Why is it that when you are young and married, and you are out with other young married couples who have children (and you don't have children), and they spend the whole evening complaining about their children (which, okay, whatever, some of it is funny, some of it is sobering when they get serious about how. bad. their. lives. have. turned. out. because of offspring--this conversational tone is awkward, yes?), do they have to follow every paragraph with a question like, "Oh, I bet you guys have changed your minds, right? You're never gonna have kids, you didn't know what it was like!" or "We're really opening your eyes, aren't we?" or "I bet we've ruined any chance you'll ever have kids!" Why do they say these things so smugly? Why do they seem so horrified at their lives, and yet act superior because we don't have children? What is this smugness?
And I know I haven't had a child, so I haven't experienced it and don't know from experience all of the stuff. Obviously. But why do people have to complain and complain and complain, and tell you how awful it is, and how hard it is, and THEN freak out if you even consider NOT having children? And why do people call that selfish?
Maybe, my main question is, why do so many parents complain so much, when, duh! You are responsible for the complete well being of a tiny human! These conversations make my skin crawl.
I have been thinking and thinking on this topic: Why DO Parents Say Things Like That? Because I am totally familiar with what she is describing, and I can't quite pin down what happens. Here is what I THINK happens:
1) New parents think that they are the only ones to ever have negative feelings about parenting, or about their children. (I don't know how this happens, since we hear it all around us, but it does seem to happen.)
2) In a group of new parents, where everyone wants to talk about parenting the way a group of engaged people want to talk about wedding plans, someone finally tentatively broaches their negative feelings. Everyone else is so relieved, they're practically high from it.
3) Searching for more of that high, parents bring up negative things more often. When that high becomes insufficient, they get more and more negative, saying bolder and bolder things. People who actually dislike the entire parenting experience (as opposed to the people who enjoy parenting but also enjoy complaining) start getting more confident and vocal.
4) And when parents realize they've been talking that way in front of non-members, as it were, they suddenly get self-conscious. They're torn: on one hand, they kind of WANT to tell you the sucky stuff, because they've been working the whole "Nobody tells you it'll be like this" angle (true or not), and because they want credit for dealing with something so diffcult. On the other hand, they know it sounds awful when they describe it this way, and they don't literally mean all of it, and they think you'll think they're bad parents, and they wonder if they've gone too far and will talk you out of having kids. Also, when they look at non-parents, they remember their own non-parent selves and feel embarrassed about whatever opinions they might have had back then. CONFLICTED!
5) So then they get even stupider, and talk more when they should be talking less.
I think the SMUGNESS she describes is basic "We know something you don't know" smugness. Like when someone has been to another country and keeps bringing up how they do things there. Or when someone has been on a missions trip. Or when someone has worked in a job you've never worked in. Or when someone has had something awful happen to them. Or when someone has done ANYTHING where (1) they now know more than you, and (2) they want you to know that there is NO WAY you can know the same thing unless you go through the same thing. Man, you can't even BEGIN to understand. And so now we're going to explain it to you AT LENGTH, even though we JUST SAID that there's NO WAY you could understand, because there is NO REASON you shouldn't be able to do this too.
Married people do this to non-married people. Graduates do it to students. War veterans do it to civilians. Exercisers/dieters do it to non-exercisers/non-dieters. And, as we've noticed, parents do it to non-parents. Parents also do it to other, less-experienced parents: parents of two children do it to parents of one child, parents of toddlers do it to parents of babies, and parents of teenagers do it to parents of toddlers. Kind of makes the human species look bad, doesn't it? We want credit for being more awesome than you, and we also want you to know that you have no excuse for not being this awesome too.
Anyway, that's my theory: we do it because of one of our strengths as a species (our eagerness to bond with each other and to empathize with each other) combined with one of our failings as a species (our eagerness to one-up each other and be superior to each other).
That's not quite as . . . useful a theory as I'd like to have, though, so please add your voice to the discussion and maybe we can hammer this out a little better.