The best parents are the ones who don’t have children. I was a perfect parent once. I knew exactly how kids and parents should behave and I shared my grand philosophies with anyone who was interested and many who were not.
Then I had babies and it all went to hell.
I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I read an interview with former Olympic swimmer Elka Whalan (nee Graham) who is pregnant with her first child. (update: Elka just gave birth to a little girl called Nevada, congratulations to the whole family). Elka is lovely. I’ve met her several times and I’m sure she’ll be a terrific mother.
However I couldn’t help but hoot tea through my nose when I read about how she and her husband planned to travel through Europe with their brand new baby. “I can’t wait to be a mum,” she enthused. “This little munchkin can sleep or cry but it will be coming with us whatever we do, wherever we go…. I have the philosophy the baby will fit in with our life – not the other way round!”.
Is there a pregnant woman (or expectant father) alive who hasn’t said those same words? Surely it’s right up there with “I’ve written a birth plan” as bravely optimistic but ultimately futile declarations made by people who have no idea what they’re talking about.
Pregnant women are understandably hopeless at predicting what their lives or even their days will look like after a baby arrives. And this can make it impossible to know how much maternity leave to take. I vividly recall arguing with my boss about this. “Look, I’ll need 12 weeks tops and I’ll work from home during that time,” I insisted as she shook her head. “What else am I going to do? Babies sleep all day anyway, don’t they?”
Yes, they certainly do. New mothers have oodles of time to do all manner of things like read books and learn new languages.
Fortunately, my boss was already a mother and knew I was talking out of my arse. She firmly instructed me to file my plans under ‘ridiculous’ and suggested a more realistic maternity leave arrangement which was most welcome after I gave birth and realised I didn’t have time to eat my Sultana Bran until 4pm most days. Sorry French, you’ll have to wait. Who knew?
There are many other things non-parents know about children and parenting. I believe we could learn a lot from them if we only took the time to listen and write a few things down.
1. “You should never bribe your children with junk food.”
No you shouldn’t. But sometimes you really, really need to. And even if you don’t, someone else will. Like the doctor when they need an injection. Or a grandparent because it’s a day that ends with a ‘y’. Or the bloody Easter Bunny because he’s a giant chocolate-pushing rabbit sent to make your life hell for most of April.
2. “You should never allow your child into your bed.”
Some parents do manage to follow this rule but I don’t know who they are. Whether it’s illness, nightmares or just cuddles, the sanctity of the marital bed loses its sanctity pretty damn fast after a baby comes along.
3. “You shouldn’t use the TV as a babysitter.”
Madonna’s kids don’t watch TV. That’s because she has actual babysitters available all the time. If everyone could afford paid help to take their child to the park and collect leaves and twigs to make a nature collage when Mum or Dad needed half an hour to make a phone call or answer an email or briefly regain their sanity then there would be no need for TV-as-babysitter. Until that day? God bless you ABC kids.
4. “Children don’t belong in restaurants or cafes.”
The people who believe this most fervently are called ‘waiters’. I don’t blame them. But you see, there are only so many family meals you can eat around the kitchen table, only so many consecutive days you can spend at home without fleeing to somewhere, ANYWHERE, you don’t have to wash up or cook or even press ‘reheat’ on the microwave. Yes, dining in public with kids often results in collateral damage to the venue and annoys people at nearby tables. This is unfortunate but sometimes necessary.
5. “Kids need to be exposed to germs. It’s good for their immunity.”
People without children often wheel out this one. The next time someone says this while rolling their eyes when I pull out my anti-bac handwash or try to keep my kids away from sick people, I will calmly ask for their phone number. Then I will ring them at 1am, 2:15am and 3:30am when my child is up sick. I will also call them from the hospital at 4:15am when we are admitted with one of those horrible preventable bugs kids catch that make them utterly miserable and throw the entire family into chaos.
And then I will listen patiently as they tell me not to pander to my sick child. After all, kids need to fit in to your life. Remember that.
Do any of these sounds familiar? If you have kids, what did you think you’d do differently?