Internal parental to-do lists

Even when kids get older it’s hard to let go of the internal parental to-do list.


There are big moments throughout childhood, but the GCSEs and applying for university are up there among them. We’ve been through both several times now and it never really gets any easier. In part that is due to Covid mixing things up a bit over the last year, but it is also because each child is different and has different decisions to take and different approaches to decision-making. Some overthink it, some underthink it and some just can’t make up their minds at all.

This year only son is chooing his GCSE options and daughter three is applying to university. On the GCSE options, only son seems to have got a clear idea of where he’s going after a minor bit of umming and ahhing over music and art. He will be the first person in the family to do music GCSE, although everyone is heavily into music. He says he’s already feeling very worried about the results.

UCAS is in a different category. All three girls have put off the decision by doing a gap year. Daughter one considered a whole range of universities across the UK, Europe and the world in general and heavily investigated scholarship programmes. Daughter two initially wanted the nearest university doing the course she wanted and the one with the least amount of essays and exams. She then changed her mind, felt she missed essay and reapplied before starting at one university, then dropping out and transferring to another on an entirely different course with lots of essays. This involved quite a lot of engagement with UCAS which, during the pandemic, meant a lot of time on hanging on the telephone.

This week was the deadline for daughter three to apply to university. She is not entirely sure she wants to. She’s been put off by the idea of debt and daughter two’s report of the lack of social life because no-one except a select bunch has any money at all to go out. She wants to devote herself to a music career. I told her she should apply to university as a back-up plan in case she changes her mind. She could also defer. It’s been a bit of a sensitive subject for months. She drafted the personal statement eons ago. I gave any advice I could muster and we visited one university back in the summer, which she has since discounted because it is too far from city life. Also, like many in her year, she didn’t quite get the results she expected because the Government tightened the marking in the belief that Covid was over. But Covid’s long tail will be felt for many years. Even only son is worried about the amount of basic science he missed and how that will affect his GCSEs. Daughter three’s year had never sat a major exam before and were very nervous about the prospect.

In the period between the summer and now she has completely changed her idea of what she wants to study. She selected one university she wants to go to, based mainly on the fact she likes and knows the city, but she couldn’t for many long weeks come up with any other university she might want to go to to fill the other slots.

So it was not until the very last moment before the deadline – the very last 24 hours – that she submitted her application. I had been mentioning it every so often over the last few weeks, but you have to pick your moments with teenagers. Like many parents, I have a to-do list in my head as well as on paper. It includes child-related things like, this week, get wonton wrappers for cookery [something that was only mentioned 24 hours before the lesson] and parents evening. The UCAS deadline has been flashing red for many weeks.

I know that I need to leave it to her. But I’m so used to being the manager that I’m finding it hard to delegate. So it’s a bit of a joint celebration that she has finally pushed it over the line. Even if she doesn’t end up going, at least she has the option.

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