I'm not going to spend a lot of time here defending healthy bitching. In fact, not bitching is for repressives who enjoy growing tumors, and then turning into an exploding volcano…of tumors. This is for the rest of us — those of us who already understand that bitching is like having an egg a day (yolk-free!) — a healthy part of a well-balanced, delusional American diet.
Having a kid is great — duh. They are so cute and hilarious, like how they depend entirely on you for goldfish crackers and explanations for how puppies feel. Sometimes they say things like, "I WANT CHEESE PUT IN MY MOUTH." What's not to love about that? Well, for starters, sometimes they wake up every 17 minutes for an entire month, followed by a morning where they gleefully knock over your fresh-squeezed carrot juice that you actually needed to stay alive, while exclaiming, "Ta da!" It's all mixed up and confusing, like being attracted to Ryan Lochte.
Also, you're working with a real handicap here. Unlike other endeavors in life, people find it extra annoying if you complain about childrearing. While it's perfectly alright to bitch about college, shitty jobs, learning French, or being friends with people who really really like sports — all enterprises that will test your will to live at one point or another, mind you — bitchin' up a good-old fashioned hurricane about how hard it is to parent will usually be met with the question, "Geez, then why'd you have kids?"
We could get into how no one ever, ever asks that when you complain about, say, climbing a mountain. But don't do what I did and spend your entire life dwelling on why an open, no-bullshit society — one where everyone can accept reality as it is without falling to the floor weeping because something actually contains nuance or contradictions — is unlikely to catch on anytime soon. Just beat them all at their own game so you can have your gripey cake and still eat the one your toddler just punched, too.
A few tips:
Pick your audience. While the goal here is to be able to bitch freely to anyone about the pitfalls of parenting — something only master complainers should attempt — there is a handy hierarchy for child-rearing gripes that you can follow until your black belt in bitching comes in the mail.
If the person is single and child-free, forget it. Pack it up. Shut it down. Move it on. No sympathy here. Even though they are working on a Tumblr about how hard it is to be both alive and pretty simultaneously while in your 20s, your whines will only sound like the whir of a vintage Mac slowing down their Pinterest page devoted to vintage beauty oddities. And hell, on the off chance one of them is interested in your foreign-sounding hot probs, you'll have to spend so much time explaining the concept of willingly staying home on Saturday nights that it won't be worth the kind nod.
If the person is partnered but childless for now, tread cautiously. Don't give them all doom and gloom — these people might want to breed still — but give them a little dose of reality. That much they can handle. Sure, it's hard, you say about having a toddler, maintaining an elusive cool that could still pass for intrigue, but it's a cool challenge. Nod smiling while telegraphing a meaningful look that implies, Oh, you'll know soon enough.
If they have the same number of kids as you: Game on. Dive in, relishing that this is one hole that goes very, very deep. Also known as your complaining soulmate, you can hit all the high points with virtually no introductory foreplay here, and to your heart's content: Explosive diarrhea, nightmarish sleep training, eye-bleeding lack of sleep, the fog — dear God, the fog. Don't abuse it, but feel free to use it, amirite?
If they have more kids than you, shut it down. Nod and smile. They may as well be child-free for all the sympathy you're gonna get here. They can give YOU great advice, but your complaining is the sonic equivalent of a rich kid instagram.
Now that you know who to talk to, you should still pay heed to how to dish on the dirt of childrearing.
No matter your audience, always remain as funny and light as possible. No one wants actual reality, got it? (I keep having to tell myself.) Staring off with handwringing and a haunted look while you recount your struggle with postpartum weight loss, or you child's inability to eat kale, will only come off as creepy, self-indulgent, or precious. As I recently explained to a childless couple, still being chubby while having a kid who won't eat kale IS really hard, but you know what? You just lean into it, and right when you think you've reached the upper limits of your patience, sure, that limit gets annihilated to smithereens, but somehow you just lean in even more. Of course, all the leaning really fucks up your back. Ba-dum-bum.
Use the magical catchphrase of all complaining parents: No really, kids are great, though. Think of it as the parental equivalent of "Bless his heart." It gives you a free pass to rant in any number of directions while keeping one hand on the bring-it-back button, so that you're never in danger of seeming like a completely bitter, awful, tormented soul.
Try it. No really, kids are great though. I remember hearing this from parents when I was childless and thinking how odd it sounded. You just told me about how you haven't left your house for a year, but kids are great? It had a weirdly canceling out effect, a kind of shorthand for all the joys so obvious they apparently don't even need mentioning. It left me, if nothing else, certain the poor sap doing the confusing was just too exhausted to know any better that he wasn't making any sense.
Alternate the hellish with the impossibly cute: Tell the story about the poop you found smeared around the bookshelf and on the books you'd been reading for months without noticing ‘cause you had that recurring sinus infection and couldn't smell, then quickly downshift into a cute follow-up about how the kid dresses up her monkey to match her own outfits. They won't know what hit ‘em! Horror or gushing? Not your problem! You're covered in poop!
One final caveat: To the untrained ear, no matter what you do or say, you might still sound really unhappy, or worse, ungrateful — a cardinal kid-having sin — any time you try to speak truth to power about the realities of child-rearing just to vent a little stress.
The trick is to find that elusive sweet spot; a way to bitch that signals to the anecdote police that you love your child dearly, even though you know they are primitive, unrefined little gargoyles who will most certainly cause your early death. No really, kids are great, though.
Tracy Moore is a writer living in Los Angeles. Her kid IS great, sheesh — you gotta ask? Follow her on Twitter @iusedtobepoor.
Image by Kati Neudert/Shutterstock.