So here is a bold suggestion: you don’t have to be friends with other mothers.
You really don’t. It makes everything a bit harder, as an hour of childcare never goes more quickly than when you’ve got company, but it’s just not necessary, especially not immediately. If you were never into being in a clique at school or always found it hard to make friends generally, the fact that you’ve had a baby doesn’t mean you’ll find it any easier, doesn’t mean that you will be able to bond with other women just because they have chosen to start a family at the same time as you.
How do you not just lecture and lecture and lecture and go on and on and on about what they should and shouldn’t do? I will simply have to buy a muzzle and close down my email account.
If you can just hang on, you will find some kindred spirits when your eldest goes to nursery or school – if that’s what you want. There’s something about seeing the same people every day, being forced together without fear or prejudice, that makes falling into friendships very easy.
The early days are especially difficult if you choose to do something that, for the community that you live in, is a bit off-key. If you live among very hippy lefty people and have a strict routine and don’t breastfeed, then it will be harder to find things in common with your fellow parents. Similarly, if you live somewhere uptight and mega-wealthy, and you carry your baby about in a sling all day and don’t have a nanny, you’ll find conversation tricky.
But there is one group of mothers who get picked on more than any other and that is: first timers. Picking on and patronising first timers is like the only legal blood sport left if you are even so much as pregnant with your second. The moment you are up the duff with a toddler in tow you are entitled to look down massively on anyone who is springing around with only one teeny, tiny child.
And once you’ve had a second you sometimes feel that you can’t even talk to someone with only one kid, in the same way that you could barely talk to someone who didn’t have kids when you’d just had your first. They just had no idea. They weren’t even on the same planet as you. If having a child meant being in the club, having two is like getting access to the inner sanctum.
As I watch my peers around me getting pregnant I have to genuinely keep away from them for fear that I will say awful things. And – oh God! – when they actually have the children, when they are out and squirming around … what can one say? How do you hold in the word vomit? How do you not just lecture and lecture and lecture and go on and on and on about what they should and shouldn’t do? I will simply have to buy a muzzle and close down my email account.
When you have small children – one, or two or more – and your back is against the wall, with no friends in the room and no clear exits to stunt roll out of, it is easy to want to scrabble a bit of dignity back by kicking downwards. It is almost impossible not to regard your pregnant friend with a benevolently tyrannical eye and say ‘So what are you going to do about childcare?’ or snigger and say ‘Ahhh that’s really sweet,’ if they say anything about exclusive breastfeeding, hypno-birthing or taking a six-month-old to the Caribbean.
Ever since Kitty was small the women I envy most are not those who chose not to have children, I am sorry to say (because that is a hard road to take for all sorts of reasons); it’s those who are done with the baby stage, who have had all the children they are going to have, and all those children are walking and talking.
And whenever times have been hard, and I am sitting there trying to take solace from the fact that, one day, my kids will be a bit older and a bit more manageable, another part of me is thinking ‘… and also, pretty much everyone I know who hasn’t even started having kids is going to have to do this, by which time I will be out the other side.’ It’s not just a relief that I will no longer be suffering, it’s that others will have to suffer, too. It’s the knowledge that it’s not just me. It’s that this time will come to everyone.
I look at them, as I chip Weetabix off my surfaces, pinning my hopes on this second cup of tea, and think, ‘Yes, but one day you will have kids and then your life will be over, too.’
It’s not just people I know. It’s famous people, usually young starlets who are pictured in the paper having a terrific, carefree time. I look at them, as I chip Weetabix off my surfaces, pinning my hopes on this second cup of tea, and think, ‘Yes, but one day you will have kids and then your life will be over, too.’
I have not, historically, been that sort of person. At school I was never the girl who told other girls how much their BCG was going to hurt. It has come as a surprise to me how much relief I feel that not only am I soon going to be out of this long, dark, small-children tunnel, but – crucially – other people are going to be in it instead of me.
- This extract is taken from Esther Walker’s new book The Bad Mother. We’re serialising it over the next few weeks but if you can’t wait for the next instalment, buy and download the whole book here.