Why do mums talk a different language?
As soon as we have babies, why do we start talking like babies?
Editor / July 16 2018
When I first became a mum, I made three promises to myself. Firstly, my children would only watch TV as a special treat (and even then it would only be those educational Baby Einstein DVDs), secondly they would naturally choose fruit and vegetables over cake and crisps without any prompting from me and lastly, I would never use “baby talk” around them. I’ve squirmed uncomfortably too many times as friends refer to their "ickle bubby’s dummy-wummy” so I vowed I’d be the only one to talk about their children like they were proper little humans. Easy, huh? Well, I can safely say all three promises were completely broken in weeks. Smashed, in fact and especially the last one.
I have stood at one end of an aisle in Coles while my husband stood at the other and yelled, “Can you grab Pookie’s pootie please?” Roughly translated this means “Can you get Ivy's blanket please? Of course had I said it like that, no-one would have batted an eyelid, but scarily I didn’t even notice I was speaking ‘fluent mummy’ (unlike the two incredulous 15-year-olds standing next to me who were horrified at my behaviour. As was I!)
There have been so many things that have surprised me about being a mum but it’s the phrases I utter on a daily basis that have me completely floored. Take my daughter, Ivy, and her bizarre nickname, Pookie, (given to her by her big sister, Ruby, on the day she met her sister and called her “Little Pookie”). At first, I refused point-blank to use it but without even noticing, it crept into my conversation. Before I knew it I was saying, “Pookie done poo poo?” in the same way I’d ask “Can I get a coffee please?” What’s more I have done it in front of friends, neighbours and even complete strangers. It’s only when I spot either shock/amusement or a bit of both on their faces that I realise I have become exactly the sort of mum that I swore I’d never be, and I have no idea how it happened.
Perhaps it’s something genetic or there’s a natural hormone that kicks in when you have a baby that suddenly means you can naturally speak mummy-ese with ease.
But, it’s also the phrases we find ourselves saying as mums that amuse me. Saying things like “It’s pardon not what!”; What’s the magic word?” Or even the classic mum-phrase, “What do we say?" when I’m holding out for my daughter to say please, come effortlessly to me. I’ve also become an expert at creating sentences I never thought me, or anyone else, would ever say. This morning I uttered the phrases, “No, Ruby, your sister does not want to wear your knickers as a hat” and “Ivy, please don’t lick the TV” before 7.30am.
Christmas was a hard time for me in the oh-my-god-I-can’t-believe-I said-that stakes. As Ruby had one meltdown after another in the long run up to the big day, I began a bizarre ritual of threatening to phone Father Christmas to tell him to put her on the naughty list. One morning, my husband walked in to find me on the phone pretending to leave a message with a make-believe elf, asking Father Christmas to call me back like I was leaving a message with a CEO.
I had hoped that my daughters wouldn’t inherit my mummy-speak but now I think it’s inevitable. When I listen to Ruby playing with her dolls and she says the words, “Does Barbie want a poo-poo?’, I know exactly where it’s come from...
Frances Sheen has been a magazine and website journalist & editor for the last 20 years - both in Australia and the UK. She's appeared on countless TV and radio shows to discuss parenting and launched her own social media parenting brand. She's the mum of two little girls and juggles that with a busy working life.