The #motherhoodchallenge: smug or just a bit of fun?

There's nothing wrong with finding joy in motherhood.
There's nothing wrong with finding joy in motherhood. Photo: Tara Moore

Have you seen the latest viral Facebook trend, the #motherhoodchallenge?  Mums are asked to post five photos that make them "proud to be a mum." They then nominate other women to participate, tagging Facebook friends they think are "great mums" to share their motherhood moments.

Sounds harmless, doesn't it?  Sure, like many Facebook trends that have infiltrated our feeds over the years (remember when everyone posted their celeb doppelgangers as their profile picture?), it isn't for everyone. Tagged and don't want to participate? It wouldn't be the first time, I'm sure. And it won't be the last.

And yet this "challenge" has been particularly polarising. In a piece entitled "Facebook's motherhood challenge makes me want to punch my computer screen", Flic Everett writes: "It's not the casual posting of photos aimed at friends that I mind. It's the revived fetishisation of motherhood, the idea that it's a 'challenge' that only 'mummies' can understand, an exclusive, excluding club of laughing, shiny, breastfeeding super-beings who know exactly how to raise 'great kids' and will only invite others of their kind to join the party."

Everett takes issue with the fact that the trend is even labelled a "challenge", and queries whether it's about women proving what a great mother they are, or to challenge their friends to prove it, too. She also questions the motivation behind it, writing, "There's a world of difference between happiness and smugness" – making the assumption that women who choose to participate in this trend are inherently "smug" for doing so.

But is that really a fair assessment? Smug isn't the first word that comes to mind when I see these posts. In fact, some have even been self-deprecating, funny and candid. And certainly not just made up of "laughing, shiny, breastfeeding super-beings".

Comedian Ellie Taylor had her own take on the trend, posting to her Facebook page: "Non-Motherhood Challenge: I was nominated by myself to post five pictures that make me happy to be a non-mother. Such special memories." She is depicted napping while clutching a bottle of red wine. The post has now received over 100k likes and support from both mothers and non-mothers alike in the comments.

Fellow comedian Vikki Stone also took the #motherhoodchallenge, choosing to post a series of pictures of herself with her dog. And others followed suit, sharing photos of their own furbabies to Facebook.


I was nominated for the #motherhoodchallenge. Here are my favourite photos of what it means to be a mother.

Posted by Vikki Stone on  Monday, February 1, 2016

In some ways, the idea of a motherhood "challenge" will always be fraught, especially ones temporarily flooding our newsfeed with smiling faces and happy families. For many of us, our Facebook friends include women who have lost children, women who have suffered miscarriages, and women who desperately want kids and, for various reasons, are unable to have them.

And yet, just this week, Facebook has been full of pictures of children dressed for their first day of school, proud parents chronicling this milestone, like our own parents did before us. It's just done in a public forum now.

For many women though, motherhood isn't a smooth journey either. It is a challenge. There are mothers in my circle battling cancer, juggling chemo and daycare runs. Some are suffering from crippling mental health issues. Others are parenting through grief and loss. If posting pictures of their kids as part of this challenge, sharing something that gives them joy and makes them feel pride, then who are we to judge? Frankly, we can always do with a little more joy.

Social media makes it easier for us to tell the truth about motherhood. Yes, we still see smiling faces and Huggies moments, but increasingly, we're vocalising the struggles, too. A friend on Facebook who has four boys under four (two of them newborn twins) posted a photo of herself this week, twin in each arm, her older boys beside her, in a moment that was so funny and gorgeous in its utter chaos. And bloggers like Constance Hall are keeping it real, too. And, in doing so, encouraging other mothers to do the same.

We're getting better at presenting motherhood in its entirety: the good, the bad and the messy.  A "challenge" such as this doesn't take away from that, or perpetuate the myth that it's all sunshine and unicorns. It's just one aspect of a bigger picture, a highlights reel. And sometimes, that's okay too.

So, participate, or don't participate. Or just keep scrolling.  All are completely acceptable responses to this latest trend.

One thing though – where are the dads? Maybe the next viral "challenge" around parenthood could include them too.