There’s a lot crap swirling around the media regarding the challenges around parenting (actually, it’s around mothering). In the USA, there’s been the so-called “Mommy Wars” and here in the UK, the always helpful Daily Mail featured an article on women who can’t deal with the pressures of work so decide to take a year off and have a baby. Cue Liz Jones appearing on This Morning gnashing her teeth and railing against maternity leave. (This is the one and only time I will mention Liz Jones. If you are unsure of who she is, Google her. Make sure you have a large tumbler of gin by your side.)
Politicians, especially in an election cycle, will bore on endlessly about “hard-working families” (last time I checked, my husband and I are the only working family members. The kids and the cats do fuck all,) and how a mother’s job is both the hardest and most important job ever. This statement always makes me laugh bitterly, seeing as so many women are quitting their jobs because the cost of childcare is pricing them out of work. For full-time working mothers like me, balancing work, childcare commitments, school and activities is about as easy as the Cirque Du Soleil performing their repertoire on ice. Blindfolded. If a mother’s job was so important, then there would be ample provisions for affordable childcare. I’m also sick of dads being left out of this, seeing as the vast majority of dads love and work just as hard as mothers do. Many men would take on the job on a full-time basis if they could afford it.
Yes, parenting is hard. It’s hard mentally, financially, physically and emotionally. It gets easier physically, financially and mentally, but it’s always emotionally hard. I said earlier that you make an immense emotional investment in someone who may or may not pay off. You will not ever have a relationship this intense and one-sided. This may sound harsh, but your kids don’t have to love you or even care for you. You on the other hand, have to love and care for them in order for them to survive. Let that rattle around in your head for a while.
It isn’t that hard though. (For the sake of argument, I am not talking about parents of disabled children, disabled parents, children with serious illnesses, single parents, children and parents with learning challenges, bereaved parents or other serious issues than can make the family dynamic extremely difficult.) Once you strip out all of the things that are beyond your control, parenting is as hard as you make it. I’m probably going to be kicked out of the parenting club for saying this, but I’ve had harder jobs that I was actually paid for. I pay out to be a parent and still happily take all of the shit that comes with it.
I listen to some people (not my friends, mind. They are amongst the most chilled out parents I know) and all of the bullshit and running around they do and I can’t help but wonder why they are doing it. Again, I’m not talking about your usual work/school/childcare routine that makes up most of your parenting duties. I’m talking about stuff like one woman I know who had her child in 5 or 6 activities a week on top of just normal school. She’d spend a good half hour on the phone arranging who was going to ferry the kid from this place to that one. Then she would complain when the kid didn’t want to do one of the activities. Could you blame the poor mite? That kid had a harder schedule at 9 years old than I had at 30.
It’s easy to get caught up in thinking you have to do so much shit when in all honesty, you don’t and your kids won’t go to seed because you didn’t take them to African Spiritual Mask Making every Saturday at 10 a.m. I remember (back when I had just one kid,) a childfree friend of mine asking me if I did baby sign language with my baby. “Leslie, it’s amazing! Your baby can tell you what he wants without crying!” I told her no. She reiterated the whole “no crying” thing. I told her crying didn’t really bother me enough to go to a class and learn to sign. Besides, I said, he’ll learn to talk soon enough and kids don’t shut the fuck up once they start speaking. I’m enjoying the silence.
You can easily fall into a pattern of believing that you have to spend all of your time and your child’s spare time doing something “productive.” Never mind that if you have small children, everything they do is productive. They spend their time figuring out how the world works and how they fit into it. Sadly for you, their voyages of discovery means increased cleaning bills or replacement of electrical or pricey items. My aunt told me that my older cousin discovered how gravity worked when he dropped her expensive gold watch from their 14th storey window.
There’s a good chance that you will hate all of this shit that you are “supposed” to do. I hate cooking with children. (The activity, not baking them into pies.) I have children’s cookbooks. I have a “proper” mini baking set complete with a little rolling-pin, tins and such that are the same as my full-sized one. I have more sugar strands, edible glitter and other fun baking stuff than the law allows. I don’t let my kids near it. You see, instead of a smiling, well-coiffed mother in a Cath Kidston apron surrounded by adorable tots with dots of flour on their noses, I am shouting at The Toddler to stop pouring chocolate syrup on the cat and telling The Eldest for the millionth time that I know he doesn’t like cheese and I am not going to put cheese in anything he will eat. He has never, ever let me forget the time I put cheese in mashed potatoes. Gardening is another thing that should be fun but in reality isn’t. The mini gardening tools I got from Tesco are cute as a button. What isn’t cute is seeing your toddler eat mini-spade after mini-spade of dirt– especially when you have two cats that leave bird parts strewn around the garden.
Despite all of that, I don’t find parenting hard. There so much fun stuff to do with kids whether it is having an indoor picnic, watching terrible kung-fu films with them, or just deviating from the norm. Blow your kids’ minds by being slightly subversive — eat desserts for dinner or jump up and down in your own bed. Have a well-earned break from parenting. Sometimes you have to be a Fraggle instead of a Doozer.