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NEXT weekend, mum will wake up to a cold breakfast, slippers she’ll never wear and greeting cards that are adorable if only because her children have captured every one of her wrinkles. She’ll be told how great she is, how much everyone appreciates her and how she doesn’t really have that many wrinkles.
And a few mums will wonder why every day isn’t like Mother’s Day.
Well, here’s a tip. It can be. And, before mum pushes away the pink wrapping paper, organises frames for the greeting cards and emerges from the doona to settle a fight between the kids, we can whisper in her ear a few techniques for making every day a lazy-mum day.
Except we won’t call it that. We’ll call it mum-without-helicopter-blades. Or, bad-hairday mum. Or even mum-liberation. And it’s all aimed at wiping out over-mothering, an obsession experts say is ruining kids, infuriating teachers, worrying future bosses and, yes, giving mum premature wrinkles.
Now lots of women are unpractised at this so, with the aid of those experts who have been crying out for less cleanliness, less control and less life lived on the sidelines, let’s give mums a few tips for their new role as a fully formed human.
Sleep in, for sure. But don’t ask what the kids are doing. The kids might be sneaking biscuits, trampolining on couches, watching junk TV, shooting terrorists on a small screen and bickering with each other, but that’s why they invented Sunday morning.
Don’t clean up. Let dust settle on the blinds, toys stray across the lounge and wait for creases to shake out on uniforms. No one is going to call in the council bulldozers but it will allow the kids to pick up immunity and, if you view it in the right way, it will act as a reminder of all the cool things that go on in a house full of children.
Don’t provide nutrition. Sure, you must provide food but it doesn’t always have to be nutritious, organic, contain quinoa or be able to withstand the scrutiny of the mums at the tuckshop. We live in an era of junk food and, one way or another, your kids have to learn to live in that world. Think of it as immunising your kids against junk food through exposure to it.
Look away from the kids. We’ll say that again slowly. Look. Away. From. The. Kids. You are not a CCTV camera and your children, we’re happy to say, are not Persons of Interest. Sure, you should notice if they come first in the class, have a bone sticking out of a shin or are chosen to play football in Brazil, but give them a break from scrutiny. AT LAX I get steered on to a bus with other passengers to take us to the Qantas jet. A flight attendant mumbles an introduction to one of them: a tall guy with long blond hair — right out of an SS recruiting poster, could have modelled for Arno Breker’s Third Reich sculpture — accompanied by his personal trainer.
It’s clear she assumes I know the actor, but it’s another one of those moments when I run up against celebrity culture. While his persona screams “Hollywood”, I have no idea.
It happened when I was NSW premier, and was especially a problem in the Olympics. I’ve never mastered celebrity stuff. I barely know which is Prince Harry and which Prince William, certainly could not pick between Lady Gaga and Paris Hilton, don’t know their nationalities. I have never been able to fix in my head the names of captains of Australian sporting teams.
In fact, in the pantheon of sporting heroes I would probably recognise only Cathy Freeman or Ian Thorpe. I know it is a disability, especially in Australia, this matter of being born without a sporting gene.
Learn to be a critic. The best critics are not the perennially positive reviewers — they just lose their jobs. The best critics praise what works, point out what doesn’t work and background the progress of the work. Sometimes they ask the creator what they think of the work but, in the end, they let the work speak for itself.
Say no. It’s not that hard. The word no is a boundary and, even though kids are born to push the boundaries and your buttons, they need them more than they need your affirmation. Don’t provide entertainment. If your kids say they’re bored, think of it as the start of something interesting. That is the moment they’ll see the world with restless eyes. They
But it works both ways. A bloke came up to me in a Sydney street and said, “Ahhhhh, you’re one of those prime minister fellas.” I accepted the indictment. It did not offend. Why assume everyone has to follow the manoeuvring of the political caste, given we sell ourselves so badly?
It’s a relief to live in a society where one can get by not knowing political leaders. A democracy leaves people to tend their gardens; in North Korea you’ve got to recognise Standing Committee members and the Dear Leader’s forebears. It could be a measure of a healthy mind that he simply recognises someone like me as being “one of those prime minister fellas”.
I float in a similar vagueness about the dramatis personae of celebrity magazines. The carbon group consists of silicon, germanium, lead, flerovium, and which other two elements? In the Greek alphabet, which letter comes directly after sigma? What type of food is Italian scamorza? Who succeeded Bob Carr as Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs? Richard O’Brien is best known as the creator of which rock musical?
6. 7. 8. 9. 10. might start to farm lizards in the back yard, create their own rock clips or bake the world’s worst cakes but, whatever you do, don’t create a schedule to close off these opportunities.
Talk to your partner. But don’t talk about the kids. Talk about interesting subjects and try to think of stuff you’d like to talk about if you were on a long walk through the countryside. And don’t let the kids interrupt — remember you’re on a walk, a long way from home.
Dump the royal “we”. When you tell people “we got a good mark on the HSC” or “we’re taking up the violin”, ask yourself what they think when you say, “we’re fully toilet trained now”.
That’s a start and probably the start of a few arguments. But if arguing for less mothering sounds like preaching for less peace or campaigning for less kindness, well, when the world is entirely peaceful and everyone is always caring, we’ll have a rethink.
For all I know, that Australian Hollywood success on the flight out of LAX might not have recognised me, his country’s foreign minister. After all, he moves in more Olympian circles. He too might simply record that, on the same flight struggling into those prized pyjamas, was one of these “prime minister fellas”.
No complaint. As Bill Clinton was fond of saying, our differences make us interesting, our common humanity is more important.
On the plane I watch the movie A Royal Affair, about the advent of the Enlightenment under absolute monarchy in 18th-century Denmark under the mentally ill King Christian VII. One image stands out: a peasant’s body, tortured on the rack by the king’s police, found dumped in a field. A symbol of royal absolutism.
Who can say the Enlightenment was for nothing? Review welcomes submissions to This Life. To be considered for publication, the work must be original and between 420 and 450 words. Submissions may be edited for clarity. Send emails to email@example.com Last month, which Australian fought in the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship? What is the smallest of all the mainland states and territories of Australia? Alexander Fleming is best known for discovering what in 1928? Who wrote the 2008 historical novel TheLieutenant? In 2010, who won the second series of TheXFactor (Australia)?