I live a life without issue. I have no children. I wasn’t living in Ireland when my nephews were in nappies so I’ve minimal experience with babies or toddlers. I’ve babysat on very rare occasions; I could count the number of nappies I’ve changed on both hands. I think that when God was dishing out the maternal genes, He shorted me. Some would (and have) argued that my lack of desire to have kids is quite selfish as, according to them, by virtue of my being a woman, it’s almost a duty to procreate. Whatever.
I’ve been known to rail at the preferential treatment given to parents in the corporate world. As the lone single, childless member of staff, I drew all the evening duties – I had nothing to go home to. I rarely got to take my leave in the summer as I didn’t have kids who were out of school and needed to be entertained. I drew the short straw on many occasions, losing out to those women who had taken their duty more seriously. I got over it though, as I doubt it’s something that will ever change.
I still get het up at Mass though, when parents allow their kids to run riot. Can you really reason with a three-year-old? I think not. Were they at a concert or a play or somewhere everyone else had paid to get into, the rest of the audience wouldn’t be as accommodating. I doubt they’d stand for the disruption. Why the kids are not kept at home until they’re old enough to sit quietly is beyond me. Parents could easily take it in turns to go to Mass. It’s not like they’re doing anything by way of prayer anyway, as they spend their time shushing little Johnny, bribing him with his favourite toys, and smiling indulgently as he provides the background screams to the sermon from the pulpit.
Why then, you might wonder, did I find myself reading a parenting book of all things?
I was introduced to author Dorka Herner by mutual friends when she was looking for someone to read the English translation and comment on the language rather than on the context. What would I know about bed-wetting and sugar allowances? A mother of five who’s also a practising psychologist, Herner writes as she speaks. Her funny, tongue-in-cheek accounts of her own parenting experience are a far cry from the prescriptive texts that I’ve seen on the shelves of friends who are first-time parents themselves. Her focus is more on living with children than textbook parenting. She’s short on advice, preferring to give personal examples from which others can learn. I found it all highly entertaining… and very human.
Herner sees parenting as a joint effort – she has learned so much about herself from her interactions with her kids.
Whatever my children do, it says something about me as well. More often than not, it says a lot of things. If my five-year-old doesn’t go to sleep alone, am I the one who needs our evening cuddles? If I am disturbed when he is bored, do I see myself useless if I don’t have enough tasks to do? If I think they are careless, am I the one who is too [much of a] perfectionist? For me, getting to know myself, or shaping the way I function, is an exciting and efficient way to form my kids’ behaviour.
It’s an easy read, and an insightful one for parents and non-parents alike. Hidden amongst the parenting insights are comments on relationships and sharing space with other beings. It gave me a better feel for what parents go through. Selfishly, it’s a book I wish more parents would read. It might make life a little easier for those of us who have to deal with their kids.
As Herner says:
Situations, solutions, and parenting styles are neither good nor bad in themselves; we add the qualifying adjectives. Shouting can be positive, cuddling can have drawbacks, illness can bring kindness, or good advice can harm. When I have an eye for seeing new levels in everyday happenings, I can fully enjoy my parenting years.