I had a conversation with a friend the other day about the new Calpol bottles – the larger size where you get a syringe and a funny bit in the top. We both opined on its usefulness (what if they don’t like the syringe? What if you just want to dollop it onto the spoon? You have to prize the bugger off with a knife. Conclusion: new top = no good) – and then both looked at each other, ending the conversation with “we have to get out more” or “we have to get a job”. Clearly, we both thought discussing Calpol bottles was a triviality too far.
But why? When you’re looking after small children (full-time or otherwise), Calpol is one of the essential tools of the job. If we were in an office discussing the changes to the company intranet, or even the sandwich company that came round at lunchtime, we wouldn’t beat ourselves up so much about it. So why do mothers feel that discussing things to do with children is such a taboo? Of course, if that was the sum total of the day’s discussion, I can see why it might come across as “limited”. But I think mothers talking about perfectly legitimate concerns or issues surrounding their children can feel ashamed, as if they need to have commented on issues of world importance or waved a big fat paycheck in their face to feel like they have something to say.
I am guilty of this, which is why I wanted to write this post to examine why I feel this way. Of course, the fact that we life in a male-dominated, capitalist society, means that status and wealth will always be seen as markers of worth. But I realise that, when doing myself down for talking about my children, I have fallen into the trap of forgetting that it’s actually people who are totally absorbed in their own life who are the crashing bores, rather than people who (temporarily or otherwise) are charged with bringing up the next generation and want to share their ideas and experiences.
People who bang on and on about their kids are boring. But then, so are those who bang on about their jobs, or their particular pet peeve. Being interested in and aware of the outside world is a quality (one I wish I had more of) not restricted to those in employment. Showing interest in your interlocutor is far more attractive than delivering a monologue about the causes of the Malian crisis. (Of course, these are not mutually exclusive).
That’s not to say that, as parents of young children, we shouldn’t make an effort to stretch ourselves, learn new things and turn our gaze outwards. But when they are small and we spend a large quantity of our time with them, their activities, interests (and the paraphernalia that accompanies them) will predominate. And I think we should give ourselves a break when talking about them without assuming we are automatically boring the pants off other people. Of course there is a line (one which I suspect I crossed the other day when going through every single hour of my broken night with a long-suffering friend). But the conversation will turn to teenagers, drugs and A-levels soon enough, when we’ll probably look back to the glory days of bitching in passing about the construction of medicine bottles…