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Is Parenthood Worth It?

If you are say in your late 20s or early to mid 30s and have children you will know exactly why I am posing the above question.

If it is 10 p.m and you are enjoying the release from pressure that comes when the children are finally in bed you will understand exactly why I am posing the above question.

I am a devoted father. My two boys are now well into their teens but do I remember the anguish of life as they grew up?

First rule: Do not listen to all those people who tell you that things get worse when children grow up - it's thankfully a myth.

The real problems come when they are young and you don't feel like a human being. They develop a way of turning you into a mess of nothingness.

How many of you reading this have felt like screaming, kicking the cat or simply banging your head against the wall in sheer frustration.

There is nothing quite like the change in life experienced by the arrival of a child. Today I still get stressed out even though they are now old enough to look after themselves and I do have some kind of freedom in my life again.

Freedom for the parent is a phrase that young chiuldren certainly do not understand.

I well remember many years ago being asked by a work colleague what it was like to have young children (he later found out for himself).

I turned the question on him.

"Yesterday was Sunday. So what did you do? What time did you get up?"

"About 10 a.m," he replied.

"Okay and what did you do then?"

"Very little. I read the paper in the morning and then we went to the pub for a drink and lunch."

"Okay then what?"

"Well I watched the Grand Prix on tele, went to sleep for a while, read a bit and then spent the rest of the day watching television and went to be about 11."

"And how did you feel at the end of the day?"

"Fine, pretty much relaxed."

"Okay," I told him. "With young children you wouldn't be able to do any of those things. You would be up at 5.30 a.m because they had woken up and they are too young to be left alone in the lounge. So from 5.30 a.m until about 7 a.m you would sit building bricks and trying to keep them occupied by watching Postman Pat on TV. You have seen the episodes so many times that you know the scripts by heart.

"The morning would continue along the same lines. No chance to read the papers. Lunch would be a snatched affair where they pile as much food in as quickly as possible before they return to running around the house and generally creating chaos.

"Then there's tea, the baths to organise and Pigeon Street on television, certainly no chance to watch the Grand Prix - who won anyway? Tea is a scrambled affair before more chasing around and by 8 p.m, when they finally go to bed, you are so tired and often so depressed, that all you can do is sit and stare into space before going to bed exhausted at 10 p.m safe in the knowledge that it's only seven hours before it all starts again."

Young children do take over your life and who do you have to turn to. Relationships can become extremely strained as you no longer feel a person but an object that produces food and support for very small people.

And who can you turn to? You will find your married friends and those in a relationship fall into three categories.

1/ Those with children of their own who understand only too well, don't have time to listen and indeed probably need someone to listen to them anyway.

2/ Those without children who cannot understand what all the fuss is about. This category includes those who stare at you in the supermarket when your toddler is throwing a tantrum. It is a myth that only toddlers of those who cannot control or look after their children have tantrums. All children do this at some point or another.

3/ Those whose children are grown-up and who don't want to be reminded of those "dark old days."

I can remember at least two occasions when I have been at the end of my tether.

Many years ago we used to stay in London with young relatives who at the time had no children. Their house was a rambling typical London building with plenty of room and corridors. Our boys would hurtle around making incredible amounts of noise and ignoring our entreaties and shouting for them to stop. You could see the visible relief on the relatives' faces when we left and you can imagine their comments "Oh thank God they've gone." Now these people have two young marauders of their own and have completely changed their views on what we inflicted them to.

A similar thing happened when we went to stay with friends in Wales. The boys were on the rampage again, I am sure we were looked upon as unsuitable parents as they had two young girls who were well behaved (I think that's a boy/girl thing). Again I'm pretty sure they were very relieved when we left.

At this point my essay stops.

I would guess that it was written around 1997, that is over 10 years ago. It gives, I hope, a realistic view of parenting young children. It does sound all rather bleak but the overriding question would have been:

"Do you regret having children" and the answer to that would be an immediate "absolutely not."

Now I have the other side of the coin. Both sons have long left home to find their own ways in the world. They have both grown up into men that we are very proud of. I like to think that because I invested so much time in them over so many years, they now look upon me as a friend as well as a father. I am still very close to both of them which suggests all the above was worthwhile going through.

But above all there are times when I miss their youthful exuberance around the place. Yes I actually miss the noise, the hustle, the bustle, the love. One final thing though I don't miss getting up at 5.30 a.m on a Sunday morning.

Peter Steward 2009