Thursday, 24 September 2020

Henley Literary Festival: Matt Coyne and The Unmumsy Mum, Festival Hub

Henley Literary Festival: Matt Coyne and The Unmumsy Mum, Festival Hub

Matt Coyne and The Unmumsy Mum, Festival Hub

Despite it being an incredibly wet Saturday evening, the rain beating on the roof of the Festival Hub like the angry stamps of a toddler tantrum, this event — packed full of parents set free for the evening — was great fun.

Firstly, there was wine, provided by Laithwaite’s, then interviewer Steph Douglas laughed as she welcomed the crowd, saying: “I’d thought you would be a rowdy bunch.”

Yes, there were moments of reflection and seriousness, but overall the audience and the writers alike just wanted to relax, bonded by the shared horrors and joys of parenthood.

Expectation versus reality was first on the list, with both authors leaving the crowd in hysterics.

Matt Coyne, who wrote Man vs Toddler, said “I thought it would be like having a dog” in reference to becoming a dad, while Sarah Turner, author of The Unmumsy Mum A-Z, said parenthood was like being mis-sold payment protection insurance.

There were many funny and relatable anecdotes of parenting catastrophes that had the audience nodding along. At the heart of expectation vs reality, though, is the fact that no one tells the truth. We all see the perfect family Instagram pictures, the Facebook posts of smiling, well-preened mums and happy babies, but it can’t always be like that.

Both Matt and Sarah started their blogs and wrote their books to put this right. And what a relief it was for everyone in the room to be able to be honest — parenting is hard! And wonderful.

It is okay not to always get it right, to leave the house without lipstick, or with unwashed hair, and to admit that actually, you are not enjoying it as much as you think you should be. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your children, it just means you are human.

Both writers dispensed valuable advice, with Sarah urging the audience to “lower the bar”. With three children she has the experience to know that we all put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect.

Matt agreed, although as a man his experience has been different. He laughed that he gets praised simply for turning up at groups holding the baby the right way up.

There is so much judgement on mums in particular in society, and both authors said you can’t win. If you moan, people tell you that you don’t know how lucky you are. But if you don’t share your worries and your frustrations then how can anyone be happy?

With laughter throughout, it was a fun, uplifting and well-deserved night out. For an event about children, it was completely inappropriate, with plenty of swearing, complaints, honesty and of course, wine. However, maybe that was the point.

Laughing at the freedom of children to express themselves, their lack of self-consciousness, their simple approach to life and their wonder at the world, perhaps the most important lesson of the evening for all of us, was — to quote Matt — “Be more toddler.”

Laura Healy

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