There are many myths around parenting. The reality is that every age and stage has its challenges.
When I was pregnant, people who had been there and done it said it was not so bad. One colleague [male] compared it to publishing a book. I had a placental abruption first time round and my daughter and I nearly died.
At every stage when I added one more child to the equation, people said it wouldn’t be so hard – after two, they said, you’re an old hand and the children almost look after themselves. Turns out it’s not quite that easy and you have to embrace the chaos. When I was paying extortionate childcare bills, I would dream of getting to the subsidised childcare at age three and then of school. Life would be so much easier, I thought, conveniently failing to register that school holidays are way longer than the adult version, that nits and the norovirus are rife and that many schools don’t have after school clubs except age-specific, task-specific groups like netball club.
With different aged children and bullying issues, etc, I ended up with three different schools to pick up from at one point so then I dreamt of all the kids being in one school. How easy would that be? Easy peasy. Indeed I now have the youngest two at the same secondary school, but the older one only has the odd lesson some days and so leaves early and gets the train into London, meaning I have to pick her up from the tube which is in the entirely opposite direction from the school where her brother is.
She also works in the next door town which is impossible for her to get to without me or my partner driving her. So we spend long hours driving her to work [against the clock during rush hour] and picking her up at night because there is no public transport to where we live after early evening. Recently, I sat for two hours in the car park of a local supermarket waiting for her to finish work while I was doing an online course and only son was in the back under a duvet watching a film. Fortunately, I got a space within the supermarket’s wifi zone. My partner was away at the time.
Daughter two is on a gap year. Let me state for the record that I am not a big fan of gap years. Maybe they are great if you have lots of money, there isn’t a global pandemic and several of your friends are doing them too. Otherwise it’s about finding a job and trying not to spend all your earnings before you are saddled with a lifetime of debt.
For parents it’s a double-edged role – on the one hand, you are a kind of cheerleader – there to ensure they don’t fall into a slough of despond as the reality of working life sinks in or there to come up with a whole range of exciting possibilities that they will completely ignore. On the other hand, you are a bubble burster: there to wrestle them towards applying for said working life, look for job openings, help with cv writing, interview technique and the like.
And so I found myself this week on the website of a leading coffee chain reading about their four missions, which include Warmth, Passion and Courage [to serve a latte?] and trying to enthuse daughter two about the ‘world of coffee’. ‘Say you love coffee,’ I coached. Daughter two more or less only drinks water and is an extremely health conscious vegan. ‘Throw in some coffee-related terms like arabica.’ I have absolutely no idea if this works, but daughter three wrote four pages of notes for her job interview and knew the mission statement of her employer backwards. Daughter two takes a rather more laid back approach. I’ve even applied for jobs for her [and did one online assessment to save time badgering her to do it] so keen am I to get her out the house because staying in all the time is not doing her confidence a whole lot of good, even if she is creating amazing art works in the process. This week a pestle and mortar out of clay, painted in an intricate Aztec-like pattern.
I’ve suggested setting up a pottery business – although I kind of know that it would be me doing the business side of things. In any event, she hates the idea of commercialising anything she loves. I fear this thing we call Real Life is going to be a bit of a downer for her. She may need some coffee to perk her up.