Recently I visited some family who I don’t see very often, usually only a few times a year. On the day we were leaving, I put my child in her carseat, which prompted a midlevel meltdown from her. I then said goodbye to my relatives over the roof of the car, and made a face indicating how excited I was to deal with World War 3 that was happening in the vehicle. It was then I distinctly heard one of them say “Well, you shouldn’t have had a kid then”.
Excuse me? Fucking excuse me? How helpful is it to tell someone that the way to deal with a problem they are having right now is to go back in time. It’s an open secret among parents (and even some people who don’t have kids know) that once a baby comes out, you can’t put it back. No matter how loud it screams, or how many times it tells you it wishes you weren’t its mum. So don’t tell me that I shouldn’t have had a kid just because I’m not frothing at the bit to deal with the screeching of a tiny lunatic with a diminished capacity for rational behaviour.
Retrospective advice never helped anyone. No one ever overcame food poisoning because someone said “Oh you shouldn’t have eaten at that place”. No one’s arm has ever un-broken because someone said “Oh you shouldn’t have ridden that horse”. AND NO KID HAS EVER SHUT THE FUCK UP BECAUSE SOME DICKHEAD SUGGESTED THEY’D BE QUIETER IF THEY’D NEVER BEEN BORN.
Another stellar piece of wisdom I received recently is that “your kids pay you back for the kind of kid you were for your parents”. Huh? I heard this at a time when I felt really, really low. I wasn’t coping with being a mum, I wasn’t coping with being an adult person, I wasn’t coping with not coping, and I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it. The most well meaning people could say about as much as ‘Oh that sucks’, but what I needed was someone to say ‘Give me your precious baby who you love but cannot deal with right now and I will take her for the night and she will be fine and you can sit at home and drink three bottles of wine or go to bed at six o’clock or both if you like and she will be fine and I will bring her back to you happy and relaxed and she will be fine and you will be fine and you can do it because you are doing it but I can help you too. Let me help you’. But no one said that to me. Instead someone I did tell (who was a professional) said what basically amounted to ‘you deserve what you are getting and how you are feeling right now’. To anyone who has never been at such a low ebb, that probably sounds like an overreaction to a lighthearted comment. But to me, at that time, it felt like confirmation that the way I felt was my fault. I know that it wasn’t meant that way, that it wasn’t meant to make me feel even more helpless, but I think, when someone is feeling out of control or on the edge, the last thing you should tell them (no matter how vaguely), is that they put themselves there.
I have yet to meet a parent (or person in general) who likes receiving unsolicited advice. I got it in the supermarket when I was lumbering around at 15 months pregnant, I get it now, and I have a feeling it will happen for as long as people suspect (quite rightly) that I don’t actually know what I’m doing (so, by my calculations, the rest of my life). And I can accept that. I can. But only if the advice is “Yes. You buy that second wheel of camembert. And don’t give any to the demon snorting away in your trolley. She’s being a dickhead, and maybe that’s your fault, maybe it’s not, I don’t know – I’m only here to advise on cheese”.