Oh. My. Goodness. If there's one saying guaranteed to make me want to throw an adult through a window, it's the term "I can't believe they make you get a licence drive a car/own a firearm/catch fish, but not to be a parent."
For cracking ice, people. Look, here's the thing. If adults had to apply for a licence in order to have a baby, no one would get one. No one. We make mistakes every single day. My older kids will tell you the mistakes I made with them that I avoid now. My younger kids will tell you the horror I inflict upon them that I didn't with the older. Parenting is not a perfect art. There is no course you can take to prepare you, no life lessons you can undergo to make you an expert, no uber-experienced role model that you can call on to know every answer to every question. You are, to all intents and purposes on your own. You muddle along doing the best you can with the information you have and IT'S STILL NOT ENOUGH! You live and learn every moment of every day and then, when you think you have a handle on it, they change the rules on you.
"THE BREAST-FEEDING MOTHER MUST WASH HER NIPPLES WITH COOL BOILED WATER BEFORE PLACING BREAST IN BABY'S MOUTH TO PROTECT THEM FROM GERMS" - Rule from the 1960s
I have five children aged between 9 and 22. When I was pregnant 23 years ago, I had my mother giving me the benefits of her wisdom based on multiple years first as a mother and then as a step-mother. She'd had me young (17) and knew it all. I listened to her advice and then gently advised her that modern medical thinking and child-rearing practice had changed and it was different now.
"ALWAYS STERILISE THE COMPLETE ENVIRONMENT FROM INFANCY TO TWO YEARS OLD" - Rule from the 1970s
Fast forward 12 years from that day and I was pregnant for the fifth time (fourth live baby). I went into my ante-natal classes fairly confident that I'd have something to teach the others. I was an old hand at this. I knew it all.
"STERILISE BABY'S BOTTLE AND DUMMIES IN ANTI-BACTERIAL SOLUTION FOR THE FIRST YEAR OF THEIR LIFE." Rule from the 1980s and 1990s
Modern medical thinking and child-rearing practice had changed and it was different now. I'd sailed through my first pregnancy eating soft cheese for the calcium, pate for the iron, raw egg for the protein. Now these were all banned to me. Yes, my unborn fetus had survived, but that was luck and if there's one motto I hold dear when it comes to my children, it's "Don't be lucky, be safe."
"DO NOT STERILISE BABY'S BOTTLE AND DUMMIES IN ANTI-BACTERIAL SOLUTION FOR THE FIRST YEAR OF THEIR LIFE. DON'T EVEN BOIL. JUST WASH, RINSE AND AIR-DRAIN." Rule in 2004 when I had Connor.
Another nine years on and my daughter is about to have her second child whilst raising a toddler. As a mother who had the same age gap in her first two children, I want to tell her the best way to do things, the best ways to handle her pregnancy and her almost-two year old. I have, after all, raised two families two different ways. I know what works and what doesn't. Don't I? I certainly know what worked for me yesterday, but I also know it possibly won't work tomorrow. It's not just the rules that change, but the children with it. If anyone needs a licence to enter this world, it should be the baby. "Sorry, kid, but you can't be born until you can demonstrate an ability to sleep through the night, eat on (parental) demand and only cry for a readily-confirmable reason. Until then, back you go."
Finally, when it comes to judging the licencing merits of parents (any parent at all, whether pregnant, post-natal or more experienced than Nadya Suleman) here's something you really do need to know. The past few months on Facebook have taught me something valuable: Do not give expecting, new or experienced parents unsolicited advice. I don't care if your parenting experience comes from having 22 children of your own, or from once watching an episode of The Young Doctors while high. Don't give advice to parents if they haven't asked for it. They resent it and will happily slap you down in public for giving it (yeah, I learnt that the hard way, both as a receiver and a giver). When a parent rants on any forum, whether it be Twitter, or Facebook or their LJ account, that's all they're doing. Ranting. Blowing off steam. Taking a deep breath before getting on with it. They're not asking you to step in and take over. So, now I leave them to it. They'll work it out. We did. I did. I still am.
So, please, never ever say parents need a licence to have children. Honestly, most of them need a medal for getting this far. Okay, if not a medal, at least grant them the opportunity to have a good lie down and a moment to themselves. It really is a hard job and one that needs to be recognised as such.
Next week: I shall be tackling the equally thorny quote "They only have children to get benefits."