"It Takes a Village to Raise a Child"
I’m SO lucky to still have my parents – they are both still around in body and mind, although living three hours away gets them out of babysitting. The boys adore them, Grandpa kicks a ball and Granny does loads of cuddles and the occasional Scary Look, and it’s a mutually appreciative relationship.
Flashback to me, aged 14, in the midst of puberty, shouting at my mum to fuck off because she didn’t understand. Me, aged 3, infamously refusing to be talked down off a sand-dune, and having an epic tantrum. Me, a couple of weeks ago, calling my mum because my husband was away and I was knackered and I think I ranted for 20 minutes before remembering to ask how she was. On reflection, it’s been a lifelong habit of taking them for granted, pushing against their boundaries, enjoying swearing because I know it annoys my mum, and talking about politics with my Dad because I know my Guardian-like principles get up his nose. God, what an ungrateful brat I am, even now.
I remember having had my first son, and not being able to sit down, and being in shock at how brutal labour was, and how much it had hurt, and feeling incredulous that my mum had gone through that TWICE for me and my brother. I felt humbled and indebted (and incredibly grateful for codeine). And then, when I learned how all-consuming it is to look after a new-born, and how you lose your sleep, and sometimes your sanity, and I realised my mum did that, but with less effective nappies, crap coffee and a much more absent husband.
I’m lucky to have been able to afford childcare to return to work, but my mum didn’t have the opportunity to “lean in”, she was stuck at home with two babies whether she wanted to be or not. I had the choice, and no matter how much I think we are lacking in flexible working arrangements in this country, I am so grateful that I get to do a job I adore, with people I respect. Just being able to wear lipstick and pee with the door shut is a start; earning money for doing something I enjoy is icing on that cake. I was also able to lean on my (kind, gentle and sympathetic) doctor for help when I felt really low, which would have been unmentionable 36 years ago, as would saying bollocks to it, and dragging your toddler, baby and closest mum friend to the pub for a bottle of Viognier. So I think in many ways, my life is easier than my mum's was at the same stage.
I’m also very supported. I’ve got lots of friends. Not in an I’m-so-popular way, but because I’ve lived in the same city for 13 years, and on the same street since having both my sons. So my network from NCT and baby classes is pretty broad, and I’ve met other parents in the local coffee shop, buying double shot lattes and hoping that a ration of avocado on toast is enough nutrition for the day. Whilst my parents are fantastic grandparents, they have their own lives rotating around golf, tennis, and being the only people who still visit the supermarket in person, as if Ocado doesn't exist. That is to say, they are busy people, and they’ve raised their own children, and are too busy planning their retirement holidays (do I sound jealous?! I am!) to want to raise mine. So in the absence of Granny-next-door, I have my friends, but also my neighbourhood. The local hairdresser who rocked my baby’s pram whilst I scoured the street for my mislaid house keys. The next door neighbour who always takes in my parcels and doesn’t judge me wearing pyjama bottoms to the corner shop. It does take a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to support knackered parents. My London village is gritty, urban and ugly in parts, but has a pub and a coffee shop, and some incredibly kind locals. My kids are lucky to have the best of both worlds. Grandparents to spoil them, but also a neighbourhood to teach them the value of where they come from.