Rediscovering the 'Me' in 'Mumeeeeeee'

'I have always thought that there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife’s badly-cooked dinners and untidy ways'. (Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861)

December 3, 2009

The death of parenting-DIY?

When I was a little girl, everything seemed to be homemade – cakes, fancy dress costumes, dresses for my doll, dresses for me; all made by my mum, an aunt or a nana. All very clever ladies who could turn their hands to anything. Now it seems that nobody makes anything.

I am the only mother I know, among my mummy friends, who have ever made their child’s birthday cake. I seem to be such an exception to the norm that it is almost embarrassing to admit this!

I’m not looking for a Home Economics badge or other domestic accolade. Making birthday cakes was something I assumed I would do when I had my own children, because my mum always made my birthday cakes. I also feel that I owe it to my mum to keep this tradition going.

My friends partly admire my domestic abilities but I know they also think I am completely insane. Surely, they point out, it would be so much easier to pop out to M&S and pick up a tasty and brilliantly decorated Ben 10, Thomas, or whatever other themed cake was required at the time.

They are right of course. It would be easier. But where’s the sense of pride in picking a cake off the in-store bakery shelf, taking it out of the box and plonking a few candles on it? Surely baking your child’s birthday cake is a parent’s rite of passage – something to look forward to as much as putting their first Santa presents under the tree or watching their first nativity play.

I’m not sure if I should be hailed as a hero or a tragedy for finding a little time in my busy life to whisk together some eggs, butter, flour and sugar, and I’m sure the children couldn’t care less who made the cake, as long as it has plenty of candles and chocolate buttons on it. But I care, and I like the idea that they assume I made it.

And it’s not just cakes. Hallowe’en costumes also bother me. Buzz Lightyears, Power Rangers, Snow Whites - simply cut off the price tag, pop over child’s head and voila, instant fancy dress. Gone are the days of white sheets with holes cut out for eyes which is a shame. OK, they look pretty crap but I’d much have some sheet ghosts knocking on my door than a bunch of Disney Pixar characters. What’s spooky about a princess and a cowboy?

It really seems that my generation of parents have lost all interest in the art of parenting-DIY. Is this ‘pop out and buy one’ attitude just a symptom of the ridiculously busy lives most parents lead in the 21st century, or are we just getting lazy? Are we missing out on something by always taking the convenient, shop-bought option?

Christmas 2009 will be my thirty-eighth Christmas. I have just made my first Christmas cake (thought it was about time!). I used my mum’s own recipe, the boys helped and we all made a wish as we stirred with our wooden spoons - something I vividly remember doing with my mum.

Condemn me if you wish for sounding like I have come straight off the set off ‘The Good Life’, but I don’t think that what I am doing should be viewed as ‘showing off’, or ‘saintly’. It is simply something I want to do because I am a parent, and that I enjoy doing because I am a parent.

As a final note on this matter, I painted the front door yesterday morning. Chatting to a mum I know later that day, I happened to mention this. She looked at me like I was mentally unstable.

“What colour did you paint it?” she enquired.
“Surely it would have been easier to just buy a new green door?” she said.

Ladies and gentlemen, I rest my case!

Image courtesy of Miss Anne Taintor



  1. I know I shouldn't be laughing, but I am. A new green door just would not even occur to me :) I come from a strong tradition of DIY, simply because the cash isn't there to buy, so I have to make instead and its fun - even if all the animal ears I make look like koala ones :)

  2. I think that some working mums - ie me - can go out of their way to try and prove they're a domestic goddess to compensate for the guilt they feel about going out to work. So for my son's first birthday party I spent THREE DAYS making the perfect birthday cake. I designed it - it was a chocolate cake iced with blue icing, and on top of that I put little sugar craft polar bears (I made myself) with little fishing rods (cocktail sticks) and little sugar craft fish. Do you think my son gave a stuff about the cake? Of course not. So what was it all about? I'm a firm believer in baking when you can because at least that way you can be sure exactly which ingredients you're using (e.g organic eggs, etc). I think sometimes mums make cakes/costumes because they do it with love, but sometimes there can be an element of trying to prove you can do it all. But life's too short to stuff a mushroom, or whatever Shirley Conran once said. Having said all that... I also spent a week making No 1 Son an Iorek Berensen (Northern Lights) costume for World Book Day, and when he wanted to be Legolas from Lord of the Rings I tracked down some elf ears and made him a wig. Competitive Mum Syndrome, or what?!

  3. As a fellow 38th Christmaser myself (gulp), I would like to join forces with you. OK I have never made a Halloween costume (or any costume for that matter) but I have always knitted my son jumpers, cardis & hats and always bake Birthday Cakes, they don't look as good as the shop bought ones but they definitely taste nicer. I haven't made a Christmas Cake yet as that is the MIL's domain but I have made my own Christmas Pudding and I will feel very smug when we all sit down to eat it.

    Yay for making things!

  4. I am forced in to Mummy DIY simply as it is often cheaper and less expensive to make rather than buy. Also I am a great believer in mend and make do rather than dispose of everything. I am possibly quite old fashioned and when we had the cash I was different, but I wish I had been more frugal and saved it.

    We are definitely in the minority of people we know, but being totally strapped for cash, has made us inventive and actually baking cookies rather than buying them gives me quality time with the boys.

    But then I am a SAHM and know that if I worked I would have different priorities.

    I am not knocking anyone, but I think that we should all take a good hard look at ourselves. If you hear people being critical about chistmas being over commercialised if it often down to them as parents for perpetuating this.. Sorry I have gone off on an essay!!

  5. The door thing is glorious! I'm with you on the birthday cakes - it feels like a point of honour that the kids get home-made ones. In fact, my four-year-old has taken this one step further - in his eyes, it's tradition that HE makes his own cake with me. I got lucky this year as my husband made both cakes - still counts in my book!

  6. Being an older mum (!!!)who also works, I definitely follow the DIY as that's the way I was brought up, and always make my own mince pies and cake, and have always made the themed birthday cakes from fish in tank to bagpuss and noddy in his car to rocket!! My son (28) remembers every one of them, and especially the cricket pitch with all batsmen and fielders which was a work of love!

    Unfortunately, our long haired dachshund jumped onto the back seat of the car and ate a massive hole in the middle of the 'pitch' just before the party ( 26 boys ) so I had to think quickly to rectify the disaster. I poured two boxes of smarties into the hole, then said it was a cricket pitch where a volcano had erupted......
    I don't, however, make my own Christmas puds (Delia's smugness on her programme prevents me from EVER doing so just to spite her!). Whatever is best for the individual is fine, though - we can't all be the same, and buying it keeps the economy going and saves jobs!

  7. Another 38th Christmaser here.

    We tend to make everything too - and I'm a rubbish cook so you have to pity my boys as another crap cake makes an appearence at a birthday.

    I like that we do, being in Bosnia we often don't have any choice. And it isn't that difficult or as time consuming as you think. Doing your own painting saves a LOT of money. Let alone tiling and on one memorable occasion I remember watching nervously as Dave decided to install an oven extractor fan and was drilling through the outside walls with enthusiams.

    The boys now try to fix their toys automatically if they break rather than buy new ones.

    It does help that we are in Bosnia though, and fix and make is what everyone does here, so we are just like everyone else.

  8. Still laughing at the thought of buying a new green door. Good for you though, if you can make a cake, why not make it? Seems crazy to have an ability and not use it.

  9. A new green door?!?!?!? That's madness! lol I'd also be a big "make and mend" fan as opposed to just buying something new. Aside from everything else, it's fun and I really do get a little glow of pride when I make something myself that I could easily have gone out and spent 20 euro on. My daughter loves to play in her friends' playhouses when we visit but they cost anywhere from 100 to 500 euros which we cannot afford! So when our new mattress arrived, I used the box from it to make her a house of her own. I painted it and wallpapered it and she loves it! This past weekend we were looking at those plastic garages with ramps for toy cars and saying how much our oldest girl would like one. Yesterday, out came the cardboard and duct tape again and... yup! Cardboard garage and ramp for the snot queen which she loves! My partner thinks I'm nuts, but hey... it works. It's the original way to recycle :)

  10. Oh the idea of buying a new green door! I try to make ass much food from scratch asa poss (I am currently munching a mini Xmas cake that was deemed too messy for the in-laws hamper!) but I have to hold my hands up I am a lousy needlewoman.

    My Nan was a machinist, my Mum can knit jumpers or make dresses from scratch with her machine while I have been caught stapling and sellotaping my skirt hem before big meetings, I can knit the parts of a jumper but when I try to sew them it all goes really wrong. I'd love to be able to knock out a fancy dress costume but simply don't have that ability (hangs head in shame).

  11. Hear - Hear! Right behind you - although I make my husband paint the door(grey).

    I try my best to be creative - time allowing, however I wonder if its worth it when my little man was the only one in hand made costume for bookweek.

    I never used to bake - I think it was a lack of confidence, now I find it very relaxing after a stressy day - although its not so good for the waistline!


  12. My mum used to make all our cakes too, but I'm convinced I'm useless at baking so I've never tried. However, Littleboy 2 will be 3 next week and I'm thinking of taking the plunge and getting a cake tin. I would love to think of my boys looking back and remembering me making everything for them.

  13. Unbelievable -- buy a new green door indeed!!

    Through the years, I've done a bit of both store bought and home baked, but the older I get (ahem, this is my 39th Christmas) the more I find I want everything from scratch. My mum always bakes my boys' birthday cakes though and all our guests end up really look forward to them each year.

    I've not made a Christmas cake since cookery class in secondary school ... how was it? Easy? Still got to bake the mince pies, sausage rolls and American peppermint white chocolate sugar cookies so if I find time maybe I'll give it a whirl as they don't do them over here!!

  14. We are a very DIY household. Birthday cakes are homemade as are some pressies and all cards from the children. It is so much nicer to know some thought and effort has gone into it and it keeps the children occupied.

    Buying a shop bought cake is "easier" but making one brings that lovely warm feeling when you see their little faces.

  15. Oh thank you, thank you, thank you all for restoring my faith in parent-kind and leaving such fab comments. I'm so pleased to hear so many of you are all doing your DIY bit. I feel a new surge of crafting and baking coming on I'm so inspired and am already looking forward to cobbling together a tea-towel and sheet shepherd for next year's nativity!

  16. I totally agree! I make most things in the house from birthday cakes to the children's clothes to Christmas presents. I am currently turning an old curtain into a quilt for my daughter's bedroom. I don't do it to show off, I do it because I love creating things and often it works out cheaper too!

    I think this is partly, or mostly, due to how I was brought up. My Mum and Grandma would never dream of buying a cake and I remember every single birthday cake my Mum made me. I'm sure my children also don't care where the cake comes from, but I definitely do!

    However, I am rubbish at DIY so might be tempted to buy a new green door!

  17. Go, Making Mummies (and daddies)!! We can do it!
    I love making things from scratch. I bake bread, make birthday cakes, and this year *blush* I have even made Christmas cards. And it didn't even take long (what do you mean, you can tell?!)
    Shop bought is never as good - where's the satisfaction in someone else's creation? Well said, Hot Cross Mum. And I love the green door story too - was she serious?

  18. this made me laugh, having just made a batch of mince pies that were doubtless not as nice as shopbought ones (am firmly telling myself that's NOT the point).
    i DIY mostly because i'm stingy, and resent paying the vast premium charged for stuff you can easily make (and yes, i've painted my own front door in the past). but as a parent i also DIY because I remember my own mum doing it, because i want my son to learn not to spend money for the sake of it when he's older, because i'd rather know what's in our food, and because the creative process whiles away a rainy afternoon for him and leaves me feeling virtuous.
    have to admit the door was a bit streaky, though

  19. Having made a batch of biscuits for the school Christmas Fair this morning & being on my way to pick up my knitting (I'm making a jumper & my DS has put in an order for one too), I'm with you all the way. I'm definitely a maker.

  20. Nice post on Hot Cross Mum and it helps a lot.

    If you are a person who want to learn about parenting and love your family then you should enjoy the content of this blog Because I did and hope you would love too.

    You have a nice blog. Keep up the good work.


  21. I often cut corners myself, but I have to say I love it when I do something myself. I love to decorate birthday cakes (husband bakes them). I also do all the painting around the house. It is most therapeutic.

  22. You've just inspired a post for me! I'm not the best at baking but i do try with biscuits etc, last months attempt at a birthday cake ended up in the bin though and i had to BUY an alternative!

  23. I always thought that when you became a parent then that's what it would be about. I'll probably end up humiliating the hell out of George but of course he's going to end up with a sheet over his head at Halloween. I have been genuinely suprised at the lack of DIY amongst other stay at home mums that I've met at various groups. The ones that really suprise me are the ones who are as broke as I am and yet they buy everything readymade which costs so much more! OK, I spend half the time covered in PVA glue but I can make a mean birthday cake when required. Perhaps we could pool our skills? I'll do the cakes- does anyone know how to put my roller blind back up?! Bloody thing!

  24. I'm so excited about baking the Bear his birthday cake in April! I am also full of grand plans to make him a stocking for Christmas, bake a Christmas cake and mixed spice biscuits and make some Christmas decorations, but I don't think I'll get round to doing half of it.

  25. Hi, I just watch you on Ireland AM and had to check your bog out for myself. Wow, it's Brilliant. I'm a 29 yr old, stay at home Mum of 3 boys ages 8mts, 5yrs and 6yrs. For my sons 6th birthday in September I spend days making Ben 10 paty decorations and even an Alien Head Pinata which the kids loved. I baked a cake too- nothing fancy just your average Victorian sponge, but I cheayed a little by buying a Ben 10 Action figure to go on top. I also made alien food- fairy cakes with green or yellow icing and alien drinks- homemade lemonade with green food colouring in one and yellow in the other. The children absolutely loved it and my friends son even asked me to do his birthday for him! lol. I was so proud of myself. I'm just about average at baking and fairly artistic so I enjoyed every minute of it. Some of the parents did ask if I was 'right in the head' which made me feel a bit hurt but at the end of the day my son was extremely happy. We also played musical chairs, pass the parcel and pin the eye on the alien. My husband down loaded the Ben 10 theme tune for this.I would love to make a christmas cake but nobody will eat it so I will probably just make a regular cake and decorate it christmasy.
    Hallowe'en's the same, although I have a few shop bought decoretions I make my own too. I just love it. My mam doesn't bake and never has and neither did her mother but my Dads mam did a bit so I must get it from her.I also enjoy making jam.

  26. I'm with you HCM - having a child this year has made me feel very domestic. Home made stuff is much better. To that end, this year I have (drum roll please):
    1. An advent calendar for the little guy. Yes, I used the sewing machine.
    2. A stocking and a present sack. I planned to make more, but time is running out. Ambitious? Maybe just a bit. But it's good fun, and I feel virtuous whilst watching Nigella...
    3. Mincemeat. That's right, I'm planning HOME MADE mince pies this week.

    Many of my childless friends would drop down in shock if they knew what I've been up to. Easier to pop to John Lewis and purchase said items? Absolutely. But where's the love? Where's the feeling of satisfaction? Being serious, I've really enjoyed it. I don't care if they look home made!

  27. I always make birthday cakes, so much more personal and I can bake so it would be silly not to.

    Never made any costumes yet though. I would've attempted this year's first nativity costume had we not had such a horrible week with both kids and me poorly.

    Next year I'll have a whirl.

    Oh and OMG, a tin of paint or a whole new door?! Crazy!


  28. I'm with you all the way (sorry, the reason I'm only reading your blog now is because I'be been baking all week for my family visiting!). I have baked every biorthday cake for my girls (and my hubby!) and could NOT imagine buying one. I bake with the girls every week, and it';s our special time togetehr - as is eating the stuff! don't be embarrassed be proud - but not because we're better or worse than mums who don't, but because we're being who we want to be..


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