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Wednesday, 13 October 2010

I wish I'd never had children . . . .

‘I wish I’d never had children!’ shrieked the ex wife of a friend of mine. Trouble was she shrieked it at her children. I don’t know what the situation was but suspect it was an end of her tether one and not something she bellowed at her kids to get them up in the morning. But her now ex husband occasionally repeats the phrase as though it’s a summation of her rubbish skills as a mother. ‘Can you imagine saying that to your children?’ Well pushed hard enough – possibly. I told him that once, years ago when The Boy was about five, he yelled ‘I hate you!’ at me, and instead of responding in a mature Penelope Leach like manner, I yelled back: ‘Yeah well I hate you too you little shit!’ He laughed but insisted that his ex wife's comment was a far worse thing to say because it was so damaging. I'm not sure about that. I think a one off horrible remark is less destructive than the drip drip of emotional abuse.

Parents, in particular mothers though, are not supposed to ever express the negative side of parenting, except in a jokey way. If they do they invite a landslide of hatred, usually in the form of ‘why did you bother to have children you selfish bitch?’ The writer Anna Pasternak once wrote a piece about how dull babies were and oh so many mothers wrote in to tell her a) what a crap mother she was and b) what stimulating company their own babies were. Yeah I remember discussing Wittgenstein with my babies and them dribbling in response. Happy days.

Shouting at your children that you wished you hadn't given birth to them is a pretty terrible thing to say, but I found myself feeling a twinge of sympathy. I don’t need to tell you parents out there that there a) there is a dark underbelly to parenting that sometimes comes out in flashes of hatred and fury and b) we all have days where the sheer endless never ending endlessness of it makes us want to step out in front of the nearest car. The people who are the most shocked and horrified by this dark underbelly are always those who haven’t spent much time around children themselves.

I’ve been thinking about all this because The Girl and I are currently staying with my dad as he’s not coping too well with bereavement, and it’s taken a while to get The Girl into a local school (an exciting tale I’ll bore you with another time) but in the meantime The Girl and I are spending a lot of time together. Most of it is fun but sometimes oh God . . . . .I wish there was an off button. I can’t get a minute to myself. And yes, I’m making sure she goes to interesting places, classes, new activities. It’s the endless stream of questions – the fact she says ‘Mum . . .mum . . .?’ before asking a question and will keep saying ‘mum . . . mum . . . .mum . . . ‘ whether I’m on the phone, on the toilet or with my head in a cupboard trying to locate the gas meter. No time off. No respite. And there's only one of her! Full time single mothers are heroines! How do they not go mad?

Today I took her to children’s yoga and had a whole forty five minutes to myself. And no I'm not being sarcastic. It was joyous. I paid a few bills online and listened to embarrassing music on my ipod. Bliss. Ah say the Experts, so why can’t you do that with your daughter around? Because the point of the child free space is the sheer luxury of being alone – you revel in it – stretch out in it like a warm bath. And you don’t need that much of it, to gather your fractured self back together again and return to the fray.


Gillian said...

Let's hope she has an early bedtime. And gets good at playing the "lets see who can be quiet the longest" game.

My Boy has English assignment where he has to win an argument with me on paper. HIs argument is that he want to stay up later.

One of my TEN points against this involved having peace and quiet to watch TV, talk to his dad or stare blankly into space for a while without him commenting, asking me something or generally mucking around.

HA. I am so going to win this one.

headbang8 said...

As one of the kids who got a lot of shit from his parents just for being alive and needing care, I am inclined to agree with the ex.

When a child says "I hate you", what does one say in reply?

"Yeah, well I hate you too, you little shit" actually makes light of the situation. It defuses some of the anger, and the word "hate" seems much less hateful.

"I hate you", from a five year old, means "I'm angry with you." Peiople who love each other get angry with each other a lot, it seems. And they can be angry with each other, without it affecting how much they love each other, or the enduring nature of that love.

Is that a teachable thought in a teachable moment for a five-year-old? I dunno.

I do genuinely think a cold, dispassionate statement that you wish your children weren't there, is a lot more damaging. I got that a lot. What was the effect? For a lot of my childhood, I quietly wished I hadn't been had, too.

And that, if not countered with reassurances of love and the reliability of care, can lead to terrible consequences. Many of which persist into adult life.

Trust me on that one.

Jane said...

@Gillian - good idea re the 'let's see who can be quiet the longest' but she's sussed me out on that. Now she says: 'I will be quiet mummy but you have to pay me.'

And isn't it nice to stare into space? Bliss . . . .

@Headbang - that is truly shocking and so utterly cruel. I can only hope you received love and validation from somewhere. And yes I agree about the cold dispassionate business.

Anonymous said...

You reminded me of times when my two were very young and occasionally I would scream with frustration (very short lived and usually when they had been fighting for an hour or so!) Now teenagers they remember these rare occasions when they thought I'd gone mad! That got me writing- probably not finished yet...

The Scream

It wasn’t like the one I once saw hanging
in a gallery – more like a gush
of frustration than a torrent of despair.

Most of us have been there -
accusations and small fists flying
in the rear view mirror

until you reach the raft of home
and still they continue and you plunge
into reason, distraction, bribery - until finally

it comes, piecing the air, causing
them to stare, bewildered by this stranger
wearing their mother’s skin.

Gillian said...

Ha, I was going to suggest payment but thought blogworld would go into meltdown.

How about you don't deduct from her existing pocket money if she is quiet. Then it wont cost you anything extra. Not one red cent.

Works with lollies on car trips too. Behave > get the lolly. Muck up and the lolly goes out the window.

Tip: buy cheap lollies. Be prepared to follow through. Oh, and watch you are throwing it at. Little old ladies don't take kindly to a boiled sweet in the face. Fact.

Jane said...

@Anon - I don't think your poem needs much more fiddling - I particularly like: 'bewildered by this stranger
wearing their mother’s skin'

@Gillian - bribes are an excellent idea. And following through - once they've got wind that you say 'no no no - oh ok as long as you keep nagging me' you're DONE.

C said...

Thanks for these thoughts. I appreciated reading them, even if it doesn't bode well for my future. Here I was, thinking that as soon as my own chaotic life calmed down I wouldn't be wanting these alone moments so often. And it's true, shite music on your ipod is bliss.

Jane said...

@C - thanks for your comment. I find that even a few moments alone can do the trick. Sometimes parents of very small children use going to the toilet as alone time but even then, little fingers sometimes poke under the door!

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