Why parents lie about sleep, sex and how they really feel about it
Nobody tells you that when you become a parent, you also become an expert in bending the truth. We don’t set out with this intention, but seem to develop a ‘parenting pretence’ – the desire to show the world that you’ve got the parenting malarkey sorted. I've always been the type of person who doesn’t do anything she doesn’t want to, but I found myself firmly playing to the parenting pretence tune when I had my son Flynn.
The parenting pretence is like an invisible cloak that parents collect on their way home from the hospital. From the carefully curated first family photograph, which hides the stitches, catheter, blood stains and the overwhelmed parents who are trying to process what has just happened, to the declaration that your child is already sleeping through the night at three weeks old, when in fact they slept at some point between 11pm and 7am, but actually they woke up three times and you had to bring them into your bed in the end.
I remember listening to the aforementioned woman claim that her baby had slept through the night when she was three weeks old and it made me feel inadequate. Why wasn't my baby sleeping through? What was I doing wrong? A few months later, I found out the full story and that her baby still wasn’t properly sleeping through the night and that, actually, her child had never been a good sleeper. As time went on, hearing news of other people’s perceived success with getting their baby to sleep for longer stretches when mine was up for a rave between 3am and 6am, or their baby starting to crawl when my son was quite content perfecting the commando leg-drag move, really got to me. I benchmarked myself and Flynn against it.
Let's talk about sex
One of the worst versions of the parenting pretence is when you hear that a friend has had sex for the first time after having their baby. Remember this: the story presented is more sugar-coated than an M&M. The details that are usually omitted include: dryness and soreness down below; one of you getting fed up because you’re so tired and the other ‘tool’ losing its mojo as a result; your baby starts crying during; or, my favourite, when our dog – who felt very left out when our son was born and stayed by our sides 24/7 – tried to sniff my husband’s bottom halfway through. As you can imagine, we didn’t carry on. And that’s if you even get to this point. Sex after a baby can take a backseat due to the physical and mental toll of labour, how you feel about your post-baby body, exhaustion and... gasp... you might even dislike your partner and not want him/her to even touch you for a long time after. It happens and it’s more common than anyone lets on.
A good friend of mine who had her baby two weeks before me told me that she'd had a shower with her partner and one thing led to another. I remember feeling a mix of envy, shock, sadness and that I wasn’t being a good wife, as I had no intention of even taking my PJs off for my husband. I would’ve turned Tom Hardy down at this point, so this tells you how I really felt about sex. I couldn’t bear the thought of it.
Breaking the cycle
So how does this parenting pretence slip into place without us realising? Why do sane, normal people suddenly find themselves adhering to its cultish-like norms for a good six months post birth? Baby groups and coffee mornings are rife with it and the air hangs thick with the stench of baby poo, comparison, competitiveness and bitchiness. You often find cliquey groups of mums formed at baby classes, with women judging and dissecting other women and their choices. Or you find yourself having a chat with a mum who you’ve only just met and her spending 10 minutes telling you how easy breastfeeding is, how she didn’t have any problems trying to crack it and doesn’t understand why people have a tough time with it.
Perhaps I’m too soft, but I believe that nobody sets out to floor another parent with tweaked tales of their parenting successes. But why does it have such an effect on us? As new parents, we often obsess over the choices we make and then see someone else making a different choice that worked for them and we perceive that difference as a direct criticism of how we are parenting. We all know deep down that there is no such thing as 'the perfect parent', but that takes time and experience to come to terms with. Over time, parenting does become easier; not because it suddenly is but because we place less pressure on ourselves.
So what can you do to break this parenting pretence cycle among your friends? Be authentic. We actually quite like seeing vulnerability in others – its why so many of us enjoy reading about celebrities going through breakups or meltdowns. We just don’t like other people seeing vulnerability in us. Find your kindred mum spirit and be honest – even if it is about just one thing to start with. Shake off the pretence, own your choices and remember: there's no such thing as the perfect parent.