"It's the hardest job you'll ever do..."
"It doesn't get any easier you know..."
"Your life is going to change so much..."
Have you noticed what a gloomy lot parents are? Announcing I was expecting my first son last year, I might as well have hung a neon sign around my neck reading 'regale me with months of stories about how hard it all is, how little sleep I'm going to get, how life as I know it is over...' If you're lucky, after a litany of the troubles of parenthood, and a shopping list of problems little Tarquin and Tiara have, you get a half-hearted 'oh but it's all great fun' caveat thrown your way for good measure.
If childless people listened with any intensity to 90% of parents, the human race would be over within 100 years: most mums and dads don't just make it sound tough, it sounds like the worst thing that's ever happened to them. From complaining about lack of sleep and praying for their bundle of joy to 'sleep through', to a list of sicknesses that make their homes sound like chronic illness wards, as narratives go, it sounds like parenthood is up there at around circle four of hell.
This strikes me as a modern phenomenon - conjure up an image of your grandparents when they were in their early twenties. They look tough right? They'd probably seen at least one World War, lived with rationing, done hard, manual jobs for long hours. Can you imagine Gran at 'stay and play' bemoaning your dad's six-month-old refusal to eat his sweet potato and avocado mash? What about old gramps moaning about your mum's refusal to sleep more than four hours while he tiredly jabs at the coffee machine in the kitchen at the office? What kitchen, what office? He probably worked down a mine.
For what it's worth, I also doubt they spent much time celebrating the intense joy of first hearing giggles, or the sheer pride at seeing their babies turn over the first time, or cheering every burp as the greatest achievement since Mozart's Requiem... But the funny thing is, you don't really hear much of that from parents today either.
The subtext to a reasonably high proportion of conversations I had with parents when we announced we were expecting, and perhaps an even higher proportion I have now our son Eddy is with us, seems to be they pretty much wish they hadn't had kids. From the dads sneaking an extra hour in the office because they'd rather not go home, to the mums at their wit's end at getting about the same amount of sleep they used to have on holidays to Ibiza, I genuinely wonder if you handed them a button to rewind to being child free, would they push it?
Did they not know that babies don't sleep very well, they get grumpy, and sick, and then they learn to walk and you have to chase them, then they learn to answer back, and then they go to school and all of a sudden your holidays cost twice as much? Weren't they listening when parents imparted their gloomy wisdom for months on end? Or am I just choosing the people I talk to about being a parent really poorly?
Since my son was born last September, there have been long, long nights; tears, tantrums and trauma; less sleep than Maggie Thatcher got during the Falklands War... But none of that is what I talk about when I talk about Eddy, because come the morning, it all pales into insignificance when I pull up the blinds in his room and see him grinning with pure joy just to see me again.
I don't really know why there seems to be relentless negativity about children from so many parents, but perhaps it's time to set it aside, and when someone you know tells you they're expecting, set them off on the right foot by simply telling them it'll be the best thing that's ever happened to them.Suggest a correction