Here’s a pitch for new parents I’m working on: please let me hang out with your baby. Wait, come back!
It’s not easy to phrase this without sounding like the kind of person someone might one day do an investigative podcast about, but it’s my strong belief that new parents should be forced to let their friends, and specifically me, look after their children.
Hell, we don’t even have to be friends. As long as you can guarantee I won’t be stuck with the child indefinitely, then saddle up, buckaroo. It’s not just me: my partner, my non-parent friends, everyone I know wants to hang out with your baby mano a mano. So you should be forced to let us!
It’s not like young parents don’t need the break. But childcare is enormously expensive, and leaving babysitting to the grandparents is yesterday’s solution – most of them are now being forced to work into their 70s anyway, and the rest of the time they are busy with more Facebook groups than thought humanly possible.
But please don’t mistake this as a service for young parents. This is a mercenary scheme through and through, and all of it stems from – you guessed it – my own crippling arrested development.
Approaching my mid 30s, I often don’t feel as if I’m experiencing adulthood so much as hearing it described by someone standing on my shoulders peering over a fence. I assumed that as I got older, the mystery of parenthood would be gradually revealed to me, like one of those hobby subscriptions that send you parts of a car to slowly build (something I’m not sure actually exists, now that I write this). Yes, it might take forever, but by the time I want children I’ll have a wealth of understanding about how to do it, plus my very own child to drive around.
It became quickly apparent that there’s a gap that can’t be closed with anything but experience. You can stand by the water, watching the cliff-divers as long as you want, but you’ll never know what it takes to step off the ledge or how it feels to hit the water, or what kind of fish they’re battling under there. If you’re anything like me, you’re not sure you have the time or strength left to climb to the clifftop, let alone chuck yourself off it.
Anxiety and doubt around the decision to have children is nothing new. But now we not only have every single societal and environmental factor pointing away from bringing another person into the world (as of this week we have eight billion of them), we also get to enjoy being bombarded with hard data about it every waking hour.
And it’s hard to ignore the troubling global reaction to this anxiety (there’s a troubling global reaction to everything these days – you can’t stub your toe without someone telling you the bees have had another mishap). Record low fertility rates, ageing populations, eroding work conditions. Even more gloomy than the stats are the reactionaries: ask any young man with YouTube poisoning (which is a lot of young men) and they’ll tell you it’s all further proof of the 21st century’s pitiful testosterone levels, which they say are struggling thanks to, I don’t know, seed oils, the rise of anime and the dumbing-down of Kinder Surprise toys so the capsules won’t explode like anti-personnel mines when you bite them.
They will tell you the only recourse for global fertility dips is an emphatic return to “tradition”: nuclear families, bread-winning men and housekeeping women, gigantic slabs of red meat balanced precariously on the car window at the caveman drive-thru, feet sticking out the bottom of the car, dinosaurs instead of construction equipment – dinosaurs instead of most machines, now that I think of it.
If you’re not within the extremely slim margin who benefits from this “tradition” then too bad! In fact that’s sort of the intended outcome for these guys!
When two of the most popular messages floating around online are “Don’t have a baby, we’re running out of chairs!” and “Do have a baby so you can raise them as a racist crusader knight!”, you can forgive a little hesitation on our part. And that’s before you even get the added difficulties of chronic health complications, fertility issues, controlling partners or families, compounding mental ill-health, housing and wage inequality.
It’s perfectly valid to not want babies, and it’s fine if you do want them, too. If the ones my friends have made are anything to go by – the purest, most extraordinary things to come into the world since God gave Adam and Eve the wifi password – I’m sure the rest would be pretty great too.
Make the decision or don’t. I’m just asking: if you do have them, please let me hang out with them.
Give me that baby! Let me spend time with them. Go and see a movie, I don’t care! I’ll teach them how to drive if you want, it can’t be that hard. And please ignore the story I wrote years ago about a babysitter who accidentally lets several children get attacked by wild animals!
We’ll do whatever you want, just give me some time to reach the cliff. Let me stand up there feeling the sun and the wind, the dark water, the people watching from the shore, waiting to see if I’ll dive.
Jack Vening is a Melbourne writer. He is currently completing his first book of stories, and sends out Small Town Grievances, a newsletter about a nameless town with an owl problem