Battlepanda: Babies are Boring


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Babies are Boring

I'm in the curious position of wanting to have kids one day, while being certain that there are certain aspects of childrearing that I would absolutely hate. I'm not talking about the inevitably nappy changing here, but the kind of "keeping the young 'uns entertained" type activities that would now forever be known to me as "rolling the ball":
A while back, I found myself chatting at a cocktail party with a much older man, a very distinguished and well-known attorney. He had had children late in life, so I asked him how he was enjoying fatherhood. He gave a long rueful sigh and said, "Well, you know it's a lot better now that they are 7 and 8 and can have an actual conversation. When they were smaller, it was just tedious being around them. All you do is roll the ball, roll the ball, roll the ball." I laughed out loud because anyone who has spent an afternoon trying to entertain a very young child knows that it can be incredibly boring and repetitive. I was also surprised by his candor.

Of course, you would rarely catch a mother making such an admission. And the mother is more likely to be spending larger chunks of her time rolling the ball, rolling the ball, rolling the ball. Now Helen Kirwan-Taylor of the Daily Mail has written an editorial entitled, "Sorry, but my children bore me to death!"
I've babysat enough to realize that the younger the kid, the more tedious the babysitting session is going to be (unless they are so young and non-fussy that you can ignore them altogether, the exception that proves the rule). I can imagine spending a lot of time and having a lot of fun with my kids when they get to the stage where they can handle more complex activities and absorb information more readily, but the "rolling the ball" part really gets old after about five minutes. Does this mean I'm destined to be a bad mother? Whenever I communicate these doubts to people who are already mothers, they inevitably say, after an uncomfortable pause, "well, it will be different when it's your own..." I never reply "Do you think I'm so narcissistic that I'll find my own children fascinating just because they're my own even though I find babykind in general a bit of a bust?" but it's what I'm thinking.

Of course, I am not intending on neglecting my children until I deem them interesting enough to hang out with. That would be tantemont to child abuse. So roll the ball I will. Around and around and around. What I will not do, however, is bow to the societal pressure to subscribe to the convenient fiction that parents, female parents in particular, find the ball-rolling indescribably precious and fulfilling. I feel like Helen Kirwan-Taylor, who wrote the controversial Daily Mail editorial, gave us a real "the emperor has no clothes moment."
I know this is one of the last taboos of modern society. To admit that you, a mother of the new millennium, don't find your offspring thoroughly fascinating and enjoyable at all times is a state of affairs very few women are prepared to admit. We feel ashamed, and unfit to be mothers. [snip]

Those of us who are not thoroughly 'child-centric', meaning we don't put our children's guitar practice before our own ambitions, are made to feel guilty. We're not meant to have an adult life — at least, not one that doesn't include them.
Doubtlessly, there are those who would ask "if babies are so tedious, why have them?" To me, this is quite the foolish rhetorical question. It presupposes that the whole point of having kids, of bringing a new member into society, is because they are such little precious pookies when they're babies. It also ignore the fact that for the male half of the population, the "babies are boring" viewpoint is quite widely accepted and mainstream, despite the odd SuperDad. If we disqualify them all from procreating, we'd hardly have any babies at all.

As it almost always is, facing up to the truth is preferable in the long run to the noble lie. I think it is incredibly positive for women to admit that they don't find every moment they spend with their child a little ray of sunshine. For some of us, keeping toddlers occupied is a joy, for others, it is a chore just like any other. The mothers and the fathers both need to do their share, and together they need to figure out how much of this child-centeredness is necessary, or even desirable. Historically speaking, the belief that little kids need to be permanently entertained by at least one parent or they come out all wrong is a very recent phenomenon. I've no desire to turn the clock back to Victorian times, but I believe that the pendulum has swung too far.