Week in Review

Emma Espiner: Parenting - better with friends

I’m not a natural mother. The only thing I found easy was loving my daughter. Everything else has been an exercise in bewilderment coupled with a deep fear of screwing up. When we first got pregnant I felt like my temperament was conspiring against me becoming a competent parent. I created a blog (hopefully now deleted forever from the internet) dedicated to angry rants about receiving unwanted parenting advice.

While I regret nothing, I do wonder whether - if I’d been a little less averse to being told what to do - I might have started life as a parent a few steps ahead rather than several rugby fields behind. If you want an example of how unprepared I was - I went on maternity leave thinking it would be a nice holiday from work.

The thing about being a first time parent is that you cling to anyone who is experiencing exactly what you are, at precisely that moment in time. Kids grow and change with alarming rapidity so you really need to nail a connection with someone who gave birth around the same time for this dynamic to work. My lifelines were two friends whose children were born within a few weeks of mine. I was in constant contact with these women - literally hourly contact on a 24 hour schedule - for the first six months or so of our children's lives. Writing emails at 9pm, 1am, 3am, 5am while feeding, texting through the long lonely days. Never phone calls though. Are you mad? You might wake the baby.

The reason you need people who are deep ‘in the zone’ with you is because the chat is, objectively, incredibly boring.

It’s feeding, pooing, sleeping, vomiting, milestones, mastitis, sleeping, housework, fear of leaving the house, existential dread about someone’s in laws visiting, colic, sleeping and sleeping and winding and just nothing that anyone would want to talk about under normal circumstances. But when you’re a parent with a little baby, these things are the fulcrum upon which your ability to brush your teeth or not today turns.

Most of the people I know who have children had these ‘safe people’ with whom they corresponded endlessly on the text or email to maintain their sanity. Two women, Michele Powles and Renee Liang recently turned their need for this kind of connection into a book. ‘When we Remember to Breathe’ tracks their conversations in the early stages of pregnancy - Michele with her third and Renee with her second - and their interactions are funny, poignant, sad, philosophical and wry. It’s a book I would have loved to have when I was stumbling about in the dark with my new baby. It would have been more useful than the many baby ‘manuals’ I naively purchased which managed to not be helpful in the slightest. It’s definitely not the book my friends and I would have produced had our correspondence been published. Not enough swearing. But then I didn’t see the cutting room floor during Michele and Renee’s editing process either.

The reason you need people who are deep ‘in the zone’ with you is because the chat is, objectively, incredibly boring.

Michele writes about how life changes as a parent: “I asked a group of people what it meant ‘to adult’. Their definitions varied wildly. Mostly, they were concerned with letting people know that it sucked, but that it wouldn’t always suck. Fair call. My sample was, however, made up entirely of parents and I think they were confusing parenting with adulting. Adulting has the wild blush of possibilities still attached: booze, drugs, rock and roll. Parenting has less: nappies, self-deprecation, constructive (and deconstructive) conversations (on every topic) and wading through the morass of ways you can mess up your kid.”

Those who didn’t have cellmates in the prison of early parenthood, like I did, sometimes find solace in Facebook groups (I know, shudder, but actually the private groups are the best thing about Facebook) or in the blogs. A quick google of the term ‘mummy blog’ projectile vomits thousands of pages covering hundreds of niche parenting philosophies. The popularity of the genre, irrespective of the pejorative flavour of the term, reflects the enormous desire of parents to connect with others, even though some of the sites are so small their authors are (like I was) literally screaming into the void.

But the best of the genre, Emily Writes, broke us out of the endless cycle of cooing and isn’t-this-a-miracle don’t-you-love-every-minute by bravely going where no mummy blogger had gone before.

Emily’s explosive (for parents, that word will have a different connotation) first blog post was titled “I am grateful, now fuck off” and it was a balm for those of us who felt guilty for not ‘loving every moment.’ The realness of this post that I’ve read a dozen times still soothes me:

"Constantly telling parents – Be grateful! Be grateful! One day they won’t be shitting on you! And you’ll be like “omg, I long for the days when I was covered in sour milk and diarrhoea!” So – be grateful! You might be so exhausted that you’re crying on the toilet but these are the best days of your life SO BE GRATEFUL – leads to those parents shutting down and never sharing how they truly feel. It leads to parents not having support networks. It leads to parents walking into parenthood without any idea of how hard some moments, some days, can be. It leads to such unfair expectations on parents – enjoy every minute or you’re a fucking monster. It leads to feeling like you’re doing it all wrong.

"I am so grateful for my kids. I can’t even put into words how grateful I am. So I don’t need you to tell me to be grateful. I am. Guess what – I can be so grateful and so tired. I can be so grateful and so fucking over it. I can be so grateful and also imagine not having kids and just pashing and dancing and drinking bourbons till I puke."

Unfortunately Emily didn’t start posting about parenting until early 2015, well after I was out of the no-man’s land of parenting an infant. I am glad for new parents to have access to her back catalogue as a resource but I’m sad for myself that I didn’t have her earlier.

This is because the hardest bit, if your basic financial and personal needs are being met, is being okay with the type of parent that you are. My gratitude towards Emily is because she gave us permission to be ourselves, no matter what that looks like.

Disclaimer: I’m helping to launch When we Remember to Breathe on Wednesday night. It’s a fundraiser for Good Bitches Baking. If you haven’t heard of them, they do what it says on the tin.

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