‘After I became a dad, unsolicited baloney became the norm’
Once a second child enters the equation people forget how hard it was to raise just one
About 10 years ago I was standing at a pub toilet urinal, massaging my temples.
Not the most promising way to start a parenting column, I know.
I was feeling the early and unmistakable tendrils of a migraine snake its way into my brain. I must have looked a troubled sight because before long someone asked if I was okay. I told them I was getting a migraine and their reply was quite something to behold. They said, and I’m paraphrasing only slightly, “Jesus Christ. You do not have a f**king migraine. My mate? He gets migraines. He’s bed-ridden for days. He’s crippled by them. I’m absolutely sick to death of people saying they have migraines when they have no clue what they’re talking about.”
The unfolding apocalypse about to explode behind my right eye wasn’t the only reason I scuttled out of there without another word. His transformation from benevolent stranger to angry finger-jabbing preacher was swift and unsettling. My pain, for some reason, was an affront to him. Although he will never know how wrong he was, he could only see my experience in a context that made sense to him.
It was a strange encounter, and one I didn’t think about for years.
Until I became a dad.
Raising a family is hard work, but if the rewards weren’t worth it, we’d be a short-lived species
Once you have a child this sort of unsolicited baloney becomes the norm. To be fair, Mad Toilet Man is at the extreme end of the scale. But if you are a new parent, be prepared to be told more than once that what you are experiencing isn’t valid.
If you have one child, and you talk to a parent with two children, you will be told how easy you have it. If you have two kids, and you talk to a parent with three kids, you will be told how easy you have it. And so on. If you are hanging on by a thread and haven’t slept in eight weeks, someone will inevitably say something very helpful like, “Sure this is the easy part! Just wait until they’re teenagers!” If you have a migraine, someone will call it a headache.
Not so long ago my wife and I had a moment rare of quiet. Having two children under three asleep at the same time is cause for minor celebration, usually spent in a quasi-vegetative state staring at a pile of books we’re too tired to read or a list of films we’ll never get around to watching. This time, however, we were remarkably lucid and marvelled at how much more difficult having two kids is, compared with one. That sounds obvious. Looking after two children is clearly more difficult than looking after one. But if you are as naive and mathematically challenged as us, you might expect it to be just twice as difficult. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. For every baby thrown into the mixer, the chaos of life is multiplied by an order of magnitude beyond your wildest expectations.
Looking back, having one child was so easy. It was so uncomplicated. But of course that’s not true. It’s just a trick time plays on us. Our brains are so selective they essentially can’t be trusted. We remember the good stuff and block out the bad.
Comedian Jim Gaffigan summed this feeling up when he said, “Do you want to know what it’s like having a fourth kid? Just imagine you’re drowning. Then someone hands you a baby.” It could be your fourth kid, or it could be your second, it doesn’t matter. Raising a family is hard work, but if the rewards weren’t worth it, we’d be a short-lived species. Every parent knows that the new baby won’t drown you, it will keep you afloat.
So why do people tell us our troubles could always be worse?
Are they trying to make us feel bad?
Are they telling us we aren’t coping as well as we should be?
That our complaints are petty?
In my experience, no. When another parent tells you how easy you have it, just give them the benefit of the doubt. They don’t remember how difficult it was to be in your shoes. If you’re having a hard time, you’re having a hard time.
Don’t let the Mad Toilet Men of the world tell you any different.