Want to be more efficient, motivated and assertive? Don't bother getting a life coach – just have a baby
What a pleasure to be keeping my colleague Eva Wiseman's page warm while she's off bringing a new life into the world. Eva is one of eight friends of mine to have babies this year. Meanwhile my youngest son is about to start nursery, his brother his third year of primary school. My pals are entering the early years of parenthood just as I'm leaving them, so I thought I would begin my new job with a thought on theirs.
People talk about having children as if it's complicated. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's simple. Simple in the same way that rolling a large boulder up an enormous hill is simple: hard, but simple. Learning the difference between the two has been one of the most useful gifts parenthood has given me, along with the ability to nap anywhere, sometimes accidentally.
The truth is that a baby is a fantastic life-simplifying device. We're constantly being told to pare down, to be in the moment, to identify and pursue our goals. Lifestyle experts make wads of cash claiming they can help us: coaches, organisers, motivational speakers, declutterers, assertiveness trainers… A baby is all of these experts, rolled into a snuggly package of hope and meconium that you really quite inconveniently have to push out of your vagina or have removed with knives (these options: WTF). Your baby will be your life coach. Here's how.
It will tell you what to do, all the goddamn time. Dealing with the entry and exit points of its food will take up 96% of your day. You will spend the remaining 4% figuring out how to make money to pay for food and nappies. At work you will become more motivated, assertive and efficient via a mixture of desperation, exhaustion and a distorted perspective on what you can achieve.
You made a human!
This fact will explode the boundaries of what you believed possible. Perhaps you can fly. Have you checked? Outside the workplace you will grow balls, with balls on. Your perspective is now refracted through the prism of your kid's experience. You'll become fearlessly, selfishly public-spirited, determined to make the world better in order to protect this mysterious larval being which appears to be your heart, now outside of your body forever.
Time management will not be a problem. You won't need an alarm. I got up no later than 5.45am for six years. Things I was woken by included screaming, nasal probing, a tooth spat into my hand, the words "Smell this" and the awareness of a tiny, silent, fully costumed Lord Voldemort standing watchfully at the foot of my bed. You won't need a diary. You're not going anywhere. If you do, sheer anticipation of the strange event will render the date unforgettable. In the early weeks, a trip to Asda will warrant the fanfare and pageantry of a royal wedding conducted atop Mount Kilimanjaro.
You will declutter. Lack of time will cause draining "friends" and engagements to evaporate from your life. The idea of owning clothing beyond loungewear that tumble dries will be anathema, which is fine because you will also be freed from the desire to be cool and to travel.
When I had two tiny children and three large jobs, I began to fantasise about a time when I would never, ever having to go anywhere or do anything again. This is why parents seem so boring to their teenage children, then surprise them later by doing exciting things: they just need a massive rest first. As for keeping up with the latest trends, you won't, and you won't care. You have produced the agent of your own impending obsolescence. Embrace being superannuated. It's the next step to making peace with mortality.
You will live in the moment, not because you're too busy to do otherwise, but because every day will show you how shockingly brief, hilarious, miraculous and precious ordinary family life is. You will get greedy for it, and – frankly – nothing else will do… that's if you're lucky. I hope you are.