The best way to mother

With so much disagreement on how to be a good mother, who can Sophie turn to?  Will she discover how to be the best mother she can be to little Felix?

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The best way to mother

A fable for parents by Dr Koa Whittingham

Sophie carefully scooped a sleeping Felix out of his car seat, trying not to wake him.  She slung her enormous bag over her opposite shoulder and locked the car.  She wasn’t yet used to travelling with a baby and couldn’t help but wonder how she was going to get better at it without growing more arms.  Sophie walked up to the gate and checked the house number to make sure it was the right address.  It was.  Sophie frowned as she gazed at the small lowset house framed with gardens.  It looked disappointingly ordinary.  Could it really be that she could find answers to her questions inside?  Could it really be that a wise woman lived here?  Felix stirred in her arms and Sophie shifted him slightly, “Shh…there, there, the wise woman will tell me what to do…I hope…”  Felix seemed to accept this and settled back into sleep.

“Are you going to stand there all day?” someone called out.

Sophie squinted towards the voice and saw a tiny, elderly woman sitting on the small front veranda, her face almost totally obscured by the garden.

Sophie crept forwards, “I come seeking your wisdom…”

The old woman sighed, “Yes, they all say that.  Heaven knows why.  Well, you’d better come in dear, hadn’t you?”

With trepidation, Sophie marched forward, through the tangled garden, up the stairs and onto the veranda with the old woman.

“Better sit down too, dear.”

Obediently, Sophie pulled up a chair and sat, laying her sleeping baby on her lap.

The elderly lady leaned forward to look at Felix, “Oh, what a little darling!  A boy?”

Sophie nodded.

“His name?”


“How sweet.  Your first?”

Sophie nodded.

“I bet you never realised until now just how much love was in your heart?”

Sophie’s eyes filled with tears, “I adore him…”

The old woman nodded and smiled, “Of course you do.”

“I’m determined to be the best mother I can possibly be.”

“Good for you, dear.”

“I’ve read every book on babies and parenting, I’ve drilled midwives, doctors and psychologists and I’ve picked the brains of every mother I know… I spent the entire pregnancy making sure that I knew everything there was to know about babies and mothering.”

“Clever girl,” the old woman smiled, “A little knowledge and preparation never hurt anyone.”

“But, but, it has only left me even more confused.  Now Felix has arrived and I still don’t know what to do.  You see, everyone disagrees.  There’s complete disagreement about every little aspect of being a mother.  Even among the experts!  Even among mothers!  Even among women I know are good mothers!”

The old woman started laughing, “Oh, dearie, of course there is.  When have people ever agreed on anything?”

Sophie’s eyes began to overflow, “Well, I’m just so confused…”

“Oh, my dear, don’t fret,” the old woman answered kindly, patting Sophie on the shoulder as she did so, “It is just that information needs to be chewed over, digested; not swallowed whole.”

“Well, maybe you could help me to digest it.  What do you think is the best way to mother a child?”

The elderly lady frowned, “Ah, now that question doesn’t really have an answer does it?  But is that really the question that you came here to ask?”

“Yes…” Sophie replied as she looked down at Felix sleeping on her lap, “if I can’t figure out the best way to mother, then how can I be the best mother to…oh, I see.  No.  I came to ask what I should do with Felix.  How can I be the best mother to Felix?”

The old woman nodded and smiled, “Yes, that’s a better question.  That question has an answer.  But I’m afraid I can’t answer it.”

Sophie’s face crumpled in disappointment, “Oh, now what’ll I do?  You were my last hope…”

“Don’t fret, dear.  I know who can,” the old woman said, smiling mysteriously.

“You do?”

“I do.”

“And I can ask them?”

“ure, today if you like,” the old woman continued.

“Oh yes, please!”

“Well, actually, there are really two people you’ll need to ask.   Now, they’ll need to work as a team and you’ll need to listen to them both, mind.  They aren’t going to give you all the answers straight away and it’ll take time for you to understand.  It’ll be a constant figuring and re-figuring, you see.   You’ll never be on completely solid ground.  But if you learn to listen, if the two work as a team, well, you’ll start digesting all that information and…ah…it will be simply wondrous…”

“That sounds great.  I’ll listen, I will!  Who are they?” asked Sophie.

“Ah, well the first is pure of heart.  He’ll tell you exactly what your baby needs, unedited and unbiased, at every moment of the day,” the old woman chuckled to herself, “He’ll deliver many of these messages with a certain degree of hmmm… force, shall we say?”

Sophie nodded for her to continue.

“The second, well, the second loves Felix more than life itself.  When Felix is happy she’ll be happy, when Felix is sad, she’ll be sad…so who better to get to know him through and through?”

Sophie smiled, “Sounds exactly like who I’ve been looking for.”

The old woman grinned, “Well, then, why don’t you meet them?”
“Now?” Sophie asked suddenly nervous.

“Now,” the old woman answered decisively, “Straight through my front door, dear and open the first door on the left.”

“How will I know I’ve met them?”

“You’ll know, dear,” the old woman answered closing her eyes and smiling.

Sophie stood slowly, repositioning Felix in her arms so that she could walk with him as she entered the old woman’s house.  She pushed open the first door on the left and stepped into an empty room.

“Hello?” she called out but there was no one there.   The room was bare except for a large, antique mirror in an ornate brass frame and an enormous, fancy armchair placed directly in front of the mirror. Sophie strode into the room, gazing around to be sure that it was an empty room.  The only other person in the room was her own reflection and, of course, little Felix.

“Well, there’s no one here,” Sophie murmured to herself, gazing at her own reflection and sighing in disappointment, “Maybe the wise woman is just a fraud after all… no answers today then I guess.”

Just as she started to turn away from the mirror to leave the room, she noticed in their reflection that Felix had woken and his little mouth was opening wide.

She looked down at her baby, “What’s the matter, my darling?  Do you want a feed?”

Felix answered by starting to cry a little, a bleating newborn cry, and Sophie sat in the armchair and began to feed him.  As Felix enjoyed his feed, Sophie watched herself and Felix in the mirror.  As Felix fed, Sophie began to truly process the old lady’s words.  “The first is pure of heart…” she muttered to herself as she gazed at Felix, “and the second loves Felix more than life itself…”  She laughed at herself for not realising what the old lady had been getting at straight away.  “A figuring and a re-figuring…work as a team…” she muttered as her understanding crystallised.

Sophie smiled as she stepped back out of the old woman’s house onto the sunny veranda.  She walked over to the old woman to thank her but she had fallen asleep.  She saw a blanket next to the old woman’s chair and she draped it over the old woman gently and gave her a kiss on the cheek, “Thank-you.”

She held Felix close as she strode to her car with a newly discovered confidence.

As her car drove away the old woman woke and she smiled, “What a lucky little boy.”

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Koa’s fables for parents are written to inspire vital living and loving, responsive parenting as based on the latest research, her clinical experience as a psychologist and her own experiences as a mum.