Alternate Family ArrangementsBabiesPoly Families

Maybe I’ll Just Shut Up

My family doesn’t talk about Tom to other parents much.

Well, that’s not exactly true. We are all pretty much nuts about him and we talk about him as often as we can. My iPhone photos are the modern-day equivalent of the cascade of baby pictures that would come tumbling out of a proud parent’s wallet—except that on my iPhone, I can store about twenty wallets’ worth of pictures without my back pocket bulging visibly backward with the noticeable stigmata of the newly-childed.

But we do steer clear of certain topics.

Renee can’t really talk much about her pregnancy. Outside of a small group of very close friends, she gets a lot of resentment for not having had morning sickness or aching joints, or just a little more weight gain or a little less comfort. She pretty much had a great pregnancy, filled with happiness and beaming and all that glowing shit. And it made other moms and pregnant women very resentful. Not jokingly, amusingly, twinkle-in-the-eye-and-a-smirk-when-they-tell-you-to-fuck-off resentful, but really, genuinely, acid-voiced, biting-on-tinfoil resentful. She has to stick with the disappointment of Tom’s birth story in order to avoid enraging other mothers.

It’s not like Renee runs around singing Disney songs about the joys of being pregnant. She would just tell people her feet hadn’t swelled that much and they would almost immediately start to get testy. In one case, during a round robin of morning sickness stories, Renee was relaying how she experienced some acid reflux and nausea, but she had never actually thrown up, and then a mother-of-three actually lifted her hand to cut Renee off and snapped, “You know, I just can’t even listen to this.”

We also steer clear of the subject of how (relatively) easy Tom has been post-partum. The fact is that he’s a darned good baby—sleeping through the night after only six weeks—and we’ve got three adults sharing the work load, which means that after the first month, most everyone was getting six to eight hours of sleep and even enjoying their social lives again. If Renee or William deign to say how grateful they are have an extra set of hands living in the house with them, they often get a curt reminder that not everyone has such resources.

It’s not like you have to gush about it or rub it in to get these reactions either. I once took Tom out in his carrier to get myself some lunch and I ran into a new dad working at a sandwich place who started asking me questions about how little sleep I was getting.

“Oh, I’m not Tom’s dad, so I get eight hours” I said. “But Mom and Dad are doing okay too.”

“Can’t be more than four or five,” the sandwich-maker pressed.

“Usually it’s seven or eight,” I said. “Sometimes it’s a little less if Tom has a rough night. But if they really need more sleep in the morning, they bring him to me when he wakes up. I get to play with him at his happiest time of the day, and they get a couple more hours of sleep. Win-win.”

He honestly looked like I’d told him that I gunned down both his grandmothers in cold blood. “Well, don’t they just have it made.”

Then there are the doom-and-gloomers. Folks who can’t let any mention of how easy Tom has been slide by without making sure we are absolutely clear that this is nothing more than a temporary setback on our descent into hell. “Oh, wait until solid foods, then you’ll see some really epic shit that will make you wish one of you had never been born!” “Oh, wait until he’s teething, then you’ll never sleep again.” “Oh, you think this is bad? Wait until he knocks up the bishop’s daughter and gets arrested with five kilos of Columbian Gold, because THAT’S when parenting really sucks!”

Ironically, if there is a place where raising kids is tough, other parents seem eager to one-up the experience. Not in a commiserating, just-trading-stories way, but with that definite “story-topping” vibe that you get off of that one friend that everyone seems to have. I was talking to a pair of couples about how when Renee leaves, sometimes Tom is just inconsolable for as long as an hour and has to be walked around in his carrier. The replies were like something from that Monty Python skit: “Oh, at least you can get him settled with a carrier. I once had to walk for three hours with a screaming baby in my hand.” “Three hours? That’s nothing. When Billy was teething, he once went on tear for five hours straight.” “Oh wait until they get sick as toddlers—five hours would have been like a vacation….”

It’s not as if “easy” isn’t relative. We don’t awaken to Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite no. 1 and commune with the bluebirds before a soft morning of exchanging adoring stares and baby giggles while we munch upon a gentle breakfast of fresh fruits and nuts and lazily read the paper. He’s still a baby. He poops…a lot. He cries when he’s hungry, he wails when he’s wet, he screams when he’s tired, and sometimes he yells his head off until you’re walking him around the block at four in the morning. He’s kicked me in the chin hard enough to rock my dental work, and I recently underwent a horror best described as an “ongoing, triple-diaper, blow-out ‘event.’ ” It’s not as if he’s doing the dishes and leaving me with a lot of free time to play The Last of Us. He just happens to also be sleeping through the night, smiling like crazy in the mornings, and being generally content once he’s fed and changed.

To be blunt, I’m not sure why it is so chic to simultaneously resent someone for not having suffered enough but also want to beat them in the suffer-lympics. I’m new at the whole parent-thing, and I’m just an “uncle,” so maybe I’m missing something. This thin “Goldilocks zone” of suffering in which genuine commiserating is actually possible doesn’t seem to show up in any other aspect of life. Most of the time people just congratulate good fortune and sympathize with bad. Dire warnings of the horrors to come have not become so fashionable—rather, it would be quite rude to say to anyone who is having a good day, “Don’t worry. It won’t last, loser!” I’m a bit confused as to why suddenly, when it comes to parents, folks lose their ability to be happy for a mother who doesn’t have mangled nipples, a father without the thousand yard stare of the sleep-deprived, or anyone who is just having a less-than-apocalyptic life right now.

[Featured image credit: Josh Jansse]

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chrisbrecheen

chrisbrecheen

Chris lives with his girlfriend and her husband in a polyamorous family. On Friday Dec 6th, 2013, the married couple had a darling boy. Not "dad" but so much more than "Uncle Chris" he spends much of his time either trying to figure out the boundaries between parent/not-parent or navigating a world ill equipped to deal with non traditional families. When he's not trying to be a grounded parent, he teaches English as a second language and maintains his own blog about writing (chrisbrecheen.blogspot.com).

13 Comments

  1. April 2, 2014 at 2:06 pm —

    This reminds me of my wife and my honeymoon in Disneyland. We were wearing the requisite Mickey and Minney (Minny? How do you spell that?) just-married hats and pins, and we would get a lot of “Oh, congratulations!” from random people in line. Except for the people carrying toddlers or infants. They would invariable “joke” that “Congratulations! But in five years, THIS HELL WILL BE YOUR LIFE.”

    It happened so often that it became the theme of the weekend – angry, bitter parents who were sniping at each other and telling us our lives were soon to be miserable. It was definitely odd.

    • April 2, 2014 at 4:56 pm —

      You know I’ve seen some parents doing that in the lines to the couples with the “Just Married” pins. It strikes me as absurdly rude (and a bit presumptuous). It almost makes you wonder why they’re there.

    • April 2, 2014 at 5:03 pm —

      It’s “Minnie”. Forget I knew that.

  2. April 2, 2014 at 3:35 pm —

    I’ve always thought two parent families was a strange idea. Three or four just makes so much more sense, sleep and time wise.

    • April 2, 2014 at 4:59 pm —

      It’s definitely almost manageable at three. I’ve only seen Renee truly overwhelmed once, and that was the afternoon I told her I was absconding with Tom and ordered her to take a bath or something.

  3. April 2, 2014 at 8:07 pm —

    I lived with 4 other adults (extended family) for mine, and it was wonderful. I always got enough sleep too, cuz I did a modified co-sleep with his bed right against mine, and I never even had to get out of bed for feedings. I did skip all the haterade from other parents, though, as I didn’t have any friends who were parents.

  4. April 2, 2014 at 9:54 pm —

    I just wanted to weigh in from the not-so-great pregancy/birth/first months camp to say that I boycott the “suffer-lympics” too for much of the same reason–I don’t have any interest in engaging in competitions like that. I don’t really tell our story to strangers (except on the blog, I guess) even when pressed because the few times that I did, I was amazed at the tasteless lengths people would go to insist that they had it worse than we did (“you’re so lucky to have nurses to take care of your babies! I’m sure you sleep well every night.”) or to imply that the challenges we faced were some sort of karmic payback for an easy first trimester.

    I’m not sure why it’s socially acceptable to insist new parents be miserable when we don’t for any other major life change–we never tell people how much they’ll hate their new house, or how miserable they’ll be for the first months of their lives together.

    • April 3, 2014 at 1:57 am —

      Yeah, what’s up with the karma thing!?? Tom’s awful birth story came with more than a couple of suggestions that it was some kind of cosmic comeuppance because of having such an easy pregnancy. I couldn’t believe how tactless people were about it.

      • April 3, 2014 at 9:49 am —

        schadenfreude

        • April 3, 2014 at 7:29 pm —

          It’s like this bizarre thing where they were looking forward to schadenfreude, and then are denied it, so they flip out on you and just start acting like an asshole towards you.

          Schadenfreude denied.

  5. April 3, 2014 at 11:10 am —

    I think with a lot of it it’s a case of “it’s not you, it’s society”.
    Except when complaining about acid reflux when the topic is morning sickness 😉
    It’s a bit like somebody talking about their serious financial problems and you’re joining the conversation by talking about how you had to cancel your second annual trip to whatever-the-most-posh-destination-is.
    I would have vomited out my soul if I had one. Women died and are still dying of pregnancy related sickness.
    The real problem is that society takes women like Rene and holds them up in our faces as examples of “how to be pregnant”. By now there’s a rising number of women who develop eating disorders during pregnancy because they’re afraid of “getting fat”, because everybody and their dog will tell you how many pounds you’re exactly allowed to gain. Did you know that you’re damning your child to a life of obesity and early death if you gain too much weight?
    Also with babies: Some babies are easier than others, but this is often judged as a direct achievement of the parents. When people tell you “what a great job you’re doing” when your baby sleeps through, other parents listen. It’s not your fault, but it might make people hate you. In short, you’re the horse that’s being kicked.

  6. April 3, 2014 at 3:58 pm —

    Well there are two approaches to measure your greatness as a parent: 1. how well your child behaves (when did he sleep through? is he eating broccoli? can he spell his name before his second birthday?) or 2. number and seriousness of the sacrifices you made, can be illustrated by your suffering. So I suspect the “suffer-lympics” (good name) is just another who-is-the-greatest-parent competition, adopted by those whose children don’t do well in the categories of no. 1. Or at least this is what I hope. It would be a bit disturbing if all these people were actually unhappy because of their children.

    But I can also add to the resentment issue from the other side. My daughter slept terribly (let’s just leave it like that) and I gradually built up _such_ anger against people who brag on sleep support forums/Facebook that they have figured everything out and never had our issues because they 1. put their child in the cot when he looked sleepy; 2. fed their child when he woke; 3. slept next to their child; 4. let their child find their ‘natural rhythm’ and accepted that he needs less sleep than usual. I mean, whoa, Einstein, putting a child to bed when he looks sleepy, I would have never thought of that! OK, I sure f*cked up a few things too (still not sure what I should have done though) but it was very annoying that where ever I tried to look for sympathy and help someone chipped in and suggested that I might just be a total idiot after all. Bottom line is, when a friend wrote a happy e-mail about how well her baby is sleeping, all these feelings welled up rather inappropriately and I needed a few moments to convince myself she hasn’t actually said anything bad.

    Still, it is great that things are working out so well with Tom 🙂 And yes, possibly you need three adults to manage a baby, even the easy ones are just so much work.

  7. April 6, 2014 at 6:41 am —

    Someone will ALWAYS have it worse than you, and someone will ALWAYS have it better. That’s life. What matters is your kid is happy, never in pain for too long, and gets to explore the world. imho. (Of course I do wish our daughter could kick a ball as well as her 2-week younger cousin, and would love it if she would remember to use the potty when distracted, but those speak more of my own neuroses than of her.)

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