smug, insensitive, even "fetishising" motherhood. Or is the Facebook Motherhood Challenge just a bit of harmless fun and a chance to give fellow mums a pat on the back?

In recent days, Facebook has been awash with toothy grins, yoghurt-smeared cheeks and dozing newborns as mums take up the latest viral "challenge".

In a similar vein to the Ice Bucket Challenge and the No make-up selfie, they post a series of pictures that make them "proud to be mum" and then nominate other "great mothers".

But unlike the previous challenges, there is no charity to benefit nor awareness to raise - other than, you might argue, giving the mothers' esteem a boost.

Beth Watts, three weeks away from having her third child, had been having a long, stressful day with her daughters when she was nominated by her sister-in-law.

"I always think it's nice when mums tell each other they are doing a good job," she says, adding that digging out pictures of her girls at the theatre and decorating cupcakes reminded her they weren't "horrible all the time".

The challenge is "just a laugh", she says, and she is annoyed that people have got "on their high horse about it".

Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption Stars of Facebook - children are being celebrated in the latest challenge to go viral

'Too busy bonding'

It has certainly riled users of the Mumsnet parenting website, who share their views in sometimes strongly worded language.

"I don't mind the charity ones but it's these other pointless ones that turn my feed into a sea of monotony," objects MrsOlaf78.

Another Mumsnetter - MrsTerryPratchett - wonders how other mothers have time to complete the challenge.

"I would post: I'm far too busy bonding with my DC [dear children] over homemade crafts, trips to the beach and cuddles to do this. If you have time, you are clearly neglecting yours," she writes.

Others, like Honeyroar, find it particularly hard to stomach. "As someone who wanted, but couldn't have children, I'm finding it as bad as Mother's Day for making me feel crap," she says.

The obvious solution, suggest many, is to ignore, avoid or "unfollow". But could there be another way?

Image copyright Rosey Wren
Image caption Rosey Wren posted this of her when she was 36 weeks' pregnant with her third child and on medication for depression

Honesty

Mother-of-three Rosey Wren, 27, who suffered ante-natal and post-natal depression, says she wants to see a bit more honesty on social media.

"All these pictures of children are saying: 'Aren't I doing really well'. Whether you post lots of photos on Facebook or not, does not make you a better mum," she told BBC News.

"When you have depression, it's really hard to see you are doing a good job. Nobody's perfect but we are all good enough."

As a counter to the glossy family snapshots, Rosey posted a picture of herself when she was 36 weeks into a pregnancy she hated and taking medication for depression.

Next to it, she wrote: "Just because you see smiles and happy statuses on Facebook, doesn't mean they truly reflect how hard that mum is fighting just to get through each day."

Breakdown

Berenice Smith, 45, from Cambridge, describes herself as childless through circumstances rather than choice.

"If you have a campaign or challenge, it should be inclusive - this is dividing women again. As soon as you put in the word 'mother', you are alienating one in five women," she said.

The designer, who founded the website Walk in Our Shoes to give a voice to men and women who are childless without choice, said people had been "devastated" by the challenge.

One woman came close to a breakdown when a group of her friends with children were tagging one and other, but not her, she said.

Wine bottle

In typical social media style, people are coming up with their own ideas for challenges.

Blogger Scary Mommy reckons a more "real" version would be to nominate three mum friends to admit they had no idea of their bra size any more or to post pictures of the spot in the house where they hide to "rage-cry".

Comedian Ellie Taylor invented the "Non-Motherhood Challenge" and posted five pictures of herself asleep, hugging a bottle of wine. The post got more than 100,000 "likes" in two days.

Image copyright Ellie Taylor

She says she finds the original challenge neither smug nor insensitive to women without children.

"Motherhood is hard, of course it is, so is it bad for women to reflect on the bits that make the birth, vomit and colic worthwhile? Of course not," she told BBC News, using some strong language.

"Seeing my sister and friends become the extraordinary mothers they are is a privilege. They are brilliant. Sometimes verging on saintly.

"But then I remember I can sleep for 12 hours and don't have to wipe another human's arse today. That feels pretty saintly too."

Image copyright Flickr, Getty
Image caption Challenges should be inclusive, says Berenice Smith, like the Ice Bucket Challenge that raised money for a health charity

'Exclusive club'

For the Guardian's Flic Everett, mother of one, the issue is a wider one.

She argues it is not the casual posting of photos aimed at friends that she minds, it is the "revived fetishisation of motherhood".

"The idea that it's a 'challenge' that only 'mummies' can understand, an exclusive, excluding club of laughing, shiny, breast-feeding super-beings who know exactly how to raise 'great kids' and will only invite others of their kind to join the party," she writes.

"If anyone's judging you as a mother, it should be your children - and nobody else."

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