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October 7, 2009updated 29 Jan 2016 11:21am

The Parent Claptrap

By Alessandro Tome

Bringing up children isn’t easy, but nor is it rocket science. Just relax and get on with it, says Alessandro Tomé

I CAN STILL remember the days when I thought most of the married couples with children were a bloody bore. And I have concluded they still mostly are, even though we have joined the pack. But at least our answer to the ‘why did you get married?’ question was not ‘to have children’.

Memories of that happiest of days are slightly fuzzy, but not fuzzy enough for me to have missed out completely on the passage about ‘committing to procreate’, ‘sharing nappy duties’, ‘equal night shifts’ or ‘giving up on life as you know it’. I think I would have spotted that, no matter how hung over I might have been.

And if I had been made party to such a passage, I might have had a chance to get at least parts of it redrafted, or negotiated an opt-out clause, issued cancellable warrants, something. But no matter how many times I relive that wonderful day in my mind, it wasn’t there. What was there was the commitment Angel Wife and I made to be with each other for ever, however illogical and unpragmatic such a decision made by two otherwise sensible human beings seems to be.

And that is where it all started. Just about every woman present had only one question for us: ‘When are you going to have children?’ To all of them, this was the only important issue, the real purpose for the day’s events. They all clearly subscribe to the view that one doesn’t really get married for life any more; you get married ‘to have children’, obviously as quickly as possible, before logic and common sense overcome the hormones. So after hundreds of years of so-called civilisation, the main goal is still shared with all other animals: survival of one’s genes, improved with complementary DNA obtained from the opposite sex, at least until scientists and liberals have their way.

So as a light-hearted contrarian, I didn’t immediately enchain my wife to a life of nappies, throw-ups and
nanny trouble either. I find it mind-boggling that some husbands still think this is the best protection against female trouble.

They get them pregnant with mouse-like frequency, hoping it will keep them too busy to realise their husbands are never home as they are working so hard (are you really?) to be able to keep up with their friends’ ideas of their disposable income. They actually believe that this is all that is needed, with the sprinkling of designer presents and luxury vacations, for a happy household. How short-sighted and condescending.

This reminds me somewhat of 18th-century thinking, when women were expected to run the household, tend the husband, bear and look after children. Where does this leave the supposed progress of the last 200 years? And how can this entitle us to preach on the subject of an advanced and equal society?

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In some Swiss cantons women still cannot vote on certain local matters, and there had to be protests in England before women were given a vote. And still they were considered too immature to vote until they were 30, which was lowered to 21 in 1928. Who was immature, I wonder?
NONETHELESS, HERE WE are, and while perhaps I have luckily skipped some of the clichés, I have tried to avoid most of the bad habits. We have enormously enjoyed eight years of what marrying a person is all about, namely spending time together. We have travelled to exotic places for inordinate amounts of time, left at the drop of a hat, walked around the house naked more often than not, and other such delightful activities of a normal, happy, carefree couple. And we are still trying to stay true to that commitment. But that certainly doesn’t seem to be the norm.

Having spent an unusually high percentage of my holidays with other people with children, I have concluded that, yes, most people with children are a bore. They have little interest outside their children and therefore are of little interest to anyone wanting to have a vaguely adult conversation.

In the company of their children, they have become perfectly trained puppets, responding instantly to sounds and gestures with the required action, which usually entails the words ‘of course you can’. All other activity — talking, playing, eating, sleeping or, of course, sex — is immediately interrupted, no matter the interest, importance, let alone sense of education or decorum, to pay suitable attention to a vociferous infant.

I even once found myself leaning over a table to reach for my sunglasses and nearly choked on my wine, as I almost ran into an exposed breast in preparation for feeding, incongruously so in the midst of pre-lunch cocktails. I can already hear the liberal hordes gunning for me, but that was a step too far. Why not just find a little privacy? What was the need to be public when not absolutely necessary?

We cannot blame this baby — it wasn’t his choice to have lunch in public — just as we cannot blame kids for the other extremes. Kids are in this world to discover and test boundaries. We are becoming every day more remiss in establishing boundaries for them, in the name of new-found enlightenment in child-rearing, a mostly American import backed by vast commercial interests in the publishing world.

Society as a whole is not helping; nor did the so-called sexual revolution. Studies clearly show that neither mothers nor children are happier now that the mothers have been ‘allowed’ to work in our ‘progressive’ society. Furthermore, we are becoming older and older parents, and I am not sure that this benefits the children either, or their need for boundaries and routine.
HAVE YOU NOTICED how much more spoiled the late child in a marriage is, or even children from a later marriage are, as we seem to think this is our chance to get it right second time around and so we try twice as hard to be ‘perfect’? Does it have to mean obliterating our lives for theirs? But their life is only interesting because they see us living ours, in a normal, everyday way.

They want to learn and see and hear and imitate ours, and then invent and develop for themselves. It is our joy and happiness and calm, but only as juxtaposed to our sadness and anger and fear, that helps them become them, which, for good or bad, is partly us.

So perhaps we should concentrate on being better at who we are, which in turn may help them become who they are. Rather than trying to be what we, as adults, think we wanted our parents to be. For that we should just have a session with our favourite shrink, and leave them kids alone.

lIlustration by Jeremy Leasor

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