Bringing up children is relentless, tedious, and occasionally, briefly, joyful – like the joy someone under police interrogation might feel when their tormentor goes to the toilet. But when you (quite understandably) moan about your situation, you have to caveat it with “of course, I wouldn’t change it for the world” while secretly imagining changing it in favour of almost anything else: a trip to Goole in the back of a lorry, a new life in Bogotá, an hour browsing the pasta shapes in an out-of-town supermarket… anything.
If you fail to add this positive spin, however, people tend to get defensive and step in with the dreaded: “Well, nobody told you to have children in the first place.”
This, of course, isn’t true, because if you are a woman, yes, they very much did, in every advert, magazine, TV show, film, subtle hint and sideways glance from your mum. Also, no matter who you are and how much you want to be a parent, you have no idea what it’s going to be like. You don’t know if you’re going to get a mini Raoul Moat bashing the crap out of his cot bars with a fist or a heaven-sent angel with the radiant eyes of baby Jesus (and sometimes you can get both, in the space of five minutes).
And you don’t know what kind of parent you’ll be. Will you let it all slide and love the chaos? Or will you be measuring milk by the millilitre, obsessing about weight percentiles and having panic attacks about the structural integrity of a Baby Björn?
There’s no way you can understand all the other stuff, either, like the ludicrous amount of work that’s expected of you on a daily basis, how your confidence will regularly dissolve like off-brand Weetabix in milk, and how every meal you make for the next 15 years will have peas in it. But now I suppose nobody can say that they weren’t warned, because the dark side of parenthood has become a genre in itself – to the point where I feel we need a more positive spin on it. For example, no broken night or poo in the McDonald’s ball pool is as horrifying as The Baby, a funny, gory and disturbing allegorical tale of an evil baby who thuds dramatically into the life of a woman who doesn’t want to have kids. (In fact, it was so disturbing that I had to turn it off and put on my star projector night light that plays Beautiful Dreamer.)
And on more familiar territory, but no less biting, is Breeders, starring Martin Freeman and Daisy Haggard as a couple who seem to hate their kids in a way that made me want to call social services. Martin’s character swears and flies into violent, foul-mouthed rages as his children do completely innocuous things, while his wife jokes about suffocating them with the duvet. Written by Simon Blackwell, who co-wrote The Thick Of It, it has some great lines: (“Who is happy when they have two kids under seven? I mean, happy like when you’re in Portugal and you’ve had two glasses of red wine and a tomato.”), but I couldn’t make it past two episodes. Despite the heavyweight cast, I hated all the characters and would gladly lock them all in sweaty soft play with no coffee shop, while yelling “nobody told you to have children in the first place!!” through the letterbox.