Deborah Ross: Our Woman in Crouch End

Children are bad for your mental health? Rubbish: they're a blessing, a gift, a joy...


Dear parents everywhere, as well as those who are somewhere else entirely, what are we to make of this new research, published in The Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, saying that having children is "bad for your mental health?" Parents, they say, are more likely to suffer from depression than the adult childless, which I would say is phooey, as what can a non-parent do that a parent can't aside from: do what they please when they please; spend all their money on themselves, sneeze without weeing just a little bit; go about in a two-seater sporty thing with no boot space whatsoever and, come the evening, light up spliffs without waiting for the coast to be clear, or clear the coast by turning the clocks forward several hours and exclaiming in a shrill, desperate, tearful, hysterical, panicked, belligerent but otherwise calm and loving voice: "Bed! Now! Yes, I know it's still light outside, but what do you expect in mid-winter? I said 'BED!'"

It's nonsense, isn't it? Total tripe. What are they going on about? Having a child is the most fulfilling and pleasurable thing you can ever do. I have a child, a son, and I would not be without him, even though it means I can't do what I please when I please, or spend all my money on myself, or sneeze without weeing a little bit, or go about in a two-seater sporty thing with no boot space or smoke spliffs all day every day and then through the night because, let's face it, chances are the child will wake at some point and come down, so then you have to hide it in your pocket and then your trousers go up in flames because they are cheap polyester, all your money having gone on the term's worth of karate he begged for and then only went the once but, hey, what the hell; a fire in your trousers doesn't half dry your knickers quick.

Come on, a child is a blessing, a gift, a joy, right from the word go, from the birth, when it feels as if 768 cluster bombs are going off in your uterus - but, that only lasts 28 hours or so - and then they hand you the baby, this thing, and you say: "Bloody hell, what have I done? How does it work? Take it away. I don't want it. Give it to a nice couple who can't have children of their own. Put it in a home. Boil it down for soap. Boil it down for soap on a rope. I'm not cutting that umbilical cord. I'm so squeamish I can't eat liver. Throw it in the Thames where a rescue attempt via a barge may or may not do the trick, and all of London will come out with their binoculars, and the London Evening Standard will bring out a special souvenir issue, proving once and for all that something cute in peril nearby is worth 10,000 dead people in Iraq but what do I care?"

However, you do not say: "A two-seater sporty thing with no boot space is at stake here" as you might appear self-centred and callous, and that would not be the true picture at all.

And so they are babies, which I will admit is dull, and then they are toddlers, which can be fantastically rewarding, especially when they begin to say those winsome and amusing things that Nanette Newman collects into books and you can get 32 columns out of as well as four big features and 22 small ones. Although, that said, it may be a mistake to depend on such remarks because some weeks they won't say anything comical or diverting at all, and then you are stuffed, and you will have to say in a shrill, desperate, tearful, hysterical, panicked, belligerent but otherwise calm and loving voice: "To your room. And don't come out until you have thought of something comical and diverting to say. Libby Purves's children said four funny things last week, and Tom Utley's said seven. Seven! But you? You? And my deadline is in a minute, so don't think you can take your time, matey. You know where to find me. I'm the one in the kitchen wearing the polyester trousers that are on fire."

You do not add: "As for Mary Ann Sieghart, her kids keep everyone rolling about, so much so it's a wonder their boat hasn't capsized", as you might appear mean-spirited as well as self- centred and callous, and that would not be the true picture at all.

And then they are schoolchildren, and it's parents' evenings, always a delight, as the teacher talks you through their umpteen pasta calendars and pictures of you labelled "Mummy Pot-Head" and "Mummy Pot-Head On Fire", and, oh, all right, go on then, take him into care if you must, but don't forget to tell me if he says something adorable. You promise? Otherwise I'll fight it all the way.

And next? Well, before you can say "What's the point of me paying out for a whole term's worth of something when you only go the once?", they are teenagers, shrugging and answering everything with a "Dunno", leaving wet towels all over the shop, begging for mobiles they'll never answer, monopolising the computer for important homework which appears to involve a great deal of looking at naked girls on the internet, flirting on MSN, eating everything in the fridge, using you as a taxi, correcting the clocks - big bummer! - protesting about bedtime, protesting about getting-up time, just generally protesting, watching back-to-back Hollyoaks and all its spin-offs (Hollyoaks: The Blow Job Years), not letting anyone else at the remote, never offering to put your trousers out, stealing your spliff and then setting their own trousers on fire, and yet this research shows that those without kids do better mentally and are, on the whole, much more chilled out?

I don't see it myself. I wouldn't be without my kid for a minute. I suppose I could add: "I have my career to think of, after all", and "What do people without kids ever find to write about?", but that might make me appear really cold-blooded as well as mean-spirited, self-centred and callous, and that would not, of course, be the true picture at all.

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