Parenting can be awful (but apparently we’re not allowed to admit that) – HarpersBAZAAR.com

Today’s first newsflash: parenting can be awful. And the second: you’re not supposed to say it out loud.

Screenwriter and director Duncan Jones caused a Twitter storm this weekend by admitting that life as a parent isn’t all squishy hugs and adoring gazes. The tweet even implied – and here’s the real crime – that it isn’t for everyone.

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“I have 2 kids. 2 1/2 years & 9 months old respectively. I’ll tell you something I never see anyone admit… they are exhausting, frustrating & life-destabilizing. They are rarely fun. Sure, smiles are great, hugs are lovely, but it’s HARD & not obviously a good choice in life.”

For some reason, suggesting that having kids is “not obviously a good choice in life” is still an enormous taboo. And hinting that you are personally not breezing through parenthood feeling nothing but joy and a love-like-no-other is opening you up to criticism. It is tantamount to admitting that you’re not very good at it.

“Suggesting that having kids is ‘not obviously a good choice in life’ is still an enormous taboo”

The negative replies that Duncan received for his tweet ranged from “Gonna be a tough day when his kids are old enough to read and comprehend this” to “How unfortunate for your children that they have you as a parent. They deserve better.” Meanwhile, countless parents jumped to his defence, and praised him for having the courage to be truthful, or simply encouraging him to “hang in there”. It’s worth noting that in large part the negative replies came from fellow dads, the support from mums. Duncan himself noted it:

“Lot of moms getting where I’m coming from. A handful of dads vitriolic. Can’t say I’m hugely surprised,” he tweeted.

In defence of Duncan

What Duncan Jones tweeted (at 2.30am in the morning while attempting sleep training, a particularly dark time and place I am sadly no stranger to) was entirely factually accurate. And so very important.

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Children, particularly small ones, are exhausting. They are frustrating. They are life-destabilising. They are rarely fun. And, most pressingly of all, they are “not obviously a good choice in life”. The most accurate description of having a child is to say that the birth of your baby signals the end of your first life and the beginning of your second, completely different one. You might like the second one better. You might not. It’s a gamble, and you should be aware that you’re rolling the dice when you do it.

Tully starring Charlize Theron
Charlize Theron in ’Tully’

Rex

Duncan doesn’t mean that it’s obviously a bad choice to have kids; he means it isn’t obviously a good one. The sentence I have probably said the most to my childless friends since I had Jack is “I can see why some people don’t want kids.” Before I experienced parenthood, its challenges, its sleeplessness, its mind-numbing repetitiveness, I couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to go through life without kids. Because it is a path laid out for people since the dawn of time. And because people simply aren’t honest enough about how bloody hard it is.

“The birth of your baby signals the end of your first life and the beginning of your second”

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Every single element of parenting is not only challenging, it is new to you, and it is unique to your child. Some babies refuse to breastfeed. Some refuse to sleep. Some cry and vomit every second they are conscious for the first six months of their lives (thanks Jack), some smile and coo and gurgle and make parenting look like the easiest thing in the world. If you are dealt a particularly challenging hand when it comes to parenting, you should be able to speak about it. You should be encouraged to speak out about it. We should be breaking down stigmas around parental judgement, not least because of the enormous risks and challenges associated with post-natal depression, which can be exacerbated when you feel wholly and completely alone in your despair.

If you’re a new mum or dad, looking around at your peers and see and hear nothing but order and contentment, your personal chaos will feel all the more suffocating. I regularly admit to pregnant friends that I didn’t enjoy the first six months or so of motherhood. That I don’t always enjoy it now. I want them to be prepared that they might not either. To know that it is normal. Acceptable. That it doesn’t make you a terrible person.

“I regularly admit to pregnant friends that I didn’t enjoy the first six months or so of motherhood”

I am a single mum, with an incredibly loud, energetic, headstrong three-year-old who demands 90% of my time and 100% of my attention when we’re together. I don’t enjoy playing tea parties with his soft toys. I don’t particularly enjoy making dinosaurs out of Play Doh. I really, really don’t enjoy being woken up at 3am by someone shouting ‘MUMMY ARE THE DOORS LOCKED? COME HERE NOW.’

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Would I change having Jack? Of course I wouldn’t. Do I feel the unimaginable, life-changing love for my son that people talk about, that makes it all worth it? Yes, I do. Has he made my life better in hundreds of ways? Yes. Should I have to add this paragraph every time I talk openly and honestly about the downsides of parenthood? Hell no. But I do.

In defence of Dads

The last point to make is that Duncan’s biggest crime was not in speaking about the downsides of parenting. It was to think that he is qualified to do so as a man. Parenting is bloody hard work. If it isn’t, you aren’t doing it right. And so to the men questioning Duncan’s right to comment and his ability as a father, I would say this: maybe you’re not doing it right.

It is probably true that fewer men experience the mind-numbing dullness of parenthood. The exhaustion of sleep training in its entirety. The frustration of convincing a baby to feed, a toddler to eat. Women are still carrying the heavier load in the majority of parenting teams. That Duncan is feeling this despair, this fatigue, this frustration, speaks volumes for his co-parenting and his dedication to his kids.

Just as women must stop feeling guilty about not enjoying every second of motherhood, men must be honest about fatherhood. They must encourage other dads to be too. And in doing so, share the fact that the burden of parenthood (for a burden it is) is 50 per cent theirs to carry. Thank you Duncan.

Hang in there.

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