Photograph: Elly Godfroy/Alamy
In the first episode of the fourth season of The Simpsons – broadcast in 1992 – Marge and Homer see Bart and Lisa going to summer camp. As soon as the bus starts, all the parents start yelling, yelling, popping bottles of champagne and one parent even shouts “don’t come back”. Once they are gone, Homer’s hair begins to grow back and he loses weight.
I was almost 13 when I first watched this episode, but I remember my internal monologue with laser-like precision. “Why bother having children if you can’t wait to get rid of them?” They must be really bad parents.
And so began about 24 years of judging parents, wondering why all the fuss and complaining…until I got mine.
I recently started to rethink common misconceptions that non-parents have about parenthood. Here are three of the most common – certainly the ones I subscribed to – and the reality of life after crossing the parental threshold.
1) When I have a child I will never put him in front of screens. It’s just lazy parenting.
Do you have a cleaner? A nanny? A laundry service? A chef? A partner who can provide for the whole family on his salary alone?
If your answer to these questions is no, then parenthood will largely be your sole responsibility. Sometimes you juggle everything on that list, plus the parents, the plumber, an electrician and more. Especially if you are a woman.
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But I don’t know a single parent who hasn’t at least tried to have a screen-free home for their first child. Most gave up within the first few months. Have you tried spending screen-free time with a second child? (Insert thunderous laughter here.)
If you’re about to become a parent and it’s part of your bag of preconceived ideas… Forget it, forget it.
2) What kind of parent can’t stop their child from crying on a plane/at a restaurant/on a bus? Just give them what they want and they’ll be quiet and everyone will be happier.
If it were that simple, don’t you think we would? Give them everything they want? We know you are watching us. Judge us. We want them to stop as much as you do. But there are so many things you don’t know until you have a child.
There’s one little thing no one tells you about until you become a parent. It’s called The Wall. When your kids get tired and lose the ability to regulate their behavior, they hit The Wall. They start to cry. And then they can become borderline hysterical. And, like a runaway freight train, there’s nothing on the face of the earth you can do or give to stop them.
The first time I saw this happen with a child, I was not yet a parent and thought that the child’s head would turn 360 degrees and that a priest would have to be called.
Children are full of raging hormones. They go through leaps of development. There’s a lot going on in their little bodies and minds and not everything is rational and can’t be ‘spoken’. Sometimes they just have to cry.
I think the moral of this particular story is that there are all sorts of really nasty things that we parents don’t tell you about beyond childbirth. It is imperative that this continues, because the future of the human race depends on it. Without it, no one would voluntarily choose to procreate.
The goal here is to take it easy, because there’s a lot you don’t know about the “magic” of parenthood.
3) If you have children, you should want to be with them all the time and if not, why did you have children in the first place?
Does anyone say that about married couples? For example: “You married this person, so why don’t you want to be with them 24/7? You don’t really have to like them.
Nobody says that. Because we recognize that everyone needs space to themselves or they slowly go off the rails completely and completely.
You just don’t know the trials and tribulations of child-rearing warfare until you’re at the heart of it.
Parents have been trying to avoid their children since time immemorial. From nannies to governesses, nannies to foster care, children have always wanted to be away from their parents and parents have always wanted to be away from their children. At least for brief periods of time. Of course we love them! We love them! But absence makes the heart grow, uh, more patient?
Being a parent is hard work. Being a child is also hard work. There is absolutely no shame in saying “Hells to the yeah!” when it’s time to take a break and do all the things you don’t do when the kids are around.
As the Australian school year resumes next week, many parents – especially workers, volunteers, exhausted parents – are preparing to drop their children off at the school gate and start their year with a mimosa of party or a Bloody Mary (spicy please).
If you’re a parent, be sure to take the opportunity to breathe in that hassle-free air, enjoy your morning coffee (or cocktail), a leisurely five-minute read of the paper.
Non-parents, maybe you don’t ruin this moment with judgmental looks like the one I would have plastered on my judgmental teenage face?
Because believe me, you don’t know the trials and tribulations of child-rearing warfare until you’re in the thick of it.
• Isabelle Oderberg is a journalist, editor, writer and media professional. Her first book Hard to Bear: Investigating the science and silence of miscarriage will be published in April.