THE BLOG

TV Parents Are A Bit Of A Letdown

Having a child changes everything.

19/06/2016 6:16 AM AEST | Updated July 15, 2016 12:54
ABC
In ignoring the true depths of parenthood, the fiction is left empty.

Like most new dads, I enjoy watching fictional parents on television. They can be deeply normalising; particularly when viewed on a mobile phone screen, in the dark, while rocking a screaming baby to sleep for hours on end. But I do have one problem: they never go far enough.

These television shows tend to make babies seem like a mild inconvenience. In reality, a newborn is a hurricane that rips through every aspect of your life, leaving only a pile of inconsolable rubble in its wake. It's time this was reflected on screen. Parents everywhere deserve it.

Take this example: ABC iView's widely acclaimed pilot The Letdown. Audrey, the struggling mother, sneaks her daughter into a restaurant hidden in a baby carrier. The premise is clear: she can't bear to miss out. The group of friends represent the world she has left behind. Her desperation to stay in touch leads to irrational behaviour, with comical results.

I doubt this would ever happen. In my own experience, the mere idea of going to a restaurant would fill me with dread. My wife and I barely have the energy to move, let alone make conversation about anything other than our four-month-old son.

And this is the point. Having a child changes everything, immediately. You don't miss your former life, because you don't have the time or motivation to care. It is both the joy and absolute horror of parenthood.

For me this change is best summed up in the kitchen. Before we were married, our culinary possessions consisted of utensils purchased almost exclusively from Ikea. For our wedding, a close relative bought us a complete, high-quality cutlery set.

We worshipped this set. We would lovingly wipe down the drops left on by the dishwasher piece-by-piece, to prevent any residual marks. Once the little guy came along, we had to be more efficient with our time. Suddenly the knives and forks were thrown into the draw, still dripping with the agony of an inefficient rinse-aid. Why? Because it is a cutlery set.

With a baby, nothing else matters.

Priorities shift and unimaginable events become the norm. My personal low point came during a routine early morning nappy change. Without warning, my son decided to defecate along the entire length of my forearm. There, in the pale dawn light, unused wet-wipe in hand, I had reached rock bottom.

Of course, for mothers this is often much worse. Mastitis may be presented as a romantic tragedy in drama, an easy plot twist that will soon resolve. I thought knew about mastitis. I had studied it in medical school and seen it occasionally in my work. But until my wife had it, I never quite understood what it meant.

Mastitis comes at a time when everything has already fallen apart. The baby is desperately struggling to feed, sleep has become a distant memory and, at some point, you may remember you still need to look after the cat. Mastitis is not just painful. It is not just tiring. It is, above all, incredibly inconvenient: a final burden mothers absolutely do not need when they are barely holding it together as it is.

You would rarely see that on screen. In ignoring the true depths of parenthood, the fiction is left empty. It's as if the reality is perceived to be so awful that displaying it on an unrestricted basis would instill flashbacks for thousands of traumatised parents everywhere.

But this ignores another truth: it isn't all bad.

Sometimes, it is even fun. The day he started smiling was more life-affirming than his birth. A tiny, involuntary encouragement for all the effort we'd put in. Or when he's desperately trying to roll, or kicking in the bath, or laughing at a new sound. Moments like these keep us going.

I love my son. For all the sleepless nights, exploding nappies, constant screams and unnecessary vomits, I love him more than I thought possible. Every time it is hard, my wife and I battle on. Every time we feel like we are about to collapse, we realise we are still standing, because of our son. It makes us love him even more.

I want to see that on screen. Parenting is never truly simple. It is complex and messy and at times overwhelming. Mostly, it is different to any previous life we had, and that's fine. Our old life no longer matters, because everything has changed. And that's a story worth telling.

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