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Dossier: Our baby

Diagnosis: parenthood

With razor-sharp humour Nina Puri and Susanne Kaloff take a light-hearted look at the behaviour of new parents in their self-help guide “Elternkrankheiten” (parental ailments). Their tongue-in-cheek guide explores fanciful illnesses such as “hip-atatis” and “baby compulsive shopping disorder”.

Text: Robert Wildi, photo: Manuel Rickenbacher

You don’t really believe it until you experience it for yourself: becoming a parent changes a lot of things; for many people almost everything. Hamburg-based authors Nina Puri and Susanne Kaloff, both mums themselves, poke fun at new parents – and of course themselves – in their self-help guide “Elternkrankheiten” (parental ailments).

Ms Puri and Ms Kaloff, why did you decide to write your self-help guide?

Susanne Kaloff: Before becoming mums ourselves, we wouldn’t have been able to write this book, nor had the credibility to do so either. You have to have experienced the curious transformation from individual to parent yourself.

Nina Puri: It’s safe to say that we’ve road tested much of what’s in our guide ourselves. In addition to our own experiences, we also saw what other parents in our circle of friends were going through.

In your book you describe a number of “parental ailments”. Which did you suffer from?

Nina Puri: I suffered an awful lot from the “lump in throat” ailment. Typical symptoms include being overwhelmed by emotion just by looking at your own child. On your child’s first day at kindergarten or when he has a triangle solo at the local music festival, for example. Your ears get hot, you have tears in your eyes, have difficulty swallowing and can’t say a word.

“I suffered an awful lot from the “lump in throat” ailment”. Typical symptoms include getting overwhelmed by emotion just looking at your own child.”

Susanne Kaloff: I experienced the whole range of parental ailments from “Alert 24/7” to “Zoom – time flies”. The first ailment explains how parents have to be on stand-by 24 hours a day, ready for anything. The second describes the feeling parents have that their kids are growing up too fast.

Some parents have been seen to take their offspring to the pub of an evening in a baby carrier. Your diagnosis?

Nina Puri: A clear case of “hip-atitis”! It’s usually young parents who are struck down by this ailment. They want to prove they’re still as cool as they used to be, so they turn up at every party with their baby. However, there’s usually less laughter at these parties and more bouncing, nappy changing and breastfeeding.

You also get parents who change their lives entirely and spend all their time after the birth going back and forth between baby stores and the children’s hospital.

These symptoms describe a dangerous mix of “baby compulsive shopping disorder” and “hypo-hypo-hypo-hypochondria” (see box). Unfortunately, if you’re affected by the one ailment, it doesn’t mean you’re immune to the other.

Susanne Kaloff: I recently heard about a new virus that’s going round. A new mum told me that she’d agreed with her husband that they wouldn't annoy childless couples when their baby arrived. For example, they’d stay away from coffee shops at peak times on Saturdays and avoid restaurants after 6 pm. The couple could remember how they’d been irritated by parents with snivelling, sticky children who caused chaos wherever they went.

“I experienced the whole range of parental ailments from “Alert 24/7” to “Zoom – time flies”.

Does your book also offer useful advice to childless people who come into direct contact with young parents?

Nina Puri: It’s hard for “outsiders” to understand where new parents are coming from. Why do they have to talk non-stop about how Evan Otis is really advanced for his age, why Lisa has developed a new sleep pattern or why Jules is already making eye contact? Why do they suddenly have to follow such a strict routine and make sure that all their activities are educational? And why are they so completely insensitive to the needs of other people?

The book is quite provocative in places. How have people responded to it?

Nina Puri: We’ve had a lot of encouraging letters from both parents and people who don’t have children. However, we also got some very angry emails on the topic of “exhibitionist breastfeeding” for example. Our book describes the huge fuss that some mums make about breastfeeding. It’s a topic that is taken very seriously and not to be laughed at!

Some parents can be overwhelmed by the stress of having children. Is it OK to make fun of such an issue?

Susanne Kaloff: I think it’s OK as long as you know what you’re talking about, if you’ve experienced a similar situation. While writing the book, we were often amazed at how crazy we’d been at times.

Do you each have a tip for expectant parents or those who’ve recently had a baby?

Susanne Kaloff: Heaven forbid, no tips! Parents receive more than enough unwanted advice about musical clocks, cuddly toys and non-slip socks.

Nina Puri: I’ve got two pieces of advice. First: just keep quiet. Second: don’t worry – you’ll grow out of many of the illnesses.

Baby compulsive shopping disorder (lat.: baby baby balla balla)

Description: Driven by the nesting instinct, the buying, hoarding and collecting of essential items without which your baby would not be able to survive.

Symptoms:

  • Words and phrases such as “certified to ecological standards”, “untreated cotton”, “educational value” and “gluten-free” make up a large proportion of the parents’ conversation.
  • Manufacturer names such as Baby-Björn and Maxi-Cosi are pronounced correctly and without hesitation.
  • The parents have loyalty cards for numerous shops specialising in baby productsRisk of infection: Very high, special precautions should be taken when talking to like-minded people on antenatal courses and while on a tour of the labour ward.Prognosis: Keep your pregnancy / the birth / your child a secret as long as possible.

Naming torture (lat.: nomen est omen)

Description: Tortuous, long-winded process of finding a name for the unborn child

Symptoms:

  • Sleepless nights, creation of endless lists
  • Purchase of books entitled “The 4,000 top Finnish/Central African/Eurasian first names”
  • Ostentatious concealment of name from all uninterested acquaintances

Consequences:

  • Shanti Cosma Rainbow Smith
  • Newton Edison Galileo Jones
  • Apple Peach Cherry Banana McDonald
  • Pepsi Carola O’Reilly

Outlook: Tarquin will become Tommy by the time the child starts Kindergarten at the latest, thus saving Tarquin visits to the psychiatrist later in life.

Hypo-hypo-hypo-hypochondria (lat.: alaaaarm alaaaarm)

Description: Parental worries about the health of their children

Possible symptoms: All

Findings: Almost certainly caused by a serious illness

Prognosis: Probably fatal

Second opinion: At EmergencyRoom.com, doctor-online.com, medicine-worldwide.com, KidsHealth.com etc. etc. etc.

Reaction: Alert all relatives, friends and colleagues, contact the chief consultants in the intensive care unit of the local hospital, alert all emergency vehicles, fire officers and police officers in the neighbourhood.

Alarm level: dark red!!