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Family

Michele A'Court on parenting, life lessons and raising a strong and stroppy daughter

For Michele, "equality was at the core" of her parenting. For her daughter, "Mum gave me a confidence to think outside of the box."

By Amy Nelmes Bissett
Kiwi comedy genius Michele A'Court is the first to admit she's not a big fan of doing things by the book. So when daughter Holly packed her bags and left the family home, Michele's approach to having an empty nest wasn't ever going to be traditional.
The mum-of-one started jotting down a lengthy list of important life lessons that she suddenly realised she'd failed to tell her daughter during her childhood. Yes, there were the basics, like how to store ginger, but also the hard-hitting, such as the importance of demanding equal pay.
"I had thought, as many parents do, that 'one day I am going to sit down and talk to you about this, but right now, we need to get you to dance class, then I have to go to a show or we have to go to school,'" tells Michele, 56.
"And then it turns into, 'Another day I will talk to you about tattoos or pay equity – I'm sure that day will come.' But then she was gone."
That was back in 2012, when Holly was 18, and Michele then started to use the list as material for her stand-up gigs around the country. It was an instant hit with knackered Kiwi parents who related to the realities of child rearing.
"It resonated with them as they were or had been on the same journey," she says. "You have this idea of what parent-hood is going to look like. Then it comes along and you haven't even been able to finish a sandwich without someone taking a bite out of it. Being a parent is busy."
For most teenage girls, their mum getting up on stage and talking about them would be a living nightmare. But Holly, now 25, was so proud of Stuff I Forgot to Tell My Daughter, she attended endless shows, even bringing her pals along.
Smiling, Holly says, "Mum's been doing comedy about me since I was little, so I'm really used to it. But with this, she did ask me and wanted to see how I felt. I trusted her. And it's kind of nice to be talked about by your mum in such a way. I feel privileged."
Michele and Holly, then 17, in Rarotonga in 2011.
The stand-up routine was transformed into a book of the same title in 2015, but fast-forward to today and it couldn't be more relevant. Michele touched on big feminist issues before the #MeToo movement took hold and the Harvey Weinstein drama triggered a fourth wave of women fighting once again for equality.
"It was kind of strange, really, seeing it all unfold," says Michele, who lives in Auckland with husband comedian Jeremy Elwood. "These were a lot of issues that I talk about in my book, the gender pay gap being one of them. And now we're finally saying, 'Actually, we know what fair is and this isn't it.'"
In fact, Woman's Day is now welcoming Michele as a new guest columnist, tackling the big issues Kiwi women face every day. After all, Michele has had quite the life.
She's been working the New Zealand comedy circuit for almost three decades, crafting her art in Queenstown before moving to Auckland just before Holly was born in 1993. And ever since, her stand-up material, as a whole, has been about motherhood.
The proud gran with Ariana and newborn Nukutawhiti.
"I always love having Holly in the audience because I've always done stand-up about her. My first stand-up set in 1993 was about giving birth and breastfeeding," recalls Michele.
"There's really only been a few occasions when she doesn't like me talking about her. Like, one year, she said to me, 'Don't talk about me tonight,' when she was about 14. And I said OK and I didn't. Afterward I asked her if she had enjoyed it and she said, 'But you didn't talk about me.' That's the joys of teenagers."
Michele says she has never been short of material to work from, especially with three marriages under her belt, a lengthy stint at being a solo mum and a sudden decision to get hitched in Las Vegas.
"I don't know if you've met anyone to whom nothing bad has happened. They are the most tedious people in the world," she quips.
After splitting from Holly's dad soon after her daughter's birth, Michele admits that for a long time, her focus was on making ends meet and getting on with the hard graft of being a single parent with a job.
But while there may have been life lessons Michele forgot to impart, she did remember the most important one. "Equality was at the core of my parenting," tells Michele.
"I wanted to raise a strong and stroppy daughter who knew she could do anything she wanted to do."
It appears to have worked. Holly is now a mum to Ariana, four, and five-month-old Nukutawhiti, living in Tauranga. Holly is doing things her way, focusing on motherhood in her 20s, then a career in her 30s.
"Mum gave me a confidence to think outside of the box," explains Holly.
"I'd like to be a primary school teacher one day, but right now, I am happy being a mum.
"I'm lucky to have Mum as a sounding board throughout. She really does always have the best advice because she's done it all and actually done it far more excitingly."
So when it comes to giving guidance, does Michele feel like a natural? "I never feel like I am giving advice, but that I'm telling stories," she says.
"I don't feel like I am saying, 'You should do this.' But more, 'This is what worked for me and this didn't work for me.'"
Holly smiles and adds, "I always say this, but if I could be the mum that she was for me for my kids, then I will be the happiest person in the world."

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