parent opinion

HOLLY WAINWRIGHT: 11 things I’ve learned in 10 years of being a mother.


My oldest child turned 10 last week.

We made a fuss. I tried to make a cake. We went for family dinner and terrorised a restaurant. There was a party on the weekend. It was a lot.

At 10, I couldn’t be prouder of her, my fierce, kind girl. I could boast about her for a week.

But look, this is about me.

Because as M moved into double-digits, my perceived experience level as a parent also kicks over into another gear – I have now been a mother for a decade.

Watch: Things Mums never hear. Post continues below.

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Let’s be clear, this does not make me an expert in anything at all. As my podcast “husband” Andrew Daddo – whose children are not actually children anymore – and I always say on This Glorious Mess, every year that passes doesn’t put any letters after your name, it just increases your flying hours.

And in my flying time with my now 10-year-old, M, and then my seven-year-old, B, of course, I have learned some things.


And here they are because if there’s something mothers need more of in their lives, it’s wisdom from unqualified strangers.

11 parenting lessons
M when she was 0. Image: Supplied.

1. I know nothing.

No, really. I have read books, I have consulted experts. I have interviewed many experts for my job and felt their theories deeply. I ask questions of almost every other parent I meet about how they handle sleep/discipline/tech/food/puberty/sleep and I’m armed with a million answers, but at least three times a week, even now, I look at my partner (in parenting and life, Brent) and I say, ‘What the f*** is this?’ and handle everything badly.


“Well, that didn’t go well,” is one of the most uttered phrases in my home.

Please, keep reading. It gets better, I promise.

2. You are who you are.

Birthing a baby does not suddenly make you any of the following things:

-An expert on babies. Yours, or anyone else’s.

-A domestic goddess with a spotless house and freshly-baked snacks on tap.

-A supremely organised multi-tasker who can handle anything that’s thrown at them.

-A super-sociable joiner.

-A self-sacrificing martyr.

If you are someone who loves to research and be prepared, you will still be that person.

If you are someone who’s instinctive or spontaneous, that’s how you’ll do it. The pressure on women to suddenly change their personalities, their interests, their appearance, even, when they’re responsible for another human is one of the things that messes with us most.

There is not ‘pre-baby’ you and ‘post-baby’ you, there’s just you. With less sleep and more stuff to do.

3. Your kids are not you.

Look, knock yourself out: Pass on your values. Read to them daily. Lecture them about the planet when they’re in utero. Whisper to them about your failed dreams while they sleep (cough).


As soon as your children can exert their free-will, they will pick their own path.

Case in point: My daughter is enormously sporty. There is nothing she would rather do that kick or chase a ball, outdoors, all day.

Me? Well, let’s just say I used to deliberately leave a running shoe at home so I couldn’t do PE. Or take a break in the middle of cross-country to smoke a cheeky ciggie under the railway bridge. Don’t tell anyone (and smoking kills, people).

4. Everything passes. And when it’s passed, you can barely remember it.

That overwhelming concern about the dummy dilemma / that friendship drama that caused tears for days / day sleeps / first school day – it’s all very important, but you’ll instantly forget just how earth-shatteringly essential it was to get right as soon as you’re on to the next thing.

Except for sleep troubles. No-one in our house has slept through the night for 10 years. Sorry about that.

5. You can’t do anything right.

This is essential to remember. Whatever choices you make as a mother, there will be someone (not even necessarily a real person, but perhaps just a social media avatar person) who will tell you why your choice was wrong.

If you do bake the perfect cake, someone will tell you off for linking celebrations with sugary carbs. If you work too much, you’ll be neglectful. If you don’t work outside the home enough, you’ll be lazy. If you step into your kid’s daily dramas, you’re a helicopter. If you don’t, you’re a monster.


The old adage that it is “impossible to please all of the people all of the time” was obviously referring to an online mums’ forum.

6. Some of the best moments of your life will be the hardest.

If you’ve given birth, you already know this. Parenthood, from the moment you wee on a stick until... the rest of your life, is an endless, high-wire mixture of terror and joy.

The stakes have never been higher and the pay-off has never been greater. The lows are unfathomable, the highs burst your heart. Life will never be boring ever again. Except for, you know, every day. It’s a complete mindf**k.

7. And some of the happiest moments will be the simplest.

I had no idea that someone else’s smile could be the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. No, you don’t understand, more beautiful than great art, the seven wonders of the world combined, more beautiful than Thelma and Louise-era Brad Pitt.

Lying in bed with my children smiling at me as they simultaneously crush me and bore me to death while they tell me in minutiae about their day… it’s a pure kind of happiness that’s extraordinary in its very ordinariness.


8. There will be days when you wished you’d never done it.

Of course there will. It starts when they’re tiny and you haven’t slept for a week and all your former work colleagues are posting from Coachella/Friday night drinks/Porto-f***ing-fino/a deserted beach/a café without a high chair.

And it continues to a day when you might be sitting in a health professional’s office and getting the kind of news that stops your heart for a second.

Why did you ever make yourself this vulnerable? This tired? This dependent? This un-free?

These are all valid questions.

9. It’s not true that ‘nobody ever told you’ - you just weren’t listening.

Because all those untold truths weren’t even a little bit relevant to you back then. No-one is interested in baby things – beyond horror stories and cute Instagram posts – until they’re there themselves.


“Why didn’t anyone tell me???” You rail in those early days. Go on, you go and try to tell someone who’s five years from your current reality about your baby’s poo schedule and see how active their listening is.

There is no conspiracy of silence amongst mothers. In fact, we complain all the damn time. It’s just no-one gives a sh*t until it’s their life, too.

10. Teachers are heroes.

I’m not at the high school years yet, but Primary School has been an absolute revelation to me.

Sure, I was there myself once, but I was short and couldn’t see all the bloody hard work my teachers were putting in to me and my unruly little mates.

The effort and care and humour and love the teachers at my kids’ bog-standard public school give to their students is inspiring. I should bring them chocolates every day, not just complain about that crappy present I manage every Christmas (see, you are who you are).


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It’s been a couple of months since M and I got back from Africa. It’s easy, in the muddle of work and school and karate lessons (!) to almost forget the ridiculous privilege it was to meet kids like 9yo Fortune at Mbazzi and Katuuso schools in Uganda, to learn just a little more about the world through the eyes of these students in their country. But only to ‘almost’ forget, because M and I have these encounters, and the lessons they taught us, burned into us now and our eyes are wider for it. I’m throwing back to Uganda because right now the @schoolforlifefoundation 2020 Travel For Good trips are open. If their parent-child immersion visits are something you’ve been thinking about, go and check them out. Part of the commitment is raising money for the schools and bloody hell, I’m delighted M and I did it.

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11. And doctors and nurses are Gods.

I am at the doctors all the time but I can’t remember the last time I went for anything that was wrong with me.

And every parent has made the dash to Children’s Emergency more than once. If you are very lucky, that will be that, and everyone goes home rattled, safe and happy.

But that’s not everyone’s experience, and once you’re a parent, you’ve crossed into a place where the worst thing you could imagine happening is something that happens to someone else, not to you. And the people who stand between you and Hell are truly the most valuable in the world.

Nurses should be paid movie-star money. MOVIE STAR MONEY.

That’s it. Ten years, right there.

This story originally appeared in Holly Wainwright’s weekly newsletter. You can get more stories like it by subscribing to her weekly newsletter, here. You can also follow Holly on Instagram, here. Facebook, here. Or buy her novels, here.

Feature Image: Supplied