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Lower the bar: The only advice Mia Freedman has ever given me about parenthood.

The question, 'What's the best parenting advice you've ever received?' always stumps me. 

There's just so... much. 

One of the most definitive things about being a parent is that everyone - and I mean everyone - has advice for you.

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From the moment your belly's gentle swell begins to give away the fact you're breeding, all you deal with every day are people who want to tell you what to do. 

And sometimes, that's annoying.

"Rest now, you won't get any when the baby comes..." Thanks, but I have a JOB now. I kind of have to do that. 

"I found that eating ice helped me stay cool during those hot pregnant months..." Ice...cream. I want ice... cream, please. 

"You should breathe through labour pains without drugs, your baby will be so much more awake..." Well, that sounds worth it.

"Having sex will bring on labour, you two should get busy..." Can you actually f**k off?

But there's some advice that you should always listen to. The good sh*t that comes from elders who get you.

Now, Mia Freedman isn't my elder. 

I mean, I could troll her by pointing out that she's a whole four months older than me, but we're the same age. 

She's my boss, my friend, my podcast sister. And she has done all this parenting stuff before me. 

Twelve years before me, to be exact. Luca, Mia's oldest, is 22. Matilda, my oldest, is 10. Mia was a young mum, mine qualified as a 'geriatric' pregnancy.  Let us never speak of that again.

But it makes her a mentor. To me and many, many other women. And yet, she's only ever offered me one piece of parenting advice. And it's this:

Lower the bar.

Mia would say that her bar is so low she can trip over it. But I've met her children (I work with one of them, after all), and I can assure you that they have not raised themselves. 

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For non-parents, it's probably obvious, and slightly confusing, advice. Because they have not yet encountered the never-ending parade of people who want to lift your bar, inch by inch, every single day.

Clearly, being a parent requires a level of love, attention, discipline and focus that you can't fake. And being a good parent requires all that plus a certain, uncomfortable level of selflessness that is very much at odds with the instant gratification culture we all marinate in now. 

Did you do an okay job at it? You might not find out for another few decades, so, in the meantime, let's sweat the small stuff. 

Improving activities for baby: Do you take your teeny-tiny one to baby yoga, gymberoo, nursery rhyme time, swimming? 

Food policing: Are you home-making all of their colourful mush? Is it organic? Is it steamed, not boiled, because that holds in more nutrients, you know? 

Sleep routines: Are you making sure that before bedtime the lights are low in your house, there's calming music, the bath's not too hot and you're not providing too much unsettling eye contact? 

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Comparison culture nudges the bar ever higher every day. 

What kind of party are you having for your child's second birthday? 

Did you make that cake? Even if you can't cook? 

Have you vetted all their friends, to weed out any aggressive bullies? Did you check with their teacher, to make sure you're across any special friendships, or specific tensions, before you drew up the guest list?

Your home is almost certainly not good enough.

What does your child's bedroom look like? Is it tastefully gender-neutral? Cotton? Allergen-free?

Is your kitchen baby proofed? Is the medicine in an eye-level, locked cupboard? Is the booze?

Is there enough communal space for improving family activities, but also private nooks where your children can "recharge" in peace? 

Did you put the things your kids want for Christmas way above any little treat you might have been secretly eyeing off all year? 

Sometimes, when I'm slammed by a wave of parenting guilt because someone's just told me something about one of my kids that I didn't know, or a teacher needs to tell me about an issue or... I see another child eating broccoli, I whisper Mia's advice to myself.

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Lower the bar. 

You are not superhuman, which is the parenting level we have all now internalised as normal.

When my daughter is sometimes sulky and rude, I know I am meant to patiently not rise to the bait, give her space and then distract her with something fun to snap her out of her funk. But I am a human, and I have sh*t to do, too, so sometimes yelling at her is the only option available to me. And that has to be okay. 

When my son's behaviour raises eyebrows in public, I know I am meant to politely explain to people that we're working hard on teaching him boundaries, but he has a few challenges and this is as good as it gets some days. But I am a human, and sometimes, I am going to yank him away with a hissed reprimand. 

Lower the bar. 

You're not a chef. A chauffeur. A professional sports coach. A tutor. A counsellor. A mediator. A guru.

It's good advice. Here's to the elders, the smart women who've gone before.

Here's to Mia.


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