Nursing Times Award Winner

Nursing in hospitals.......and the fraught mother analogy

Imagine that the nursing profession is like a new mother, who gazes lovingly at her new-born baby and wants, with all her heart, to be the best mother in the world.

Then move on to the day when that same mother now has three children under five years old. It’s winter, it’s cold and it’s raining. The five year old, for the moment is well and running around the house. The three year old has an ear infection and the baby has a tummy bug.

The five year old wants to go to the swings but the mother is up to her neck in vomit, diarrhea and an untidy flat. She hasn’t slept all night and the baby won’t stop crying. She tells the 5 year old that they will go to the swings but he will have to wait. Battling dirty nappies and clothes covered in ‘sick’, the mother is also worried about the unpaid bills since she gave up work, and is hounded by a neighbour who keeps threatening to complain to the landlord if she doesn’t keep the noise down.

She wants to be a good mother and, more than anything, she wants to get to the swings so that she can give her child the treat he deserves. But the odds are stacked against her. She doesn’t have enough help, her money worries are making her anxious and the lady in the flat next door keeps banging on the wall threatening her with eviction if she doesn’t stick to the rules about reasonable noise.

When six o’clock comes, she hasn’t got to the swings. By now she has shouted at the five year old for asking for what she cannot deliver. Yet he was the person she most wanted to help, the person she most wanted to believe that she was the best mother in the world.

But, in the end, the odds were stacked against her and as night falls, they are all in tears. In some truly desperate cases, a mother in that situation may resort to harming the very child who most needs her love.

That mother represents many of the thousands of nurses on understaffed units, the unpaid bills represent the hospital that is battling limited resources and the lady threatening to report her is the Government imposing a string of impossible targets.

Relief only comes to that mother the following day when a friend calls round with her children. In theory this will mean extra work as the friend will want a coffee and her child will only add to the mess and the noise.

But it doesn’t work like that. Coming in from the outside world, the visit calms the situation. The mother behaves better now that she has a visitor and the children, sensing their mother’s more relaxed mood, calm down and are delighted that a child has come to play. The friend feeds the toddler and then suggests she takes the older children to the swings. Now everyone is happy.

That friend represents help from wider the community. The fraught mum not only appreciates her company, she is also touched that anyone would want to give up their time to visit her when her life was in such crisis.


It will be a long time, if ever, before I truly forgive several NHS staff for the careless, thoughtless treatment my mother received during her terrible illness. Many other staff were brilliant, often in very difficult circumstances But, as I gain a better understanding of why I believe that care was poor, I increase my knowledge of what needs to be done to put it right.

Kissing it Better passionately believes that the talent, ideas, energy and commitment of vibrant organisations in the community, supervised with the intelligence, enthusiasm and gratitude of NHS staff, can go a long way to lifting the spirits of those working, and being cared for within a hospital

‘Everyone is totally ‘sparked up’

A grateful relative’s comments following a visit by beauty therapists, a children’s choir and therapy dogs to an elderly care ward at The Lister Hospital, Stevenage.


If you agree with this analogy, please help us spread the word

Jill Fraser

Jill Fraser

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