Anybody considering becoming a parent has likely watched and talked to (family & friends (F&F) who already are parents and drunk substantially at the well of their knowledge.
What looks effortless probably is not. They will have stumbled, sometimes fallen over, got back up, and soldiered on repeatedly; even when they don’t want to because there are little lives that depend on them.
Whilst becoming a parent can be hard, being one definitely is. I have not tried to become a parent, but I have been a child. Though I wasn’t the worst, I was still a handful and brought a fair amount of hurt and trouble to my parents’ door.
Younger me often felt my parents were wrong. Decades of experiences since has taught me that they were a lot less so. With the distance of time, I would now score my parenting experience of my Mum & Father as 8/10 and 4/10, respectively. Yes, your offspring scores you and worse they judge you against other parents.
Mum’s an 8 – not the 9 she deserves because she would then want to know why she didn’t get 10.
My Father gets points for teaching me valuable life lessons such as the brushing of teeth, how to wash oneself properly and how to ride a bike. Actually, all he did was take off the stabilisers on my 1st bicycle and shout at me when I fell off the far too big adult racer he got me a year later, so less kudos. Oh, and he was also wrong about rinsing with water straight after toothbrushing. That said, he did, by example, teach me one critical lesson; he taught me how not to be a Father like him.
As a parent, the 1st rule should be that you make the rules because yours is a benign dictatorship, in which your primary duty is to ensure that everyone survives the mission with hopefully an abundance of love and laughter and happy experiences.
I would suggest that you be well-versed in or make an effort to acquire skills such as
- Risk analysis. Children are danger magnets – it and they seem to seek each other out no matter how safe you try to make them
- Disaster prevention. Given the danger magnetism above, you will need to prevent or minimise as many potential disasters as you can
- PR crisis management. There will be days when you cannot prevent what seems like a disaster but perhaps just needs to be positively spun as a learning experience for everyone involved…
- Existing without sleep. The early years are an overly successful sleep deprivation experiment
- Hostage negotiation. If you haven’t realised yet, you are the hostage to all your hopes and fears for your kid(s)’ living years.
As parents, your word ought to logically be the final matter on most everything. However, you made a fundamental mistake: you had kids, and so introduced mini tyrants into the decision-making process.
Marshall your forces: if you have a partner, then at least there are two of you to share the load. If you’re lucky or sensible, you will have parents close by who can provide invaluable support that the state does not.
However, perhaps this army is not enough, especially if serious illnesses are visited on parents or crises come a-calling; or both. Also, if you want to have a quality relationship with any other adults, be it your parenting partner, boyfriend, girlfriend – whoever – then you need to have time with them and only them. You especially need to do this with parenting partners you have parted from because you still need to discuss and plan what’s going on with your kids, and that is best done without too much time pressure.
Children are not conducive to the apportioning of quality time that does not involve them, so you need regular respite. You need to call in reinforcements: you need babysitters.
There are only 2 reasons not to have as many babysitters in your life as you can reliably muster and is socially acceptable:
- You can only afford X babysitters, or
- You don’t have enough F&F nearby who are willing and able to babysit, or
- You fear that every moment you don’t spend with your kid(s) is the potential loss of transcendental joy in something they do for the 1st time. You may have forgotten that babies don’t do much apart from eat, sleep, cry and soil their nappies. Whatever you miss will happen again — and that will be the 1st time that you will have seen it. Learn to share because you will win in so many ways:8
1. You will get back valuable time for yourself and/or your partner
2. You will be socialising your kid(s)
3. You will be helping your family and friends to be:
Seriously, if, in your life, you have children and F&F without kids of their own, then there is an opportunity for everyone to win.
You win because you have babysitting resources that you have likely not used. Do the maths: if just 1 of your childfree or childless F&F is willing to babysit every other month of the year, you suddenly have 6 evenings free in that year. Almost a whole week of evenings!
Those of your F&F without children of their own will have a level of paranoia that will make them the best babysitters in the world as they have likely forgotten and have yet to re-learn that kids are pretty durable and hard to break. I know this because though I am a ninja at babysitting and cognisant of the robustness of children, I still refuse offers of drinks if I’m left in sole charge of babies or kids because my paranoia runs deep.
Do not underestimate how much of a gift it is for your childless or childfree friends to spend time and develop a relationship with your kid(s) if that is something they desire.
Your kid’s advocate
Parents – there will come a time when you will not be able to be there for your children. And so, you will need someone else to be there, for them, because you can’t or – now take a deep breath because this is going to sting – your child doesn’t want you to be there.
C’mon, you know there are conversations that no parent wants to have with their kids, and there is stuff kids do not want to talk to their parents about but need older input on.
Let’s take the obvious two: sex & drugs. You can try to be the cool parent who has those conversations, thinking that you’re ready for all the questions that might come about, but are you? How reasonable & balanced are you going to be with their friends after those conversations? Yeah, you’re not going to be at all suspicious that any of them are trying to have sex with your offspring or lead them astray down a drugged-up path of failure & destitution – are you?
Children categorise adults into 3 groups:
- Adults I like
- Adults I do not like
- My parents – it takes a while for kids to realise that you are not just their parents.
During your children(s)’ younger years, you are the only adults they really require. However, as they get older, they will need more.
Maybe they will reach out to their Grandparents or Uncles or Aunts or some of your friends. The kids will decide whom to rely on when they need help that they don’t want to ask of you. But it is your job to ensure they have a wide variety of adults in their lives that they know, trust and can call on to be their alternate advocates.
Think of the family and friends who, when needed in some way, have been there for you. It’s a given that they love you, and because they do, they will love your kids. I don’t understand why it works this way, but it does: you do love your friends and family’s children – it’s life-affirming and also very irritating. Seriously, I was not part of any decision-making process of bringing these little people into my life, and the little so-and-sos have co-opted valuable me-time with their parents.
Also, these people have known you at your best and worst and are the keepers of all the stories that your kid(s) should get to know if you have forgotten them or something prevents you from telling them in the future: the story of you.
If your kid(s) like/love your F&F, you will win in the short and longer terms and everything you do to make that bond between them stronger will make your current and future life easier and better.
F&F without kids likely have more unoccupied time than you, so you should offer to help them fill it as much as they will permit.
Can you see all the possibilities of all that free babysitting yet? How many F&F could unlock extra nights out – and if you play it just right nights away and maybe even the hallowed weekender? I say free babysitting but hope you will still use the neighbourhood teenagers for as much sitting as you can reasonably afford – we also have a social responsibility to them.
One last thing on this advocacy deal that you ought to know – whichever adults you allow into your kid(s)’ lives and encourage them to form a relationship with – together they will have secrets they keep from you, and you need to be ok with that. Be very careful about breaking any of those compacts.
For example, were a family member or a friend to ask if their kid had ever talked to me about sex or drugs, there are two scenarios:
- if their kid was too young, I’d already have let them know without needing to be asked and encouraged their kid to talk to them
- if their kid was old enough, i.e. of the same age when we started doing such things; I would likely take the 5th, on the grounds that I could neither confirm nor deny that if I had been asked, or had proffered X advice and in such a theoretical set of circumstances would be following-up to see how things had gone.
Play it forward
If you’re a parent and partnered up and are friends with single parents, then consider doing them a solid and offer to look after their kid(s) from time to time – I will almost guarantee that they will love you forever.
So, do you still want children?
For me, the answer is maybe; depending on the circumstances.
I would like to be in a committed relationship with a woman I love and who wants to have a life together. That is my main priority. If kids are part of that package – ours or adopted – then that would be a brilliant adventure to share. If not, that’s ok because this woman, who is somewhere out there in the world, would be my #1 priority. For the right person, you would do most anything.
What if I meet and fall for someone who already has kids – would I be prepared to take on another man’s children? That’s an easy yes: people come with baggage and sometimes they come with “human luggage”, which is how my cousin K lovingly describes his relationship with his Dad, my Uncle Pat, who used to take him, as a baby and a kid, wherever he went. Course there’s the potential challenge of getting the kids onside but why worry about that when there are her parents, siblings, other relatives and all her friends to also charm?
So, if the woman I love and can commit to wants kids, or doesn’t want them, or has already had and doesn’t want more, I will be content because I will have her in my life.
I hope this has all made sense and that even if it has not given you any insights into yourself, it has about family and friends around you. If you think there’s truth in it then please share it, and if it leads to a conversation, then that’s great, but please try not to go into it feeling sorry for the other party as they will have had a lot more time to sit with their situation than you will have spent thinking about it.
← Which children’s camp are you in? (2 of 3)
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Created: 31st July 2018
Released for review: 30th January 2020
Re-drafted 25th, 26th & 27th February 2020
Edits 24th February 2022: readability
Edits 4th March 2022: revised & reduced “Being a parent is hard” section
Edits 8th August 2022: procrastinating
Edits 24th August 2022: minor edits and title change from “Childless, Childfree, Child-limited or Child-gendered – pt. 3”
Edits 11th October 2022: procrastinating
Edits 26th October 2022: minor edits final readability run-through
Published: 27th October 2022.
© JAK 2022
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