We parents can be annoying, writes Colm O'Regan
I very nearly said it. It was on the tip of my tongue but I just about held back. And I was glad. It’s only to be used sparingly. The sentence is: “well… you see if you had children yourself you’d understand.” If you don’t have children it’s potentially one of the more annoying sentences you’ll hear in polite conversation. Especially if it’s accompanied by a sort of a tilt of the head and a Daenerys Targaryen fake smile.
I’ll say it now. We parents can be annoying. We go on and on about our children to people who don’t have children. And people don’t have children for lots of reasons. They may not want children, they may not be able to afford to have children right now because they are living in a bijou townhouse close to the city centre with 37 other Brazilians, they may desperately want to have children and be going through painful, expensive IVF or traumatic miscarriages right at the moment you are opening YOUR BIG MOUTH AND PUTTING YOUR FOOT IN IT.
Maybe others see the human race as a parasitical pest that needs to extinct itself before the planet catches fire. (I think about the climate change footprint of my kids. But I am satisfied that both of them will follow through on their commitments to become environmental scientists who can work out a way of turning left over rice-crispies into carbon sequestration devices so we’re all good.)
Or these childfree people might just be, you know, wanting to live their lives a little before having children. Doing the things that we used to enjoy like leaving the house only once when needing to go somewhere or FOR FECK’S SAKE JUST FINISHING THE TASK I STARTED TO DO HALF AN HOUR AGO, CAN I JUST GET ONE MINUTE TO WASH OUT THIS PORRIDGE BOWL, PLEASE PET I’LL HELP YOU IN A SECOND.
Also maybe the childfree person you are talking to actually has enough knowledge from years of study that gives them a reasonable overview of child-rearing and it turns out, they are right. You shouldn’t be giving the toddlers Meanies for breakfast. Whatever the reason, “if you had children …” needs to be used only after provocation. The recipient needs to have engaged in a prolonged bout of childsplaining or criticism or said lots of sentences like “I don’t understand, why don’t you just plan your day better?” Or based an opinion on less than three bits of anecdotal evidence.
On the other hand it is important to note that one of the defences the childfree can deploy in the event of a “Well if you had…” is weak – it’s “I might not have children but I was once a child and had parents”.
It has a fatal flaw. Most of these “Well if you had..” occur during the first three years of a child’s life. And you can’t remember that time from your childhood. For a very good reason. Evolution is designed to help us forget the first three years in order to prevent us from suing our parents for effing us up while they completely winged it. Also, in our defense when we parents do say it, we are saying “Look, I don’t even know where to begin to explain.” We are saying: THAT’S THE WHY.
So, for the childladen and the childfree, can we just stop wasting energy on this pointless spat and focus on the real enemy – the M7 road widening project.
And to those who are child-free, I say that if I ever implied that I was about to say the dreaded sentence, I apologise. It’s just that I was tired. Like, SO tired. I can see you nodding your head as if you can empathise with the tiredness. But you can’t. You can’t imagine. You see… if you haaddddd ccchhhh…. ok I’ll stop talking now.