What Kind of Parent are You?


I was lucky to receive three cards on Mothers’ Day. The first to arrive was a sparkly depiction of two unicorns-large and small-portraying an idealised, rainbow-backed vision of motherhood, cosy, pretty and delightful. The second a hand-drawn picture of two figures side-by-side, one larger in trousers [me], the other small in a dress [Grand-Offspring]. The third a photo of a ravaged old hag.

Of course I’m delighted by all of these depictions of myself, as parent and grandparent, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, they’ve all remembered the day. If your Offspring have negotiated all the hurdles on the way to adulthood and continue to communicate with you it must be some kind of miracle.

Parenting is like navigating the seas, periods of calm punctuated by violent storms. Sometimes the storms are catastrophic. Sometimes the calms are flat enough to believe you are becalmed and stranded, never to reach the shore.

When the offspring are safely grown and in their own nests you may consider your duty done but that is very far from the truth. You continue to feel responsible, to offer support, to care, in a way that few creatures in the natural world do [except perhaps for elephants?].

Myself, 38 years ago and pregnant, I was an ignoramus on the subject of babies. While I was acquainted with the development and behaviour of young children, when I had the first I was exhausted and  panicky in equal measures-a rabbit caught in the headlights. My long held belief that babies ate and slept was shattered. As they grew I was unprepared for the frustration, penury and utter boredom that life with toddlers can be. But in other ways they were, at that time, the very best part of my life.

Becoming a grandparent is well documented as delightful and easier [in that you ‘can hand them back’] although there are hazards and traps to avoid. I was prey to much advice as a new mum-‘Pull yourself together; you’ve only had a baby’ was one gem [as I lay strapped to various devices in the hospital bed, post Caesarian Section]. So I try to stick to merely describing my own experiences while also attempting to adhere to parental rules and guidelines regarding treats etc

There is a huge variety of parenting styles, from controlling to liberal and most are dependent on our personalities as adults and, perhaps, our own experiences as children. There is no such thing as a perfect parent so we must rely on guesswork, friends or manuals to solve conundrums like faddy eating. The fact that I came to depend on the quaintly old-fashioned ‘Baby and Child Care’ by Dr Benjamin Spock demonstrates how long ago I became a mum. But if not trendy, his approach to child rearing seemed calm and sensible at the time.

Above all I do hope I’ve managed to maintain some vestiges of humour as they’ve grown up. Long may it continue!


Coupling up…or Disentangling…

There must be a reason why the popular press loves to dollop liberal helpings of news about celebrity couples all over their pages. Does it make enjoyable reading because relationships are what interest the public more than anything? Who is with who? Who has had a baby? Who has been seen on holiday cavorting in the waves with who? And even more riveting: Who has split up with who? Who is having an affair/threesome/visits to prostitutes/paedophile allegations? Recently we’ve seen the split of Hollywood royalty ‘Brangelina’ as well as having to suffer the odious Donald Trump crowing about Bill Clinton’s indiscretions [of years ago-and for which he paid a hefty price].

You have to feel for the poor celebs. Their relationships have to weather the storms of fame, being in the public eye, having to undergo endless photo shoots for ‘Hello’ magazine, having loads of money and getting photo-zapped by stealthy paparazzi whilst exposing their flesh on expensive yachts. One or two famous couples have also amassed more children than the old woman who lived in a shoe by jetting around the world and hoovering up spare tots like flies on a window sill.

But what of we mere mortals? Observing couple behaviour is an interesting slant on people watching and a sport I’ve been enjoying during the time we’ve been away. Unless it’s an arranged marriage a relationship will usually have begun with some mutual attraction or downright lust from one or both partners. The lust gets tempered over time for a variety of reasons. Babies are renowned passion killers as are domestic chores and financial duress. For some couples, however this round of domestic obligation can be the cement that sticks them and an adhesive that fails once the chicks have fledged and the pair realise that the sprogs was all they had in common. I know a number of these.

Many couples, however seem to stick together even though nothing remains or they’ve forgotten why they became one to begin with, sharing their accommodation and little else. In our local hostelry the same individuals [almost exclusively male] can be seen any or every night of the week, leaving spouses to their own devices. Most people don’t want to be joined at the hip, and a few different interests in retirement is a good idea, but some seem not to have contact at any point, like the couple in a motorhome in Agde, France, one of whom spent each day cycling and the other inside watching TV. I’ll leave you, reader to imagine which half of the couple indulged in which activity.

Separating is scary and expensive for we commoners, more so in older age, but myself I couldn’t contemplate living the meagre remainder of my life with a cold vacuum of relationship in which the property we occupied was the only thing in common.

What not to do with your GUKAPs

Not insignificant amongst recent events in our household has been the return of an adult offspring to reside with us. During the intervening ten years that has been child free we have, as one does, fallen into what we had considered to be our default, retirement, do-as-we-wish lifestyle, involving eating when and what we like, coming and going when we please, becoming pernickety about some habits and lackadaisical about others and considering that we have despatched our duty towards our progeny. In other words we have been gradually evolving into ancient, dotty creatures like our parents used to be.

                Now we’ve all had to make adjustments, and although I must add that this is not the first time it has happened, or even with the same child, I find I am regressing to a former self; one who was a parent, with all the accompanying, irritating, overbearing, suffocating tendencies that such a role carries.

                I say, ‘You can’t be warm enough like that’, or ‘Aren’t you going to eat before you go out?’, or ‘How are you getting home?’ or ‘Oh dear’. Being aware of this foible and its annoyance factor does nothing to prevent these pseudo-maternal utterances. They are out of my mouth before you can say ‘empty nest’, just as if I’m running on an automatic mummy circuit.

                All this would be much more understandable if I’d been a natural, a homely ‘earth mother’ type when they were small. But motherly I was not. Oh, I loved them of course! But I’d been unprepared for the relentless clamour that babies and toddlers create; unaware that no minute of any day belonged to me, not to sit down and have a coffee, read a newspaper, browse in a shop, weed a garden border, have a bath or even to sit on a lavatory alone and uninterrupted.

                Looking after babies and toddlers can be fun and rewarding. They are sweet and funny. It can also be exhausting, frustrating, lonely and boring. They demand all your time. They are messy and not always happy. I took a number of years off to tend to mine. I enjoyed seeing them grow and develop, but the loss of salary led to a Spartan quality of life. Whilst there were probably benefits to my being their sole carer I don’t think they’d have been worse off if I’d worked part-time.

                Quality child care is essential to families these days. I fail to see how anyone is going to be able to look after 6 toddlers on their own. Two was hard enough for me [and they were my own children!]. Where is the connection between a less advantageous ratio of child to adult and it costing less? Or staff getting paid more? It is a demanding and a skilled job and the people doing it should receive the pay and status they deserve without compromising their conditions.

                And as for grown up children? I shall probably continue in my bumbling attempts to be a mother until I croak. Do we have a term for them, an acronym [like SKIers or DINKies?]? Some call them Boomerang kids, but I thought GUKAPs might do. [Grown Up Kids At Parents].