Tuesday 16 January 2018

Smug married: Feeling broody? Not a chance, I've got the memories

Yes, there was joy, but exhaustion, boredom and frustration also come to mind when Aine O'Connor recalls the early days of parenting

Aine O'Connor

In the past two years, my brother and sister-in-law have, very thoughtfully, provided me with my first biological nephew and niece. It is lovely to have access to teenchy people again, so lovely that many have found it hard to believe that I am not overcome with broodiness.

But I was confident. I never think "what if?". I don't get the concept of having another child "because I might regret it if I don't". I won't stop being middle-aged if I have a little kid again. I'm a bit long in the tooth for pregnancy, and no part of me regrets this running out of time.

The reason I could be so certain sounds almost sacrilegious, but I didn't really like having small children. I loved them, would have killed for them -- still would -- but I found it exhausting, stressful and at times I really did struggle to cope. Frankly, I am amazed at anyone who doesn't feel like that, your life changes so radically, so fast. In June 1995, I was hanging out with surfers in Mexico. In June 1996, I was in Holles Street.

That constant struggle to know if you had communicated or understood, if they had a pain where was it? What was it? How serious? Having to pack every eventuality into a bag before you left the house. All these considerations overloaded my brain.

Of course there were times of gigantic happiness, joy and fun and there was always lots of love, oh and they were so cute. Biased? Totally. But as with pregnancy and childbirth, I have no rose-tinted memories. Glad to have had the experience, curiosity satisfied, lovely thanks, bye.

The children are now 10 and nearly 15 and whether this part of parenting is easier, suits us better or we simply no longer remember what it was like to not to have kids, both Beloved and I find parenting easier now.

There are moments and there are plenty of challenges yet to come, but day to day, I cope better now than when they were babies or toddlers.

At this age, they are less dependent in the sense of cutting up food and wiping bums, phew, but they need us in different ways. They drift away and back, we just need to be there, something grounded as they learn to fly. I love the chats, their insights and humour, their wisdom. Children can be so wise.

And although, at the time, less so in hindsight, I felt rotten about resenting Sunday mornings waiting for the park to open so we could feed the bloody ducks, again, it turns out that I wasn't alone.

Now it's over, other parents have confessed that they, too, did not especially enjoy having little children. Lots of people found it exhausting and stressful, weighed down by crappy practicalities instead of picture-book moments of daisy chains and artistically illustrated storybooks. (Children don't fall asleep when you're reading, even though it's the same book for the 70th time, they want to see the pictures, discuss abstract tangents, want to know if you think Rumpelstiltskin was mean.)

I'm going to argue that being bored by endless swing-pushing doesn't make you a bad parent. It's just a wood-for-the-trees situation, and while it's easy to focus on the passing of the good, like infatuations and gravity-defying buttocks, it's important to focus on the passing of the difficult.

You can't see it when you're struggling, but wiser people than me have said it, this too will pass.

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