Children – above all, babies – make women angry. Really angry. Angry like you’ve never seen a woman before. Glenn Close angry. The alien in Alien angry. Elizabeth I (‘Off with his head!’) angry.
It’s just a fact. But why? It’s not hormones, although initially that can play a part. And it’s not because babies are awful and hateful and bad and the woman believes she has made a terrible mistake and loathes her child.
It is because the sole care of babies, being in charge of an infant, is bloody awful. And you, as the mother, are the one who has main responsibility for a baby. Always, for ever. At all times. However you’re feeling, whatever else you’ve got going on, the buck stops with you. Not the nanny! Not the dad! Not the granny! YOU.
Nine times out of ten, no matter how many children you have, or how old they are, or what’s going on in the world, if you’re the mother, you basically get left with the baby. And if you’ve not been left with the baby at that precise moment, you are still in charge of it. People will still ask you bloody questions about it all the time. ‘Should he be asleep now? Why is he crying? Are his trousers wet because of water or wee?’
I hate looking after babies. I hate the constant responsibility, I hate the washing, the scrubbing the wiping and the soothing.
If the baby’s naps are for whatever reason in a mess or the baby is just in a tizz and it’s exhausted and screaming its head off, you will be the one wheeling it round and round in the buggy, or rocking it to sleep, or sitting grimly outside a bedroom. And it’s not because everyone else is a fucker, it’s because you’re the mother and it’s your job. It just is. Fathers can be brilliant and engaged and helpful and terrific, but when it gets real, it’s all your problem.
I like babies, but I loathe more than anything else in the world looking after them. I hate looking after babies. I hate the constant responsibility, I hate the washing, the scrubbing the wiping and the soothing. I hate not having my hands free. I hate the packing and the folding and the having to harden my heart to screams.
If you entered motherhood with even the remotest amount of ambivalence, although you love your child, the intensity of it can be enraging, like getting a life sentence for shoplifting a lipstick.
The intensity of motherhood can be like a life sentence for shoplifting a lipstick
When your children are very small, you are in a prison, you are not free. Even if you have a supportive husband and brilliant nannies – unless you are one of those really very lucky people who can just switch off and hand their kids over to other people and not think about it – you are in a prison. You are not truly free. And even if you do have all the help in the world, you are the one who has to organise and manage the help, hire and fire, break up squabbles. You are the one who has to think about how late you are staying at a party, you are the one who has to tug at your husband’s sleeve, saying ‘We’d better go …’ It’s just you, you, you, all the time. But it’s not about you. It’s just you, doing it all.
And you are being watched, all the time, by everyone. Stay out late at a party and smoke a fag and dabble in party drugs just once and everyone will know about it. ‘She does loads of coke,’ people will say at playgroups. And you will be watching too. You will be partly envious of whoever it is you’re discussing – how delightful to be so free, to be so unconcerned about tomorrow! – but mostly you are just enormously judgemental.
Fathers, although they may say they are not free, in fact are. I have yet to meet a woman whose husband has not, at least once, gone on a sudden, unexplained and unplanned bender – stumbled in at 3am stinking, slobbering drunk despite his intention only to go for a beer after work with colleagues.
Fathers, although they may say they are not free, in fact are. I have yet to meet a woman whose husband has not, at least once, gone on a sudden, unexplained and unplanned bender
But have the women done that? No, because we are not free to. It doesn’t work like that. In order to go out and get properly, truly shitfaced and just, you know, see where the night takes me, there would have to be such a scaffolding of help and backup help in place, for not only that night but also the following morning, that it would kill the spontaneity stone dead.
If I was to organise a night out in town, by the time it came to it the pressure to have fun would be so crushing and immense that I would fail to enjoy myself for even three consecutive minutes and go home at 10.30pm.
I was never much of a boozer pre-children, nor much of a shagger, and never took drugs with any enthusiasm or determination. So what makes me most angry is not the actual fact of my husband going out and getting drunk, it’s that he has the freedom to do that. Not just the actual, literal freedom, but also the freedom in his mind to let go of his domestic responsibilities if only for a few hours – to just be able to deal with tomorrow when it comes.
He has that freedom and I don’t. When it comes down to it, despite the fact that we are in this together, and the fact that he is sympathetic, hard-working and ‘present’, I might as well be in maximum security with a old bucket for a toilet, while he cavorts on a beach in Barbados.
And that is why I’m so fucking angry all the time.
- This extract is taken from Esther Walker’s new book Bad Mother. We’re going to be serialising it over the next few weeks but if you can’t wait for the next instalment, buy and download the whole book here.
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