Was it a Bisto gravy advert that coined the phrase ‘because mother knows best’? It might have been an 80’s commercial for white bread or washing powder but it definitely involved the sexist stereotype of a stay-at-home mum, sporting an apron and outrageously permed hair. Busy in a warmly lit kitchen and gently smiling to the camera as her on-screen child thanks her for making everything in the world better. Whatever the advert was for, it must have left quite an impression on me as I can still picture the kind yet ever-so-slightly smug face worn by the mother who knew best. What particularly stands out for me about that advert though is the tagline and as a new dad, I have been recently struggling to accept it.
Of course ‘Mother knows best’ is not a factual statement. I mean, during my childhood I remember my own mum often knowing best and helping me out of all sorts of situations. However, when I wanted to understand how electricity worked or why the moon only comes out at night. The answers would always be either ‘ask your father’ or, if he was unavailable at that moment, I was just simply told ‘it’s magic love’. When it came to helping me with my algebra homework, mother definitely knew worst.
But as I desperately try my hardest to be involved in these early months of my daughter’s life, I find that I am haunted by this concept that ‘mother knows best’. Because annoyingly as it turns out, Rosalie’s mother always seems to.
I have discovered that I lack the built in awareness my girlfriend seems to possess that tells me two pairs of socks are needed when the temperature drops below a certain level or that a particular brand of nappy never fails to leak shit if not fastened in a specific way. I can never quite tell whether Rosie is crying because she wants to be put on her belly or her back and so I awkwardly try both, rolling her over like a sausage on a BBQ. Until my girlfriend comes into the room, puts her on her side and the crying ceases immediately.
She doesn’t quite flash me the same smug look as the lady in the advert but I can sense what she is thinking all the same and I reluctantly hold out my plate for more delicious homemade gravy.
At first I tried to fight it, determined to prove that I too could demonstrate the same level of careful attention to our baby’s needs. One night in particular when Rosie decided she was not interested in falling asleep, I became convinced she couldn’t possibly still be hungry and instead simply needed to be rocked in my arms. One hour later when I could no longer feel my shoulders I eventually conceded defeat and in frustration handed her back over. Pulling the duvet over my head I turned my back in frustration and lay awake muttering angrily to myself as within minutes our baby had started gently snoring behind me. I eagerly researched the next day that if a man uses a breast pump for long enough, eventually he will start producing milk and develop breasts of his own. Could be useful, I thought for a split second and then realised things had gone too far.
I have now finally accepted that Rosalie’s mother does have a special attachment which I cannot hope to replicate. She did after all grow this little girl inside her body for nine months and now regularly provides her with all the nutrients she needs every two or three hours. She spends most of the day with her while I am working and admittedly has read vastly more about the subject of raising a baby than I have. I am happy to follow my girlfriend’s instincts and although I am sure I do lots of things right, I can freely admit that right now, mother does seem to know best.
But when Rosalie is ready for help with her maths homework I’ll be here and ready…to explain that Pythagoras theorem is purely magic.