The story of the “zomg obese child-abusing mum!” has come to my attention from a couple of places. The tabloids have had a field day (see here and here), and we all know that the Mail and the Sun are paragons of intelligent and thoughtful journalism, don’t we! I’ve noticed it in several communities, mostly from the “she’s lazy and ignorant and abusing! her! children!” point of view. Funnily enough, most of these opinions have come from people who have never had children, and even those who have kids haven’t ever been single parents of triplets.
So to give a view from the other side – from someone who’s had a baby, who’s been a single mum; who’s been a single mum and poor, heaven forbid – here’s my take on it. So let’s take the ‘facts’ as they come, shall we? First, let me tell you about all the parts of this article which are utterly irrelevant to the topic at hand.
A little about the mother. Let’s not call her ‘the mother’ actually, she’s already been dismissed and dehumanised enough. Her name is Leanne Salt, and she’s a human being like you or I. Ms Salt weighs 29 or 30 stones, depending on which of the ‘esteemed’ journalists you choose to believe. I wish her weight wasn’t relevant. It shouldn’t be. But of course in this society, fat means “Lazy! Slob! Good-for-nothing!” and that’s the only reason the tabloids have chosen to not only make that one of their main ‘facts’ but to include it in the headlines of both articles. They also point out that she was 40 stone when she gave birth eight months ago. What they fail to deduce from that is that she’s lost ten stones in eight months. Considering these articles were all about how she’s fat and feeds her kids ‘crap’ it seems the papers should have realised she must be doing something ‘right’ to have lost that amount of weight, no?
Aside from her weight, what do we know about her? She’s a single mum to biracial triplets. Oh, how the papers love a story about a lazy white chav single mother and her brown babies. But this in itself brings a point of interest. Where is the babies’ father in all this? Why all the pointing fingers at Ms Salt – why is all the blame for her alleged transgressions being placed on her shoulders, rather than shared with their father? He has equal responsibility for his children, and it is equally his responsibility to make sure they eat well. But of course, then we’d have to accept that Ms Salt doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it is not she who is failing but being failed by many, many aspects of society.
Both papers spend a lot of time telling us what a good-for-nothing, undeserving lazy slut she is. Apparently it cost £200,000 for her babies to be born. So what? How much does it cost for triplets to be born anyway? For that matter, how much does it cost to give someone a heart transplant? The cost of someone’s medical treatment on the NHS is nobody’s business – unless, of course, you are a tabloid journalist who wants to keep on reminding people just how much this lazy slob is costing the good, decent British people. Both articles also feel the need to point out how much she gets in benefits. Again – so what? She’s a single mum raising triplets. £227 a week doesn’t go far. Hell, I was only raising one baby (on around £200 per week) and found I was scraping to make ends meet. Of course, this is another dig by the Sun and the Mail – look how much she’s costing yoooooou! And the final nail in the “useless slag” coffin – she was with the babies’ father “just four weeks” when she fell pregnant. Again, this is another not-so-subtle attempt by the newspapers to paint her as a good-for-nothing slut. It doesn’t add anything to the story, it’s not relevant to the topic at hand, it’s just used to make her ‘different’ and ‘not like us’ and to give the reader a lovely smug holier-than-thou glow.
Additionally to this, both articles (seeing a pattern yet?) state “Miss Salt says she and her babies only get dressed and go out once a week to collect her benefits.” All I can say to that is, so what? When Orion was eight months old he lived in sleepsuits (baby pyjamas) too. They’re practical, it doesn’t matter if they get regurgitated on, it’s easy to get to the nappy for changing, they’re easy to clean and don’t need ironing. Sure as shit when Orion was that age he lived in them too – in fact, I was worse, because I didn’t even dress him in ‘proper clothes’ when we went out. I’d put a warm blanket over him in his pushchair and off we’d go. ‘Proper clothes’ serve no purpose for babies except for adults to go “Awwww innit cute!” and to add a whole load of hassle to laundry time.
Special mention is made of the fact that “Their tiny house is strewn with laundry piles and toys.” Again – so? So is mine, and I only have one kid to deal with. Some of you may know that I have personally been involved with Social Services recently, and I was told outright by one of them that a messy house does not mean there’s anything wrong. Indeed, he said – Social Services would be worried if the house was spotless, with not a single toy to be seen. Toys all over the place means the kids have toys. Not a sign of an abused baby. Even the most dedicated Supermum has a messy house. That’s life with kids.
Finally, something a couple of people have picked up on with a “how dare she!” attitude is that “now she wants her own council house.” Oh goodness, how evil of her to desire a better standard of accommodation. How very dare she want a house that she can afford that is big enough for her three growing children. Well why the hell shouldn’t she? She’s a single mum scraping by on benefits trying to raise three babies. Isn’t the whole point of council housing to adequately house those who would otherwise live in inappropriate housing? And considering both articles made a point of describing her house as ‘tiny’ and pointing out how messy it was, is it not pretty clear that she needs a bigger place to raise her children in?
On to the main part of the story – the triplets’ diet. Both tabloids have concentrated on ‘McDonald’s and Smash and junk food!!1!” but if you dig a little deeper, and actually pay attention to what the story says, she doesn’t feed her children much differently to most parents. Here’s their breakdown of a ‘typical’ day’s diet.
5.30am: 8oz bottle of milk
8.00am: 8oz bottle of milk
Breakfast: crumpet with butter
Lunch: scrambled eggs on toast, instant mashed potato with spaghetti hoops, or a jar of baby food
2pm: packet of Wotsits each
Dinner: microwave lasagne or pie
Bedtime: Occasional bottle of milk
Call me a child abuser, but I fail to see what’s wrong with this. People are saying “how hard is it to do XYZ (boil vegetables, cook properly, blah blah)?” You know what? I found it bloody hard enough with one baby. You see – and the childless people who are so quick to pass judgment obviously don’t see – babies are time-consuming. The average baby goes through six to eight nappies a day. She’s got three, so we’re talking somewhere between eighteen and twenty-four nappy changes to be performed daily. The average baby wants attention. Three average babies, we’re talking a lot of attention. Look at the photograph of them. Do they look like unhappy, neglected babies whose Mum never spends time with them?
The diet above doesn’t seem that different to Orion’s. You bet your arse I fed him Smash, because it was quick and easy and cheap. To the people who say “How hard can it be to make proper mashed potatoes?” I can only tell you that you are speaking of that which you do not know. Babies don’t eat on a schedule, they eat when they’re hungry, and when baby is hungry he is hungry NOW. Why do you think there’s such a booming market in jarred and tinned baby foods? Because us real-life Mums who spend time with our kids don’t have the time to be lovingly cooking and pureeing organic vegetables.
(Not to mention that I would rather feed my child Smash than the ‘baby rice’ so eagerly peddled by doctors and health visitors as an ‘ideal first food’. That stuff is nutritionally void. It fills their tummies and gives them no nutrition whatsoever. You might as well be feeding them soggy toilet paper.)
Crumpet with butter? Check. Spaghetti hoops and scrambled eggs? Check. Microwaved lasagne (and god forbid, packet rice and tinned soup and all manner of other open-and-heat meals), check. Come over here and call me lazy and my kid malnourished. Tell me I’m abusing my happy, healthy, well-socialised son. I double dog dare you.
At best, I could call this lazy journalism. In reality, it’s not journalism at all. It’s an exploitative, misogynistic, fat-phobic, classist piece of shite not worthy of lining my rat cage with. And I am so disappointed that the general reaction has been to lampoon a woman who is doing the best with what she’s got, and for the most part, she’s not doing it any worse than the rest of is. People really need to lay off, lest they find their own failings suddenly put to the public in such a biased way, and find themselves being denounced and made out to be stupid, evil and unworthy of living their own lives. Judge not lest ye be judged, people.