Seriously, I miss nothing about it, let me tell you why.
My time as a parent has come to an end. Obviously there are 5 adult children out there in the world who still have a mum, who may or may not want my advice, my input, to be part of their lives. But my responsibility for them has come to an end. They are responsible for their own actions, their own thoughts and their own feelings.
Just a quick background. Mother of 3, mother to 5. I'm not including the trials and tribulations of merging 2 families together, as all the kids consider themselves to be siblings and Peter and I are the parents as they refer to us. Also our eldest child is profoundly disabled and is in the full time care of Social Services, but we still have an active involvement in her life and decision making on her behalf. There are 10 years between the boys. They were toddlers and teens at the same time, we only ever had 3 teens at anyone time. Now they are 4 adult men.
2002 our one and only holiday as a family of 7, France.
Parenting isn't about stages and development, it's not a tick box for successfully getting through each stage and moving onto the next. All these stages slowly morph from one to the next, they run concurrently.
We spend a lot of time as parents in the first few years encouraging our children to move onto the next stage. We can't wait for our baby to sit up, start weening, crawl, move onto solids, talk, walk, sleep through the night, then start school.
Then as they reach every stage we look back and wish they were babies again. I guess this is why people want more than one child.
The ages 5-11 sort of just happen, they develop differently, they discover their interests, have their own personalities and as parents we tend not to give another thought about the next stage until it happens.
There's a newish word for the pre teenage years, tweens. I've never really got this stage, maybe it's because I have 4 boys, I do tend to find it's more something that parents of girls refer to more. With 4 boys I never really stopped to think about hormonal changes. Yes their voices got deeper, they started to shave, they started to inflict their presence on each other as equals and exercised their right to be the alpha male.
During the teenage years we want it to all stop. We realise they're growing up and turning into adults and one day they'll be leaving home. We look back on the earlier years and question if we could've done things differently, ask ourselves why they have to grow up, wish we'd not encouraged them to move at the speed they did, wish they were still little.
Life with a disabled child has been very different, milestones have still yet to be reached, despite her being 31 now. Milestones that will never be reached were acknowledged a long time ago. Different milestones were set, more realistic ones. Hopes and dreams for a profoundly disabled child are different. Getting through a day without wet clothes when your child is in their 30's is something to be celebrated, just as much as potty training the boys was.
So how did my journey as a parent go? Most of it just happened, the memory fades. the children feel like they've always been the age they are now. Yes we can recall individual challenges, achievements and first words, but if I'm honest a lot of it gets merged, it gets attributed to the wrong child.
Me, aged 20 with my first born. 27 years later, I'm grey.
I was never the material type, even now I look at other peoples babies and think 'there's nice' but I prefer them when they're a bit older and have a personality. I didn't enjoy and neither did I not like being pregnant, it was just something I went through. I have to consult the boys red books to tell you what day of the week and time they were born. I do remember the date and year though. There are no photo's of me pregnant, ever.
No one in their right mind enjoys the physical side of giving birth, but nature has a funny way of protecting us from the memory otherwise we'd never have more than one child.
Nope, didn't like it.
It was just something we all went through.
At both ends of the spectrum, as babies, then as teenagers, waiting for them to come home at 2am in the morning.
OMG no, no, no.
Fussy with what they'd eat one day, they wouldn't touch the next. However they ate anything and everything as a rule. We had a few food intolerances to deal with but in general they'd eat hummus, veg, fruit, fish. But as teens they lived off pot noodles, pizzas and what I call 'orange' and bland foods. Now as adults they've had the gaul to complain that I didn't cook tasty food.
No baby led weening here.
Yep, letting my baby have chocolate.
Just one big night mare, from poo droppings behind sofas and peeing against the bathroom walls.
A note by child 4 to remind himself to wipe his bum, it's framed and in the bathroom still.
They hated one another, they still don't really get on now. Arguments and physical fights over toys, who they shared a room with and how the others were always favoured over them.
There were tears on the first day of school for the first child only for primary and secondary. It was a relief when the others went. School was a constant battle with being called in for at least one of boys on a monthly basis, fighting, not doing homework etc. Don't get me started on school fees either, we paid enough over the years to have purchased an average 4 bed house in the UK.
After school activities:
No, no, no. I hated the amount of time I spent driving, the organisation and timing of activities. Standing for hours on end in the middle of a field while they played football usually in the rain. The cost of gym, music lessons, horse riding etc, all the activities they insisted they take part in then wanted to drop just after I'd paid a terms fees.
See siblings. They just happened, we didn't survive them, we just got through them, of course we did we can't stop the ageing process.
This was tough, but inevitable. For us though it was a bit different than it is for most parents. Our eldest left home aged 12 to go into care, the next, aged 18, joined the army, within a year he was posted in Germany. The next one, also aged 18, left home and 3 months later we moved 6000 miles away to South Africa. Our youngest left home next, aged 13, to return to the UK for boarding school and the last one left home aged 20 to join the army.
As each child left home, the others filled the gap, it didn't get easier because we were down in numbers, it just changed. There was more time for homework, activities, but meals still had to be cooked, washing and ironing done, school runs and breaking up fights.
We weren't around to support any of our children into adulthood, it wasn't a gentle break for any of us, it was an arm ripping off moment each time.
We moved to Dubai the same time our last child left home in 2014, the youngest two returned to South Africa to say their goodbyes and to physically move with us, although they returned to the UK within a few weeks. Moving countries is stressful in its own right and while I was grateful to not have to sort out schools, negotiate traffic on school runs on the wrong side of the road, helping them make new friends and finding activities for them to join in with, I was incredibly isolated and lonely.
I'm over empty nest now, but I do wonder what the future holds for us in regards to our relationships with our adult children as they begin their own journey into marriage and parenthood.
You'll notice I have more to say about leaving home and empty nest and this is because they happened more recently, they're fresher in my mind. They were recent events, I've not done much since the kids left home, I did return to teaching for a year which contributed to filling my days and I had the death of my father and health issues to deal with over the following 2+ years.
When we all get together, which is rare as a family of 7, with our chosen homes, the last time was for the youngest's 18th birthday in 2017, we talk about the fun times, the memories that make us smile, the holidays, the time we lost the children and the day we went on holiday only realising we'd locked one of the children in the house and left them behind was one another child asked where they were.
At the end of the day we can't stop the process or even slow it down, parenting just happens. Sometimes we need the support of the wider family, teachers, doctors and other professionals.
Most of the time we can't stop or change what our children go through, they develop at their own rate, we can't fix a friendship, stop the bullying, mend a broken heart, get better grades or even have a great deal of influence over their lives as they become adults. We're just there to support them however we feel best at the time. We will have regrets, we will have issues. I know I do.