Parenting. It’s a breeze, right? The plethora of well-meaning, spinach-smoothie quaffing, baby yoga-practicing Instagram mummy and daddy bloggers might give that impression – but in the real world, looking after a tiny human is a different story.
Trust me. I’ve been sleeping on the floor in my two-year-old son’s room since November, both hands thrust through the narrow bars of his cot as he clutches them to his chest, because he’s scared of bears. It doesn’t matter that I’ve told him the only bears around are the ones at the zoo – he’s convinced they’re outside his bedroom window and are trying to get in to eat his brioche. I know.
Add to that some other ‘highlights’ I can recall as a parent of two young children: the projectile vomiting in my face and hair, the time I developed a blister on my nipple due to breastfeeding, the unforgettable moment my husband thought he had a smear of chocolate on his hand and licked it off only to realise... yes. It was right after a nappy change.
Parenting is not easy, and can at times feel thankless, dreary and mundane. But telling the truth seems to go against The Secret Parent Code – the one that has you automatically responding: “fine” when people ask how the baby is, or how you are, even though you’ve not had more than two hours sleep for seven years. That kind of ‘fine’.
So, why are we so desperate to sugarcoat the truth about parenting? And why do parents who lift the lid on what it’s really like get blasted on social media?
Case in point: Duncan Jones – filmmaker, father, and son of David Bowie – recently dared to express his thoughts on what it’s really like parenting a child aged two-and-a-half and a baby of nine months.
“I’ll tell you something I never see anyone admit,” he tweeted. “They are exhausting, frustrating and life-destabilising. They are rarely fun. Sure, smiles are great, hugs are lovely, but it’s HARD and not obviously a good choice in life.”
Reactions to his honesty have been predictably savage.
Some people did respond with similar truths – author Caitlin Moran said she felt like she was “not enjoying” parenting when her kids were small, and journalist Gaby Hinsliff said all parents go through the “toddler hell zone”.
So why is it that we feel compelled to say things are going great and we’ve got it all under control, when behind the scenes everyone is experiencing the same story – even A-listers? People who can afford nannies, night nurses and top-notch childcare.
To name just a few... Clare Danes spoke out about the ‘reality’ of parenting in Harper’s Bazaar, calling it challenging. “We still feel a pressure to talk about it in very romantic terms,” she said. “We all have that resentment at times and anxiety about being trapped by the role. And then chemically it can run riot…and there’s no ‘off’ button.”
Chrissy Teigen tweeted with eye-watering honesty after giving birth – and some people didn’t like it.
Kate Hudson admitted sometimes she feels like a bad mum: “Some days I feel like I should win best mum award, and others I find myself doing strange things that don’t have any real purpose, in faraway corners in my house, and I realise I am literally and deliberately hiding from my children.”
And Adele, who suffered with postnatal depression after giving birth to her son Angelo in 2012, said: “It’s fucking hard. I thought it would be easy. ‘Everyone fucking does it, how hard can it be?’ Ohhhhh... I had no idea. It is hard but it’s phenomenal.”
And it is hard. Of course it’s hard.
But if we just gave people more space to admit it, perhaps the pressure and expectation of having to be the ‘perfect Instagram parent’ would be eased.
And rather than jumping in and judging, we could let mums and dads tell the world that raising a baby – while gratifying in so many ways – is bloody difficult. Then maybe we’d all feel less alone.