On Being a Parent by Angela Caldin

Parents worryA young mum said to me the other day, talking about her children, ‘I can’t wait until they’re 18 and then I won’t have to worry about them any more.’ She said this in all seriousness and first of all I thought that perhaps I hadn’t heard right. But then I realised that her children were small and that her worries were those associated with small children. She had no idea that as time went on and her children grew up, the issues would change and become more and more intractable. I’m not for one moment denying that there are enormous joys, delights and exultations along the road of parenthood, I’m just thinking here about some of the problems associated with each stage of life and this is what I came up with:

When babies arrive, for the first year or so, these are some of the parents’ concerns:

  • When will they settle into a manageable routine?
  • When will they start sleeping through the night?
  • When will they start letting you have ten minutes to yourself?
  • When will they get a tooth/start crawling/start walking?

When the children go off to school, other matters take centre stage:

  •  When will they learn to read?
  • Will they make some nice friends?
  • Will they be bullied/popular?
  • Will they get a certificate for somethingorother?

At around 11 or so, when they change schools, different worries surface:

  • Will they get into the secondary school of choice?
  • Would private be best, or state; should it be single sex or co-ed?
  • Will they find an outlet for whatever their particular talent is?
  • Will they make some more nice friends?

In the teenage years, some real anxieties emerge for parents:

  • Will they start drinking alcohol to excess?
  • Will they start smoking cigarettes or spliffs?
  • Will they start going out and not saying where they are/who they’re with?
  • Will they get pregnant/get someone pregnant?

At the end of the teens, life determining issues take centre stage:

  • Will they discover what they want to do in life?
  • Will they do enough work to get the grades so they can do what they want to do in life?
  • Will they find an occupation which fulfils them and makes them happy?

As the twenties unfurl, so the topics change again:

  • Will they find a suitable partner who’ll nourish and cherish them?
  • Will they live near us or thousands of miles away?
  • Will they have children who they’ll share with us?

As the thirties and forties arrive, the themes are more general:

  • Will they be healthy both physically and mentally?
  • Will they flourish in their chosen field in a way they would want?
  • Will they continue to be content with their partner or without?
  • In short, will they be happy?

At about that stage, give or take a few years, the parents will begin the process of becoming old with all the various ailments and problems associated with the declining years. And somewhere along the line, the tables will gradually begin to turn, and those grown up children will start to have concerns about their parents, will begin to worry about them, about how best to care for them. So everything comes full circle. The capacity to worry is handed on like the baton in a never-ending relay race to the next generation so that the cycle can begin all over again.

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