Anyone who uses Facebook will surely have noticed how many deliriously happy parents there are.
As a lot of parents will attest, this photoshopped dream of parenthood seems strangely to be something which happens to other people and not them. This is not to say that having children is continual, unremitting misery and hardship, just that there is hardly ever any balance in the reporting. The hard stuff is seldom mentioned and if it is it is quickly swept away with a breezy comment: “but he looks so angelic when he does, eventually, go to sleep!”
People generally do not post pictures on Facebook of their red-faced child screaming at 3am in the morning
If you have a close enough relationship to friends with kids where you can be real with each other you will often get a different viewpoint. Whilst many would not change their decision to have children, that rose-tinted ideal has often given way to a rather more hard-edged reality.
Part of the problem is that it is still something of a taboo to admit that you are struggling with parenthood, that you are finding it unrewarding or that you are questioning the decision in the first place. You would probably get a more favourable response if you expressed the view that drink driving should be legalised.
For some people, maybe the majority, this really is the most fulfilling thing that they have done with their lives. For others, who may be feeling guilty and inadequate for feeling that this is not the 24-hour joy-ride which they were sold on, there is nothing for it but to grit their teeth, get through it and drink wine in the evenings.
What drives the guilt and feelings of inadequacy is this sugar-coated fantasy of perfect family lives which is rammed down our throats every day. It is supposed to be wonderful so what is wrong with me if I am not loving every minute?
If there was a bit of reality about parenting parents wouldn’t feel that they are unable to talk about their own experience with honesty.
The first thing that needs to be acknowledged is that not everyone is cut out for parenthood and that fact does not make them somehow inferior. A childless, mature couple are often viewed either with pity or suspicion and find themselves having to explain why they are childless. Why is this?
Here are some other facts which ought to be acknowledged as well:
• Children are not a ‘tabula rasa’ (blank slate) when they are born, whatever Plato thought. The DNA ‘lucky dip’ has a significant impact on a child’s personality and behaviour. Yes, parenting can modify the outcome to some extent, but the raw materials will stay the same, exerting their pull. If you doubt this speak to any parent who has parented consistently but ended up with one child who was an angel from the get go and another who is an evil little sod. I know plenty of them, personally and professionally.
• It is relentless, EXHAUSTING, hard work. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. The best way to imagine the impact on your lifestyle is to envisage being a carer for a severely disabled adult who needs you to do everything for them. Then imagine doing that and trying to fit it around the rest of the stuff that you normally do: work, chores, hobbies, socialising. Apart from the size differential, this is what it is like. If you have willing parents yourself, you might get the odd weekend off or evening out but it starts up again right after that. If you have a demanding child this can sap you like nothing else.
• Children don’t do lie-ins.
• Holidays. These have to become child-friendly straight away. No boozy evenings on the town or spending the whole day tanning and drinking cocktails. No adventure holidays. When the kid gets to school age you will have to book during school holiday time. Be prepared for the massive hike in cost. Again, if your child is demanding, a holiday often doesn’t seem much like a holiday. It’s more of a case of same shit, different location.
• Schools. You are going to love the attitude that schools have. Sorry if you happen to be a teacher but I have found that schools generally take absolutely no account of a parent’s other commitments, personal or professional. They say ‘jump’ and you are expected to ask “how high?”
• Your friendship group tends to change and you spend more time with other parents. You will then find that virtually the sole topic of conversation with a lot of these people is their children. It’s like they have nothing else in their life.
• The expense. Don’t even get me started.. Oh, all right then, do. Every item of equipment costs a bloody fortune and you cannot buy a cheaper alternative you cheapskate because it is for your own child. Even if the kid will only be in the push-chair for a year it has to cost as much as a new flat-screen TV for some reason. Shoes for a toddler that cost as much as a new pair of top-brand trainers (sneakers) for yourself. You’ll be needing a family-wagon car too. It is astounding how much stuff you have to take with you when you go out for half a day with a 2 month old baby. It’s more than you used to take for both of you for a long weekend away.
• If you are a clean freak, you’d better start learning some coping strategies for when the child becomes mobile. ‘Pre-ambulant’ children (i.e. the ones that have not yet learned to crawl) make enough mess but at least it is confined to the area where they are. Once they learn to crawl and then walk you will, despite yourself, be impressed at just how much destruction it is possible to wreak in a short period of time. Shit – sometimes the real stuff – over everything (and before you tell me that I am exaggerating can I just mention that one of my children had a habit of taking off his nappy as soon as he had soiled it and then smearing the contents over everything. Carpets had to be thrown out etc. This went on for about a year.)
• Having a child in the house can cause havoc with your sex life. Apart from the exhaustion, the mess and those baby-smells, carrying a baby for 9 months and pushing something that big out of a small opening causes physical changes. Sometimes permanent ones.
• Temper tantrums. These generally begin somewhere between 18 months and 2 years and can go on for a good couple of years. Just when you have begun to forget how awful these can be the kid starts puberty and they start up again – with bells on.
• Here is the kicker – you may go through all of this willingly in the expectation that once the child has grown up they will become a wonderful, well-adjusted individual who will become a life-long best friend. I am very sorry to tell you that your sacrifice and unconditional love does not guarantee that you will be loved and respected in return. Trust me on this. Some kids are selfish, entitled little sods who grow up into selfish, entitled adults who you will rarely, if ever, hear from unless they want a handout.
As I said earlier, I am putting my head on the block by stating this stuff. Some people would no doubt say that I am a monster for writing these things and that I have completely ignored the lovely bits of being a parent.
There are lovely bits for sure although the frequency of these will vary from child to child, but that wasn’t the purpose of writing this. You can find eulogies to the delights of raising a child all over the place. That’s part of the problem. Hardly anybody is giving the other side so that informed decisions can be made. Now I have.