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The parent trap: we should be more honest about child-rearing

Parents should tell the sometimes horrifying – and happy – truth about having children

“ ‘I never knew what tiredness was until I had kids’ is a common phrase I hear.” Illustration: iStock

Parenting is horrifying. From zombie parents on Saturday afternoons clutching coffees at the playground chasing snotty-nosed, screaming kids, to exhausted couples barely speaking, let alone touching, with the kids piled into their bed, there’s little glamour involved.

The brutal reality of being a mother or father is written across our faces, on our blogs and pouring down our news feeds as the challenges of having kids are shared and reshared with sad faces, slumped shoulders and defeated wrinkles as parenthood ages us.

Hiding the hard days, the puke on our shoulder or the anxiety that kids bring to our door was for our parents and our grandparents. Back then, no one was allowed believe you were struggling or “suffering with your nerves”. Today, let the world know. But the image we portray is often a vague misunderstanding of a not-so-mundane or frenzied life. It may be honest, but it’s a momentary honesty, a snapshot among a million other snapshots not shared, possibly taken out of context.

Dare I say, parenting is not always hard.

The kids are not always sick. We are not always exhausted. Adult conversations do happen and hot coffee has been known to pass our lips. We do, however, live in the age of viral venting when a gripe no longer is shared over the garden fence but with a thousand followers – who may or may not be listening, but that’s not the point. The point is, we sure do like to vent. And we need to. Easing the frustrations of these days gets us through the week. It’s why research shows cursing can be good for you.

But what if someone is listening? Someone without kids. Someone weighing up the pros and cons of starting a family with our venting propping up the cons list. Are we influencing them with our honest diatribes of a regular weekend gone wrong in so many ways because the toddler refused to sit in the trolley and it snowballed from there?

Exhausted and unhappy

Phd researcher Jennifer Glinski and her husband have made the conscious decision not to have kids. I asked her if she was put off the idea of having children after listening to or watching friends and family talking about or dealing with the hardships of being a parent?

“I’ve never really wanted children,” she says, “so to say that it was my friends alone that put me off would be incorrect. Let’s say watching and listening to my friends and family who have children did not help change my mind!

“Most are exhausted, stressed and unhappy but do not admit it because I guess it could be perceived as them not loving their child or not being grateful for them. Others have no problem telling you just how tired they are: ‘I never knew what tiredness was until I had kids’ is a common phrase I hear. There is no comeback for that one! Some of the exhausted friends have tried to tell me how it is all worth it and how their life wasn’t complete until they had children, but it looks much different from where I am standing. It’s also a bit hurtful to suggest that because I am child-free, my life is not complete.”

Fertility therapist Helena Tubridy: “Not everyone is either bitten by the baby bug or wants to go to extremes to have a child if circumstances aren’t right”

PR and outreach executive Lou Crane, on the other hand, found the brutal honesty swayed her opinion and she is in no rush to start a family. She says of friends with kids, “they are always exhausted, and it often seems like relationships can break down when the kids are young, as it’s hard to find time for each other when your priority solely becomes about the child, and rightly so. I’m still young so, all it has told me is that I’m nowhere near ready for that responsibility, and when I am it will be with someone who knows me inside and out to prevent the relationship breakdown that it could cause.”

Too much sharing?

Should we pause the oversharing, think before we speak or post, or does it even matter?

Glinski doesn’t think so. “If anything,” she says, “I think they should be more honest with their friends and themselves. I am able to be a better friend to you if I know what you are going through. I won’t ever be able to relate 100 per cent because I am child-free, but if you are tired and unhappy then let me know so I can assist you in some way. Don’t complain but then also pretend like it’s the best thing that ever happened to you and I just can’t relate. I’m assuming some days it is not the best thing that ever happened to you, and that is totally fine – you’re not a bad parent for feeling that way or saying it out loud.”

Fertility therapist Helena Tubridy says that “choosing a child-free life, based on the reality and burdens of child-bearing and rearing, is often viewed with suspicion. It’s stigmatised and pathologised in our focus that every woman can, should and deserves to have a child of their own. But not everyone is either bitten by the baby bug or wants to go to extremes to have a child if circumstances aren’t right.

“The clients I see are not unduly put off by the experiences of friends when it comes to parenting and deciding whether or not to go down the route of starting a family. We are all perfectly capable of making up our own minds without being overly influenced by others.”

We may not paint parenthood in the most brilliant light for those wavering on the edge of making such a drastic, life-changing decision, but keeping these kids alive and happy while juggling our own despairing need for a sense of self is not always difficult.

It has its moments, I won’t lie, but these minute versions of us have a way of tugging on our heart strings with a pride so fierce and furious that even though verifying why we love being their parent is tough, we simply do.