Once we got through the first trimester, and as we told family and friends, the reality of a baby started to kick in. I was still mostly trying to think of it as a potato at this stage to try to hide from myself the truth that in another 6 months the beard and I were going to become responsible for a small human. Our actions or inactions, decisions we would take and behaviours we would intentionally or inadvertently encourage and discourage would have a fundamental impact on the formation of an actual person.
Beyond the primary goal of just trying to keep it alive was an entirely dense and terrifying further mission: raising it to be 1) not a terrible individual (note to prospective parents do not read or watch ‘we need to talk about Kevin’), and 2) preferably ‘happy’ but given the elusive nature of such a concept would settle for ‘on balance, more happy than not’.
It is so ingrained into our society that having children is the normal thing to do that very rarely do people stop to question whether having children is the right thing for certain people. Which is really odd because many of us are quite happy to express opinions about whether or not someone should have a cat or a dog and we can discuss an individual’s suitability to be a pet owner, weighing up whether this is a responsible thing for them to do, fair on the future pet and so on.
Obviously getting a pet is a big commitment and should be thought through carefully but surely having a child is a bigger commitment and yet we don’t even come close to asking these same kind of questions. Instead we are trained to expect that every adult should want to have children and I know many people that will go beyond this and actively encourage adults to have children, without even remotely considering whether or not having children is actually a good idea for them or future offspring. (Not to mention those that would actively do everything they can to prevent people who don’t want to have children from being able to exercise autonomy over their own reproductive abilities).
The more you think about this, the stranger it seems. Humans are very complicated! And I should know, I’ve been one (more or less) for some 30 odd years. Taking responsibility to raise one and train it how to, hopefully, add more to the world than it takes away isn’t something that should be taken lightly. Yet, mostly, we don’t question people when they make plans to have a child and we don’t really, or at least I haven’t, ask ourselves why we would want to have children?
Is it purely a selfish thing? A wannabe-god like moment of creating something in our own image in which we hope to inspire devotion and exert control? A desire not to be forgotten and/or to have someone to look after us in our dotage? A hope that by raising a child we can model a new and improved version of ourselves, a Briony 2.0 if you will, complete with an ability to play a musical instrument, ice-skate, speak many languages and all the other things I wish I could do? An uncontrollable biological urge to propagate? A belief that your child will bring balance to the force, and hopefully not in a Darth Vader kind of way? Some combination of all of the above?
I know I want the potato but as to why…I definitely don’t have a clear answer. And this is just thinking about the impact of the child on me rather than thinking of the child itself and the question of whether I’m going to be a decent parent.
This concern of ‘how do I not completely balls up the child?’ is a pressing one. I have a tendency to think ahead, which can make living in the moment challenging. Knowledge that we were expecting initially intensified this and I became much more conscious of the potential issues our kid is going to face.
I was more aware of the seemingly 12 year old boys on the tram talking (and one can only hope, lying) about girls they’ve slept with; the true horrors of social media when teenage hormones are surging, kids can be so mean and photographic evidence follows you way past the end of the school day bell; not to mention the ease of accessibility of drugs and alcohol; and worst of all, what if they grow up to become some sort of Nigel Farage-accolyte xenophobic monster??
How the heck am I supposed to be capable of raising a decent human being that can navigate all that? How is anyone? Or is that the trick, the whole idea is so hideous, society unites in agreement to collectively bury our heads in the sand and refuse to consider even the most basic elements of suitability for child rearing?
The beard’s response when I would find myself careering down this dark rabbit hole would be to point out how many people seem to cope with having kids that on the surface of it you wouldn’t have thought appeared even slightly qualified to do so, yet somehow managed to adapt to parenting with ease.
A friend at work advised me not to over think it, everyone messes up their kids in one way or another but mostly it’s nothing too overwhelmingly catastrophic.
And someone else told me not to worry about it because ‘happy parents make happy children’. This one bugged me though. For one thing the implication that anyone who wouldn’t class themselves as ‘happy’, those combatting depression or other mental health disorders on a regular basis, will automatically make unhappy children is highly offensive.
For another thing, I resented the oversimplification of myself as a happy person. I am many things: I can be a positive person but I’m not always, I am often irritable, I am an idealist and a realist, I am loyal and I am fickle, I am funny and I am dull, I can be sad and, yes, I can be happy. I am all of these things and more, I am no single one of these things.
So the idea that the potato’s emotional well-being will be reliant on my maintaining some sort of stable positive vibe at all times is frankly alarming and sounds like the way towards a mental break-down for me, sproglet and anyone else in the vicinity when my stepford-wives-esque grinning persona crashes into the reality of a complicated life of even average human emotions.
Perhaps what this person meant was ‘you don’t seem like a complete blight on the history of humanity so have some faith that your spawn may be similarly undamaging to the world?’ Which, is a much more helpful position.
I’m doing my best to go with the Ostrich approach and try not to overthink it and, for now, to just take one thing at a time. First thing’s first, I’m going to concentrate on getting through this pregnancy, what comes after that is another matter entirely.