17th February 2020

6 ways being a mum is like being a secret agent

The name’s Ferdinand. Manisha Ferdinand…

Being a mum is many things – it’s exhilarating, amazing, challenging and rewarding as well as often (whisper it) boring, difficult, stressful and exhausting in equal measure. But there’s one thing for sure – nothing you’ll ever have done in your life will prepare you for it.

It will, however, prepare you for pretty much any other job that you might have the energy to do.  But there’s one role you might not have thought about, one which motherhood uniquely prepares you for. And that’s being a secret agent.  Bear with me – you might not think you have much in common with Jason Bourne but I’m here to show you just how wrong you are.

Basically, MI-6 – if you’re reading this (and I assume you are) – Mush is a great place to start your next recruitment drive. We’ve already got the basics nailed.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have assumed these skills are what it takes to be a secret agent, because I’m obviously not one. OR AM I?! (Textbook misdirection.)


Do you remember what your to-do list used to look like before you had kids? Chances are, it was a pretty long list of emails to be sent, calls to be made, and other work-related tasks followed by a whole bunch of life admin. If you were anything like me, three or four of the most important things got done on any given day  – if it was a really productive day, five, tops – and the rest were saved for later. Well now, I find I do about twelve things in the time it used to take me to do one – because it’s remarkable how much you can get done when you know the clock is ticking down to the baby waking up and if you don’t get this load of washing on then the whole household will be forced to wear last Halloween’s costumes as they’re the only thing clean.

Being a mum means having to make the longest to-do list (mentally, of course, who has time to write?), sort through it regularly, work out the order everything needs to be done and execute at lightning speed, all while making sure the baby is fed / changed / not tipping out the contents of a kitchen cupboard somewhere. Our ability to assimilate large quantities of data could match any supercomputer at GCHQ.


One of the defining qualities of being a mother is being able to contort yourself into all sorts of positions to get the kid to fall asleep and then by simple virtue of mind over matter, enduring pain and sometimes genuine damage to your body in order to keep them there because the alternative is worse. I have developed muscles I didn’t know I had almost exclusively so they could be pulled due to using them ways they weren’t supposed to be used, all to get five more minutes of uninterrupted time on Facebook of sleep for my precious child.


Let’s examine the core tenets of covert operations, shall we?  Misdirection (pointing to a tree or a duck while you sneak a bite of ice-cream without being seen), master bluffing (“I’m going to leave without you if don’t put on your shoes this instant), clandestine operations (everything associated with Christmas Eve, including the ‘arrival’ of Father Christmas), and, of course, making sure your backstory is securely in place (“I am Captain Mummy and you are the Karate Ninja King / Queen and together we will slay the dragon!”). Basically, try and find me a group of people better at covert ops than mums. Clue: you can’t.


Anyone who’s ever tried to have a reasoned conversation with a toddler will have the magical combination of patience, intuition and lateral thinking that it takes to be a master codebreaker. I mean, here’s this tiny person who can’t often say anything much beyond ‘murgnh’ or ‘babababababa’ and from that we manage to infer that they are hungry, tired, thirsty, feel a bit ill, want a cuddle and / or to watch In The Night Garden. And most of the time, we are right in our conclusions. Watch out Bletchley Park; we’re coming for you.


I am 100% convinced that ninja training is modelled on mothers from time immemorial sneaking out of the nursery once they’ve FINALLY got the baby to sleep. Think about it – you’re silent as a shadow, you know exactly which route to take to avoid being seen or heard, and you’ve probably done a commando roll at some point, cause let’s face it, we’ve got to get our kicks from somewhere.


Scenario: A child is lying face down in the middle of the park, having taken off most of their clothes (the vest remains in place) and refusing to go home until they go on the swings 30 more times. They also maintain that the only thing they will eat until they are 11 is ice-cream and they don’t want dinner because it’s stinky oh and by the way they need a poo. What do you do?

The above situation would strike abject fear into the heart of the most hardened negotiator but Mums will be strike a deal, getting down to one more go on the swings, an ice cream once they’ve gone to the toilet and put all their clothes back on, and an extra story tonight after dinner with relative ease. Unless they’ve had a bad day in which case it’s scooping up the little terror, dumping them in the car and getting them with no more discussion. Sometimes you don’t negotiate.

@Ferders @mushmums

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