Thursday, 17 July 2014
There are lots of challenges facing parents. We all have to endure the sleep deprivation, the mess, the noise, the brutal curtailment of our social life, the demotion to a combination of cash machine, short order cook and mini cab driver, but I think that perhaps one of the hardest things about bringing up children is the number of choices you have to make.
When they are babies we agonise everything: from the birth plan - should we go natural or drugged up to the eyeballs? - to feeding. Breast or bottle, organic puree or the shameful convenience of jars? From nappies - Pampers or reusable? - to sleeping - tend to their every whimper or leave them to scream themselves into slumber?
It doesn't get any easier as they grow up either. I still remember agonising over whether or not to go back to work and if I did which nursery would be entrusted with the care of my precious little toddler. My ultimate choice for number one (who, as the test case, has been the cause of the greatest degree of soul searching) was a chi, chi Montessori pre-school that set us back as much as a decade's worth of five star holidays and about which he remembers not a thing.
Don't even get me started on primary school. I will never get back the hours I devoted to poring over Ofsted reports and league tables, the days wasted traipsing around schools being soft soaped by head teachers. I remember we were so desperate to see the school our son ultimately went to, we braved a snow storm to attend the open day only to be greeted by a sign telling us it was closed due to bad weather. Shows our naivety, we subsequently learned that the head closed the school at the faintest whiff of a snowflake.
I don't recall ever taking so much care with decisions I made about my own life and you would think that as a slightly more seasoned parent I would have realised how little difference most of the choices I make as a mother ultimately make.
If only. Though, in mitigation, I do think that my painful vacillation is partially fuelled by group hysteria. It is not possible to get together with a group of mums with children the same age as yours and not be dragged into a conversation about the pros and cons of the choice of the moment. NCT friends would furiously debate those baby choices over coffee in the park, while now my fellow Year 5 mums cannot meet even for a swift coffee without the topic turning towards secondary school places.
These conversations turn on hearsay and nuggets of information from those who have trodden that path before us. Misinformation spreads like wildfire. Tales from friends of friends who have apparently either discovered the secret formula to get into the school of your choice, or whose poor choices left their child with no option but to attend the local comp, which draws it's feral pupils from the surrounding sink estate.
Such tales imbue every tiny choice you make with a terrifying importance. It's no wonder that it is so hard to make a simple, straightforward decision when every conclusion you think you have reached is sub-consciously second guessed by something we overheard, or read in the paper or has been fed to us via the school gates web of Chinese whispers.
The only glimmer of hope on the horizon is that where once my sons believed I was the fount of all wisdom and my word was law, the eldest has developed a healthy scepticism (or some might say scorn) when it comes to the infallibility of the opinions of adults. So I think the days of me making choices for him are numbered, and I say amen to that.