When diverse parenting lacks diversity (Camp Bestival: are you listening?)

I can be a bit vocal in my opinions in real life. Admittedly, not yet on the blog.

Hold my beer…

Camp Bestival. Never been. Why? Well, I can’t afford it, essentially. OK, I’m not pleading poverty here (having just come back from Center Parcs that would be an ignorant call) however as a single mum and the main provider for my child I need to make careful choices and balance ‘want’ with ‘how much do I want it’ versus ‘need’ before I part with my hard-earned cash. Basically, I don’t really go anywhere costly on a whim: Center Parcs was something I had wanted to do for a long time and I found a relatively affordable deal. Would I like to go to Camp Bestival? I’d love to – and I know my daughter would love it too – but it seems a lot of money for what is essentially a few days only. Please note, I am not detracting from the fact that I’m sure people get more than their money’s worth there but I need to consider: do I even have the money in the first place (and let’s face it, Center Parcs killed me financially so the answer is NO!).

It’s also a lot of hassle as it’s camping and I don’t know how to erect a tent…or even own a tent. You know the saying: many hands make light work? Well, that’s kind of the bar that you sometimes apply when deciding whether to do something when you’re a single parent as you have only one pair of hands: yours (and let’s face it, those hands are typically holding a pack of wet wipes, perhaps a dummy, a shitty nappy sack or a school back pack). I’m not saying it’s impossible to find any single parents happily enjoying a little al fresco holiday but it’s a consideration that you have to make when deciding whether to do something, i.e. there’s less caution thrown to the wind. I mean, there’s no: “ah it’s alright, Mike’ll be in charge of the tent, I’ll just help”. The buck stops with you and the thought of lugging everything solo from the car to the field and then staring at a tent thinking “what the hell do I do now” whilst gingerly prodding it hoping it will somehow erect itself just seems way too much of a sweaty-top-lip inducing task for me (props to those that manage solo camping though!).

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Sometimes, you just have to know when to pick your battles, right? Or at a minimum, ask yourself how much do I want this (i.e. will the sweaty top lip be worth it?). And I generally don’t think that’s a consideration that your average 2.4 family necessarily have to make at the same frequency as us solos. Of course, once I’d ruled out being the chief pack horse for/erector of the tent (which didn’t take me long), and I looked at the option of hiring one of the established accommodations that Camp Bestival offer, I then did a quick Hail Mary at the cost (and feck, I’m not even Catholic). So yeah, that’s me out this year.

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“Well, why not go with other people?”, I have previously been asked when discussing the conundrum that can be holidaying as a solo parent. Alright Barbara, how much do you like combining your family holidays all the time? Yes, I’m not adverse to going away with others (and have done), but it can be a logistical nightmare AND sometimes you just want to be with your family even if it is just the two of you. Why should my little family not have the same opportunity as everyone else? Anyway, this isn’t even the bit I want to rant opine about (there is a point though which I’m sure I’ll get to later; rest assured, the single parent/erecting tent bit isn’t just a ranty prelude to the main-event rant).

The parenting programme. That’s what I’m ranting I have a strong opinion about, and what I’ve given up my metaphorical beer for.

If you’re lurking about on Insta and follow the ‘parenting blogger’ community as I avidly do (since I’m a parent. And I’m a blogger) you truly would be hard pressed to have missed the buzz that is the recent reveal of a line up of parenting bloggers set to appear at Camp Bestival this year with a promise that there will be ‘something for everyone’. Well, here’s a fact. We are not all (**delete as appropriate**) white, middle class, able-bodied, heterosexual, solvent, the 2.4 nuclear family as such a line up appears to herald as the dictatorial definition of what parenting looks like. In real life we all know it is so much more diverse than that. So why can’t we have it?

Now I need to be clear, I am not denouncing the presence of these women on the programme (and yes, they are mainly women despite it being a ‘parenting’ programme). I think I follow every single one of them on social media and some of them are my most favourite ‘Insta Mums’. Genuinely. I may not live their life styles but I adore them as women and there is absolutely a space for them , and their lifestyles, at the table. I suppose my question is: why do people with their commonalities sit at the head of the table, and, at times, why are they the only ‘type’ of parent around the table? Is the reality of parenthood really such an echo-chamber? Of course not; the echo chamber is its representation and that is my bug-bear. So please, hear me when I say I’m not hating the players (I fecking love these head-lining women)…I’m actually hating the game.

White privilege, class and status are certain factors that ‘unlevel’ the so-called level playing field in this here thing called life. Typically gender is in there too but since women tend to have the monopoly on parenthood that seems to swing in our ‘favour’ when it comes to being a successful parent blogger. I am a white, middle class (kinda), higher-educated, single parent to a mixed-race daughter. Whilst I write under the handle of ‘the sound of motherhood’ what I can only refer to is my sound of motherhood. I am one typical voice amongst a throng of many. All typical. All unique. To themselves. Each and every one of those voices out there being the ‘sound of motherhood’. As mothers, we are NOT one homogenous group (of course, I’ll ignore the fact that upon that basis my Insta handle is actually a bit shit, lol).

What that essentially means is that, obviously, there is no one definition of motherhood, or indeed parenthood. And that, my friends, is why representation matters. It’s why I don’t reflect the mum that I regularly see four doors down who screeches at her kids and looks worn out as hell. It’s why I don’t reflect the glitterati mum at a festival with her Hunter wellies and her cute denim cut offs. There is more to motherhood than just me. And there is more to parenthood than the line up chosen for the parenting programme at Camp Bestival. So if we are just as valid, and are all parents, why are we not represented as such?

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I have spent a lot of my time feeling ‘other’ since being a parent. I have written before about my experience as a single parent and how that can be lonely (see here for more on that joy) and that sometimes you can just feel different when you are amongst the 2.4 (I very much noticed this at Center Parcs). It’s also about finances as a single parent which can mark you out as different (yup blogged about that too, lol; read here). It’s why my opening rant is significant as most likely it will be the reason why I would love to be at Camp Bestival but won’t likely be (see, there was a point, ha!). And that in itself is part of the reason why the parenting programme is not diverse. I mean, you provide for your target audience, surely? And if the paying crowd is reflective of your parenting line up then you’re on a financial win win. But in doing so you also unwittingly create an exclusion. An echo chamber. And if that is not what was intended and the festival generally wants to be inclusive then please don’t describe the parenting programme as being diverse or as having ‘something for everyone’. Because diverse, it ain’t. Diverse, likely, can’t even get there.

I have closely followed the comments section of Camp Bestival’s insta posts and am heartened to see so many people ‘call out’ the lack of diversity and eloquently voice my own thoughts that representation matters, and it matters a lot. There is no one truth and no one narrative but still society ploughs on as if there is. And we really should know better by now. That said, I can sort of understand why it still happens. If someone has never had to think outside of their own narrative or experience before it can be difficult to even conceive that their actions may be exclusionary to others. We are all human and we all make mistakes although I might add that such ignorance is becoming less excusable as a reason to ‘not know’ in this day and age.

What I find even harder to swallow is when this is then clearly pointed out to a person but yet they continue to struggle to entertain the possibility of another alternative, and blindly and doggedly continue to cling to their position. No-one is buying it – at the very least the swathe of people commenting on Camp Bestival’s Insta post weren’t. So fess up and acknowledge, Camp Bestival: strike it up to ‘lesson learnt’, and act on it next time. Defensiveness is a barrier to conversation, and a barrier to learning. Listen, learn, and act. Why is that so bloody hard?! Answers on a postcard…

Sadly, when challenged by people on social media as to the lack of diversity, the quick response from the festival was that there are “loads” more names to add to the parenting programme list. Right. Just not head-liners. I cringed when I saw that as to me that equated to: yup, you may spot someone that you can identify with further down the line but they’re not likely to pull in the crowds so we won’t announce them yet. That is not inclusivity. That is not diversity. That is tokenism. And an after-thought. Again, it’s about saying that the main event is white, straight, middle class, able bodied, nuclear and London-centric. It goes careering back to that ‘head of the table’ thing again.

I was also really disheartened to hear the festival – in the next breath – offer for people to ‘make suggestions’ to them about the type of line-up they would like to see. I’m sorry, come again now? So now you want us to suggest the diversity to you? What the absolute….?! How can something be referred to as a parenting programme but then lack representation of what parenting actually is? It’s tantamount to offering a service for all and then asking those with additional or diverse needs to raise their hands to make themselves known and to ask for what they need (undoubtedly from somewhere in the back). Come on now. We need to do better than that. Regards diversity, it is not for those who are excluded to have to put in the work to become included. This a basic concept and one that seems to be gaining traction on social media of late (you would be hard-pushed to have missed it, and if you have missed it perhaps have an honest – and open – chat with yourself about why). In other words, if you are a festival organiser and you plan on offering ‘something for all’ your starting point really should be: define ‘all’ and let’s go from there.

In that vein I will not list those people I would have liked to have seen included within the headlining bloggers of the parenting programme (as I initially intended to do) as it is not for Joe Public to do the groundwork that the festival should have done. There are plenty – and I mean plenty – of fabulous parenting bloggers out there from all backgrounds; some with big followings and some with small. All valid, all doing the parenting task. I’m going to give the festival the benefit of the doubt that at least some of these people were already booked, but in future why not let them have the head-lining lime light? You never know, you could end up attracting a whole new crowd to the festival in future. One that is more of a reality to my child as a minimum (and don’t think children don’t see what is going on; my ten year old has observed lack of diversity since she was much younger).

There’s an old saying: be the change you want to see in the world. So that is why I have written this blog post. I have said nothing revolutionary, nothing others haven’t already said so perfectly in the comment sections of Instagram, but as someone who is the ‘majority’ in many ways I feel I have a responsibility to call out things that seem oppressive (it is not something I have always done through lack of confidence at times, but I’m learning). If more of us do the same hopefully social media traction may translate into action. Who knows, if Camp Bestival learn from this you may even find me there next year… I’ll obviously be the one gingerly poking my non-erect tent with a stick and looking like I need help. Now there’s a thought Camp Bestival: why not offer a service for solo parents to assist them in accessing the camping side of things, you know, one that doesn’t cost a small fortune? Just a wee man on hand to help erect my tent, is all that’s needed (I’d pay lol). And yes, I did just throw my feminism into the fire. Oops.

SoM 🙂

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