If you don’t have any kids, I’m sure you at least have a vague idea of some of the things you would/wouldn’t do if you did have kids. You know, like:
‘I would never let my child make that sort of racket in a restaurant!’
‘I’d never let my child sleep in my bed!’
‘If I had children, I wouldn’t let them watch cartoons before they’re three.’
‘Why do parents give kids under two chocolate? There’s no need. My kids won’t be having anything like that until they’re teenagers.’
‘When I take my kids to Sci Fi conventions, I’ll make sure their costumes are more accurate than that!’
You’ll have had some sort of thought along these lines at some point.
Now, I’m certainly not claiming all parents fail to do all of the above. Lots of parents have very quiet children (lucky buggers!), some parents genuinely don’t ever co-sleep, some parents are pretty strict when it comes to TV, there are parents who ban all foods with refined sugar from their homes and I’m sure there are parents who take the business of Sci Fi conventions very seriously and make sure their little Jayne Cobb has the right colours on his knitted, earflap hat.
However, there will be something they thought they’d do that they go back on once they have real little people to care for and bring up.
Why? Well, several reasons. A big reason for relenting in the earlier days of parenthood is exhaustion. Everyone knows babies can make you tired and everyone knows when you’re tired you’re a less efficient human being. Think Discworld troll in a warm city (and if you don’t understand that reference you should immediately find a Terry Pratchett book and read it. Seriously, I’ll wait. I don’t care if you’re supposed to be working right now or you need to go and collect the kids from school in five minutes; just find a Discworld book (any – though, I’d prefer you start from the beginning) and start reading. You’ll thank me…and then you’ll curse me when you get to the end of the books because we have been robbed of any more Discworld by a skeleton in a black robe who communicates IN CAPITAL LETTERS). Anyway, as I was saying, sleep deprivation turns you into troll and I don’t mean the kind who frequent the comments sections of YouTube (or ‘the bottom half of the internet’ as a friend calls it) and there is a point where you feel you are going so slowly you’ll grind to a halt and turn into solid stone unless you take the baby into bed with you so you can get just half an hour of sleep or turn the TV for an hour so you can have a cup of tea and go to the toilet.
Sometimes you change your mind because you read new research or an interesting article and you simply decide you were wrong before.
A lot of the time it’s a case of – and I’d probably have said I’d never use this phrase before I had kids – ‘picking your battles’. Children have this nasty habit of having their own personalities and it’s much like a lucky dip where you don’t know what you’re going to get when you dip…or when your partner…dips…eeeerm…this simile is going to weird places now so I’ll stop there. What I’m trying to say is you might get a laid back sort of child. An easy-going type. One who – when you say it’s teeth cleaning time – just accepts this, goes with you to the bathroom and stands ‘Ahhhhing’ and ‘Eeeeeing’ at the right parts and that’s that. Or one you might get one who’s not exactly easy-going but is shy and quiet so will do as their told even if they’re unhappy about it. Or you might get one who – when you say it’s time to clean his teeth – replies with, ‘No cleeth tean! No cleath teen! My no like cleeth tean!’ every single day. And amusing as this cute Spoonerism is, it can grind you down when every morning there’s a battle over ‘cleeth teaning’ regardless of whether you persuade, joke, grab him and march him to the bathroom, try to compromise and bring the toothbrush to the living room, bribe, make it into a game, buy an exciting new toothbrush…
Of course, teeth cleaning is non-negotiable. It has to be done so I do it despite the battle but there are other similarly wearing daily fights that just aren’t as important. Wearing clothes, for instance. I’ve given up making Tyger wear clothes at home unless he’s sitting on his booster seat at the table and I worry about the strap chafing him and he complains about the plastic sticking to his skin. And TV. I used to only let him watch a specific amount of TV a day. Now, when it gets to 10am and he’s already got bags under his eyes and we’ve just had the same argument about whether we’re going outside when it’s blowing a gale and peeing it down out there and Baby Bear is napping so no, of course we’re not going out right this moment! five times in a row – resulting in him screaming, throwing things and spitting every time even if I try the good old distraction technique – I will stick an episode of Thomas on the TV and feel no guilt over it. I don’t even cringe at the weird theme tune and lament the disappearance of the old Ringo Starr Thomas theme tune anymore. I enjoy my cup of tea and know the benefits of not clubbing Tyger to death with the wellies he brought me the third time we had the argument outweigh the detriment 15 extra minutes of TV will have on his development.
There are lots of reasons you end up doing at least some of those things you swore you’d never do but it boils down to the fact – as patronising as it sounds – you honestly do not know what it’s like to be a parent until you are one. Yes, even if you babysat your younger siblings a lot when you still lived with your parents or if you have to look after your niece every week when your brother’s at work or if you’re a teacher or you really really love your dogs as if they were children. You just don’t. And when you have them, your children will make a liar of you.