Sean Moncrieff: Why I do things I don’t want to do

Adults can stay up late, gorge biscuits, but my life is more constrained than my youngest daughter’s

You may know them. You may be them; the parents who tell you that their Little Tommy doesn’t drink Coke or eat chocolate. Little Tommy prefers to munch broccoli. He has avocado for breakfast, just after his online baby yoga class.

These parents have solved a millennia-old mystery; how to mould a human being. They’ve managed to squash any desire Little Tommy might have had for Tayto or Smarties; a triumph over free will where Little Tommy does what he’s told, and he likes it.

In our house we never managed to access this arcane knowledge. All the kids went through differing versions of the difficult eating phase.

Daughter Number Three subsisted on little but ketchup for some years. But they all emerged from it. Two are vegan. Another is an Irish vegetarian; in that she will occasionally eat chicken.


Daughter Number Four is still in the throes of I-won’t-eat-that. Dinner time is tortuous. We try to be gradual and positive. If she has a spoon of mashed potato, we act like she’s won a Nobel prize. But most of the time she slumps and squirms in her seat. She distracts us with questions. She suddenly needs to go to the toilet, and hides there, hoping we’ll temporarily forget that we have a child.

The thing is, I have some sympathy for how she acts. Her world-view is of a place where she’s being continually forced to do things she doesn’t want to. Eat vegetables like Little Tommy. Go to bed. Brush your teeth. Stop standing on the couch.”

Her default debating position is: “But I don’t want to”. This never (okay, rarely) works, yet she persists with it; mostly because her view of adulthood – one she has expressed many times – is that grown-ups can do whatever they like. We can stay up late. We can gorge on biscuits.

She’s far too young to be told the awful truth.

If there is adult freedom, we may enjoy it, briefly, in our 20s. But all too soon, our lives become more constrained than daughter Number Four’s; where the very definition of being an adult is doing things you don’t want to.

Obviously, there are things we have to do that we might not be keen on, but are necessary for our own wellbeing, like going to the dentist or getting a colonoscopy. Or both.

But I’m talking about things other people want us to do. It could be having to spend time with annoying in-laws or the boring work night out.

I’m not a fan of meetings. I don’t mind them if there’s a particular point to the meeting; it’s just that all too often, I fail to see what it is, and then I’m overcome with a sense of precious life trickling away as I attempt to decode the brand-positioning-value-added-actionable-synergy-vision-passion-learnings-speak.

Brainless sheeple

Walk around any graveyard in Ireland. I defy you to find a headstone carrying the words "I wish I'd gone to more meetings".

Right now, you might be saying to yourself: I don’t do that. I never let myself be guilted or pressurised into doing anything. Take a long, deep breath, that’s the smell of self-deception. Or poor personal hygiene due to the fact that you have zero people in your life.

Most of us do things we don’t want to not because we are brainless sheeple, but because of the ramifications. I avoid meetings when I can, but sometimes I go because it would make life awkward for other people if I didn’t.

You walk the Camino with your crazy aunt because she might be hurt if you refuse. Often, we do things because it’s simply not worth the row. And that’s okay.

But mostly, it’s out of love. Trying to coax food into a child’s mouth is no fun for the parents either.

Occasionally, even Little Tommy’s parents might secretly fantasise about being elsewhere; especially when he’s older and comes home with a bar through his nose.