Neurotic? Or a typical modern mother?

Worry with Mother: 101 Neuroses for the Modern Mama by Francesca Hornak is published by Portico. Illustrations by Dorrance.

Gina Ford or Attachment Parenting? Baby-led weaning or spoon-fed purées? Guilty working mum or guilty full-time mum? Maternal anxiety is nothing new. It’s just that mothers today are bombarded with more tips, advice, goals and checklists than ever before. In her new book, Francesca Hornak’s Worry with Mother: 101 Neuroses for the Modern Mama captures some of the madness of modern mothering. We’re certainly guilty of a few….


“I want to show my teenage daughter I am ‘laid back’ about diet and body image. But I don’t want to put on weight by casually eating loads of carbs in front of her. Hmmm.”

“I have just made roux for my toddler, a requirement of Annabel Karmel’s Mini Fish Pies. I wouldn’t dream of making a roux for my husband. What does this say about our marriage?”


“I can’t get the Peppa pig theme tune out of my head. It has become like an intrusive thought. My husband told me I was moaning it in my sleep. Am I having some sort of breakdown?”

“How many hours a day must I sing ‘Old Macdonald’ to my newborn to qualify as a good mother?”

Development Milestones

“My son can’t walk at 17 months. I’ve started telling people he is only 13 months to buy more time but as he is quite chubby, they always look shocked and say, ‘Ooh, big boy, isn’t he?’ I’m not sure if I’d rather they thought he was obese or failing to meet milestones.”

“My daughter said her first word, ‘Tesco’. I’m dismayed that she went for such a horrible brand, especially since we only go there in emergencies and try to patronise local shops. Why couldn’t she have said ‘Mama’?”

Health & Safety

“If I use self-tan while pregnant, will it leach into my womb and turn the foetus orange – causing a misdiagnosis of jaundice? Would it be OK if I just tanned my legs, arms and head, and left my bump white?”

“When can I stop sterilising everything that goes in my baby’s mouth? The other day I turned around and he was licking a public loo seat. But I can’t shake my fear of unsterilised bottles after reading that bacteria in milk may ‘colonise the teat’. Why did they have to put it like that?”

Other mothers

“I have nothing in common with my NCT group, apart from having given birth at the same time. I’m running out of excuses to avoid their four hour coffee mornings. Why did I pay for friends I don’t want?”

“For World Book Day, another mum and I made a pact we would both send our daughters as Roald Dahl’s Matilda, since they would only need to wear school uniform. On the day, she sent her daughter as the BFG with stilts, prosthetic ears and a hand-knitted Snozzcumber. I found this deeply disloyal, but when I broached it, she said, ‘But it’s all Dahl!’ I hate her.”

Behaviours and boundaries

“As part of baby-led weaning, I’ve read that infants must ‘explore’ their food. My daughter eats yoghurt with her fingers and like to put carrot sticks in her nostrils. My mother-in-law always says ‘Don’t play with your food, darling.’ How can I explain that she is not playing but exploring, and that this is to be encouraged?”

“I would like to practise Free Range Parenting as it sounds wholesome and outdoorsy, but my children just want to watch Netflix. How can I get them to range freely? Also, can I fit them with a chip so I know where they are and can make sure they’re avoiding roads?’”

Everything else

“My due date is approaching and I’ve become obsessed with my hospital bag. I’ve been told to pack an extra pillow, a handheld fan, backless slippers, bendy straws, glucose tablets, a birthing ball, distracting magazines and lip balm (gas and air is drying). But I’m stuck on what to wear. Should I pack a bikini for the birthing pool, or would that look prudish? Maybe I should just pack the top half so the baby can get out easily? I haven’t even started on the baby’s bag.”

“Sometimes I fantasise about taking a very long train journey, alone, or having a general anaesthetic. Is this normal?”

Extracted from Worry with Mother: 101 Neuroses for the Modern Mama by Francesca Hornak, published by Portico. Illustrations by Dorrance.

Francesca Hornak is a new mum and has experienced many of these neuroses. She is a journalist and writer, whose work has appeared in newspapers and magazines including The Sunday Times, The Guardian, Marie Claire, Red, Grazia and Stylist. Her column History of the World in 100 Modern Objects first appeared in The Sunday Times Style Magazine in 2013, and ran for 2 years. She lives in Islington, London and is the author of The History of the World in 100 Modern Objects.


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