parent opinion

Mia Freedman on the good mother myth.

The following is an edited excerpt from Mia Freedman’s memoir Work, Strife, Balance. Which is the inspiration behind the new TV series Strife.

Time spent with child = Good mother points earned.

Work outside the home? Lose points. Have a nanny or send your child to daycare? Lose points. Need to travel for work? Lose points. Work long hours? Lose points. Miss an open day, swimming carnival, concert, dance recital, parent-teacher meeting or sports game? Lose points. Send your kids to before-care or after-care? Lose points. Put your kid in front of a screen so you can have five minutes of peace? Lose points. Close the door when you go to the toilet? Lose points. Send them to tennis camp, art camp or any type of holiday care during the 234 weeks of school holidays because you have to work?

Bad news: you have as many points left as you do annual leave days, which is none.

Bonus Good Mother Points can, of course, be earned in the following ways:

1. Doing tuckshop duty.

2. Being a class parent. 

3. Breastfeeding your child for at least six months but not longer than 12 months because then you will lose points for being weird. 

4. Taking lunchbox ‘inspiration’ from Pinterest, e.g.: making a lunch that includes depictions of all the main characters in Finding Dory made from raw, organic vegetables. 

5. Staying at the birthday party despite the invitation clearly stating ‘drop-off ’ (be aware this will piss off the birthday child’s parents who really do not want you there and they may deduct points). 

6. Pushing your kid on the swing at the park for as long as they want. 


7. Doing every drop-off and pickup yourself instead of after-care

Watch: Mia recalls juggling work and looking after a newborn at twenty-five-years-old. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

8. Ferrying your child to multiple after-school activities

9. Hand-sewing your child’s clothes.

10. Doing craft. Any type. 

11. Teaching your kid to read and write before they start school. 

12. Knowing the names of all the other kids – and parents – in your kid’s class. 

13. Leaving loving notes in your child’s lunchbox, in words if they can read or hand-drawn illustrations if they can’t. 

14. Home-schooling – bahahahahahhaha! 

Needless to say, I’m in a constant deficit of Mother Points and so are most mothers I know. That’s the thing. The system is rigged. Unless you devote your every waking and sleeping moment exclusively to the care of your child and only have one child and literally do nothing but spend time with that one child and focus your entire being on anticipating and then meeting that child’s every whim, you cannot win at mothering. And if you did, imagine what an arsehole your kid would be.


There’s a quote I read in a glossy magazine interview with supermodel Miranda Kerr years ago. She was talking about a birthday cake she made for her son Flynn, who was a toddler at the time. It was gluten-free, organic, sugar-free and packed with agave juice. Oh, and she made every part of it from scratch. Look. I may have been having a particularly bad day but when I read about Flynn’s beautiful little birthday cake, I wanted to curl up in a tiny ball and cry hot, angry tears of defiance.

Perhaps this is because the birthday cake I serve at my kids’ parties year after year looks like this:

Yep. Image: Supplied.


It was under $10 from Woolworths and I am quite certain it is neither sugar-free nor gluten-free. It’s definitely not organic and contains no agave juice, whatever that even is. But do you know what my supermarket birthday cake is? Delicious. It also fancies up a treat with some Smarties and candles chucked on top and most importantly: it does the job. 

It’s not like I don’t own the Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake cookbooks. I do. They are heavily annotated with post-it notes stuck hopefully on dozens of pages by all three of my children over the years as they’ve carefully studied each cake and chosen their favourites. In the interests of trying to see my parenting fails in a more positive light, I’m going to take those post-its as incontrovertible proof that I have raised optimistic children. Good job me.

Birthday cake cookbooks (also all cookbooks) in my house are a bit like porn for middle-aged men: it all looks marvellous but nah, it’s never gonna happen for you in real life. 

It’s taken years but my kids understand this now. They know I’m not That Mother. I don’t use this term in a passive-aggressive way because I realise there are many women who take great joy in creating fancy kids’ birthday cakes and who am I to suggest it’s not a worthwhile pursuit. I also understand some women like to cook delicious food for their friends and families as an expression of love and nurturing. Gwyneth Paltrow appears to be one of those women, as are all the other glossy-haired, beautiful celebrities beaming wholesomely at me from the covers of their cookbooks. I’m simply not.


Comparing my birthday cake or my dinner table to Miranda or Gwyneth is as helpful as comparing my body to that of a Victoria’s Secret Angel, whose income is directly indexed to what she weighs. 

Again, no slight on those Angels. Good for them! But not for me. We all make different choices about every aspect of our lives based on our beliefs, our priorities, our abilities and how pre-menstrual we’re feeling on any given day.

This is why it’s so self-defeating to compare ourselves to other women in any sense. Of course, every choice we make precipitates other choices by default. Pulling one thing from the queue and dragging it to the front automatically pushes everything else back a bit further. Wait your turn. I’ll be with you in a minute, maybe tomorrow or possibly never.

That is that triage women do. All day every day. In our heads. Failing and succeeding. Prioritising. It’s like an app constantly running in the background, refreshing in real time, draining our battery.

The incessant application of triage to our lives is a level on which most women continually exist that men wouldn’t even be aware of.

So each time one of my kids has a birthday, I must decide if baking and decorating a cake takes priority over everything else that needs me. In my life as a full-time working mother of three with no cooking skills? The cake does not make it to the front of the queue, not yesterday, not today, and not for the foreseeable future, and I’m okay with that. I’ve taught myself to be okay even when I’m judged harshly by strangers because nobody judges a good mother more brutally than she does herself. Truly bad mothers? And yes they exist. They’re not the ones worrying if they’re bad mothers.


After posting pictures of my store-bought birthday cakes, social media commenters have slammed me for not baking them myself and I give no fucks because birthday cake-making is not a unit of measurement I use to judge parenting quality and nor should it be one of yours. The impact of a birthday cake on your child’s life is less than negligible. Even if it has agave juice in it or Jimmy Giggle popping out of it. 

Let me take you through my thought process: baking an elaborate Women’s Weekly cake in the shape of a swimming pool with tiny edible pool toys in it or working out how you even make a cake without gluten or sugar would have taken me several hours – more if you include the time required to go buy the ingredients. Instead, I chose to use that time to work my way through the long list of things that have a greater impact on my life and my family. Like my job. Sleeping. Spending time with my children

See what I did there? I implied that I was a better mother than someone who makes a fancy cake because I opt to spend quality time with my kids instead of faffing about in the kitchen with gelatine sheets and blue food colouring, trying to make a pool fence with tiny chocolate biscuits shaped like wooden palings. 

That’s bullsh*t. I’m no better than the mother who does that, and she’s no better than me. We just made different triage choices based on our lives at that time. Because that’s what women do.

Feature Image: Supplied.

Do you have any Streaming Video Services in your household? e.g. Netflix, Binge, etc. We want to hear from you! Take our survey now to go in the running to win a $50 gift voucher.