What they never tell you in the books is that to be a parent is to be a moaning minnie. Parenting is fuelled by moaning – it's as powerful a coping mechanism as caffeine and standing on the top of tall buildings yelling 'AAAAARGH!'
But we've all met a parent in the library or the baby group who is a major Negative Nancy, whingeing to anyone who'll listen about teething and poo hues. And we've all witnessed parents playing 'Tiredness Top Trumps' on Facebook, forever bleating about their exhaustion with sad face emoticons. So what's the correct moaning etiquette? What's the best way to vent our frustrations without alienating everyone we know?
Or should we – gulp - all just shut up and get on with it?
"I think a mutual/group moan is hugely cathartic, because it reminds you that no one breezes through it without getting frustrated sometimes," says author Fiona Foden. "We all have to get things off our chest – and doing the opposite – pretending that everything is rosy and perfect all the time – doesn't bear thinking about! Having said that, I avoid perpetual moaners."
"I find non-moaning parents chilling," says Alice. "Makes me feel inadequate and alone. Anyone who says 'I'm just enjoying it so much' is no friend of mine."
"For me, there are two types of moaning," says Jane. "One is a drink fuelled 'oh yeah, me too' moan which is very cheering, as you realise that your mate's child also eats as though she's gardening and shouts 'Mummy said f***!' at the supermarket. You realise that there is NO one way to bring up children.
"The other one – unfortunately – is a chance for the Competitive Mum (who should be working but turned her children into a management project instead) to make pious statements. You know, the one who smiles benignly at you and says 'Darius adores vegetables.'"Ah, yes, the Competitive Moaning Mum. She uses the misfortune of others to bolster her wonderful progeny.
Of course little Clytemnestra has never had a broken night, and she plays cello with her teeth and can say 'I love broccoli' in three languages.
And what's worse is that CMM dispenses advice, rather than just wallowing in a magnificent moan.
"A group moan is very good therapy, but NEVER respond with advice (unless asked)," says Catherine. "Advice is just irritating."
"I try to button it when I'm around the soon-to-be-mum who has read all the books and thinks she's prepared," adds Jane. "One woman was absolutely sure she was having a natural birth because 'painkillers were sooooo bad for the baby.' Of course this poor woman had a really long birth and felt guilty about it because she'd 'failed.'"
So the message seems to be that when we're moaning, we need to choose our audience carefully, and keep our parenting tips to ourselves. Don't discuss nappy rash with the postman or some stranger on the bus, and don't whine about the kids to your bored single friend who has a glazed look on her face.
'I only whinge to other parents,' says Andy. 'Because kids can be horrible, and none of the books tell you that.'
But parent to parent, surely we owe it to each other to tell the unvarnished truth. Why hold back on the visceral horrors of birth, or the hormonal heartache of parenting teens? After all, aren't we all in it together? And isn't moaning about being a parent why wine was invented?
"Moaning is just reassuring yourself that you're coping," says Angela. "It's good to share, and then others can cheer you up. Humans are tribal creatures and love attention and to feel like they belong. If I didn't have kids, I'd still moan, though. They don't call me 'Whingella' for nothing."
But not everyone is spilling their guts and wailing. And men seem to be less committed to the wine-fuelled moan. They'd prefer the negatives couched in humour, rather than beating their chests and crying into their Cabernet.
"If you're going to moan, at least try to be funny about it," says Simon.
"Jokey moans are OK, I think." adds Rob.
And although a therapeutic group moan is officially good, too much of a good thing can be destructive – not to mention tedious for everyone else. It's a fine and precarious line between letting off steam and blowing hot air – and there's only so many 'I'm SOOOOO knackered' status updates others can take before they unfriend in their droves.
"I try to do a limited amount of moaning," Leona says. "Mostly to other parents who are nodding in agreement. Not too much though. The reality is that my kids are safe, happy and cared for, and live in an indulgent society of luxury. There's not much to moan about. Having said that, they're bloody annoying and when they go to bed I drink gin."
Do you enjoy a good moan?
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