Written by Jen Brister


Tales from the other mother

Jen Brister is a mum. No, not that one. The other one. This month, she’s wracked with guilt. Kind of.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Guilt: let’s talk about it.

I’ve had to deal with a lot of guilt over the years, not least because I was brought up Catholic. There really is nothing a Catholic likes more than to feel guilty about well… everything really.

So, you’d think that after becoming a parent I’d be used to that nagging feeling. It seems the answer to that is, “NO!” It’s almost impossible to go through a day without feeling guilty about something.

I blame the class system, because there’s no guiltier mum than a middle-class mum.

“I want Finlow to be happy but he’s allergic to sucrose, so he can only eat hummus and carrot sticks for dessert. You know sugar is poison, right?”

I didn’t know that, love, but I’ve just been reading about the collapse of the NHS and the refugee crisis, so I think you’ll find my care factor is below zero.

As a parent, guilt is something you have to learn to live with. For example I am acutely aware of how much I look forward to Wednesdays and Thursdays. What is so special about these two days? They are the two days I have without my boys.

Yes, you heard me correctly, I am openly admitting that I look forward to NOT being with my children. I know: what kind of awful human am I? I dunno, but I feel guilty about it.

The truth is that when I’m not with them I miss them, but there are days when I crawl out of bed at 6am and see their smiling, upbeat and expectant faces ready to grab the day with both hands, excited about the adventures ahead, delighted that they are going to hang out with me and I think, “I’ve got nothing for you kids. Nothing.”

Playgroups are the worst, I often find myself at one of these BORED OUT OF MY BRAIN. Of course I know that playgroups aren’t FOR ME but the very thought of going to one sends me on a one-way ticket to Yawnsville.

“I’ve tried making butterflies with fingers and imagination and what I got was two toddlers with paint all over their fingers trying to wipe their hands on the kitchen wall.”

Why do I go? Because my boys like nothing more than to play with the exact toys they have at home in a completely different environment. Maybe it’s the challenge of having to wrestle it off another two-year-old, either way I am flatlining.

I think the real problem is I hate small talk and playgroups are a hotbed for engaging in inane chit-chat.

“It’s so cold, isn’t it?”

“Yeah it’s cold…”

“I’ve had to take blankets out for the kids; another thing to carry – it’s a nightmare!”

“I’m sorry, but I think I may have stopped breathing halfway through your last sentence.”

The thing is that generally people are nice and so I feel bad that I have zero interest in interacting with them, but then someone instigates an interaction and I remember why I was enjoying the sound of my own breathing,

“Are those your boys?”


“I’ve definitely seen them around at other groups.”

“That’s possible, although I don’t always go with them.”

“Oh! I must have seen them with their dad…”

Exhaustion and boredom is your enemy as a parent because it means that you’re just not present. I’m sure I’ve missed out on my kids being funny/cute/engaging while I’ve been staring blankly at a wall fantasising about a hot bath/pint of wine/sleep.

“Any time our kids want something that we don’t want them to have, we tell them with confidence that whatever it is has gone to sleep.”

I want to be one of those mums naturally at ease with motherhood. The kind of mum that gets excited about crafts: “Hey kids, we’re going to make a spaceship out of egg boxes and macaroni!” or, “Let’s make butterflies using our fingers and imagination!” I’ve tried making butterflies with fingers and imagination, and what I got was two toddlers with paint all over their fingers trying to wipe their hands on the kitchen wall.

I know I’m not naturally adept at arty stuff and so I find it hard not to beat myself up about all the ways I fall short as a mum. Particularly when you hear yourself making any old shit up to stop your kids from doing [insert anything here].

One of my boys is obsessed with his dummy and bunny or as he likes to call them “Nummy and Munny.” He clings to this small bunny whenever he feels vulnerable or upset. Now we don’t have a problem with the bunny if it wasn’t for the fact that he always wants his dummy with the bunny and he’s two so dummies have got to go. So, no dummy means no bunny!

It’s hard not to feel like you’re torturing your child when they’ve been screaming solidly for two hours for said bunny and dummy. Surely he should be allowed to suck on a bit of plastic and rub his nose up against a filthy green bunny if he wants to?

But we’re hard-nosed bitches and we’ve decided he’s two and it’s time to GROW UP. So we’ve inflicted a strict regime of no bunny or dummy in the daytime. Perfectly reasonable, wouldn’t you say? Not for a two-year-old, and I’ll be honest with you, you can’t use logic with these people, so you find yourself making up any old crap to appease them.

Now I’m not sure if it’s down to exhaustion or our lack of imagination but any time our kids want something that we don’t want them to have, we tell them with confidence that whatever it is has gone to sleep.

“Bunny and dummy can’t come out now cause they’re sleeping.”

“All the snacks are sleeping now…”

“That really sharp knife has to stay in the drawer cause it’s sharp and could cut you. Also it’s asleep.”

I appear to be bringing up my children with the firm belief that everyone and everything suffers from some form of narcolepsy.

The plus side is, of course, that my kids appear to be completely unaware of my failings and for reasons that are beyond me they think I’m amazing. And even though I know they’re wrong I’m going to let them enjoy that deluded notion for as long as possible. And I’m not going to feel guilty about it.

Read all of Jen’s other mother adventures here.


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Written by Jen Brister

Jen Brister is a stand-up comic, writer and comedy actor. A regular performer on the UK and international circuit, she has also written for BBC Scotland and presented for BBC 6Music.