This morning I am alone. This is an unusual occurrence given I am married with three children and a full time job. But this weekend, with my beloved ensconced in France and my big two long flown, the youngest has spread her wings and gone to Holland for the weekend – her first solo OS trip.
I am left to think about this situation. She won’t be here for much longer – tis really a matter of months now until she leaves home to finally become an independent adult. It is as it should be. The other two have been long gone – nine years and six years. I thought at the time that they left too soon – 17 and 18 – and was somewhat bereft, but consoled with my fluff bucket full of cuteness and energy, who also thought he ruled the house.
But I would feel a failure as a parent if my grown children were still at home, still tied to us, unable to function in the world. Yes, I know there are mitigating financial issues for some, especially in the UK, and from time to time, when the situation arises, they should come home to re-charge batteries, recover from life’s bruises. But for all concerned, children need to leave home. They need to live their own lives.
My three have gone far and wide and from much younger ages. They are braver and stronger, fiercer and smarter than I was at their ages. But that’s as it should be, isn’t it? Don’t we want our children to have more opportunities, better lives? Don’t we want children we are proud of – who we can skite about, as well as love and cherish?
But in order to have adult children who can do things, who you like as well as love, you have to put in the work from the start. I don’t think it matters how many children you have – one or a dozen – as long as you do the right thing by them, as long as you take care of them and I don’t just mean physical, material things. It is about time and tough love; it is about sleepless nights, school concerts, parent-teacher evenings (oh yes, they’re fun on the other side of the table!), birthday parties, smacks and tears, stories and homework, fairness and consequences.
Good parenting also about rejecting any ideas about perfection. Banish stupid shit about what good mothers do, that working damages children, that childcare is the devil’s playground. Ignore people who tell you staying home is not needed for you or your child. Ignore those who say single parents can’t cope, that all boys must have their fathers around. Parenting is a highly contested, visible area, and just like Education, seemingly everybody has an opinion on how it should be done. You need to trust yourself, ask for help when you need it, but make decisions for you and yours based on what is best for you, not anyone else. It can be hard, but it’s your family and you can make it any way you want. But make it good – we need decent people, well brought up and properly loved.
I have epically failed as a parent. There were days when mine were young when I did wish them away. When I wondered what the other life would have been like – where I was thin and not always worried about money. I was chronically unable to say no to my baby. She never seemed to need it, being such an easy child, but her causal easiness evolved into a casual refusal that became intransigent stubbornness that perhaps should have been addressed earlier. I broke promised to all of them at some time, didn’t do things I said I would, didn’t see lots of movies; borrowed pocket money from my boy but mostly paid him back. I passed the too hard stuff with my big girl over to her father, who really did save her life. Thank God he did, as she’s now one of the best things in my life.
But I knew when I’d stuffed up. I apologized to them. I was human and real. I lost my temper and swore in the car when they were in the back seat – glossing over it by saying it was okay to swear in the Murray car (we had a blue Subaru and a red XJS Jag, which became Wiggles coloured cars, thanks to the young pad-wan). Now they are real with me and confide in me and ask for help or advice when they need it. I ask them too!
But a very wise woman, who worked and had six children of her own, offered a life-saving piece of advice – if you’re getting it right eighty per cent of the time, then you’re doing well. She reminded us that doing the best you could, that stuffing up things with your children was what happened. At the end of the day, it would be all right. And you know, she was right.
Having a child is the ultimate experience. If you have a child with someone you love the intensity of the experience is overwhelming. It blows you away. You made this amazing tiny thing, that hopefully will be the best of both of you. You watch it grow, look after it, love it the best you can and, if most things go right, you end up with amazing young things that you adore, that you could not imagine your life without.
I am a lucky woman. Is luck the word? I work at being a mum. I know how I felt about my own mum and I want mine to feel the same about me. My father had failed as a parent. Sadly he ended up with both of his children estranged from him at his death, not a good place to be. Not a place I intend to be.
So, mine are grown and almost all gone, soon spread across the world, but my family is strong – we like being together, we enjoy each other’s company, we take care over birthdays and Christmas, we keep in regular contact. My big two are hilariously funny when together. My children like each other and that’s a triumph too.
The next phase is upon us – my beloved and I will be alone again, just us. It will be very strange, but good too. Weddings loom and I guess grandchildren will appear in due course. As it should be. We will gather together again to laugh, take the piss, and enjoy our family as it grows and changes. And my beloved and I will indulge in our favourite topic of conversation: our wonderful and utterly lovely three. (Images from Private Collection)