Dear Father Hood: is it okay for parents to take the easy option?
Me?! Taking the easy option! I can’t believe you have the nerve to ask this question. I’ve raised my child from his first breath to his latest meal, tackling his inability to sleep, overcoming Colic, breaking him into real food, taking him overseas, buying his first shoes, giving chunks of my skin to his teeth and have I ever taken the parenting easy option? You bet I have. I’ve fed him pre-mushed pouches when our food was being refused. I’ve cancelled journeys when he’s thrown tantrums before we’ve reached the end of the driveway. And I’ve shipped him off to the grandparents when life’s getting a bit tough and I feel like I need to sleep. And do you know what? It’s not a problem unless… you start doing it too often.
So how often is too often? It’s impossible to put a number on it, as every child is different and every family’s situation is unique, but speaking from personal experience the pangs of guilt will tell you. If you want to know what these feel like, it’s a similar sensation to the one you get when you’re pulling a sickie from work or ignoring the person you’ve been seeing’s text messages. And if you want to know what they mean, it’s simple. They mean you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing and deep down you know it.
So the moment you get this feeling is the moment when you begin to cut down the number of times per week you take the parenting easy option, right? I’d love to say yes, but I can’t. Because the hard option was so much more difficult, and the short-term benefits (sleep, the ability to go out, sleep, the time to do some writing, sleep) of having my wife’s parents look after our son two or three days and nights a week were so nice, we initially rode the gravy train through our guilt. Then our relationship with our son began to change.
On paper, this sounds more dramatic than it actually was. He didn’t begin opting out of family trips, stop following us on Twitter or take to driving his toy cars into our heads or anything. He simply started to go to grandpa before daddy and nano before mummy. If you’ve experienced being sidelined by your baby, you’ll know how much this hurts. If you haven’t, it’s like having your heart ripped out with spoon while a bunch of piranhas feast on your private parts, a prospective employer rips your C.V. to shreds and an ex-partner mocks your sexual prowess. Only worse.
A crisis summit was called and a battle plan was agreed. Operation Rely Less On The Grandparents (codename: get your parenting finger out) had action points, but the main ones were as follows:
- My wife and I would attempt to shift work around, so we each spent one full weekday per week with the baby.
- We would endeavour to make sure that one of us always picked him up from nursery.
- We would significantly reduce the number of nights he spent at his grandparents.
- We would always try to think, ‘Is it good for the baby?’ rather than, ‘Is it good for us?’
- We would attempt to focus on long term gains rather than short term wins.
- We would get tattoos of our son on our lower legs and permanently wear shorts, so he could see how much he meant to us at all times.
Okay, okay, so the last one’s a joke. But the rest are serious and, three weeks in, they’re doing exactly what we hoped they would. Which is turning our son against my wife’s parents. Stop booing. Again, I’m only joking. Our aim was to improve our relationship with our little man without compromising his feelings towards his grandparents, and, thanks to the above commandments, that’s exactly what we’ve been able to do. I’m talking more words. More hugs. More smiles. More ear tugs. More feeding sessions for Green D (his gaudy, and perennially hungry, toy dinosaur). More high fives. More everything. Is it tiring? Absolutely. Do we care? Absolutely not. Well, maybe a bit. But we wouldn’t be human if we weren’t moaning about something.