English: My parents.
English: My parents. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). No, not *my* parents. The artist’s parents!

Most people become parents at some time or other, and this is still true in spite of a supposed trend to childlessness in more couples. It is an ancient joke that the childless, in particular, the childless who do intend to have children at some time, don’t know how fundamentally life will change for them when they have children.

Father with child
Father with child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Childless couples, while not being selfish per se, are only responsible primarily for each other. Of course they are responsible for relationships with relatives and friends, but to such outsiders they appear as a single entity – John-and-Mary, Peter-and-Joanne, or maybe Mark-and-Andrew, or Lucy-and-Anna.

They become atomic, like the electron and proton of a hydrogen atom. We can’t press that analogy too far of course, as electrons tend to get shared around in compounds and that sort of relationship doesn’t work too well with humans.

Eadweard Muybridge's Phenakistoscope: A Couple...
Eadweard Muybridge’s Phenakistoscope: A Couple Waltzing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When a child comes along, by natural methods, or by adoption, or by donor, or by less formal methods in some societies, everything changes. No longer is the prime focus of the relationship each other, but is now the third person.

Young couple with baby.
Young couple with baby. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The parents quickly become the support structure for the child, and the view of the world is now that they are ‘parents’ and not a ‘couple’. In the view of the world, the child’s needs are paramount. At parent-teacher meetings the sole topic is what is good for the child. Schools send notices to parents demanding money with menaces – there’s no softer way to put it – so that the child gets the laptop, the sports gear, the musical instrument that the child absolutely needs according to the school.

English: Three Children in the courtyard of Th...
English: Three Children in the courtyard of The Druk White Lotus School Shey, Ladakh. Русский: Трое детей во дворе Драконовой школы Белого Лотоса в Шей, Ладакх, на севере Индии. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After the initial shock, and it is a big shock, a world-shaking shock, most parents adapt. Babies are designed to be cute after all. Super cute, so that the mechanics of nappies and feeding, the deprivation of sleep, and well, the loss of an independent life have their compensations.

There is almost certainly something instinctual here, some urge to protect one’s offspring, or indeed any small cute creature. How else can it be explained that couples allow their whole lives to be derailed by the arrival of a child?

English: Old School, Liversedge. The former Na...
English: Old School, Liversedge. The former National School is behind the photographer, the other side of Halifax Road (and being renovated at present), so it was surprising to find an ‘Old School’ next to the Town Hall. Possibly it was a small Board School to provide for children of parents who were not in the C of E (the National Schools became Church Schools, of course). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I can’t overemphasise the oddness of this. Leaving aside the fact that couples don’t know in advance how world-shattering the change is, couples in the main seem to embrace the change once it happens. Many women plan to go back to work after the first few months have passed, and a significant number fail to do so, even in this day and age.

Parents at the Art and Crafts Exhibition at th...
Parents at the Art and Crafts Exhibition at the Parent Teachers Meeting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you talk to someone with a new baby, well after the first few tumultuous months anyway, it is usually a bit like switching on a light. Parents trumpet the amazing achievements of their children as if no other child has crawled, walked or said “Da-da” in the history of the human race. Prior to that point sleep deprivation means that any communication is difficult in the extreme.

English: Group portrait of the Maryborough Gir...
English: Group portrait of the Maryborough Girls Grammar School cricket team, 1915. The girls are in uniform, wearing shirts, striped ties and skirts. The group poses on the lawn in front of a school building and some other girls can be seen in the background. The back row stands and one of the girls is holding a cricket ball.The middle row sits in chairs and one of the girls holds a cricket bat. The front row sits on the ground and one of the girls wears cricket pads and has a bat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Prior to the child’s arrival the pairs major preoccupation is strongly with each other. Of course pair bonds vary in intensity, but in couples the bond is usually strongly couple-centric. When the baby comes along, their major preoccupation is intensely with the child. In the first few months the child will be the topic of almost all conversation, except for the essentials of daily living.

A woman breastfeeding an infant.
A woman breastfeeding an infant. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After a few months, the child quickly starts to give back some of the attention. In fact most parents believe (as I do) that interaction between child and parents starts pretty much from birth, but the interaction between child and parents deepens as the child develops in the first few months.

original National Geographic article A BEDOUIN...
original National Geographic article A BEDOUIN MOTHER AND CHILD. The father of this little nomad may be a warlike bandit with a cloudy notion of property rights and other details of the civilized code; his mother a simple daughter of the desert with a childish curiosity and fondness for gaudy trinkets, but her babe has the divine heritage of mother love as truly as the most fortunate child of our own land. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Call it love, because that is what it is. It begins right after birth, and grows as the child learns to react to the parents, the feeding, the changing, the cuddles, the kisses. I believe that animals, at least those that bring up their young, in some ways feel for their offspring in the same way as humans. Heck, let’s just say it – animals that bring up their young must surely feel love, in a sense, for their young.

Indian Rhinoceros at San Diego Zoo's Wild Anim...
Indian Rhinoceros at San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park in Escondido, CA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Certainly the higher animals do seem to feel something, as ape mothers carry around dead young, and elephants appear to grieve over their dead calves. Dolphins have been seen carrying their dead calves.

Baby bottlenose dolphin shannonry point 2006
Baby bottlenose dolphin shannonry point 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Having survived the culture shock of the birth parents usually embrace the role. They pretty much dedicate their lives to their children, and if they are thoughtful people, will recognise why their own parents behaved the way that they did. Having railed at the restrictions put on them by their parents, they find themselves imposing similar restrictions on their children.

Indeed often they find themselves using the exact same phrases as their parents. It can be a great shock to realise that you are turning into your parents and that they turn out to have been right, justified and after all, reasonable. How did that happen?

Parents with child Statue, Hrobákova street, P...
Parents with child Statue, Hrobákova street, Petržalka, Bratislava (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In most cases parents quickly come to terms with their somewhat subordinate role, which is at times infuriating, frustrating and drives parents to the edge of despair. It is also immensely rewarding, fulfilling, and enjoyable. Parents feel more pride when their child achieves a milestone like learning to walk than they ever felt over any of their own achievements.

If their children shows promise at any sport or academic achievement a parent’s pride is immense. This extends to at least the second generation, as I can attest. It’s not that a parent’s life is subsumed by their role in bringing up their children, but child rearing certainly causes some of a parents activities to take a back seat for a while.

English: Kindergarten kids and parents on the ...
English: Kindergarten kids and parents on the back of a truck on Norway’s constitution day. ‪Norsk (nynorsk)‬: Barnehageungar og foreldre bak på ein lastebil 17. mai. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If a parent is so inclined the child can be incorporated into the parent’s preferred recreational activity, so we see parents jogging with purpose-built strollers or pushchairs, and children being carried in backpacks. Children may play in the crèches of educational institutions while one of their parents continues their studies.

Most people go into parenthood not knowing how their lives will be wrenched into a different course by becoming parents. Most parents quickly come to terms with the enormous shift in the emphasis of their lives, and most would not go back to pre-parenthood if given the choice. Parenthood is that rewarding.

Portrait of a married couple and their child b...
Portrait of a married couple and their child by Gerrit Donck. Oil on canvas, 65 x 48 cm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



5 thoughts on “Parents”

  1. The Childfree Life has two very long threads detailing the regretful parents of Truu Mom Confessions 😛 ….this just reinforces my childfree-ness too.

    1. Notwithstanding anything I wrote, from the perspective of having had my children grow up and leave, I reckon that the whole experience of having kids and rearing them has many more pluses than minuses.

      1. Sorry I’m childfree for life….I don’t want to lose my independence, I hate pregnancy if it was me, I care too much about the environment and parenthood is too mundane/takes too much time for something so mundane so I’d find it boring too….those are my 4 reasons, I’m sticking to them and that’s final 😛

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