So, you’ve got young kids. Congratulations!
But everyone around you already knows that you do. They can see it in your dazed, exhausted eyes, and hear it in the artificially optimistic tone you adopt when talking about how wonderful parenthood is.
You probably assume that all your single friends are happy for you, and maybe a little jealous. On one level, they probably are. But on another level – and I hate to break it to you – they find you approximately as annoying as a Billy Ray Cyrus CD. That’s scratched, and skips.
(Note – that’s a very 1990s reference, because most parents haven’t been in tune with pop culture for at least the best part of a decade, and probably haven’t had time to figure out how to get music from the internet.)
In this column, you will discover all of the things you do that annoy your childless friends, but which they haven’t felt comfortable raising with you. Some of them may be delighted not to be going through what you’re enduring, while others may want to have children but be unable to for various reasons, meaning that you’re inadvertently rubbing it in.
So here’s the definitive list of the stuff you’re doing that’s driving your childless friends bananas, and which you should probably stop. And when I say “bananas”, I mean not just the fruit, but like when your child smears banana everywhere. You know what I mean.
1) Don’t talk too much about your kids
Nobody is as interested in your children as you are, with the possible exception of the grandparents. Even your other friends who have kids only put up with you yammering incessantly about yours because it gives them license to do the exact same thing, and attempt to one-up you in the unspoken contest between all parents about which of their offspring is the best.
There’s nothing wrong with updating your friends on your children, of course. Like anyone who’s not a total narcissist, we like to hear what the people we care about have been up to. But there needs to be a time limit, particularly when this is generally a one-way conversation. When you start talking about feeding strategies and sleep difficulties and the tiny amount of developmental progress your child has made since the last time you updated us, we don’t really know what to say. So we just nod and say something like “Isn’t that lovely?”
It’s like when somebody tells you a dull story, belatedly realises and says “I guess you had to be there”, only you never belatedly realise. And we didn’t need simply to be there, but also be closely related to the child, and to have recently had our definition of “fascinating” rewired by sleeplessness and hormones.
Don’t get me wrong – you should talk about your kids. Of course you should. Just, and trust me on this, not for more than ten minutes per encounter. Oh, and to be clear – that’s not ten minutes per child.
2) Don’t bring the kids to unambiguously adult events
You’d be annoyed if someone turned up to your kid’s third birthday party drunk and started dirty-dancing on the hors d’oeuvre table, so the opposite degree of consideration needs to apply at events where that kind of behaviour would be appropriate.
In general, any evening function is a no, unless they’re young enough to sleep or old enough to play mindless video games and only speak when they’re spoken to for five seconds before going back to their game.
I recently went to an evening birthday party where most of the guests were parents, all of whom had ditched their kids for the night. As a result everyone had a brilliant time. If even one child had attended, all the parents would have felt a sudden rush of guilt and started leaving. Don’t be the parent that just can’t bear to dump little Timmy with their grandpa when the occasion demands.
3) Don’t let the kids take over your house
You know how when you’re on holidays at the beach, you come back and tread sand everywhere? That’s what children’s junk is like. That’s understandable. Kids have the attention spans of gnats, so they’re constantly tiring of one toy and bringing out another one without putting the other one away first.
Nevertheless, if you have your non-childless friends over, you need to tidy up. We don’t want to cower in between piles of children’s toys. Of course we understand that as soon as we leave, your children will empty several enormous buckets all over the living room floor, but please, while we visit, let’s just briefly pretend that there’s a semblance of control.
4) Don’t let them colonise your workplace either
Some colleagues decorate their workspaces with so much of their children’s paintings, photos and paraphernalia that it’s practically a museum display. It’s great that you love your kids so much that you want to be constantly reminded of their existence when’re sitting at your desk and look in any direction at all, but it’ll make people wonder whether you even want to be there.
The answer’s no, of course – we all understand that, and feel the same way – but in order to stay sane there’s kind of an ongoing agreement in the workplace to pretend that we’re all happy to be there. Turning your workspace into a shrine to your infants, if nothing else, reminds us of the outside world.
5) Don’t fail to control your kids in public
When your children misbehave, it’s not only annoying and noisy, but it makes us feel incredibly awkward. It’s not our place to tell one of your children to stop trying to assassinate the other. It’s very much yours.
Childless people understand there’s only so much you can do, and there’s no need to be some kind of brutal dictator because that’s embarrassing for everyone as well – but couldn’t you at least try to impose something resembling order? Otherwise we’ll have to say something and you’ll get all huffy and defensive.
6) Don’t put your kids on Facebook
It’s. Creepy. And it makes us look creepy if we accept their friend requests. Plus, when they’re teenagers and actually allowed to use the site, they won’t want all their parents’ pals in their friends feed, surely. Just post your inevitable, incessant stream of photos from your own account.