I was a non-parent before, therefore I know where some of this is coming from, which is a place of blissful ignorance. Similarly, I will concede to also thinking and/or saying one or two of the coming statements before I became a mom myself.
Now that I am a parent, I find some things that non-parents say to be – and how do I put this as diplomatically as I possibly can – cringeworthy, at best. A small part of me may want to smack them ever so slightly upside the head while another small part of me wants to sing, “Just you wait, Henry Higgins, just you wait!”
I’m sure there are many other things out there that non-parents say, but the following four are ones that I’ve personally heard and/or have been directed to me, earning my sleep-deprived wrath. And they are, in no particular order:
1. “I know what you mean – my cat/dog/gold fish does the same thing!”
I was doubtful about including this one because as a dog person myself, I completely understand a human being’s affinity towards his four-legged companion.
Having said that, though, it’s the odd non-parent (or even parents of much older, have-moved-on-with-their-lives children) in a circle of new parents who can never resist regaling the latter with tales of how their pet can – enter swearing on a dead relative’s name – flush a toilet and – more swearing on more dead relatives’ names – take out the trash, that makes me roll my eyes so far back I can see the person behind me’s brains.
I love a smart, quirky animal just as much as the next person. But if you’re implying that my child’s irregular bowel movements is on par with your cat’s ability to dig a hole in his sandbox when he goes, then lady, you’re out of your mind.
Let’s just put it this way: have you ever needed to wake up three times in the space of five hours a night to breastfeed your cat/dog/gold fish? Does your cat/dog/gold fish talk back at you and have you chase them around the house with a clean diaper because he/she has just soiled the previous one? Are you saving money for your cat’s/dog’s/gold fish’s college education? If you haven’t answered “Yes” to at least one of these questions, then I’m sorry. Your pet is not a child, therefore what he/she did over the weekend with a dead canary cannot be deemed “the same” as my toddler pushing another child off a rocking horse at play school.
2. “I’ll NEVER let my child use an iPad.”
This was self-assuredly declared by a young woman sitting next to me and a friend when we both had our iPads out for our boys at high tea one afternoon.
My instinctive thought was, “I hope you totally get fat on those scones and biscuits you judgmental little tart. And who wears suede boots smack in the middle of summertime??” Then I reasoned (somewhat) with myself that again, it was a comment that came out of ignorance and the plain fact that this woman obviously did not have children.
At the risk of sounding defensive and shrill, I let my little boy use my iPad because on some occasions, it’s the only thing that will keep him calm enough to allow me 20 minutes to enjoy my tea and biscuits. I’ll put on the Baby Einstein DVDs most mornings because it keeps him away from the bathroom long enough for me to get ready for work. And yes, on occasion, I will stoop to putting on a full Disney movie because you know what? I could use 80 minutes to catch up on my correspondence or to talk to my sister or – el gaspe! – to friggin’ breathe!
The point is that when you’re a parent, without even realizing it sometimes, almost all your time is devoted to the wants and needs of your child. So when it gets overwhelming and you feel the urge to barge head-first into the concrete wall, you’ll do anything to regain some semblance of sanity. Even if it means giving them an electronic handheld device where they can go bonkers over Elmo.
3. “I don’t understand…how hard can it be to keep a child quiet on a plane?”
Fortunately, I’ve been spared this question or at least, I’ve been spared having to overhear this comment directed at me. I was, however, on a 3-hour flight from Phuket to Hong Kong where an infant was pretty much crying two-thirds of the journey. The poor mother was frazzled beyond comfort and obviously uncomfortable with the whole situation, until a pretty young flight attendant came along and saved the day. She said, “Madam, a lot of our passengers are complaining about the noise, so may I ask you to keep your baby quiet?” Visibly upset and clearly embarrassed, the mother just nodded silently and continued rocking her poor child desperately.
Unfortunately, this conundrum is something only a parent will understand. What non-parents don’t is that our anxiety about traveling with children start way before you can even imagine. It starts the moment we decide to take a trip – not when we’re purchasing the tickets online, not when we’re at the airport and certainly not when we’re just in our seats. We worry about how our little ones will behave on a plane so much, just writing about it now gives me heart palpations I have to stop.
The point is, as parents, we get that traveling 30 thousand feet up in the air in a steel can with a fussy child is no walk in the park – we’ve. Been. There. But until you’ve had your own child and they’ve screamed and whined through a 12-hour cross-continental flight, keep your opinions to yourself, turn the volume to your inflight movie up (I mean way up) and order yourself a Scotch on the rocks. It’ll make you feel good about yourself.
4. “I’m so going to be a strict parent – no doubt about it.”
My friend Molly (name has been changed to protect the naive), bless her cotton socks, is a sweet, single young woman who has nary a mean bone in her body. Nor a clue in her head. I only see her every now and then because since becoming a mom, there is only going to be so much I can remember of her cray-cray weekend stories.
The last time we met for coffee, I brought Tornado Tom along with me. It wasn’t that he wasn’t having his best days per se, but let’s just say I let him watch Monsters Inc. and have a bowl of French fries so I could enjoy my latte and biscuits.
And that’s when she said it (albeit innocently): “I’m telling you Lil, when I become a mom, I’m going to be a strict one. No doubt about it.”
I would have given her a hug and whispered, “There, there, now. It’ll be alright sweetie,” if I hadn’t almost chocked on my beverage from rolling my eyes so far back. Reason being, a few short years ago, I would have said the exact same thing about parenting. I had dreams and visions of being the militant, Amazonian warrior mom who had her kids’ fear and respect and could juggle too! I had a plan in my head as to how to tackle tantrums, how to potty train, how not to rely on TV to get my kids to calm their farm.
All of that went up in a cloud of smoke the moment my son said, “No!” in the accurate context. I don’t have a plan anymore. I’m proud to say that I am a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of mom and I’ve survived. With some scars. I wanted to tell Molly to stuff her plans because you’ll never know what kind of parent you’ll be until you become a parent. There’s nothing more unpredictable, more heart-stopping than being the person a child depends on for survival. But I stopped myself, smiled quietly and hid my eye roll by sipping more latte.
The moral of the story for non-parents: whenever you find yourself on the verge of saying something that might kind of, sort of, annoy your parent friends, stop, check yourself and say, “I don’t know how you do it, but I can only hope to do it half as well as you are when my time to be a mom/dad comes.”
The moral of the story for parents: whenever you find yourself on the receiving end of comments from your non-parent friends that might kind of, sort of annoy you, take it with a grain of salt. Revel in the satisfaction of knowing that one sweet day, when they’re up to their elbows in diapers and projectile pooping at 3 in the morning, they will think back to their conversations with you and concede, “What the hell was I thinking? This is nothing like having a cat!” That’s when you get to gloat and say, “I. Told. You. So.”