Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Optimists wanted

It strikes me that you have to be very optimistic to be a parent. If you weren't optimistic you'd never take the plunge. You'd be too terrified of the dire twists of fate that might overtake your children. So you have to believe:
  • That they'll grow up to be be healthy, happy and secure
  • That they won't be caught up in World War Three
  • That they'll always love you and won't turn against you
  • That they won't become alcoholics, drug addicts or rapists
  • That they won't fall off a cliff while taking a selfie
  • That they'll find rewarding and satisfying jobs
  • That they won't end up in prison
  • That they'll be kind and generous to other people
  • That they won't be as thick as two planks
  • That they won't want to climb the North Face of the Eiger
  • That they won't be right-wing extremists
  • That they won't drive like maniacs
You also need to be a low-anxiety person. If you're the anxious type, you'll be worrying about your kids every minute of the day, wondering if they're safe, or behaving sensibly, or eating properly, or resisting that strange blue tablet their friend's just offered them. You'll be a permanent nervous wreck waiting for tragedy to strike.

Both my parents were pessimistic and anxiety-prone, which not only meant stressful parenting, but turned me into an equally anxious child. I'm sure they expected parenting to be a painful ordeal. And so inevitably that's what it was. While my sister was well-behaved, my constant teenage rebelliousness tested them to the limits. But I survived to tell the tale. And so does my mum - at 95 and counting.


  1. When I decided to have kids I was young and didn't think much more than I wanted my husband to have the kids he wished for and could I cope with motherhood?
    With a few more years under my belt I am much more aware of the dangers they might face. I don't think I would be so keen these days.

  2. I'm a bit more relaxed than I used to be for some reason. Or perhaps I'm saving all my anxiety for the Brexit disaster that seems to be nearly upon us.

  3. Kylie: This is it, I think a lot of young mums (and dads) really have little idea what they're letting themselves in for. It's only later on that they realise how scary it all was.

    Jenny: Indeed, I think the perils of parenting are almost trivial compared to what lies in store for us after Brexit is finalised. I just hope Brexit gets scuppered before it's too late.

  4. For the most part, our "kids," now in the 40s have met the points you listed. The first one is the stickler. One of our daughters has had health issues and she and her hubby are living with his mom. After a few years of unemployment, she now has a very rewarding and satisfying position at the local library and is doing better financially. The really disappointing part of it all is that he is a total non-contributor financially and has been as long as they've been together, now well over 20 years. So I guess that I would have to add a bullet point to your list: - That they will partner long-term with someone worthwhile, someone who contributes to the partnership in equal measure.

  5. I don't think that we were optimistic when we decided to have a child. We simply wanted to have some but were not able to have more than one for medical reasons. We never had stressful times while our son was growing up but had when he was a fully grown adult for a short while but that too passed and till she died my wife and i even now are glad that we were blessed with our son. In retrospect I think that yes, both of us were low-anxiety persons.

    Many people ask me if my son lives with me and are quite taken aback when I respond with "No, I live with him."

  6. Mike: That must be galling, seeing your child getting involved with someone who is all take and no give. Parents must always pray that their child ends up with a worthwhile partner who pulls their weight in the relationship.

  7. Ramana: Being a low-anxiety parent must have helped a great deal. You were less likely to spend sleepless nights wondering about your son's latest aberration or how his life would turn out.

  8. My father wanted children, my mother saw having a child as yet another nail in the coffin of her independence. Accordingly I grew up with the effects of her disappointment.
    Luckily neither of them wanted to wrap me in cotton wool.

  9. I'm neither an optimist nor a pessimist, more a realist I suppose.
    I just hope that having laid the groundwork for a well-adjusted individual with a strong moral compass, my son will continue to make the right decisions in life. I rarely stress over it though - all you can do is be there if it all goes tits-up.

  10. I think it's similar to thinking you are indestructible when you are young. You just don't think anything will go wrong with your own kids.

    Honestly, if you think through most things in life like you've just done on this topic, you'd never walk out your front door.

  11. Helen: That's sad that your mum thought you were undermining her independence.

    Dave: "All you can do is be there if it all goes tits-up." Good thinking.

  12. Bijoux: Oh, I'm sure many young parents secretly worry how their kids will turn out, however confident they appear to other people.

    Well, my list was a little tongue-in-cheek of course. But you're right, over-thinking can stop us doing things we should be doing.

  13. I have always liked JFK's quote about himself... "i am an idealist with no illusions."
    a little like being an optimist with no illusions.
    if my father had been alive he never would have let me marry a man 10 years older. but it was a grand marriage until bob died so prematurely. one can never insure theirs or their children's future I think.

  14. You can evade troubles, perhaps, but that is not really a positive. We tend not to talk about the joys of parenting, because these are for the most part very private, as all love affairs should be.
    There are excellent reasons not to have children, but I was never swayed by such arguments. I always knew I wanted children, and my daughters are the same. Reactions to parenthood of even some of closet friends who have no children are to say they are really happy they never had kids, but if I say I'm happy I did have them I get the lecture on overpopulation!

  15. I was a low-anxiety parent, but not necessarily an optimist. When she was born Kaitlin seemed like such a miracle I decided she wouldn't live to see her first birthday, so I was going to enjoy her while I had her. It was precious time. So no, I didn't worry about her, I made the most of the time we were together. She's now 48, doing well, and going strong. We, including Andy and Torben, enjoy the times we have together.

  16. Tammy: I think I'm also an idealist with no illusions.

    That's one of the big battlegrounds between parents and children, isn't it - is he/she getting involved with someone totally unsuitable?

    Hattie: You're entitled to enjoy parenting without self-righteous censorious comments. One couple not having children isn't going to make much difference to the entire global population in any case.

  17. Jean: Glad to know Kaitlin not only survived but is still giving you pleasure after 48 years!

  18. Scarlet: I have a feeling you were a bit of a daredevil as a kid. I imagine you climbing trees, dodging cars and pulling other girls' hair.

  19. Best book I ever read on parenting will appeal some of your readers and was called "How to Raise Children at home in your spare time". Took all the angst out of it.


  20. www: I've never heard of it, but it gets rave reviews on Amazon - both practical and funny.

  21. I never planned to marry but said, if I did I’d never bring children into this world. My father deserted us. Later WWII started. By my mid-twenties I became less opposed to the idea of wedding and jokingly decided the idea having children could be an occupational hazard. Late twenties I did marry and eventually we did have children. We didn’t fret and stew over all those concerns you wrote about. I had long since learned to just deal with what came up in my life along with whatever my plans might be so that’s what I did. Life sometimes gets complicated no matter what you do so adjustments and adaptation is a given — just can’t predict what may come down the pike no matter the best plans made. There’s a limit to how much you can anticipate and plan ahead. No point in borrowing trouble. I expect my mother’s attitude and coping behaviors presented a model in whom I could see positives and negatives — life had become challenging for us as I was growing up. I’ve sometimes thought had I lived during WWII in Europe or other countries with ongoing war on the soil my mother’s perspective and my own attitude might well have developed differently. Am pleased those many years later I wed and had our children who give me much pleasure though I’ve declined moving to live near or with either in their colder climes across our continent.

  22. Joared: True enough that you never know what's coming down the line, and over-planning can be a waste of time. As you say, we just have to adjust and adapt to whatever comes along. As I said to Bijoux, that list was a bit tongue-in-cheek - not many parents would be that apprehensive!

    I don't blame you not wanting to move somewhere colder. Personally I hate the winter cold and damp. I should have moved to Australia!

  23. I'm glad I didn't read this list before having children! One of my daughter-in-laws is very anxious and is always on edge especially if we're out somewhere. So many potential dangers. She wants to be more laid back but struggles.

  24. Liz: Well, I think most parents just assume that child-rearing, like most things in life, will work out fine in the end. But it must be hard when the time comes to let your kids get on with their own lives. You just hope they'll have enough common sense not to do anything colossally stupid.

  25. Nature versus nurture? Hmm ... well, I think you are right, in that an anxious parent can bring out - or exaggerate - anxiety within the child, and I'm pretty sure that did happen to me. My mother was a nurse, and I was a child with health problems which had landed me in hospital several times before I was even at nursery school. I guess this was the reason that whenever I told Mum I was feeling unwell as a child, her response was full of anxiety. She'd say something like "Oh, dear, I do hope it's not going to be ... (pneumonia/appendicitis/measles/etc)". Likewise, I was never allowed to do anything like climbing trees, riding a bike, and later, going on foreign school trips, in case I got hurt. My brothers were, of course. My elder brother was a very placid but very self-confident person, my other brother less so, but still with a strong stubborn "I'll do things my way" streak, and I was timid and shy.

    So, you could say that it's no surprise that while they learned that doom & gloom did not necessarily follow every sniffle, tummy-ache, or fall from a bike or tree, I did not. Result? I've always been anxious when it comes to health matters and potential accidents.

    But I did my level best to let my own kids dare to try things that might possibly end in tears, and to be reassuring and matter-of-fact when they were ill. The elder is, like me, anxious about health matters, the other (despite some serious illnesses, and having many more accidents) pretty laid back about it all. To throw something else into the mix, their father is also very laid back about it, and takes the attitude that "if it happens, it happens, but I'm not going to start fretting till it does".

    Very interesting and thought-provoking blog!

  26. Jay: Hi there! Thanks for all your interesting comments. It's fascinating how some people take the possibility of danger and catastrophe in their stride while others are perpetually full of anxiety and foreboding. I imagine sexism also came into your mother's attitude - girls shouldn't do anything too risky while boys could take as many risks as they wanted.