It's one of those clichéd things that your parents say to you: 'You'll understand when you have your own children'. That idea that there are things you can't understand until you become a parent yourself is totally infuriating - and totally true.
As a parent, I do feel that I have a common bond to parents everywhere. Not every parent everywhere, because plenty don't think or feel as I do, but certainly a general feeling of empathy.
For example, today I took my two children (aged four and 22 months) to Kids Club at the cinema. This is a Saturday morning thing that they do at Cineworld, where parents and children can attend a couple of selected films at 10am at the price of £1 per ticket. It's a clever way of using the cinema at a time when nobody else in their right mind would go, and it's a great Saturday morning treat for families.
My husband works on Saturdays, but a few times when he's had a weekend off, one of us has taken Arran to see a film. Today, with him in work, I decided to take both of the children on my own. I wasn't sure if Mouse would sit through the film, and worried about having to leave during the film and Arran getting upset, but figured it was worth a go.
As we arrived at the cinema, me carrying the nappy bag and the wriggly girl and hanging on to Arran as he tried to spin around the pillars at the entrance, I saw a family coming out of the doors of the cinema. Mum, dad, two boys. The youngest boy was crying and the older boy was confused and asking 'but why can't we go and see our film?' with the parents explaining that there were no tickets left, with a mixture of apology and curtness. Not wanting their children to be upset, because it was making them feel rubbish.
In that moment I knew exactly how that would feel - to promise your children a treat, get there full of excitment and then not be able to deliver. Such a silly thing - but you feel like you've let them down and their disappointment physically hurts, and no matter what alternative treat you arrange, you still kick yourself all day. I've done similar with a steam train ride and getting the date wrong.
Fortunately for this family (but not fortunately for my friends), I had been supposed to meet a friend and her two children at the cinema, but she had become poorly that morning and wasn't able to meet us. Plus - knowing how booked up these Kids Club showings get - I had paid for all of our tickets online the night before. I was so delighted to be able to stop the family on the way out and offer them the spare tickets, so that at least the dad and boys could go back in (and he bought me a big popcorn, bless him!)
So that was my first 'parental empathy' moment of the day. The second one was a memory of my own parents. When we went into the cinema, Arran was in a funny mood. I'd chosen the film especially for him (Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists - the Aardman animation one - it was fab) as he loves pirates, but almost before it started he began to say 'I want to go home'. Then during the film he repeatedly whined and asked to go home, and at several points he started to cry a little. The film wasn't at all scary (and he said he wasn't scared) so I didn't leave because Mouse - the one I had been worried about - was transfixed, sitting with huge eyes and saying breathily, 'WOW! PIRATES!'
I spent most of the film with an arm around him, trying to engage him in the film, and ended up putting Mouse on his seat and cuddling him on my lap. When he said he wanted to go home, I asked him why and he said, 'Because I love my home'. When I asked him why he didn't like the film he said 'Because it's not my favourite' and that was all I could get. He was just not in the right place for it.
At first, I felt a little bit irritated. Taking two small children out on my own is something I'm used to, but it's still hard work and I had done this primarily as a treat for him.
Then I remembered something from my own childhood. My mum and dad had taken us to a local town and there was a rollerblading disco on. They had paid for blades for my sister and I to go in, but when we got in there it was really loud music, nothing to hang onto (it was just a sports hall type thing) and loads of kids whizzing all over the place. My sister and I had never skated before. She's more confident than me so she gave it a good go, but I came out really quickly, was coaxed back in and then came out again. My sister joined me, and my mum got irritated with us for 'not trying'. At the time I remember feeling cross with her for not understanding that it was scary in there, and for seeming to 'push' us into doing something we didn't want to do.
Now I understand - they had obviously found out about this roller disco and thought it would be a nice treat. They'd got us ready, driven us to this place, paid out money (which there wasn't masses of in my family) and we had been such wet blankets about it all. Other children were skating around confidently and they were thinking 'Why can't our children be confident too? Why can't they just enjoy this nice treat we're giving them?'
It's hard being a parent sometimes. Thinking back to that small incident, that they probably don't remember, fills me with empathy for them. I want to tell my young self to say to them, 'Thank you for trying to give us this lovely treat. It's nobodys fault that it's not quite working how you planned, but I am grateful' - but of course I wasn't then. I am now.
I also feel really lucky that I get to both empathise with them and with my children, through a strong memory of what it was like to be a child, so that I was able to squash the irritation, give my boy a big cuddle and realise that he just felt how he felt and it was a shame, but it wasn't anybody's fault. And then go for a big fat Happy Meal afterwards.