Tuesday 10 February 2015

You don't have kids, you don't understand

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You don't have kids, you don't understand. 

I hear that phrase said a lot by other parents, as though they have the monopoly on all worldly wisdom. I remember what that was like in my child-free days, the constant raised eyebrows when I said I'd had a lie-in, or the look of distain when I said I found it hard to juggle work and a social life. Tough? You don't know the bloody meaning of the word!

The fact is that, if you don't have a child, you don't understand me one bit. And before you react in a fit of rage from underneath my high horse, please hear me out. You have no idea what it's like having had three hours sleep to get jumped on at 6:30am by the equivalent of a baby elephant who wants me to play with him all day. You have no idea what it's like to do that at the same time as try to feed and rock and wipe the dirty arse of a newborn. You have no idea what it's like for me to do that and try to juggle a career too. You have no idea what it's like returning to a house that's full of brightly coloured plastic toys and stinks of baby shit. FML

But then, neither does the mother whose baby sleeps through the night or whose child plays happily on his own for twenty minutes. Similarly I have no idea what it's like to cope with more than two children or what it's like to have a highly stressful job and work 50 hours a week. I have no idea what it's like to live with diabetes or to need a guide dog just to walk down the road.

I have no idea what it's like to be in your late forties having wanted kids so badly and it just didn't work out that way for you.

I have no idea what its like to live alone.

I don't live your life, I don't understand.

Just because I'm a mother it doesn't mean I understand all other parents either, as though we all fit into some generic category of what a parent is. I don't understand what it's like to enjoy baby groups, for example; singing 'wind the bobbin up' ten times, complete with actions and a cheesy grin from ear to ear just doesn't happen for me. If you have a kid it doesn't mean you understand the way that I tell my four year old that his favourite game of Top Trumps is missing so I don't have to play it for the sixteenth time today, or the way I call my baby things like Trevor* when I'm out and about just to gauge other people's reactions.

And that's okay. You don't live my life and I don't live yours.

There are those without children who have far more understanding of me than those that do. There are those who do have children that have far less compassion for me in my exhaustion because their little Tommy didn't sleep at all last night. I can speak to another parent about how I'm finding life tough and then they reel off why their lives are so much harder than mine as though it's a competition as to whose life is the hardest.

The main problem with telling child-free people that they don't understand us smug stressed-out mothers, apart from being really annoying, is that it creates a huge chasm between the child-free and the with-child. The child-free woman is fed up of the with-child woman making her feel like she is less of a person for not having kids, and the with-child woman is fed up of the child-free woman for making her feel that she has no freedom.

Then there's the exclusion I face as a with-child person: the child-free friends who don't ask me out anymore, who give me a blank stare when they ask what I've done today and I reply with 'looking after children', or the roll of their eyes when they see another frigging selfie of me and my baby in our pyjamas at three o'clock in the afternoon. Underneath those pyjamas and the tired smiles and the cornflakes stuck in my hair that my four year old chucked at me this morning, is the same person I've always been.

So, no, you don't understand. You don't understand anymore than I understand you. But we do have some things in common: we all experience sadness, pain, embarrassment and laughter. We all know what it's like to miss the bus on a rainy day or to run out of tea bags when you really need a cuppa. We're all human. We may live very different lives but it doesn't mean that we can't, on some level, unite over our ups and downs. Let's stop creating a chasm and embrace our differences. Let's support one another when we're finding life tough.

Now excuse me while I upload another selfie on Facebook of me and my baby in our pyjamas...

*if you actually did call your baby Trevor, I'm sorry to take the piss out of your son's name (or daughter's for that matter, what the heck). Although I do not understand that decision, I fully embrace our differences.

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