It’s been three years, and your child is now a lively and boisterous toddler. I hear her shouting with glee and running around until there is a crash, and then I hear your voices through our shared walls, scolding or soothing depending on the mishap. I don’t doubt you’re good parents. There seems to be a lot of love in your household.
My wife and I are childless through choice, but we have never judged anyone’s decision to become parents. This was tested to the limit when we moved in next door to you, only a few days before your daughter was born.
Now my wife and I have some experience of what it would be like to be new parents: we know how it feels to be woken several times a night by what, at that hour, has the effect on the nerves of a fire alarm. You chose to keep your daughter in the master bedroom with you: a single layer of brick was our only protection from months of nightly screaming. Her protracted wailing cost us dozens of hours of sleep at a time when our careers were stressful and demanding. It placed an unwelcome strain on our own relationship, and soured our enjoyment of our new home.
You never apologised, or even mentioned it. I saw no evidence you ever tried to mitigate the noise for our sake, by moving her to another room, say. I’ve known enough new parents to know it won’t have occurred to you to do so. We certainly never asked: in our child-worshipping culture, there is no more egregious social blunder than to request that a parent limit the disturbance caused by their young offspring. It’s assumed that we, a childless couple, don’t understand and have no right to comment.
A letter to… the man on the train who smiled through my baby’s tantrum
We do understand parenthood is difficult and frustrating and, above all, exhausting. I’m sure that whatever we endured was orders of magnitude worse for you. However, as callous as this may sound, the world doesn’t stop just because you’ve had a child. The people around you have their own lives to cope with, their own problems that they don’t inflict on others. To expect them to share your discomfort is deeply selfish.
Last week I overheard you telling another neighbour that you’re having a second baby. I don’t expect you will show any more consideration for us than you did with your first. I just hope this one turns out to be a little quieter.
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