One night a while ago, stand up comic and author Marty Wilson was dismayed to overhear his wife, Allie, on the phone to her mum pouring her heart out about ‘not measuring up as a mother’. Allie said ‘it all seemed to come so naturally to all the other mums who seemed to do it so effortlessly but she always seemed to get sad, mad and blue.’
Marty was stunned. He knew Allie was the best mum in the world because their two boys, Connor and Elliot, were happy, healthy and loved their mum more than a handful of Tiny Teddies. But Marty knew just saying this to his wife wouldn’t be enough.
So he did what he did best, he went out and bugged all the great mothers he could find to tell him their secrets, discoveries, confessions, feelings, failings and triumphs. Then Marty put them all these insights together in a book and presented it to Allie like a bouquet of 100 blooms, except every flower was an affirmation from another mum, one of her peers, that she was doing just fine.
It did the job, Allie is loving motherhood, and they’re now expecting bub number three. Even better, Marty says, is that along the way he learnt how to be a much better dad too. Here are Marty’s ‘three things that dads could only learn from mums.’
1. You cannot do just one thing at a time
It’s so true it’s a cliché, but men really are hopeless at multitasking. That’s why we have to turn the stereo down in the car when we’re reading a map. And as Dr Cindy Pan says, parenthood is a constantly changing kaleidoscope so sticking on the one track just means you miss some of the great stuff.
Men would like to have a conversation like this: “This coffee is great, isn’t it? Can you believe what that idiot Mark Latham said about Julia Gillard? How badly does he want attention? He’d rather be in the paper being called an evil buffoon than not in it at all. Don’t you think?“
Whereas when there are kids around, you have to be able to talk like this:
This coffee is great, isn’t it? (Connor take your fingers out of your brother’s nose) Can you believe what that idiot Mark Latham said about Julia Gillard? (Elliot, beans are not lightsabers) How badly does he want attention? (Finish your lunch or no ice cream) Remember that trip to Italy? (No you have to eat all of it.) He’d rather be in the paper being called an evil buffoon than not in it at all. (Well done boys, high fives and ice creams all round) Don’t you think?
2. Control freaks need not apply
Women are so much better than men at letting go and rolling with the punches. Katherine Beaumont’s page is such a great example of this. Getting frustrated with kids haphazard existence is like screaming at the sky “Stop being so infuriatingly blue!” Kids very nature, their very reason for being, is to be a little bundle of randomness thoughts and deeds. If you try to impose any kind of order on them they will drive you insane. Of course the newborn does one of those ‘So far up his back it comes out the neck of his jumpsuit’ poos when you’re about to walk out the door, of course they want to wear the only dress they have that isn’t washed.
3. Kids want our most precious resource, time.
As Dr Chirstopher Green says in his quote, all kids really want and need is your attention. And when things aren’t going smoothly, it’s almost always a bit of one on one time that fixes it. Children live totally in the here and now, and that’s where they want you. Not sitting with them but off in our heads somewhere else. As one mum said “They don’t care whether you buy them a $50 bike or a $500 bike, all they care about is whether you’ll spend 5 hours teaching them to ride it.”
(I could go on and on – and on and on – because every mother I spoke to gave me a little gem just like these.)
After listening to almost a hundred mothers open up and talk about the wonder and anxiety of pregnancy, the mind-bending tiredness of those first few months—‘like walking through treacle’—and how the tiniest smile from their child can make twelve hours of horror disappear from their memory, I think I finally got it. (Kind of.)
Well, at least now I know just how much I don’t know. One thing I do now understand is that every man on this planet should thank his mum, his wife, and every woman he sees walking along, patiently ignoring a child chanting, ‘Can I have a drink, Mum? Can I have a drink, Mum? Can I have a drink, Mum?’ We should fall at their feet, weep tears of gratitude and confess that all the little ‘everyday’ things they do add up to a debt we can never repay.
Lastly, here’s my own little pet theory on why mums are so extraordinary.
From day one of pregnancy, the motherhood experience slaps you further out of your comfort zone than you’ve ever been before. The whole thing is more intense, more challenging and more glorious than anything in life—and it’s all those things at the same time. And you have to walk through it in a state of energy-sapping, brain-thickening sleep deprivation that no amount of happy-clappy visualisations about ‘Huggies moments’ will get you through. My wife told me that she got so tired, when she left the house every morning she had to run through a mental checklist: ‘Have I brushed my hair? Have I cleaned my teeth? Am I wearing knickers?’
All this adds up to an incredibly intense period of accelerated evolution that leaves you dazed, but with a much deeper understanding of life and yourself. Motherhood is a wonderful, exhausting, delightful and arduous lesson that the real nature of life is change, chaos and spontaneity. It’s something that us dads—except the lucky ones who take on the full-time parenting role—only partly understand.
So, if I could share one tip from almost all the mums I spoke with, it would be the notion that ‘This too will pass’—as the mums said, ‘When it’s bad, it will get better. When it’s wonderful, be in that moment because it won’t last.’
Motherhood is the perfect lesson in impermanence. There is only right now.
That’s why mums have a deep knowledge that all the men who run around trying to impose their will upon the universe will never attain.
So here’s to mums everywhere.
What I Wish I Knew About Motherhood is available now.