Since having children, my life is very restricted. No one without children understands what these restrictions entail. If you start to illustrate it, it sounds extremely boring. It sounds something like 'well my little prince sleeps from y time to z time so I need to be somewhere where he can sleep/eat/play/get his precious demands met at this hour and then somewhere where they can sleep/eat/play at this hour and this is really important and you should hear it.' I can feel people switching off when I start explaining, I just sound like 'blah blah blah my sweet angel and his all important needs blah blah my life is different now blah blah I can't just do whatever I want like you blah blah blah smug smug smug blah blah boring'
I feel all kinds of negative emotions about this. I feel like I sound like my life revolves around my child, like I'm coddling them, like I can't just relax and put my friendships first once in a while, like I can't just allow my child to be uncomfortable so that I can have coffee with a friend for a few minutes, like I can't just take them on a slightly longer tube journey, like I can't just make them sleep later or wake them up.
I can feel people thinking that I should just do things differently, so that I would have an easier time of it. Just get a babysitter or get my husband to help more or be stricter or more flexible.
Maybe it's all in my head, but when I talk to my other friends who are friends with people without children, they all share these same experiences.
'I had three kids in quick succession when I was 26. I was in survival mode. I couldn't go out that much. I was really tired. My friends treated me like I was being a moron. Just get a babysitter. You aren't making an effort with us. You've changed.'
'It makes me very sad but I have to keep a distance because their inconsiderate nature breaks my heart. Some of them haven't seen my son since last year. That's nuts - no loyalty. I'm not cool and trendy and I don't want to go an hour away from my house, so that's it.'
'When I spent my first night away from my breastfed child everyone was like "oh don't worry about it, not your problem now" and acting like I was being controlling over the kids when I was worrying.'
'Someone said how easy it must be for me to go to the spa because I can go any time of day and my daughter can just sit in her buggy. When I said that wouldn't be fair to her she looked confused and her boyfriend looked super condescending like "oh, look at you, treating your baby as more important than it is." The implication is if you were a better parent you would control them better, train them better like a dog. And also I always get the feeling that "if that was my kid I'd do it better."'
We are not very often around children as adults any more, since big families don't really exist so when our younger siblings are babies we are still children ourselves. So no one seems to be aware of what children are like until they have a child themselves.
The most important fact that you only become aware of once you have a child is as follows.
Until the age of about five, children start screaming pretty quickly if they don't get what they want.
Seriously, they do.
They just start screaming. And it gets louder and more forceful.
And that is how you learn to know what they need and when they need it. Because if you don't learn it, you have a screaming child the whole time. And, often you can't give them what they need, so your life will involve screaming on a daily basis even if you are striving to meet your child's needs.
No, they are not spoiled. An older child can be told to wait. They can be told that what they want is not going to be given to them. And if they are well behaved, they will not scream. But that takes years. Before you have children, a two year old and a four year old are roughly the same. A 3 week old and a 3 month old are the same, give or take a few kilos. Once you have kids, you realise that much of what we think a 'child' is, is actually a pretty socialised child that is attending school. We have almost no idea what children and babies are like before that stage. Certainly no-one who isn't a parent has any idea how monumentally different a three week old is from a three month old, how difficult having a three week old is, and how much relief you feel in comparison with a three month old, especially a three month old who has learned to sleep on a surface other than your chest. Not only do they not know, they also don't care. The minutiae of child development is boring and irrelevant.
But it dominates any parent's life, not because they are obsessed with their child, but because they are obsessed with having a life that has a little screaming as possible.
But in order to get to that result, you will have several years of screaming. At first, all children scream. And it is through each parent's sacrifice as well as the passing of time that they get to a point where they understand that their whims are secondary a lot of the time, and that they have to wait or not get things they want. Learning that takes a lot of screaming being endured on the part of the parents, and a lot of conscious decisions of how and when you're going to endure the screaming so that the child learns that they cannot always get what they want. You're not going to choose a spa as the ideal setting for that, unless you're completely inconsiderate.
If you are a parent, and you're reasonably conscientious, you don't want to take the wider public on that journey with you. If you're outside, you're going to want your child not to be screaming. That doesn't just happen, it takes calculations, provisions, organisation, a plan B and a plan C, patience and work. That means you have to meticulously organise your life around your child's needs, whether you are the kind of parent who wants to or not. You're not doing it because you're smug about being a parent and you want to be the best parent in the universe or spoil your children. Some people probably are, but the vast majority are doing it our of a survival instinct not to have every single day of their life filled with screaming.
You have to make sure your children are getting what they want and need at any given moment, and that if they are not, you have a strict time limit on how long they will go without. That means you have to be prepared. They may want to run - that means you can't be in the middle of Euston Road at a time when they are reasonably likely to want to run, because if you are, and you don't want them to run into traffic, the only solution will be to tell them that no they cannot run right now - cue screaming.
This is the difference between people with children and people without. They think that screaming only happens when there's something seriously wrong, all that all screaming children can be soothed with a cookie. No - not if they don't want a cookie at that particular moment. They are tyrants and they are unreasonable. And not to subject others to that isn't spoiling your children - the time to teach them not to be tyrants, to learn how to be reasonable (a long and arduous process) is not in a nice coffee shop surrounded by freelancers and people trying to have a nice conversation. So when you're taking your kids out, you anticipate their needs and give them what they want, within reason. That rules out all kinds of activities. It rules out long journeys that don't end with grass or swings or both if you have a crawler and a toddler. It rules out lunches in places without high chairs. It rules out lunch that isn't followed by a playground or a park or soft play. It rules out being outside after 5.30pm. It rules out 99% of stuff you would jump at the chance to do if you didn't have kids. And the frustrating thing for young mothers today is that nobody cares about that sacrifice, not even your friends, until they undergo it themselves.