Alice Bachini looks at parenthood without any rose coloured glasses.
I moan a lot about having children. This sometimes makes me feel really mean, and I certainly wouldn’t do it in the presence of my dear friends who have wanted children for years and been unable to conceive so far. But maybe I should.
Of course, children are wonderful. The problem is, they are likely to be only slightly more wonderful than the treatment they get from you, the parent, and we parents have an incredibly difficult time trying to do things right.
Let me take the hypothetical example of, say, a one-year-old baby. This is what a day is like with a one-year-old baby. You wake up, with the baby in your bed, and breastfeed, for maybe an hour. Then you get up, carrying the baby. Then you try to get dressed, while the baby plays with something, if you’re lucky. Maybe you get interrupted a few times. An hour later, you can attempt to get some breakfast.
Entertaining one-year-olds is not easy; there isn’t much they can do, and their attention-span is zero. Another hour later, you can maybe go out, carrying the baby yourself or pushing it in a buggy for maybe fifteen minutes before she gets bored again.
Where will you go? A friend’s house, or a playgroup, where you will follow your baby around trying to make sure she doesn’t eat any live wires or spiders, and constantly looking for anything that will occupy her for ten minutes so you can have a cup of tea and some conversation. About feeding babies, entertaining babies, baby illnesses, and how to get any housework or cooking done.
I won’t bore you any further. It’s not much intellectual stimulation for a person with an adult-sized brain. Now, what most parents would already be doing by now is probably some amount of coercion. They would, say, leave the baby in her cot and go and cook the dinner regardless of any complaining, and eventually the complaining would die down. But the problem with coercing kids for the sake of a quiet life is, it doesn’t bring you a quiet life for very long. All it amounts to is, making a rod for your own back later on (not to mention being rather wrong, and not very useful for the child, see Taking Children Seriously).
The more you use force to make your kids fit round you, the more you undermine your relationship with them. The worse your relationship with them, the harder it gets to solve problems in the future. If you totally neglect or coerce your child in ways she really suffers from (and only she can know exactly what that amounts to; it is fairly easy to ignore the wishes of a child who may not be able to express them very well unless encouraged) then ultimately you will end up with an older child or teen whom you really cannot ‘control’ at all. And that’s when the s**t really hits the fan.
Which is exactly how it happens when states do nasty things to their citizens. Treat people badly, and you cannot expect a wonderful civilised country full of tolerant generous individuals. Thuggery breeds thuggery.
Parents can stop passing on their own worst ideas and learn to treat children as human beings capable of as much reason as they are. The only actual differences between their minds and ours are that our ideas are more detailed and more f***ed-up. Every argument about children being different used to be applied to women and black people. When we stop thinking kids are unreasonable for disagreeing with us, we will start creating a nicer future.
But considering how much sheer work it takes in terms of fetching, carrying, dressing, explaining, listening, feeding, nappy-changing, helping, not to mention in terms of time and money, I don’t think quite so many people will be choosing to do it in the first place. Kids are wonderful. But only because they are people.