LIFESTYLE

It's Almost Impossible Not To Judge Other Parents

27/04/2017 14:36 SAST | Updated 27/04/2017 14:36 SAST
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Happy mother reading for toddler

Before my son was born, parenthood seemed like an exclusive club. New mums and dads all appeared happy and collusive, as if they had discovered a secret the rest of us had yet to learn.

Now, more than a year down the track, I have discovered the reality: there is no solidarity in parenthood at all.

At the start, you can convince yourself it exists. Even while fretting in those antenatal classes at the hospital, you instinctively feel like you're surrounded by like-minded souls. Certainly everyone in the room was crazy enough to willingly sacrifice their lives, so you do feel part of a team.

Then with the birth all hell breaks loose, and that's the first time you see fragmentation. There are some babies who seem to sleep. For months I thought their parents were all just lying, hiding the behind-the-scenes horrors for reasons that I could never quite understand. But they are real, so how could we relate?

My personal experience of the early days involved a yearning to debrief with someone, anyone, who had been through it all before and could tell me it would get better. I even off-loaded onto a work colleague who was a psychiatry registrar and new father at the time. He was patient, understanding, and drank coffee slowly while we mulled on being first-time dads.

But his kid was one of the sleepers. So that didn't help at all.

In the months since, I have noticed other areas of inter-parental animosity. Most of it never makes it beyond the cliques of closed groups on social media. Or, if it does, the topic is so dull to those who don't have children that I'd never realised it before.

You would think from the conviction with which opinions are mustered that there is conclusive evidence, both medically and psychologically, of the precise period in which babies should be breastfed.

There are simple things, like when to stop breastfeeding. It is incredible how guilty mothers are made to feel by other parents for either not breastfeeding long enough, or going beyond a socially-acceptable period. You would think from the conviction with which opinions are mustered that there is conclusive evidence, both medically and psychologically, of the precise period in which babies should be breastfed.

Really, there isn't. But camps are formed, made more zealous by their conflicting views. Unity dissipates rapidly.

Some things should be simple, but become a point of difference for a variety of bizarre reasons. Look at vaccinations. Whole parental societies exist in support of whether or not to inoculate their children, as if that's even a question. I could be vilified for writing this, representing the patronising medical hierarchy, but come on. To willingly not vaccinate a child seems, to me, the height of bad parenting.

So I too am part of a camp, judging other parents in a way that I never thought I would. And while I try not to provide unsolicited advice to my friends with newborns, I am still burdened by the erroneous belief that any accrued experience makes me an expert in all parenting.

While I try not to provide unsolicited advice to my friends with newborns, I am still burdened by the erroneous belief that any accrued experience makes me an expert in all parenting.

It's getting worse with time. The other day I found myself silently admonishing a mother who allowed her son to ride a bike ahead of her with an unstrapped helmet on his head. And now other parents of toddlers are starting to discuss schooling with us. The separations of society that I knew all too well before our son was born are emerging again.

As all our children grow slowly older we are becoming less like united parents and more like separate people, as we always were, with the disparate backgrounds, political opinions and outlooks on the world we always had.

I should be more saddened by this, as if my membership of an organisation had made it lose lustre. But instead, I see it as maturity. No longer do I need the club mentality as protection, or the commonality of parenthood as a way of coping.

And along the way, we have met fellow travellers with children of their own. Those friendships will remain, because we can now recognise mutual interests, not exclusively reliant on our kids. We are becoming adults again, as slowly as our babies are growing up.