You know what would be a great idea? Parental leave that kicks in when your kid turns twelve or thirteen. Or maybe fifteen or seventeen, depending on how things roll in your family.
I’m serious and I’m not alone. There’s a school of thought, populated by people much brainier than me, that there’s too much handwringing over being with your child every second during their first few years and not enough the messy teenage times.
My eldest turns 13 in a few weeks. So much about being his mother is easier now than when he was one. I spend less time looking for blankie, and more time debating whether Hamish or Andy is funnier. He’s into test cricket, plays volleyball and can eat Bunnings out of sausages-in-bread.
But he’s also all over YouTube. And he’s making friends with kids whose mothers I don’t know. He rides his bike to swimming clubs and gets home just before it’s dark. All of which I’m fine with. It’s called growing up and although it’s scary for me, it’s an exciting time for him. I don’t want to spoil it by asking if he’s disturbed by the more adult themes in The Hunger Games. Lord knows I didn’t want to share my thoughts on Flowers In The Attic with my mother.
This is the time we feel we can throttle back on ‘parenting’ (my least favourite word, by the way). But the experts are saying noooooo, this is the time to crank it up!
In a nutshell, the theory is this: babies and toddlers are remarkably resilient – as long as they feel secure and someone who loves them mashes the bananas and plays peek-a-boo they’ll thrive. The baby-toddler period is tricky logistically (kids under three are notoriously bad at making themselves a toasted sandwich) and every family deals with this period differently.
Maybe mum stays home, or dad does. Sometimes Nan helps out. There’s daycare, nannies and neighbours. Often it’s a patchwork of arrangements that changes month to month and year to year. But the vast majority of kids turn out just fine and march into school raring to get on with the next instalment of their lives – and work windows open up for lots of parents.
Most teenagers are capable of using a key, heating some baked beans, calling 000 if the house is burning down … no one needs to stay home to mash the banana so hi ho hi ho, it’s off to work we go.
Sex, drinking, and social media is a recipe for some risky behaviour. (Post continues after audio.)
But this is exactly the time we need to be around, say the experts.