I complain about my children. I complain about my children often. I complain when they don’t sleep. I complain when they cry for hours on end. I complain when they create nappies that make me feel ill. Sometimes I complain that they make me complain so much.
I also feel guilty often. I feel guilty for formula-feeding. I feel guilty for using disposable nappies. I feel guilty for taking medication throughout my pregnancies. I feel guilty for letting the littlest sleep on his front. I feel guilty for letting the biggest watch Cars so often.
But I don’t – and won’t – feel guilty for complaining about my children.
I’ve been told – directly, through facebook memes, via passive aggressive tweets – that as some people can’t have children I have no right to complain about the ones I am fortunate enough to have.
I call bullshit.
I am well aware of how lucky I am to have two healthy, boisterous, infuriating boys. I spent my first pregnancy in and out of hospital in constant fear that this scan was going to be the one that broke my heart. I have friends who have had that scan. I have friends who have lost babies during pregnancy, in infancy and in their teenage years. I have friends who have endured years of IVF, friends who have infertile partners or who have discovered their own infertility. Friends who have made the decision not to continue pregnancies they wished with all their hearts they could carry on.
I can’t even pretend to know how heartbreaking it is to want nothing more than to carry a child and to see that dream fade every month. I can’t begin to imagine how much that hurts.
Unfortunately, knowing all this doesn’t make parenting any easier.
During the first weeks of Ted’s life, when my milk was making him poorly and he was screaming and I didn’t know what the hell I was supposed to do to make him feel better and I’d had less than two hours’ sleep in the last twenty-four, I tried to tell myself that I shouldn’t complain. I tried to remember having clots removed from my cervix and counting down the minutes to the next scan.
The thing is, it’s not always enough. There were times when it was enough to remind myself how close I’d come to losing him, but there were many more times when it didn’t even enter my head; times when I was curled up at the side of his cot crying as hard as he was, or when I put him in his pram in the garden so I could just breathe for a few minutes, or when I’d beg him to tell me what it was he needed. At those times it didn’t matter that other people wouldn’t experience this.
If I’m exhausted because I’ve been up all night with a poorly baby you can bet I’m going to complain about how tired I am. I don’t understand the belief of some that I shouldn’t complain because some people can only wish for it. If I was exhausted because I’d been up all night with a poorly husband would it be offensive to unmarried people for me to complain about that?
If we start trying to censor people because of our own sensitivities there’s not going to be much left to say. No matter how good your life is, how much you feel grateful for, there will always be something you need to get off your chest. If you had to stop and ponder whether it might be possible that your complaint might be offensive to someone somewhere, anywhere, you’d never say anything at all.
The harsh reality is that if you can’t have children and it upsets you that people who do have them spend their time complaining then that’s your issue, not theirs. That’s for you to deal with, not them.
I hear “I only wish I could complain about that” and I think, “well there’s the thing, you see: you would complain about it”.
It doesn’t matter how much you want something; it doesn’t make the hard bits any easier. Desperately wanting a baby doesn’t make the screaming any less painful, or the sleep deprivation any less debilitating, or the tantrums any more bearable.
Check my Twitter feed and I’m sure you’ll find at least one whinge a day. It might be lack of sleep or it might just be Ted wanting to watch Cars for the five thousandth time. I do know how lucky I am to have those things to complain about. I know there are worse things in the world than his terrible haircut or the fact that he’s decided he’s gone off apples this week, or whatever it might be this time.
I am sorry if you wish watching Cars again was something you could complain about, but just remember that there’s every chance there’s someone out there looking at your Twitter feed thinking, “I wish I could complain about that”.
We never realise how good our lives look from the outside, and sometimes we need to stop and remember that from the inside those lives we’re envious of might not look so great. Whatever we complain about, we do it because we’re getting through it and not because we don’t care about what other people are getting through. When I complain about having to watch Cars again it says absolutely nothing of how I feel about the struggles you might be experiencing. It simply says that I really do not want to watch Cars again.
And I absolutely reserve the right to complain about that.