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.