Here’s a headline for the end of your week — “What parenting has taught me: hell is other people’s children.” This one comes via the Guardian, where yesterday writer Emma Brockes explained “the worst thing about having children.” For me, it is definitely confronting mortality with a whole new set of stakes, but that’s just one mom’s opinion. Brockes’s is also worth considering.
“I thought having kids would make me feel warmer towards children in general,” she writes, “but the opposite has been true.” Her supporting descriptions of kids and their parents are equally blunt and delightful, with word choices that couldn’t be more spot on. A mother glances up from her phone “limply,” the children Brockes notices are “thundering around with their bad haircuts and loud voices.” After her daughter is shoved by a bigger child whose mother half-heartedly implores him to apologize, Brockes recalls the formation of a swift and perfect insult: “I looked at Hudson and thought: not only is your name ridiculous, but your trousers don’t fit and your mother’s an imbecile.”
The difference between us, I suppose, is I liked most kids just fine before I had one, and now, if anything, I like them even more. I find their sloppy haircuts and ill-fitting pants charming. Brockes seems to think this attitude is one of make-believe, and that all the parents before her shielded their distaste for children in general. I’m sure this is the case for some people, those who love their children very much but don’t like them a great deal of the time and never come close to liking other people’s kids.
Any one parent’s like or dislike of children as a whole seems like a very individual affair, but I do think there are some benefits found in the group of people Brockes also dislikes: other parents. Which, I guess, includes herself, since we are all “other parents” to someone.
Before I entered this group, I was very bad at small talk. I’m still bad at it. But with a kid, I at least have an arsenal — something to pull from in an elevator or the office kitchen. Perhaps the topics are boring to people without kids (I would have never guessed at nor appreciated the nuances of switching from three to two naps), or touching the nerves of those who do (I’m sorry if you don’t believe in it: sleep training was a godsend for our family). While I understand the discomfort of “Doing Parenting,” as Brockes so perfectly put it, in front of others, I’m thankful for the expanded range of topics being a parent affords me, on and off the playground.
There’s also something, I think, that’s a bit akin to becoming a parent, and all those hours spent in the company of children who may or may not be yours. Children are ridiculous — we give them idiotic names, silly haircuts, insane outfits, and a bunch more reasons to eventually despise us. Remembering this has made me feel so much more secure in the company of adults, parents and nonparents alike, all of whom are now easy to imagine as helpless, stupid babies who once depended fully on whoever raised them. Forget soothing yourself with the image of a crowd in their underwear (I can’t be the only one more terrified of naked adults than clothed ones?) — just picture them as mewling little boys and girls. Why be intimidated by anyone at all? We were all tiny Hudsons once.