Children can make you happy – but only when they’ve grown up and left home. At least, that’s the result of a recent report that hit the headlines recently.
All I can say is that this isn’t true in our house! I can’t imagine a time without little Rose and George. It’s rather like when I had my first child thirty-five years ago and wondered how on earth we’d managed without him. Nothing else in life seemed as important. And now it’s the same with our grandchildren – especially now we’re just round the corner from each other again after a summer of racing around.
But some things have changed. “Look, Gan Gan,” trills Rose when we are reunited. “George has got big boy Gruffalo pants.”
It’s true. George is strutting around completely naked apart from the said undies. He is extremely proud of them but if my daughter thinks that potty training message is getting through, she’s kidding herself. So far he’s gone through three pants in half an hour. This isn’t funny, considering I’m taking over again next week.
Meanwhile, Rose and her vocabulary seem to be maturing by the hour. “I can write my name properly now,” she announces, holding out a piece of paper containing her signature, with a flourish.
Then I get a phone call from the “baby” aged 28. Can he and his girlfriend come down for the bank holiday weekend? “You don’t need to ask,” I say with a lump in my throat. “Of course you can.”
It should be said here that my youngest normally only comes down once a year at Christmas because of his frenetic work and social life in London. So I make a point of going up there myself once a month to take him out to lunch under the guise of pumping him for the information about his life.
I meet them off the train on bank holiday Sunday and we head straight for the beach. We swim and laugh and play water games. It’s a far cry from when I used to take my youngest to the local pool as a toddler. “It’s lovely being home,” he says. I can barely answer because I’m so choked up.
“You’ll feel the same in a few years’ time,” I say to my daughter. “It’s such a special time when they’re back after a long absence.”
She looks horrified…
“I don’t want them to ever leave home,” she says.
I know exactly what she means. I can never quite understand how some friends happily wave their children away when they are grown up and don’t ring them from one week to the next. How can you look after a child day in and day out – keeping them safe, warm and happy – and then simply get on with your own life as though you’ve never had them?
“But that’s what parents have to do,” points out my childless husband. “Otherwise they won’t grow up or learn from their own mistakes.”
“Yet there has to be a balance,” I say, resisting the temptation to remind him that he hasn’t had any personal experience.
All this makes me wonder whether there might be something in that news report after all. When you’re bringing up children, there’s a great deal of stress, whether you’re attempting to get them dressed or helping them to revise for important exams. You’re probably existing on very little sleep. Tempers can be frayed and money is tight. Now we can have fun on the beach without me asking if they need the potty.
Then I glance at the clock. My youngest son and his girlfriend have gone to the pub and they’re not back yet. Are they alright? “You’ve no idea what they’re doing when they’re not at home,” points out my husband again. “So why now?”
Because they’re under my roof. Just as they were when they were little…
My mother always used to say that the wonderful thing about grandchildren was that you can give them back at the end of the day. But surely there is a sub clause missing here. You need to make sure that they’re alright with you during that day and that you can hand them back safely in one piece.
As for when your kids are grown up, there are indeed advantages. You can go to bed without having to wake up for night feeds. But instead you might sit up bold upright, wondering why they haven’t returned your “Are you alright?” texts, sent before you went to bed.
“If you ask me,” says one of my granny friends when we have one of our tête-à-tête, “It’s just as well they don’t tell you any of this stuff before you get pregnant. The thing is, that whatever stage of parenting – or grandparenting – you’re at, you just get on with it and do your best.”
She’s right. Hang on. I’ve got to find a fourth pair of clean toddler pants. And it sounds to me, from the clink of beer glasses, that the youngest son has just come back…
Jane Corry is the author of I Looked Away (Penguin) which is currently number 3 in the bestseller list. Available from bookshops, supermarkets and online from https://amzn.to/2Lq2rew and https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jane-Corry/I-Looked-Away/23635139