‘I wish I’d never had children!’ shrieked the ex wife of a friend of mine. Trouble was she shrieked it at her children. I don’t know what the situation was but suspect it was an end of her tether one and not something she bellowed at her kids to get them up in the morning. But her now ex husband occasionally repeats the phrase as though it’s a summation of her rubbish skills as a mother. ‘Can you imagine saying that to your children?’ Well pushed hard enough – possibly. I told him that once, years ago when The Boy was about five, he yelled ‘I hate you!’ at me, and instead of responding in a mature Penelope Leach like manner, I yelled back: ‘Yeah well I hate you too you little shit!’ He laughed but insisted that his ex wife’s comment was a far worse thing to say because it was so damaging. I’m not sure about that. I think a one off horrible remark is less destructive than the drip drip of emotional abuse.
Parents, in particular mothers though, are not supposed to ever express the negative side of parenting, except in a jokey way. If they do they invite a landslide of hatred, usually in the form of ‘why did you bother to have children you selfish bitch?’ The writer Anna Pasternak once wrote a piece about how dull babies were and oh so many mothers wrote in to tell her a) what a crap mother she was and b) what stimulating company their own babies were. Yeah I remember discussing Wittgenstein with my babies and them dribbling in response. Happy days.
Shouting at your children that you wished you hadn’t given birth to them is a pretty terrible thing to say, but I found myself feeling a twinge of sympathy. I don’t need to tell you parents out there that there a) there is a dark underbelly to parenting that sometimes comes out in flashes of hatred and fury and b) we all have days where the sheer endless never ending endlessness of it makes us want to step out in front of the nearest car. The people who are the most shocked and horrified by this dark underbelly are always those who haven’t spent much time around children themselves.
I’ve been thinking about all this because The Girl and I are currently staying with my dad as he’s not coping too well with bereavement, and it’s taken a while to get The Girl into a local school (an exciting tale I’ll bore you with another time) but in the meantime The Girl and I are spending a lot of time together. Most of it is fun but sometimes oh God . . . . .I wish there was an off button. I can’t get a minute to myself. And yes, I’m making sure she goes to interesting places, classes, new activities. It’s the endless stream of questions – the fact she says ‘Mum . . .mum . . .?’ before asking a question and will keep saying ‘mum . . . mum . . . .mum . . . ‘ whether I’m on the phone, on the toilet or with my head in a cupboard trying to locate the gas meter. No time off. No respite. And there’s only one of her! Full time single mothers are heroines! How do they not go mad?
Today I took her to children’s yoga and had a whole forty five minutes to myself. And no I’m not being sarcastic. It was joyous. I paid a few bills online and listened to embarrassing music on my ipod. Bliss. Ah say the Experts, so why can’t you do that with your daughter around? Because the point of the child free space is the sheer luxury of being alone – you revel in it – stretch out in it like a warm bath. And you don’t need that much of it, to gather your fractured self back together again and return to the fray.