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The family way
7:00am Saturday 10th March 2012 in Lifestyle
TV producer and comedy writer Judith Holder talks about her new book Mum In A Million, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to motherhood which covers everything from parenting through the ages to maternal anxiety.
By Lisa Salmon.
No one prepares you for how hard motherhood is. Or how funny and rewarding it can be.
That's the bittersweet truth fired at mothers and their (sometimes) demonic offspring in the run-up to Mother's Day by author and mother-of-two Judith Holder, who wants mums and kids to see the lighter side of motherhood as they struggle with the tough parts.
Holder speaks from long experience about the mixed bag that is motherhood, as her two daughters are now grown-up and have flown the nest.
She misses them desperately, but has put her maternal angst to good use by writing about what she calls "the dark art of motherhood" in her new book Mum In A Million.
A naturally down-to-earth, funny lady, Holder has put both her mothering wisdom and her impressive career experience in comedy to good use in the book, which is billed as a 'tribute to motherhood'.
However, the woman who has produced TV shows for the nation's top comics including Billy Connolly and Victoria Wood, and co-wrote the stage hit Grumpy Old Women, was never going to write a soft-focused, flowery homage to mothers - this book tells it as it is.
"Motherhood's the hardest job in the world, but of course it's the most wonderful job as well," she stresses.
"It's bittersweet. I wanted to write something for Mother's Day which wasn't too soppy and made mothers and kids laugh - it seems to me that all the stuff around Mother's Day is sugary-sweet and not that realistic."
Holder doesn't preach about the joys of being a mum, but instead recounts the truisms of motherhood that both mums and kids will relate to - like The Things Mothers Say.
No mother will read this eclectic mix of one-liners without hearing her own, often exasperated voice saying, 'That's neither funny nor clever', 'Just in case', 'Don't make me count to ten', 'I could murder a nice cup of tea', and 'Do you need the loo before we go?'.
And then there's the Things Mothers Don't Say, like: 'Have it your way', 'Why not have a party while dad and I are away?', and, 'Don't worry about cleaning up your mess'.
She covers the minutiae of motherhood, from sibling rivalry, school, parents' evenings and holidays, to friends, pets, and the lies mothers tell, like: "We'll see."
She explains: "This is code for: 'Not a chance in hell but I will deal with the fallout in stages or when I've poured myself a great big glass of wine.'"
There is, of course, plenty on embarrassing mums - and particularly on their "indescribable" dancing. Holder insists that mums who aren't embarrassing aren't real mums at all, as apparently "it's part of the job description".
After all, she says: "The whole point about motherhood is that it takes over your life.
"If it doesn't, you can't call yourself a proper, fully-fledged, card-carrying mother."
She describes how mothers, especially at the school gates, have a determined children's welfare agenda - not always hidden - that includes finding out what the other kids are reading, how they're doing at music, etc.
"You can't help yourself," she admits, "because you want them to do well and be happy.
"But you also want them to do better than the other kids - lets face it, if you could rig it so they were Mary in the school nativity play, or form captain, you would, wouldn't you?"
Holder, whose daughters are now 20 and 23, says that like all mums, she'd do anything for her kids, "although I'd draw the line at bungee jumping".
She says her daughters know she'd "take the bullets for them", and that's part of the joy of it all - and why she misses her own mum so much.
Her mum, Jean, died four years ago, and Holder says it's a great shame she didn't live to read the book, because it would have made her laugh and be "a little bit cross with me too".
She says: "When something goes really badly and you've had a terrible day, you want to call your mum. That love is just astonishing, and that's what I miss so much about my mum.
"I don't think you get it until you've had kids yourself."
As well as Holder's personal insights into the highs, lows and funny parts of motherhood, the book also contains testimonies from mothers and children of all ages, such as the priceless story written by one little boy about how he wanted a horse. However, he spelled it 'hores', which gives his innocent note a whole new, unintentional, meaning.
Those accidentally funny things that kids say and do are just one of the many joys of being a mum, says Holder, who stresses: "Motherhood makes the world go round and is astonishing, but it's better if you can have a laugh about it with your kids and agree that mothers can be terribly two-faced and devious, annoying and nosey, and economical with the truth."
But she adds: "Crucially, you only get one mum and she loves you unconditionally.
"Mothers will do anything for their children. And guess what: Children work this out at a very early age.
"But here's the miracle: Despite all the work involved, for most of us being a mother is the single best thing in life."
:: Mum In A Million is published by Orion, £9.99, available now.
Ask the expert Q: "My teenager's bedroom is always a disgrace and we row about it constantly. What's the best way to tackle his messiness so it doesn't cause constant problems?"
A: Parenting expert Sue Atkins, author of Parenting Made Easy (published by Vermilion on April 5, £12.99), says: "I know it's tough to see your once beautifully-decorated, tidy child's room a tip, but it's not life-threatening. So learn to take a deep breath and press your imaginary pause button.
"Then forget about the mess, close the door and save your breath for more important arguments with your teenager.
"But that's not to say that you totally let them get away with it. It's important to clearly tell your kids what your minimum standards are, and to compromise by maybe choosing a day when their room has to be vacuumed, dusted, and tidied every week.
"Link it to their pocket money or lifts into town, and stick to your guns and expect that standard from them.
"Teenagers like their own space so let their bedroom be that private space. It's a place to chill out, relax, study and be alone and if you think, 'Their room, their mess, their business', it helps you cope with the untidiness.
"Sometimes a messy room can be a health hazard, so be clear about no smoking in their bedroom, the food being cleared up and glasses brought down.
"Don't make general pleas for help, always be specific in the tasks you ask them to do, set a time limit, check they have done them and have sanctions ready if they haven't.
"And you make a rod for your own back if you give in and do it yourself. If you always tidy up after them, they get used to it. They will appreciate what you do for them all the more when they realise the effort it involves to do it themselves."
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