Perspective

Babies can give you hope, happiness and purpose

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My son helped me cope with bad news and stopped me from wallowing in self-pity

New parents are boring. To paraphrase my fifth-favourite internet commenter go-to line, new parents all think they’re the first people ever to have children. But that happens for a perfectly good reason. Parenting is huge. It’s a monolith in your living room that appears out of nowhere. It’s an elephant in a phonebox. It’s the app that drains your battery by lunchtime.

Parenting will suck as much out of you as you allow. If you’re not careful – if you don’t manage to find room for anything else – it can drain you completely. If you work, you’ll spend your days tired and distracted. If you stay at home, you’ll feel lonely and isolated. Your relationship with your partner will graduate from constant lovelorn messages to semi-regular functional requests to the occasional grunt of acknowledgement as you pass each other in the hallway. If you let yourself, you’ll find yourself utterly enslaved by the needs of this new machine that’s taken over your life.

I am having a bad week. An unbelievably rotten turd of a week, possibly one of the worst of my life. Something has happened in the family that I’ll probably feel more comfortable discussing once a little distance has opened up, but as I write this is dominating the majority of my waking actions.

Had I encountered a week like this a year ago, before the baby came along, I know exactly how I would have reacted. The shutters would have slammed down. I’d have spent all my free time isolated from the rest of the world, sitting around sullenly in my own filth. Admittedly as a work-from-home freelance writer, sitting around sullenly in my own filth is essentially the sum total of my job description, but it probably isn’t the time to get bogged down in technicalities.

However, I am now a parent. And, to reiterate, parenting is such an enormous task that you end up having to fit everything else in your life – your work, your few precious moments of sleep, your emotions – around it. For a moment, as I was trying to make sense of this sudden torrent of bad news, I felt slightly put out by the knowledge that that our son would prevent me from indulging in my timeworn coping strategy.

That’s because babies don’t understand sadness. There’s a reason there wasn’t a toddler in Radiohead’s No Surprises video – it’s because halfway through, it would have started blowing raspberries and bonking its head on the outside of the glass and distracting Thom Yorke from the very important of job of looking elegant while he drowned.

Coming home from the hospital a couple of days ago, though, this was exactly the distraction I needed. Our son has just hit the age where he’s visibly excited to see people he recognises and he craves non-stop interaction. So, instead of moping, I ended up playing hours of peek-a-boo – and this new game where we both see who can shake their head the most violently – with him. His relentless unfiltered sunniness stopped me from wallowing in self-pity. He brought me out of myself. Parenting can suck up all your energy, but apparently it can also return it when you need it most. Who knew?

When you’re up against it, a baby can give you hope and happiness and purpose – and all those other trite buzzwords that arseholes like to superimpose against photos of sunsets on Instagram. My family have been my safety net this week. My son couldn’t possibly understand this, but I’m not sure that I’d have coped without him. theguardian