“Make mistakes, screw up”: Sharon Horgan on how to be a good mother

Mums can have it all if they stop beating themselves up about it, says the comedian, writer and mother

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Like most women, I got through childbirth, horrible though it was, because at the end of it you get a free baby and they’re nice and they love you, even if you’re an idiot.

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I didn’t feel like I’d done anything in particular to be proud of. I’d given birth, I’d had whatever drugs were going and, while I marvelled at my miracle child, I also was very preoccupied with more facile thoughts such as how long it would take for my nether regions to look normal again. Maybe never, as it turns out.

I never planned to get pregnant – it just happened and I’m really glad it did because now I have one up on Jennifer Aniston. But I did immediately notice that the minute you start showing a bump, people want to tell you how to be a good mother. 

From the second the baby arrives, we’ve got midwives telling us we’re angling our nipples in the wrong direction, or other mothers telling us that we’ve moved on to formula milk too quickly. And then it’s pretty much endless until your child is at an age when they can just tell you that you’re screwing up their life.

So I sort of ignored the advice, didn’t really read any books and just decided to be a mother in my own way. But I couldn’t help but look at how I’ve chosen to bring up my kids and worry in case I’m getting it wrong.

What if the choices I make for my children – Sadhbh, seven, and Amer, three – create a prize idiot or a reality TV star? From day one, there are too many things to screw up.

Part of the reason for making this documentary – apart from the fact that I’m naturally nosey about people’s lives – was that I thought there must be some mothers out there who could show me that you can, in fact, have it all. 

The truth is I couldn’t find them, but what I did find was a bunch of mothers who were convinced they were doing it right and were happy with their choices. From the mother who thought it was all about the birth (no drugs, no caesareans) to the home-schooler with six kids under ten and a washboard stomach, to the career woman who happily places her toddler in child care for ten hours a day.

What united them was being confident in their methods and happy to impart their wisdom. I found it liberating. And it unburdened me of some of my own hang-ups.

The truth is I get it wrong every single day. I’m not a stay-at-home mum, I miss school plays, I get grumpy with my kids when I find another wrinkle, I bring moods home, I forget homework, I even forget school sometimes. I have stand-up, emotionally charged arguments with a seven-year-old, for goodness’ sake.

But then I look at my kids, and they’re great. I’m proud of them.

So, chill out, mothers, stop beating yourselves up. Because if you love your kids and they know that, then they’ll forgive you all sorts of nonsense. And maybe then you can start forgiving yourselves a bit, too.

It’s hard to be a mother. The truth is you can have it all, but only if you’re prepared to stop giving yourselves a hard time. Cupcakes can be bought, you know. TVs can be turned on and work deadlines skipped sometimes.

Make mistakes, screw up. If you allow yourself to do that, then “having it all” isn’t such a big lie.

And the truth is that no one really knows how to be a good mother. Except maybe my mother. She was pretty good at it.

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How to Be a Good Mother with Sharon Horgan airs tonight, 10pm, Channel 4

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This is an edited version of an article from the issue of Radio Times magazine that went on sale on 3 January