The Public Ownership Of Parenthood

As a pregnant woman your body becomes public property around month 5.

Just as soon as your tummy pops and it becomes obvious to the world at large you’re with child, people you’ve never met like to get involved with the goings-on in your uterus.

It happens everywhere: when pregnant I’ve had unprompted belly rubs everywhere from the office to the off-license (always searching for alcohol-free wine, natch) and have experienced random gender predictions from strangers in the supermarket and on the bus.

In short, everyone loves a pregnant woman and social boundaries cease to exist the moment your womb expands.

Back when Elfie was in utero I always used to find the buddha-style belly-rubs really quite hilarious. I tried not to mind the blatant invasion of my personal space by strangers, but one day I reached my limit and drolly informed the work colleague simpering over my stomach that she was actually stroking my breakfast, and if she wanted to pat my baby she’d have to go a lot further down there.

That was the last time she tried to touch my tummy.

One of my other favourite things about pregnancy and parenting are the times my child-free friends give me advice.

And when I say ‘favourite things’ I mean ‘things that make me want to flush my head down a toilet, one that has probably gone unflushed for days because I live with a 5 and a 7 year old who don’t believe in toilet handles’.

You see, before you actually become a parent you are an excellent parent. There’s nothing like parenting when you’re not responsible for a child: when you can borrow one from a relative or close friend, make them happy  by loading them up with chocolate and fidget spinners and then despatching them back to their parents with a massive sugar high.

I was most definitely the greatest parent before Elfie and Hux came along. I was going to feed my kids not five but TEN portions of organic fruit and veg a day, I was never going to shout at them and I was going to limit electronics in favour of educational toys and books. We’d spend our days baking, holding hands, visiting the park and museums. Back then I knew I’d be a parent on the scale of Topsy and Tim’s mum (seriously, how does she do it? It’s because she’s fictional isn’t it?).

But seven years into my parenting journey and I’m more Lois Griffin than Topsy and Tim. I buy enough Birds Eye frozen waffles to warrant a Christmas card from the Captain himself, I wholeheartedly advise the use of a tablet when your sanity/conference call/lie-in is at risk, and I am not afraid to lock myself in the bathroom when I’m scared another “I’m booooooored” will tip me over the edge. I can’t stand the mess the kids make when we bake together, the park is boring unless we’re there with other mums I can gossip with and the museums the kids like (the ones with the interactive games) are not the same as the ones I’m into (the ones with ‘boring’ history).

I do love holding their hands, though. I got that right.

So now every time a child-free person – friend or stranger – gives me some advice I always roll my eyes a bit.

In fact, one of the funniest pieces of advice I had was from a footloose and fancy free friend who was probably sick of the fact I wouldn’t stop banging on about that Elfie refused to sleep in longer than 5am.

“Have you tried putting her to bed later?” she asked.

Can you imagine if putting a child to bed later made them sleep longer/better/quieter? We’d all be doing the school run looking like Heidi Klum instead of Hagrid.

In this situation the mums who would ask if I’d thought of trying a Gro Clock were just as infuriating: back I’d tried everything bar hanging Elfie by her ankles bat-style to embrace the fact I’d bought so many black-out blinds that her bedroom resembled a cave.

But no, when it came to Elfie’s sleep, as is the case with pretty much everything when it comes to children, the only thing I could do was wait and hope she’d grow out of it (any day now!).

Staying on the sleep themes, as soon as I became a mother I stopped being sympathetic in the slightest to anyone else’s hangover, late night, or energetic 3am shagging. Having not had either of those things in what felt like forever I would have taken a slightly fuzzy head over my 5am waking 3 year old anytime.

“Oh really?” I’d say to sleepy work colleagues, eyebrow raised, “you were up til 3am dancing? I had an angry growth-spurting baby chomping at my nipples every 40 minutes… want to switch?”.

That always silenced the hungover moaning.

In a nutshell, the majority of annoyance from well-meaning advice and comments, whether pregnant or a parent, comes because of tiredness. Oh, the irony that the anger you feel by someone telling you to sleep while the baby sleeps is from tiredness, when the tiredness is a result of the baby not bloody sleeping.

I’m not sure I follow that train of thought any more. My kids aren’t sleeping, you see…

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  1. Luisa wrote:

    Hi Alice,

    I’m not trolling, but I find this post a little negative and a bit mean-spirited – which is surprising from you, because I normally agree with most of what you say, love your writing and outlook and am generally a big fan!

    I think you’re missing an important distinction between (1) advice because someone actually does have your back and wants to help and (2) “advice” which is really criticism in disguise. The second type is pretty toxic and should of course be shut down. But the first type – well meaning advice from childless friends – usually comes from a place of them trying to bridge the gap (which can feel like a chasm) between parent and non-parent. I think whichever side of that line we find ourselves on (particularly once we’ve crossed over into motherhood and can actually see both sides!), I think most of us will agree that when a friend has a baby and we don’t, or when we have a baby and our friend doesn’t, this can feel like a huge gap between what was formerly such closeness. I think a mother rebuking advice from a childless friend, or eye-rolling, is actually quite mean, and just reinforces this alienation. I also used to think that the way to stop a child waking up at 5am was to put them to bed later, and definitely tried this out myself – it didn’t work. If someone gave me that advice now, I hope I’d just say, in a nice way – “thanks, I’ll give that a go”, or “unfortunately I tried that, but it doesn’t seem to work!”. We shouldn’t have to listen to unsolicited advice, but (in my opinion), raising a topic by mentioning/complaining about it to friends, does make it fair enough for them to offer some advice, and I think we should be gracious when they do.

    Just my opinion :)

    Posted 9.15.17 Reply