18 November 2006


As I was perusing Good Weekend in today's Age, I noticed the buzz word of the week was SMUM: smart, middle-class uninvolved mother

Seeing as I am always on the look out for linguistic nuances and interesting tid bits from pop culture I was intrigued to find that in addition to yummy mummy, slummy mummy and MILF, we now have a term for mums who think mum-ing is tedious, mindless and altogether boring..another means of categorising identities that are socially incompatible. The implication here is that women cannot maintain a pre-motherhood identity and that identity is not dynamic. As these terms are thrown around in pop culture, no one really focuses on the fact these they are not positive connotations; all of these buzz words are short for 'bad mother'. If SMUMS are too self-important to be involved, SCAMs (Smart, Child-Centered, Active Moms) are 'the superachieving moms who hand-letter birthday invitations, spend their days in imaginative play with their toddlers, bake from scratch and joyfully embrace each moment spent with their supergifted offspring'. Why do women have to be at war with each other? and where are all of the buzz words for lazy and uninterested fatherhood?!

On one hand I thought, if someone finds motherhood such an arduous task why would they bother having children in the first place? On the other hand, perhaps this seeming confession is the resounding experience of women who feel too guilty to express their angst in a culture that looks down on women who can't just do it all. Is this just another backlash against the overly romantic-Leave it To Beaver- view of motherhood that no one can live up to? Isn't it possible to be ambitious and a mother without having to choose?! SMUM is not really a new concept; I mean who can forget Betty Friedan and the 'problem with no name'. However, it is definitely a critical juncture in culture and/or feminist history and perhaps rather un-surprising that the un-interested mother gets slammed for being well...uninterested...children are prized like little jewels, the birth rate keeps creeping just below replacement level, sophisticated medical technology makes fetuses 'people' even before they are born and women can be accused of 'neglect' for drinking a few glasses of wine during a pregnancy...

Here are some related articles:
I found this nice summation at Word Spy http://www.wordspy.com/words/SMUM.asp:

SMUM n. A woman who finds motherhood and her children tedious and uninteresting. [Acronym from Smart, Middle-Class, Uninvolved, Mother.]

Example Citations:
In her new book, Mommies Who Drink, U.S. actress Brett Paesel confesses she would rather hit happy hour with her friends than have "fun with felt." And the blogosphere is exploding with posts from mothers telling the dirty truth that motherhood is, well, mind-numbing.
Dubbed SMUMs — smart, middle-class, uninvolved mothers — these women are no longer willing to feign interest in watching Barney for the 538th time.—Rebecca Eckler, "Motherhood is boring," The Globe and Mail, August 19, 2006

So now it's on between the SMUMs and the SCAMs (Smart, Child-Centered, Active Moms — my coinage). SCAMs are the superachieving moms who hand-letter birthday invitations, spend their days in imaginative play with their toddlers, bake from scratch and joyfully embrace each moment spent with their supergifted offspring.

I know (and have been known to like) these women. I even have moments when I wished I had their game, but I can only be the SMUM that I am: distracted, well-meaning, ambitious for myself. But my kids know I'll always be there for them when the chips are down, even if I'm not actually going to get up to serve them any chips.—Erica Schickel, "Smart Moms Admit: Kids Are Boring," Los Angeles Times, August 5, 2006

Earliest Citation:
Why did Helen Kirwan-Taylor have a second child when she finds motherhood utterly boring?
Was she shallow enough to simply want a 'matched pair' — she admits 'matching shoes to a skirt' is very important to her. Or did she think her first child needed a sibling for the entertainment she wasn't going to provide herself?

As a psychologist, I find her attitudes disturbing and ridiculous. They encapsulate the worst of modern motherhood and are prevalent in a group I call SMUMs — Smart, Middle-Class, yet Uninvolved, Mothers.—Pam Spurr, "Sorry, but My Children Bore Me to Death!; This mother's extraordinary confession in yesterday's Mail provoked a firestorm of controversy. Here experts and readers have their say," Daily Mail, July 27, 2006


Janina said...

OMG! Does that mean I am 'not smart' because I want to be a mother to my child?? Becoming a mother is one of the most intellectually challenging, and confronting experiences I've ever had.

Taffy said...

I saw her on Good Morning America and in spite of her tone in the article she came across as a very attractive, perhaps even delightful woman. She was certainly very pretty. I feel like your previous poster does though. Anyone who would say they really don't like being a mother has to know that their child is going to hear and understand what they are saying one day. One of Kirwan's little boys even said if he were a mom he'd "take to drink." I know what it's like to grow up not wanted & to be considered as a piece of luggage or just in the way. Sad.....hopefully if I ever have children I'll be able to break that cycle. My parents couldn't even be bothered to take photos of me growing up. I think that's pathetic!!!

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