Despite knowing I’ll never be a mother, I am often fascinated with issues of child psychology, and enjoy listening to interviews about this. Perhaps I can do so happily because of the lack of guilt (I'm not doing anything wrong) and the smugness of knowing I can never be criticised for my child-raising skills or lack thereof.
Anyway, I recently heard a discussion about babies/toddlers and when they become aware that what they want/like might not be what someone else wants/likes.
Here’s the example they gave. A baby is given first a biscuit (in my world, a biscuit is a cookie), and then broccoli. After trying both, the baby is given the choice, and chooses the biscuit. And every time after that the baby chooses the biscuit. Clearly, the baby prefers the biscuit. Then the mother tries the biscuit and broccoli. But the mother makes positive noises about the broccoli (mmmm, yum, that’s good) and not about the biscuit. Then the baby is asked to choose one of these for the mother. At 14 months old, the baby hands the mother the biscuit. At that age, baby thinks “biscuit good” and therefore gives it to the mother, even though the mother has said “biscuit bad, broccoli good.” But by 18 months old, the baby gives the mother the broccoli, recognising that what they like is different to what the mother likes.
One of the conclusions of this was that the Terrible Twos, as they are known, are really just part of the process of the baby learning that what they want is different to what others might want, and figuring out what the boundaries are.
Fascinating, I thought, pleased that we learn this so young, so that when we are adults we are more tolerant. I thought of Mel’s discussion about the different foods we like, and how I was amused that one of her favourite foods was one of my husband’s (and my late father’s) most hated foods (cucumber if you’re wondering). My husband and I have different tastes in food, books, and music. We accept those differences – although I might complain that I don’t get to eat pasta as much as I would like to. But then I stopped myself. There are times when I will say “I don’t understand why someone likes xxx, yyy or zzz.” So maybe I’m not quite as tolerant as I thought. There is no doubt though, that - like an 18 month old - I am able to recognise that other people like something I don’t. I just can’t see the appeal of it. Others however (people not nearly as enlightened!!) don’t separate their dislike of something with their understanding that we all have different tastes. My mother-in-law for example refuses to admit that she has different tastes to one of her daughters-in-law. She talks about V’s “ugly” paintings or purchases (I’m sure she says the same things to V about my tastes) , and bristles if I suggest that they are not, in fact, ugly, but are just not her taste. She almost has a hernia when we talk about someone coming in and remodelling her house. She simply cannot understand – and refuses to understand - that anyone would not like the same things she does. I think we all probably know plenty of people like this.
So whilst we might learn this lesson in principle as early as 18 months old, we don’t always apply it. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that we are at times simply unable to apply it emotionally. And so when other people struggle to accept our lifestyle – that we have “chosen” to live without children – and try to convince us to do IVF/continue treatments/foster/adopt, what they’re really doing is reverting to the mentality of a 14 month old. They want us to eat the biscuit, when we have embraced the idea of loving the broccoli.