They think you’re hilarious, cuddle you without being asked first and believe you’re magic. So, why is bringing up your bundle of joy so scary? Here’s why…but don’t worry, it all works out in the end
AT SOME point in your life you might decide that bringing a child into a world filled with violence, war, emoticons and Billy Ray Cyrus songs is a splendid idea. Yes, you’re ready to pass on your dazzling genetic traits and Breaking Bad knowledge to a tiny version of you, made with someone equally remarkable. Why? Well, because children are wonderful, aren’t they?
When they’re small, they have cute, tiny squashy faces and they wander around your house with no pants on, demanding things like crisps, skipping ropes and unicorns, while drawing on your walls and asking “why?” to things you haven’t even said yet. They think you’re hilarious, cuddle you without being asked first and for a while they’ll believe you’re made entirely from magic.
Then one day they grow up, put their pants on, demand a car and tell you they’re leaving because they now want to live with other people. Anyone; grotty students, people who work in call centres, serial killers – it doesn’t matter just as long as those people aren’t you.
In the beginning, it’s exciting. You spend every minute of every day thinking about just how thrilling it is but once you’ve done the baby scans, decorated the bedroom/nursery/cardboard box (shush, Finnish babies have been sleeping in state-provided cardboard boxes for years), given birth and chosen a suitably bland name for your offspring, you’ll find yourself at home, staring at the tiny person who is going to change your life forever.
Initially, it can take a while for your selfish brain to process the fact that you’re now responsible for another human being who wants absolutely nothing from you. Well, except:
• The use of your/your partner’s body for nine months.
• Your undivided love and attention.
• Your spontaneity.
• Your money. All of it.
• Your regular sleep pattern.
• The right to follow you into the bathroom for at least eight years.
For me, the single scariest moment of becoming a parent was the first time I was completely alone with my three-day-old daughter. Her father had gone out, the midwives had decided to stay at the hospital instead of coming to live with me like I asked, and it suddenly hit me that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.
I was going to have to pick her up, feed her, bathe her and generally keep her alive while I tried to figure out why the hell I ever thought I was ready to be a mother. I’ll admit it – I panicked.
Every parent will go through the same five stages of emotional turmoil before things finally start to make sense.
This is the first stage and affects people in various ways. For those who hadn’t planned on becoming pregnant, this is typically the earliest form of denial, usually accompanied with cries of: “Two lines? Is that two lines? Did you draw on my stick? Someone drew on my stick!!”
“This test is faulty. I’m going to buy 17 more until I find one that tells the truth. I’m not pregnant. I can’t be pregnant! The test is wrong. SCIENCE IS WRONG!”
For those who’ve been trying to get pregnant, the denial is different. You get couples who are over the moon about their pregnancy but insist; “This baby won’t change us.” I love this. It’s like saying: “Let’s get a pet T-Rex. He won’t eat us.”
It’s not just the initial pregnancy news that causes denial; it also carries on throughout parenting, most commonly in the form of, “My child would never do that.” Really? Think back to your own childhood/adolescence then revise your statement accordingly.
Having a child is scary, exhausting and overwhelming. At some point this will lead to uncontrollable bouts of unpleasantness, shouting, and non-specific hatred of everyone, including your partner and possibly everyone you’ve ever met.
“Put the kettle on? You put the damn kettle on – I AM TRYING NOT TO DROP THIS BABY.”
“You’re an idiot. Why did I ever let you near my cervix?”
“How many children have you raised? None? Well, shut it then.”
“I don’t care what your mother thinks … in fact I hate your mother.”
You’ll also start to remember that once upon a time, you could do whatever you liked. You were a free spirit. You could do tequila shots and dance on a table until 5am then sleep for two weeks straight before deciding to go on a road trip at a moment’s notice into the desert where you’d survive only on your wits, cunning, and a packet of Berkeley menthol. Even if you didn’t actually do any of these things before you had children, you could have if you’d wanted to.
You’ll get annoyed that this is no longer an option and regress back to your sulky, angry teenage self: “I never get to do anything good. WHEN IS IT MY TURN TO HAVE FUN??”
“What do you mean you’re going out? It’s my turn to go out. YOU WENT OUT LAST MONTH.”
“How come you’re allowed wine and I’m not? Just you wait until I stop breastfeeding, I’m going to be constantly pissed and you’ll be sorry.”
“We never get to have sex anymore. My life is over.”
Parenting is all about choosing your battles. Remember there are only 24 hours in a day and your child is more than happy to use at least 23 of these shouting ‘NO’ at various levels of loud. Sometimes, to get anything done you have to negotiate, for example:
“If you promise to behave, you can have an extra ten minutes of television.’”
“If you eat your broccoli, you can have pudding.”
“If you stop making that farting noise in public, I’ll buy you a Wii U.’”
“If you go to sleep, your father and I will stop crying.”
Tough as it is, setting clear boundaries and sticking to them will one day prevent you from ever having to say: “If you promise not to set fire to the house again, I’ll pay your bail.’”
4 DOUBT & WORRY
By the time you’ve remortgaged your house for the third time to buy another Build-a-Bear rabbit dressed like Batman, you may find yourself staring into the murky money pit that is your life, wondering how much it’s going to hurt when you finally hit the bottom. Inevitably, one worry leads to a million others and even inane things will make you question your ability as a parent. You will worry about everything, including:
“I let my kid have two biscuits because I was too tired to explain the benefits of healthy eating for the hundredth time. I’m a monster.”
“I haven’t hoovered in four days and I really don’t care. We’re all going to die from dust poisoning. Is dust poisoning even a thing?”
“ONE DAY THEY ARE GOING TO ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT SEX AND I HAVE NO CLEAN ANSWERS!”
“I love my child so much, my heart might burst. Oh my god, what if my heart actually bursts?!”
“What if someone is mean to them and I’m not there to kill on demand?”
Seriously, I once lost a full night’s sleep worrying what would happen if my daughter ever fell into quicksand.
The one thing that causes most parents to doubt themselves is other parents, especially the ones who appear to do everything so effortlessly. They will mosey around pretending that they have perfect children and have raised them without even breaking a sweat.
They’ll claim to have everything under control with their naughty corners and time-outs, arriving at the school gates in yoga gear with a recipe for happiness stuffed in the glove compartment of their perfectly tidy 4x4. But don’t let them fool you; at some point their kid has shat in a swimming pool or thrown a tantrum of epic proportions in Waitrose while people looked on and tutted.
Once you realise that you are no better and no worse than anyone else, you’ll reach the next stage.
This is the stage when you finally realise that every other parent is as clueless as you are and it’s a nice place to be. You’ll soon stop beating yourself up for things that you can’t control, and you’ll realise that everything you once thought important actually isn’t. At all.
You’ve gone through denial, you’ve dealt with your anger, you’ve made bargains with your child (and possibly the Devil), and you’ve doubted yourself to the point of believing you’re the worst parent in the world. But you’ve come through it all, relatively unscathed and a much better person for it.
However hard parenting seems and whatever you go through, it’s imperative that you remember one thing: this isn’t about you. This is about that small person who will never doubt how amazing you are unless you give them a reason to. So going back to my first question, the answer is; yes. Yes, they are.
• Joanna Bolouri is a comedy writer and blogger from Glasgow where she currently lives with her daughter. She once won a BBC comedy script competition and has written and blogged for various publications including Huffington Post UK, The Skinny, Sabotage Times, Hecklerspray, No1 Magazine, the Scottish Sun and Shouting at Cows. Her first novel, The List, set in Glasgow, will be published in 2014 by Quercus – which proves she’s not as rubbish as she tells everyone. You can tweet her @scribbles78m