Parental evolution

Bringing up children comes in many different stages and phases. Each one has its challenges, its highs and its lows. You just have to succumb.




When you’re pregnant, much of your focus tends to be on the birth aspect and, in my experience, people often tell you it’s not that bad. Why worry someone unnecessarily? In hindsight, I wish I had read the bit of the books which focus on when things go wrong. I might have been better prepared.

Then you have a baby and you are hurled into a world of sleeplessness, strange rashes that could or could not be important, teething and more. You focus on the next stage – when will they stop having wind and sleep? When will they stop teething and sleep? etc etc. Then you might have another. People will tell you it’s not as much of a shock as first time round. They’re right in some respects, but looking after two small people brings other stresses, not least of which are the financial ones, although logistics can also be a challenge – just getting out the door can take ages, more so if you have more than two. And, of course, there is sibling rivalry and feeling guilty that you never have enough time for each child as well as anything else – having time for yourself goes out the door typically. ‘Me time’ is basically time when you’re working.

You count the days till childcare gets cheaper and school begins – no more childcare fees or complex arrangements with friends and family! Except…there are school holidays to cover, after school, before school, endless themed days to costume, child friendship ups and downs, potentially bullying, etc etc. This is not to overlook all the amazing things that happen too – the cuddles, the fun, the general chaos…

People like to think it all gets easier, but it just changes. The stages and phases evolve and each one has its own challenges. Tweens and teens come with all sorts of issues. The world is complex and presents all sorts of new parental headaches – how to keep people safe online, mental health issues, school pressures, peer pressure, bullying and more. Communication can be difficult and you are often treading on eggshells as hormones begin to rage.

You worry about almost everything – you even worry about worrying. Is that undermining them?

Then there are logistics as you try to fit being a part-time driver into your job description. This week I have driven from Cambridge to Kent and round and round Essex at different times of the day and night, generally dropping or picking people up because my partner is away. There are also the logistics of keeping tabs on people who refuse to answer their phones or text messages, but expect you to be permanently available. Late on Tuesday after the weekly shop, I dropped one daughter at university [she went last week and no-one was there. To be fair, she is having IT problems with the university so is missing out on vital information and has no idea what is going on]. She had extra essential stuff – mainly food and a sheet [she only took the duvet cover last time] and couldn’t cart it all the way on the tube. Her campus is a bit isolated and she hasn’t got a student card so was worried she couldn’t access the shuttle bus without it. Her brother had to create a citizenship poster [last-minute homework] in the back of the car in the dark.

Mainly, though, it’s more a mental thing than a practical one with teenagers. You worry that they are safe when they are out; you worry that they are safe online when they are in or that they are online too much; you worry that they are watching incels or being lured into extremist mindsets and you worry that you haven’t taught them how to keep safe or that you’ve gone on about it too much and that they have become blase [or paranoid]. You no longer, with the older ones, worry about bedtime etc because they go to bed after you, but then they don’t wake up in the morning and you are constantly running five minutes late and in danger of them getting detention which means you have to do pick-up twice or hang around for an hour which you don’t have. Many is the time I’ve done a call outside the school pretending that the back seat of the car is my office. You worry about not putting too much pressure on them and you worry that you are being too laid back. Only son has taken to watching the news. Is that a good thing or is it better for him not to know about the threat of nuclear armageddon? In any event, he’s probably seen something about it on TikTok…

You worry that your worry is harmful and toxic and that the Age of Anxiety is all your fault. Perhaps you are a bad parent after all. You managed to nail nappies, teething and den making and were even handy at turning a sheet into a Greek toga/Tudor peasant/halloween ghostie with one hour’s notice, but teenagedom is a whole new psychological ballgame that you have probably failed.

On the other hand, you have learned an awful lot of new vocabulary, know about every single crush in the greatest of detail [blood group, etc, etc], live every high and low of said crush’s career, understand who Christoph Waltz is and why he matters, know every Youtube beauty trick in the book, feel more environmentally conscious, feel ethically challenged at every turn and more engaged with the world than ever before and passionate about it having a future… It’s an emotional whirlwind and you just have to throw yourself into it.

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