In the old days you probably read all kinds of things: bestsellers, magazines, old novels that make you look clever on the Tube. Maybe you had conversations that began, ‘I really think that X should win the Booker, because her book is ama-zing. Oh, you haven’t read it? You totally should.’
But now you can’t even be a wanker, because you’ve no more read the Booker shortlist than you have the instructions to any of the appliances you own. And why? Because you were too busy reading really fucking boring stuff. Books with titles like ‘The No-Cry Sleep Solution’ or ‘How to Talk so That Kids will Listen and Listen So That Kids will Talk’.
These parenting books are weirdly addictive, and if you’re not careful, it’s easy to accumulate shelves-full of them. This is because, as with diet books, buying them is a fat lot easier than implementing their advice. And as with diet books – and anti-wrinkle cream, and every other bullshit product aimed squarely at women – they promise so, so much. And if they really can make your child sleep through, and stop doing that weird head-butting thing in public, that’s got to be £6.99 well spent.
Except they can’t, and they don’t. Not only that, but these books play shamelessly on your fear – fear that you’re doing a crap job, that you’re letting them sleep at the wrong times, that your baby will be morbidly obese and die of diabetes because you forgot to do tummy time.
Most are so tit-achingly dull they’re cast aside before chapter three. But every so often one will strike a chord, and you’ll go round recommending it to all your mum friends. ‘What does it say?’ they’ll ask eagerly, hoping that, unlike all the waste-of-time numbers they’ve ploughed through, this one will provide The Answer. And you’ll cast your mind back to this book you read all of yesterday and find that you can’t for the life of you remember.
Sometimes you’ll catch other mothers putting into action the advice they’ve read. They’re the ones following their offspring round the room saying things like, ‘I really love the way the way you’re expressing your ideas, Samson,’ as their little demon belts his sister with a stick. Or saying loudly, ‘The French always leave it five minutes before responding,’ as he screams the place down.
But it’s not just these books you find yourself wasting time on. You’ll eagerly consume every article about whether mothers are better off at work or at home (and, Christ, there are enough of those), and whether childcare turns toddlers into psychopaths, and blah, blah, more made-up blah – even though these articles all say the same thing and nobody has any real answers anyhow. And when, on Woman’s Hour, they start fawning over some City woman, all agog at how she does it, you pounce to listen – even though you know exactly how she does it. Because she’s fucking RICH, durr.
Later you’ll moan about how you can’t find the time to get your roots done, or see whichever Scandinavian crime drama you’re supposed to be watching at the moment, and ‘Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting’ and its ilk will loom large on your shelf – a guilty reminder that maybe, perhaps you do.