Cherish this, dear reader, for I will not give you advice again (probably). I have very little wisdom to impart, but I do have this. It comes too late for a lot of us, but trust me, I wish I had known then what I know now.
If you are considering having children with someone, you need to follow my advice, which I will set out below. I am far from convinced it will help, since it is very hard to know the answers to these things in the abstract, and you will probably be all in love, you soppy bastards, and not even care. So you will go ahead and have some babies. And of course, in the early years, the cracks will not show. You will be in turn:
1. In hopeless, Stockholm Syndrome love with a new tiny creature who apparently hates you intensely and wishes you never to sleep again. There are no decisions as such, merely survival. Ethics do not enter the equation; except that it is not ethical to abandon your tiny tormentor in a church porch. This much you know.
2. Dealing in moral absolutes. "No darling, do not hit the cat with a hammer". "Stop biting Joshua". "If you sit on that tiny baby you will kill it". "Let go of Ladybird's hair".
You may even throw caution to the winds and have another child. In which case you will be:
3. Trying to feed one screaming, puce child whilst the other one dismantles the DVD player or posts €50 notes into the waste disposal unit. If you turn your back for a second, one of them will kill the other. This much is certain. It is survival, pure and simple and there is no time for the luxury of debate, or for moral relativism.
Only much, much later, when what you thought was the "hard bit" is over, will you realise I was right and that there are important debates about parenting that you should have bloody well had before you had children. But then it will be too late. Ah, well. At least I will be able to say I told you so, when you come running over here, all "Oh, Jaywalker, my lovely partner has mutated into an authoritarian martinet, and I am all about the lentil knitting and the whale song and the child centredness". And I will be able to laugh with delicious bitterness and pour you a gigantic drink. I love being right.
So, having concluded that I am wasting my time, I will give you this advice anyway. You are so lucky. Watch out, I am going to put the caps lock on now. And bold.
TALK TO YOUR PARTNER ABOUT THEIR CHILDHOOD.
Yes, I hear you. You have done that already, in between bouts of spontaneous sex and laughter and feeding each other snippets of food and the kind of things you see on slow-mo sequences in romantic comedies to a soundtrack of '80s cock rock. You have talked about their first pet, and their first kiss and whether they liked school and all that sort of nonsense. I am not talking about that. Ask them these things.
- What did you think of your upbringing? Too strict, too lax, about right?
- Did your parents smack you? What do you think about smacking? (ensure they understand that this is not an overture to some kind of S&M lite shenanigans, or you will get totally sidetracked)
- Pocket money? Money generally - was there enough of it? Did your parents worry about money, or did they shower you with gifts?
- Christmas - a big deal, or not? Lots of toys and presents? A small car and a lump of coal? Ditto birthdays - lavish song and dance or a fairy cake and a book token?
- Nightime. Were your parents strict about bedtime? Did you get scared in the night and what did they do about it?
- Siblings - where are you in sibling order? Do you feel your parents favoured you, or one of your siblings?
- Shouting - normal mode of discourse, or occasional nuclear option?
- Violence: occasionally necessary or absolutely abhorrent?
Think of yourself as a sort of psychological detective, searching for the seeds of future parenting in their past, because believe me, however deeply buried you believe your own childhood to be, how wholly rational and master of your own destiny you think you are, you will see it lurching out of the dark corners of your psyche as soon as you have your own children. Your partner will be exactly the same. And in some cases, this may lead to the total breakdown of civilisation. Let me give you a very brief and of course, wholly abstract, case study.
X: Raised by her hippie academic mother alone for most of childhood, with occasional lodgers, hangers on, admirers, hamsters. Mother from background of extreme poverty, very concerned not to transmit fear of not having enough money to child. Lovely adult-filled childhood without conflict, boundaries, table manners, authority. Occasional incursions from lavish and slightly terrifying father with shouted instructions on proper use of cutlery.
Y: Child of two French school teachers, married at 19. One of three boys. Traditional childhood with chores, table manners, clean hands, things put away and cared for, Rules, occasional smacking, clear sense of parental authority.
Add to both subjects, if you will, an innate stubborness and belief in the superiority of their own approach. Add two children. Stand back and watch as the fabric of the universe is ripped to pieces over subjects as diverse and fascinating as taking toys to school, how to eat spaghetti or whether to allow night lights. Cower. Children develop interesting schizophrenic personality traits and a gift for subterfuge and manipulation. Super Nanny is called in with a SWAT team to remove children to a place of consistency.
Over to you. What piece of precious advice can you impart? Make it fun if you possibly can, because this whole piece is slightly depressing me and I am beginning to wish I had explained to you how to trap an escaped hamster instead (I can if you want).