When I asked my friend Nina if she’d heard of Constance Hall, her eyes took on the kind of look I normally reserve for chocolate desserts. “I’ve pre-ordered her book!” she said.
“Con talks about parenting like it really is. She says we should embrace our queenliness, not our failures. We should be helping each other, not judging each other. So that’s why I like her. And because she says ‘fuck’ a lot.”
Constance Hall, tragicomic blogging queen, has an army of Facebook followers that includes Ashton Kutcher. Her page’s comments are full of women enjoying a good swear. Her critics are also vocal and vicious.
Constance has broken ground by breaking the Mummy Rules flagrantly and frequently. You know the Mummy Rules. Did you change yourself to keep them? They may be unspoken, but break them, and maybe no one will chat with you at the school gate or invite your kid around for play-dates. There are consequences, so you stick to the rules. Unless you are Con.
“This is who I am,” she says, simply. Her warm, husky voice makes me remember conversations shouted over loud music with my arms around friends. “I’ve always been a big swearer. I have strong opinions, and I don’t really hold back.
“I noticed, as soon as I became a mum, that I was expected to just lose a huge element of myself. I found that really strange. So, I never changed. I got judged a lot.
Her writing went “as viral as herpes”.
“I think people naturally would love to judge you, but once you have a kid, people feel like they can judge you, because you’re not just controlling your life, you’re controlling the kid’s as well. So it gives the judgy parents these open gateways to go to town on you. The only thing that I do differently is that I don’t really care.”
Actually, Constance’s notoriety is based on how much she cares – about connecting honestly with other mothers. And Constance is well-qualified to talk about motherhood. As well as a teenage step-daughter, she has four small children: Billie-Violet (aged 7), Arlo Love (5), and twins Snow (a girl) and Rumi (a boy, 2). On her blog, she describes how her twins were conceived a month after separating from and reconciling with her husband, right after making a decision not to have any more kids. Constance chronicled her struggles on Facebook, and it turns out that many parents appreciate her irreverent candour. As she put it, her writing went “as viral as herpes”.
It would be easy to dismiss this former Big Brother contestant as an attention-seeker if she didn’t have such important things to say. Supermarket magazines feature celebrity post-birth slim-down speed records, as if weight loss is a more important achievement than the creation of a new life. Constance shares pictures of her mum-body in underwear with nothing sucked in and talks about self-love.
“I think we’re allowed to love our bodies,” she says. “I had a realisation after having the twins – that my whole life, I had put a lot of value on my weight. Even my psychologist said to me one day, ‘You know, all you ever say is that you’re going to lose some weight, and then you’re going to do this and this and this. Maybe losing the weight isn’t the answer.’ And I was like, ‘What? It’s always the answer! Losing five kilos makes everything better!’
“Having the twins played a huge part in realising that, because I was almost defenceless. I was stuck. With all my other kids, I was like, ‘Okay, cool, I’ve got one baby, I’ll go back to work.’ I lost the weight, I did everything properly. When I had two babies, I opened up a hairdressing salon, lost the weight and kept going. Then when I had my twins, I couldn’t even go to the shops, because I had the C-section scar, me and Bill weren’t talking to each other; it was just horrible.
“I cried all the time. After a while, I just surrendered to it and went, ‘Hang on, I actually don’t need any more than this. I don’t need to have a cool career that I can tell people about at dinner parties, and I don’t need to be extra-fit, and I don’t need anyone to think that I’m a super-mum. I just want to hang out with these kids, ’cos they’re really cool.’ Six months later I felt so different about the world, myself – everything. It was really quite healing.”
Now Constance has put her mummy manifesto down on paper in her book, Like a Queen. When asked why she decided to publish her work, Con said, “There are a lot of trolls on the internet. It’s a nasty place.
“There were things I wanted to say about my relationship with Bill, about things that happened during motherhood that were either too long for a post, or they were too intimate, or they were too scary. But while I was writing the book, I felt really uninhibited because I realised that the person who would be reading it would be a beautiful woman lying in bed, flicking through pages with a glass of wine. It’s not a horrible arsehole on the internet just waiting for the chance to tear me down. So it was much more of an intimate experience between me and my girls.”
Supermarket magazines feature celebrity post-birth slim-down speed records, as if weight loss is a more important achievement than the creation of a new life.
This from a woman whose website features a picture of herself on the toilet, who has described post-birth incontinence and the size of her nervous poos. Constance, there were details you were holding back?
“You get so much hate on the internet. I’ve talked about infidelity, and all of a sudden I get fifty emails from these arseholes going, ‘Only a fucking slut cheats.’ So there are certain topics that I don’t really have the energy to write about online.
“I wanted to say, ‘You can fuck up. You can have someone fuck up on you, but things can be okay. And if they’re not, you’re still going to be okay, because I’ve been there.’ I thought it was really important to get that message across, because I know first-hand how many women are struggling out there. They tell me privately. I get these personal emails all the time.”
Another Mummy Rule broken, Constance! No-one else will tell you about ‘parent sex’, “Where you position the bed to have one foot against the door because for a loud bunch of kids, yours can be pretty quiet when they’re sneaking up on people.” Nowhere else will you read an argument against slut-shaming asserting that sexually liberated women make the best wives. “Would anyone want a wifey that didn’t love love?” asks Constance. But mummies are supposed to shut the memories of their wild years away in a cupboard with hefty locks.
“I loved having a lot of sex when I was young. My husband loves hearing that,” Constance laughs. “Men are seen as heroes because they’ve shagged half of the town, whereas women are tainted goods and are untouchable because we’ve had too much sex, when that’s absolute rubbish.”
“I loved having a lot of sex when I was young. My husband loves hearing that,”
Constance’s husband, Bill, features regularly in her writing. Con announced Bill’s vasectomy on her blog and posted a video of him dancing because “he thinks he’s getting a root”.
“Bill is a show-pony,” she giggles. “He loves it. He gets this little grin on his face when I read him a blog and read the comments. I wouldn’t do it if it offended him or if he ever asked me not to. He thinks he’s the star of this show, not me.”
“Honestly, in my household, Bill’s the clean one. We fight all the time over housework, because he thinks I should be doing more, whereas I’m not that fussed about a messy house. I’m like, ‘I can live with that pile of dirty washing. I want to go to the beach.’ And Bill’s like [she puts on a deep, gruff voice], ‘You can’t go to the beach because the house is a pigsty!’ And I’m like [high voice], ‘Well, you do it!’ My house looks like <i>shit<i> at the moment, and I just walked out.”
Most of us could not bear to have our lives scrutinised to this degree, but Con does not know the meaning of ‘too much information’. She lets us know her intimately, exposing the details of her daily grind, allowing her readers close enough to share their struggles. She helps us laugh together about the same things that make us cry alone. Her Facebook comments are full of women expressing gratitude for the feeling of community and acceptance she creates. Her work is a reality check for the parenting experts who push for perfection.
One fan comments, “Constance, after every book I read I’m always inspired to change, be more organised, eat healthier, [be] a better mother … But your book didn’t make me want to change a thing about myself.” By fiercely baring her vulnerabilities and daring the reader to judge her wanting, Constance forces us to confront the things we judge in ourselves.
“We’re not living up to our expectations because they were too high,” Constance argues. “People just don’t talk about their struggles. Rather than saying, ‘Are you okay?’ it’s much more healing to say, ‘I’m not okay.’ Because then the person in front of you, instead of having to take that step of saying, ‘No, I’m not okay,’ they actually go, ‘Oh, me neither.’ It’s so much easier to say, ‘Me neither.’ So, whatever I’m struggling in, I try and share, because then I get a lot of women going, ‘Yeah, me too.’
“Me and Bill, when we had our first baby, we were living in this small unit. It was only two-bedroom. Then I got pregnant again. Bill was earning whatever he could as a carpenter, and I was just going, ‘What happened? How come everyone’s in these million-dollar houses with flash cars?’ Even my best friends, they had the most beautiful interior-designed houses. When I get to their house, they’re like, ‘Oh my god, we’re mortgaged up to our fucking arses. We fight every day. We can’t even afford to buy the good milk; we have to buy the cheap milk.’ But you need to get really close to people before you learn all of that. On the outside, everyone’s lives look amazing. And it’s stressful, because you can’t keep up.”
“I think people naturally would love to judge you, but once you have a kid, people feel like they can judge you, because you’re not just controlling your life, you’re controlling the kid’s as well.
Forget keeping up with the Joneses, Constance was kept up by the twins regularly.
“It was horrible,” she said. “Every half hour one would wake up, and then twenty minutes later the other one would wake up. Bill didn’t wake up ever. In the mornings I was like [her voice high and desperate], ‘Bill, I haven’t slept <i>at all<i>.’ And he was like [her voice low and gruff], ‘Yeah, well, I’ve got to go to work.’ And I was like [even higher], ‘Fuck off! I have not slept!’ Sleeping is a necessity. It’s like saying, ‘I don’t need to eat, because you work.’ It’s just ridiculous.”
“I think that, if I can see the funny side, it’s going to be okay. My girlfriends and I have a competition about whose life is worse, whose husband is being the biggest dickhead, who’s had less sleep. I always win.”
Constance has used her considerable influence to assist women worldwide. She and her followers raised $200,000 to build a house for sexually abused Kenyan girls through the charity Rafiki Mwema. She said, “It has actually been a life-long dream of mine to help in some way.”
A one-woman movement against competitive mothering, Constance Hall proves that you don’t need to know how to spell to write astoundingly well. Her work brings together women across the globe in a celebration of real life, real bodies, and giving #nofucks.