In the first episode of the fourth season of The Simpsons – aired in 1992 – Marge and Homer see Bart and Lisa off to summer camp. As soon as the bus drives off, all the parents start hollering, hooting, popping bottles of champagne and one parent even shouts, “don’t come back”. Once they’re gone, Homer’s hair begins to grow back and he loses weight.
I was almost 13 when I watched that episode for the first time, but I remember my internal monologue with laser-sharp precision. “Why would you bother having kids if you can’t wait to get rid of them? They must be really crap parents.”
And thus began around 24 years of judging parents, wondering what all the fuss and complaining was about … until I had my own.
I recently started to think back over the common misconceptions non-parents have about parenting. Here are three of the most common – certainly ones that I subscribed to – and the reality of life after you cross the parenting threshold.
1) When I have a child I will never put them in front of screens. That’s just lazy parenting.
Do you have a cleaner? A nanny? A laundry service? A chef? A partner who can support the whole family on their salary alone?
If your answer to these questions is no, then parenting is largely going to be your sole responsibility. Sometimes you’re juggling every single thing on that list, plus parenting, the plumber, an electrician and more. Especially if you’re a woman.
But I don’t know a single parent who didn’t at least attempt to have a screen-free home for their first child. Most gave up in the first few months. Did any attempt screen-free time with a second child? [Insert uproarious laugh here.]
If you’re preparing to become a parent and this is in your bag of preconceptions … Let it go, let it go.
2) What kind of parent can’t stop their kid crying on a plane/in a restaurant/on a bus? Just give them what they want and they will be quiet and everyone will be happier.
If it was that simple, don’t you think we’d be doing it? Giving them whatever it is they want? We know you’re looking at us. Judging us. We want them to stop as much as you do. But there is so much you just do not know until you have a child.
There’s a little thing no one tells you about before you become a parent. It’s called The Wall. When your kids get tired and lose the ability to regulate their behaviour, they hit The Wall. They start crying. And they then can get borderline hysterical. And, like a runaway freight train, there’s nothing on the face of the earth that you can do or give to stop them.
The first time I watched this happen with a child, I wasn’t yet a parent and I thought the kid’s head was going to spin 360 degrees and we were going to have to call a priest.
Kids are full of raging hormones. They go through developmental leaps. There’s a lot going on in their little bodies and minds and not everything is rational and able to be “talked out”. Sometimes they just gotta cry.
I think the moral of this particular story is, there are all sorts of really unpleasant things that we parents don’t tell you about beyond giving birth. It’s imperative that this continues, because the future of the human race relies on it. Without it, no one would willingly choose to procreate.
The point here is, go easy, because there’s a hell of a lot you don’t know about the “magic” of parenthood.
3) If you have kids, you should want to be around them all the time and if you don’t, why did you have kids in the first place?
Does anyone say this about married couples? Like, “You married this person so why don’t you want to be around them 24/7? You must not really love them.”
No one is saying that. Because we recognise that everyone needs space to themselves or they slowly go completely and utterly off the rails.
You just don’t know the trials and tribulations of child-rearing warfare until you’re in the thick of it
Parents have been trying to avoid their kids since the dawn of time. From wet-nurses to governesses, nannies to kinder programs, children have always wanted to be away from their parents and parents have always wanted to be away from their children. At least for brief(ish) periods of time. Of course we love them! We adore them! But absence makes the heart grow, um, more patient?
Being a parent is hard work. Being a kid is hard work too. There’s absolutely no shame in saying “Hells to the yeah!” when it’s time for a break and some time to do all the things you don’t get to do when the kids are around.
With the Australian school year starting again next week, many parents – especially working, volunteering, exhausted parents – are getting ready to drop their kids at the school gate and start their year with a celebratory mimosa or a bloody mary (spicy please).
If you’re a parent, make sure you relish the opportunity to breathe that nag-free air, enjoy your morning coffee (or cocktail), a quiet five-minute read of the paper.
Non-parents, maybe don’t ruin that moment with glares of judgment like the one I would have had plastered all over my sanctimonious teenage face?
Because trust me, you just don’t know the trials and tribulations of child-rearing warfare until you’re in the thick of it.
• Isabelle Oderberg is a journalist, editor, writer and media professional. Her first book Hard to Bear: Investigating the science and silence of miscarriage will be published in April
Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a response of up to 300 words by email to be considered for publication in our letters section, please click here.