“Real Parenting”

One of the most hurtful things that anyone has said to me, perhaps ever, came just a few weeks ago. And, unsurprisingly for someone who works with the public, it came from a virtual stranger who liked to presume that my life is public property because I choose to provide a service to others. It still amazes me a little just how many people think I want to be their personal friend, simply because I’m friendly to them in the course of my job. And with that assumption goes the feeling that personal questions or statements are fair game.

In this particular case, I’d been asked how many children I had. I don’t mind that so much, other than that I know my answer of “one” will almost inevitably be followed, eventually, by the question of whether I’m planning to have any more. This time that question never came, but the lady in front of me laughed and said “You know the real parenting doesn’t begin until you have at least two.”

I smiled and nodded and moved on,because that’s what being a professional entails. I reasoned that I didn’t know if she was just joking, just – like so many others – making the assumption that I will one day have another child, or simply reflecting on her own situation as the mother of more than one child.

But inside, I was seething.

What, I wondered, is it exactly that I do every day?

When I’m taking care of all of my son’s basic needs – cooking his meals, washing his clothes and wiping his bum – is that not parenting?

When I’m teaching him the skills he needs to flourish, from right and left to right and wrong, is that not parenting either?

When I’m reading endless stories and singing songs. When I’m building railway tracks and Lego towers, or supplying endless stuffed animals as patients at “Dr Thomas’s Office”, I suppose none of those things are parenting either.

When I’m up in the middle of the night soothing a fractious boy after a bad dream, is that not parenting? Or chasing him around our upstairs pretending to be a dinosaur because I know my so well enough to know that is the only way I’ll get him into the bath? Running through the streets as an imaginary train, or bus, despite the puzzled stares of strangers, simply because it means so much to my little boy, is that not parenting either?

And what exactly is it when I’m kissing bumped heads and grazed knees better, administering Calpol and cuddles or mopping up puddles of sick?

Keeping my only child safe day in and day out, making him feel secure and loved above all else before singing a lullaby, tucking him in and kissing him goodnight. No, apparently that’s not parenting.

Try as I might, it’s hard to brush aside the hurt that seemingly simple statements like that cause. It made me feel as though she thought I’d taken some kind of easy option by having only one child and as if my role is somehow less valued.

I appreciate that at times having only one child is much simpler than having to balance the varied needs and desires of more than one. But equally there will be times where mothering a single child will be more difficult – after all he doesn’t have any alternative play mate at home, or another person to be his ally. He needs me to fulfil not only parenting roles, but some of those often naturally fulfilled by siblings.

But most importantly, it’s not a competition. All parenting, no matter how rewarding, is also hugely difficult at times. All parenting, including that which begins the very moment that your very first child is conceived. And parenting, I’m sure, remains challenging even when your offspring are old enough to set off on their own in to the world. Because yes, even then, you’re still a parent whether to one, two, twelve or twenty children.

And if anyone is in any doubt that a single child can be hard work and needs “real parenting” just as much as a child with a sibling, then you’re welcome in to my life at any time to see it in action.

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5 Replies to ““Real Parenting””

  1. Wow. Some people need to learn to engage their brain before speaking.

    I hope you gave her an extra sharp jab in her gum for her ridiculous comment!

    1. I didn’t, but I definitely felt like doing it! I know it was stupid, but it still hurts. You’re so right about people engaging their brains!

  2. Goodness what a spectacularly thoughtless thing to say and not even slightly true – she really must have just opened her mouth and let the words fall out!

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