Ah, Parents

Yesterday I was in a grump. One of those kinds that feel like it is totally unfair but also completely legitimate.

My parents were here.

It’s a loaded phrase isn’t it? I guess I’ve set it up that way, in the way that suggests it was not ideal. So I feel like I should give a preface to the situation. Like I have to reassure you that my parents are great people.

They are. They are loving and caring and support us in the best ways that they know how. They bring food and do me favours like getting my watch battery changed or getting oil stains out of clothes or mending things or cleaning our kitchen or looking after our kid while we get shit done around the house. I love them, we’re not super close but we get on just fine.

Doesn’t mean that sometimes they don’t annoy the hell out of me.

I feel like I’m not allowed to complain about this, that I’m not allowed to be annoyed because of all the things they do for us. Even though sometimes their “helping” is not really helping at all.

They weren’t really being particularly problematic yesterday. But I guess I was in one of those moods (is constant sleep deprivation a mood??) where everything annoyed me.

Stop talking about nap time as if our child automatically doesn’t like it.

Don’t assume he got the chocolate out of the bag because he actually knows what it is (he doesn’t).

Stop filling him up with grapes right before lunch (when I have told you a million times he won’t eat his lunch if he eats too much fruit first).

Stop saying “good boy”. That’s not how we parent.

Stop saying “no” for no good reason.

Don’t turn up late and then expect to stay far longer than I asked you to.

These things seem so trivial, so nothing. Like each thing on its own doesn’t add up to much. But that was just yesterday.

Stop laughing at every single thing he does. Don’t play peekaboo with him when we’re trying to give him lunch. Don’t sweep our porch loudly when I’m trying to put him down for a nap, and then when I mention it, say that it needed sweeping. This is our house, so no it fucking doesn’t. I know I know, he was trying to help. But this is the prevailing attitude – if it’s important to them it must be important to us. This is a major sticking point, which they don’t seem to get. When our kid was like a month old, my parents kindly sorted out making and putting up our upstairs curtains. My dad was intent on making sure we filled in the tiny holes where the roller blind thing used to be screwed in. I was like, that doesn’t matter, we’re not worried about it. He was like, oh but when you go to sell your house it’ll already be done. Seriously? We had only been living there for less than three months, and we had a month-old baby. I don’t give a shit about a tiny screw hole in the window sill that no one can see anyway because I AM TOO BUSY CARING ABOUT MY ONE MONTH OLD BABY.

It’s like they have entirely forgotten what it’s like to have a baby, despite having raised three of them. I mean, I know none of us have been babies for like thirty years, but still. Surely you realise that my priorities as a new parent are vastly different from yours, as a retired couple.

I don’t care if there is dirt on my porch, my child will pour another pot of dirt on it tomorrow.

I know I should be grown up about this, talk to them about these things and try to explain how we like to do things and so on. But I barely have the energy to think about how to get through the day, let alone having to explain how I get through my day. My parents read a piece of writing I did on postnatal depression, which is fine, it’s not secret or anything, but I haven’t talked to them about it, and as such this was their first knowledge. They don’t really get mental health. I mean, they phoned me up and said they were concerned and that I could talk to them and they could help me out. All good. But my mum said “Why are you depressed? Is it because of the humdrum of daily life?”

No, mum. It’s not.

I don’t have it in me to tell you about how depression works or the stats on PND or whatever it is you need to understand me. I just need you to not annoy me. My dad said I don’t need to bottle it up. I didn’t tell him that, actually, I don’t. I just don’t care to talk to them about it.

And then I think, maybe I should. Maybe I should bridge that gap of growing up not really talking to my parents about personal stuff. But then I think that since becoming a parent, I have tried to tell them things. I’ve tried telling them not to come into the room while I’m struggling to breastfeed. I’ve tried telling them to put sunblock on him when they take him for a walk. I’ve tried telling them not to use language like “problem child”.

He’s not a problem. He’s a child.

And then I think, maybe I should cut them some slack. They aren’t young anymore, they don’t remember things as easily, things were different in their day.

But some of the stuff feels like I shouldn’t have to explain it. And that’s tiresome. Once my mum physically barred my arm from trying to take back my child to feed him and put him down for a nap because she had only just got a chance to hold him. Was it a sort of joking thing that she took too far? I don’t know, but it made me mad. My child is not there for your personal entertainment. He has needs and wants outside of yours that need attending to. And your entertainment needs are secondary to his primary needs anyway. Why do I need to explain that?

Just the other day my mum came over for lunch. I knew she was coming, and when she arrived I was upstairs trying to get our toddler down for a nap. I heard her come upstairs, and then knock on the bedroom door. If I don’t answer, she’ll open it. If I do, I’ll disturb the almost-sleeping child. So I did nothing, and she opened it. He saw her, was entirely distracted, my mum left, but it was too late and that was the end of naptime that hadn’t even begun.

Mum was unfazed. Oh, he can just sleep later.


What else? I’m on a ranty roll now. I need to get it all out. My mum told me I should stop breastfeeding the other day. Yes, that happened. I actually wasn’t as annoyed about it as I expected to be. We had a little chat about it. More annoying – in fact, not annoying, it was insulting – was the face she made when I said I was only going to leave one car door open while our child was asleep inside. She didn’t say anything, but the face said it all. Maybe she didn’t mean it to say all the things that it did, but all the same, I was angry and upset that she implied I was somehow being negligent.

It’s winter, the car is in the driveway, and I can hear when he wakes up.

Not that I should have to explain myself.

Aren’t we always explaining ourselves?

My dad says “come on, come on” when he’s calling our son to him in a way that sounds like he’s calling a dog. He says he’s getting up to mischief, he’s a troublemaker, he’s making a mess for Mummy.

Not for Daddy; I guess cleaning is women’s work.

And I’m not Mummy. I’m Mama. I call myself Mama in the third person all the time. Or Māmā. But apparently I’m Mummy because that’s who you think I should be.

The difficulty is choosing which battles to fight. I don’t have the time or energy to explain all my parenting choices and attitudes towards certain things. And I often think that maybe they won’t “get” it anyway. Is that unfair? Maybe. But when you don’t “get” that I needed no one around me when breastfeeding and would come into the room anyway, or don’t “get” that your pre-meal snack offering is not helping an already scanty eater eat something more filling, then how can I expect you to “get” the more nuanced ideas of feminist parenting or body autonomy?

Mum and Dad, should you ever happen upon this, it’s not that I don’t appreciate all the meals you’ve cooked, cleaning you’ve done, and all the childminding so I can have a break. I appreciate you driving across town to be at our house, taking our kid for walks, doing loads of our laundry and hemming pants and washing dishes. I am truly grateful for your time and willingness. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t struggled with your presence some of the time. I haven’t talked to you about it because I haven’t the wherewithal to consider how to divulge my thoughts without your being defensive or feeling upset that I’m not thankful for your time and care. I am. But considering I haven’t really slept properly in a year and a half, my brain is at a reduced function, and I absolutely do not have the capacity to cater to your needs when I am too overwhelmed with my needs and our baby’s needs and my partner’s needs.

I love you and need you, but sometimes I just need you to leave me alone.

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1 comments On Ah, Parents

  • Hearing ya! Learning how to be a helpful grandma if I get the chance in the future. It is frustrating when people want to help you with what they want to help you with, not what you want help with! Really appreciate my parents’ hands-off attitude at times. Totally get that ‘Do I launch into a whole lecture on the philosophy and information behind why I do this? Or go for the usual conflict-reducing comment as they won’t understand anyway?”.

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