The five simple words my mum says will change the way I parent.

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My mum is warm and funny and loving but she also a straight talker. She lives in another state and I find sometimes I call her to vent. You know:

The kids never empty the dishwasher

Traffic is shit

House has a leak

Fish is ridiculously expensive but experts keep telling me how important it is for brain development in kids

I hate vacuuming stairs

My throat hurts, I think my glands are swollen

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Sydney is so expensive I’d be better off living in a gorgeous villa in the South of France

I lost the beautiful ring my husband gave me and feel sick. Yes I have looked everywhere. I want to vomit

My brothers get off the phone too fast. It’s like hang-up whiplash.

[Insert celebrity chef name here] recipe for Moroccan Chicken was a disaster and, no, I didn’t improvise.

What’s the name of that powdered Vitamin C because, did I mention my throat hurts, I think my glands are swollen

I’m sure we discuss the meaning of life and Australian politics and whether people really do have free will and movies and books in between my going to my Mummy to talk about the niggling pain I have in my left shoulder.

The other day Mum called just after I drove a mass of kids (not all mine) back from a party and dropped everyone home and this dropping was making me late for my eldest daughter’s parent teacher interviews and I was venting as I sped around the house flipping off shoes and pulling on new ones and changing my shirt and putting some mascara on.

“Now I’m late and I’m going to hit traffic and I had to drop everyone home and …”

“Why didn’t you just say, ‘Sorry, that doesn’t suit me’?”

“I can’t say that. You don’t say that Mum.”

“Why?”

“Because you just can’t.”

“But dropping other people’s kids off has made you late and stressed and it was never going to work. Why can’t you say that?”

“You don’t understand. That’s just not what you say.”

This kind of incredulous back and forth, generation gap speak, went on for a while with no resolution.

As I panic drove to the school I wondered why that isn’t something we say. Why didn’t I say when kids were being divvied out to be returned home, “Sorry, that doesn’t suit me.”?

By smiling and saying “Sure I can drop three extra kids home” in a hallway to another mum, I made my eldest daughter stressed and upset she would be late to her parent teacher interview. I made us late. I made me stressed. I couldn’t start the dinner I planned because I had to run in the house and then back out again. I felt silly talking to these teachers because I looked disorganised and my hair was weird, which shouldn’t matter but it does sometimes when you are sitting in front of people you don’t really know talking about someone you love.

What if I had said to that mum when she asked for a favour, “Sorry that doesn’t suit me”?

Meryl Streep and her daughters

It didn't suit me. It caused a domino effect of letting people I love down while not letting down someone I didn't really know.

It's a small phrase, but one that says I have a life too.

My mum also had three kids. She also worked full-time. Our lives usually worked. There were the normal hiccups. I remember my mum occasionally stressed (usually about her hair after my brother rubbed the top of her head 'playfully' when we were in the car on the way to school and work), but I don't think as much as I am.

Maybe Mum is from a more pragmatic generation. Maybe she was actually doing more than me due the defined gender roles of the times and taking on little jobs constantly that didn't suit simply wasn't something she could add to her workload. Maybe she never bought into this whole superwoman thing. She wasn't parenting for an audience, she was parenting for her children and family.

Sometimes when I'm asked if something is a bother, if something is too much trouble, it actually is. And probably, definitely, I should say so. I'm sure the person asking for the favour doesn't want it to end up a big, ugly mess in my day.

I can smile and say "Sorry that doesn't suit me".

Still, I might have to work up to that. Baby steps.

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