Survey of Junior Doctor Parents Show More Than 50% Considering Leaving NHS England

jdcchildMore than 1000 junior doctor parents have spoken up voicing grave concerns about the new contract, set to be imposed this August. In an online survey conducted in April 2016, 99.4% consider the contract will have a detrimental effect on their family life and less than 5% of respondents plan to continue their career as it currently is. 93% consider the proposed contract will have a detrimental effect on their relationship with spouse or partner. More than 25% are considering leaving the profession altogether, with a further 26% considering a move to another country.

“There are around 54,000 junior doctors. A junior doctor is anyone graduated from medical school up to consultant or GP level. Most are of child rearing ages and many have children. When doctor recruitment is already in crisis and only 5% of junior doctor parents plan to continue as is, imposition of this contract could throw the entire doctor workforce into disarray,” states survey creator, Dr Sethina Watson, junior doctor and mother of four. “This contract threatens both lives of medic children and, with a potentially reduced workforce, the lives of patients too.”

The survey asked a range of questions on current level of training, current and potential childcare and whether or not they envisaged continuing their current career should the contract be imposed. The survey identifies extreme difficulties in finding childcare, 93% state that finding childcare with the new contract will be more difficult. The governments equality analysis of the Junior Doctor contract openly states that it disadvantages women but that this ‘indirect adverse effect on women is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’. The equality analysis suggests that some women may find it easier to arrange informal, unpaid childcare in the evenings and weekends. The survey results showed that nearly 60% of respondents do not have access to such childcare. Of those who do, 86% believe it will be unreliable for ensuring attendance at work. There may be a surge in doctors requesting part-time working, which can still entail up to 55 hours per week.

Of particular concern are the doctor and doctor couples that comprise nearly 40% of those who responded. “I cannot imagine how it would be tolerable if the frequency of our weekend working were to increase; I could easily imagine this causing marital and family breakdown,” said one married male doctor.

Jeremy Hunt’s rush to impose the contract threatens to create a potential time bomb that could explode as early as August as thousands of junior doctor parents struggle to find childcare or quit their jobs. The legacy could harm generations of children and lead to a loss of thousands of years of medical training from the workforce.

Survey Results Summary:

  • 1060 Respondents
  • 84% aged 30-44
  • 82% female
  • 84% married/civil partnership
  • 38% have doctor partner/spouse
  • 38% full time employment, 41% less-than-full-time
  • 39% caring for one, 39% caring for two
  • 59% use nursery and 58% spouse for additional childcare
  • 34% ST 5+
  • Of those choosing to stay in medicine 58% will stay in speciality
  • 40% spend between 20-39% of net household income on childcare
  • 58% do not have access to unpaid informal childcare, those who do 86% say not robust or reliable enough for work
  • If contract comes in 48% plan to use partner for childcare, 48% don’t know what they will do (you could have more than one answer for combination arrangements)
  • 75% expect to pay for this additional childcare
  • 93% said that finding more childcare would be more difficult
  • 4.6% will continue their career as it currently is
  • Those considering other options 87% cite impact on children, 79% impact on spouse, 53% cannot afford further childcare, 77% emotional strain and stress as key factors
  • 74% state the proposed contract will definitely have a detrimental impact on their relationship with spouse/partner (19% state probably)
  • 93% state it will definitely have a detrimental effect on family life and 6% say it probably will

Complete survey findings are available JDCchildcaresurvey2016.

Survey conducted by Dr Sethina Watson, Anaesthetics Trainee, mother of four and former founder of Follow me on Twitter @morefluids.

For a short link to this survey use

Featured in The Guardian – Junior doctors: ‘over half could quit NHS England over Hunt’s contract’ and Hospitals braced for walkout as Hunt says doctors’ strike must be defeated.

For more information on the survey and permission to use findings, please contact me below


Greater Than The Sum of Its Parts #PowerOfUs

Much of what we do in medicine involves the work of teams. To deliver medical care however basic or complex involves the work of more than one professional. Ideally, shared decision making involving the patient and their families helps to deliver high standards of care using best practices and weighing current available evidence. Working within that team requires respect for others, shared and open goals, a desire to seek and prevent potential errors and continuous re-evaluation to improve our work. These words may sound like ‘buzzwords’ or ideals, but their value has become more evident since my youngest daughter was born nearly two years ago.

It was a Friday afternoon, we’d had a lunch meeting about how the acute medical take needed to work; how we needed to work together to improve patient care. A consultant listened as we shared our experiences, where things needed to improve and who could do what. My phone rang with no caller display; I knew it would be the hospital calling, but about what? It is those personal calls at work that twist your stomach.

The news was layered slowly and deliberately, your daughter has grown Pseudomonas with antibiotic resistance and a bio-film. Again it felt like our lives had been shattered, the pieces we had carefully constructed to build a normal life and retain hope for a beautiful future seemed in disarray. I was unable to re-order them into any meaningful shape. The trouble with being a doctor and a parent of a child with a serious chronic medical condition means you know too much. I know the implications of this and imagine the worse outcomes possible. My darling toddler, the situations she must deal with.

Cystic Fibrosis is a hidden condition. Here she is a picture of health and happiness!

Cystic Fibrosis is a hidden condition. Here she is a picture of health and happiness!

In she went for two weeks of IV antibiotics. There for a good few weeks  we were in despair, hope lost. I sought the fragments of hope, I looked for it and couldn’t find it. I know that the outcomes of young patients with Pseudomonas can be tragic. I sought inspirational stories from those with young children with Cystic Fibrosis who had cleared such a strain of Pseudomonas. I found none.

We made it through the weeks in hospital. But we felt different. I returned to work a different person. I feel for every patient whose stay in hospital is longer than they imagined. Who wait, two days or two weeks for test results. Who sit without families, without basic creature comforts and lose levels of dignity and privacy which we take for granted. I know the feeling of waiting for the ward round, that piece of news you need, something, anything. Doctors breeze in for a few minutes and are gone again. Packing your bags and going home is the best feeling in the world. After her hospital stay we drove to her next follow up appointment nauseated with worry. Future feeling very bleak.

My daughter (and us) have a team of people who look after her. A team made up of doctors, specialist nurses, physiotherapists, dieticians, psychologists and social workers. There are several such teams dotted across the UK caring for children just like ours. Social forums ask ‘what’s your team like?’ People discuss varying advice given and there seems differences across teams and situations. People won’t even move house for fear of having a different CF team! CF is an individual condition, what works for someone might not work for someone else. Atul Gawande wrote about a determined doctor who redefined the approach to CF care and how they deliver excellent care as a team. CF team care perfectly demonstrates how the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

As I sat waiting for the doctor he arrived. Bright, enthusiastic and engaging. Matter of factly he told me her latest cough swab was clear. Relief was almost too difficult to express, it bubbled slowly from within, but too hard to fully allow. It will take days to sink in. However, it was what I learned that day was about the power of teams and a team ‘mission statements’ to borrow corporate terminology. He told me they believe in Aggressive Antibiotic Eradication Therapy (AET) for Pseudomonas. ‘No need to feel bleak at all,’ he said. And here’s why.

We got her CF on newborn screening. These kids are doing very well.

We are monitoring her like a hawk. If we suspect Pseudomonas and can’t find it we will hunt it down. If we find it and we will do everything we can to get rid of it. If that means bronchoscopy and two weeks IV that’s what we will do. If we need to do that several times, we shall do that. That’s what we believe in here. We will not accept it living in there. We will not accept a cough as normal for her.

When she transitions into adult CF care, which she will, I want her to have no evidence that she even  has CF. And that is what we expect.

She may be too young for clinical trials, but once there is one for her, we can try it. There is lots going on at the moment.

You as a family are fully on board, you are doing her physiotherapy, you call when you are worried, you give her the treatments we recommend. You are doing very well.

We are doing very well. I had never thought of that. I had never heard those words. Her treatments and life are fully integrated as normal for us all. Or as normal as things can be. We never use negative language around her. ‘Yucky medicine’, ‘palaver’, ‘time-consuming’ are words we never say in front of her. The nurse who came into the room proudly praising her for taking ‘that repulsive’ medicine’ (flucloxacillin) easily was doing more harm than good. It took months to get her to take that with ease. One thoughtless comment could cause endless problems, luckily she is too young to decide to stop taking it. In that afternoon I left bursting with hope again. The doctor and his team have our backs. They lift us up when we are down, the guide us through this journey, they teach us, listen to us, hear us and help us. Each individual on that team plays an important and key role in taking care of her. I was struck by our daughter’s consultant sharing their team ‘mission statement’, we used them all the time in my corporate career. I used to write them for my business clients. They may be seen as ‘naff’, by they are important and make sure everyone is on the same page, with the same goals. Perhaps we should be using them more in medicine.

During her last hospital stay I really saw how the nurses really are her main carers, with no disrespect to others. They see her and us more frequently. If a patient gives a box of chocolates for the nurses only there’s a reason behind that. We doctors, though important too, blast in for moments at a time. We come in with needles, syringes, intimate questions, test results and leave again leaving the nurses and other health professionals to take care.The Reith lectures again changed my medical practice, Gawande suggests that we ask patient’s what they actually want. Do you want that test that I am ordering, the result of which may change your future, or do you want that surgery? I know why we are rushed, for I do this myself, we are busy, we may have 30-40 patients to be seen in a single morning. The pressures are on us. But some of the most rewarding moments are when we have time to ask, time to sit and talk to patients and their families. But this balance is hard. A medical career often comes at great personal cost. My child’s life expectancy is shorter than most, I want to be there for her. Do not consider me ‘not a team player’ if I want to get home on time. I need to deliver her physiotherapy, medications and nebulising treatment before her bedtime. One Friday I was leaving at 7pm (two hours late), I was rushing home so that I would see my children before bed. A patient’s family member grabbed me as I was leaving in the lift to ask me a complex question that required a measured response. That night I did not see my children.

Atul Gawande’s Reith lectures recently spoke about how medical care is too complex for one individual to deliver. Teams with individuals specific and expert roles can deliver a care that is synergistic. One part of the team breaks down and care can suffer. Not only can patient care suffer, team members themselves can suffer. However, the balance between individualism and medicine is complex. I find it hard working with others who have their own self-serving goals. To impress, pass exams, get to do something ‘cool’ at the expense of another colleague who also needs to learn that procedure. Those who do not communicate with the rest of the team, not sharing what they have done or are doing. Tests get duplicated, tests get missed. The consultant asks for patient updates and you do not know whether something has been done or not because your other team member hasn’t told you. Worse they have gone to theatre or clinic leaving you to figure out what they may or may not have done. The team member who speaks to other staff with disrespect or worse doesn’t speak at all. These individuals make the team look bad and, worse, can cause patient harm. To reiterate medicine is too complex for one individual to deliver.

Doctors regularly have to be assessed as to how they are functioning as part of a team. We ask colleagues from all disciplines to rate our team behaviour anonymously. A Multi-Source Feedback (MSF), 360 degrees, Team Assessment of Behaviour (TAB) are what they are known as. You then sit down and discuss your performance with your supervisor. You pick the people who want to fulfill the form as apparently you will most value their feedback. However, not selecting those with whom you may have conflict or personality clashes with may omit the most valuable feedback. Another important group missing are the patients. Patient feedback would also be invaluable. My MSF is currently happening at the moment. Always feel slightly nervous about them.

As a doctor working in a team can make the job much more bearable. Team work is what gets one through the difficulty of nights and weekends where stripped down medical teams care for huge numbers of patients. My most memorable nights are when working alone in different parts of the hospital we meet briefly for tea and catch up, helping someone with a job or encourage someone to take a break. It can be stressful when the only time you meet is at a cardiac arrest and dissappear shortly after rushing back to your work. Thank you to that nurse who made me that cup of tea as I nearly tripped with exhaustion at 4am in the morning and to the Senior Registrar who prescribed a warfarin I had not gotten around to doing. The domestic serving tea, the cleaner mopping the floor, the pharmacist checking your prescription are all there with one common goal to deliver safe and effective patient care. We are all members of the same team. Having just worked the Christmas period that bonding and camaraderie of being together at work is enhanced, when you know others are with

Now more than ever do I understand how teams can make or break the patient’s journey. The words you use, the part you play as part of a bigger picture of care are very important. I thank our CF team for restoring our hope, I thank the team who cared for her in hospital from the doctors, nurses, play therapists, domestics, cooks, cleaners, physiotherapists, pharmacists, dieticians, anaesthetists, theatre staff, ODPs, recovery staff and more. One special thanks to the nurse who went and got her a coco-pops bar when she was hungry and eating no food, you know who you are.

Here is to Aggressive Antiobiotic Eradication Therapy and the power of teams. Next time you’re off to an MDT know that they make a massive difference to patients.

Some of her daily meds. Just totalled up Minty's meds & care for the year just to keep her healthy! Dornase alpha £2019.10 per 3 month course Creon Micro £31.50 per pot, 5-7 per year Flucloxacillin £26.04 per week x 52 - £1354 per year Saline around £80-100 per year Azithromycin about 3-4 courses per year at £11.04 each Co-amoxiclav around 4-5 courses per year at £3.60 each Vit E 4 x £42.12 per bottle Dalivit 10 x £5.58 bottle Salbutamol - around £3.50 a year! Clenil - around £3.70 per year Colomycin £324 per 3 month course Tobramycin £3.77 per day, 2 x 2 week courses Ceftazidime £8.95 per vial, 3 per day, 28 days around £751.8 eFlow Nebuliser (specifically for CF patients ) around £800 extra eFlow kit for Dornase alpha around £300 MDT clinic follow up every 8 weeks - doctor, dietician, social worker, psychologist, physiotherapist, specialist nurse. Appt lasts 2 hours 2 x hospital stays (approx 2 weeks each) including 2 GAs, one PICC line and 1 long line - hospital bed around £225 per day Minty has had 5 chest x rays in her life Microbiology - around 10-12 cough swabs per year with results Home visits - as many as she needs from CF Team.  Meds & Nebs alone cost over £7000 This is all funded by the NHS from tax payers like yourselves. With extra support from CF Trust.  This is to say thank you to everyone involved in keeping her healthy and giving her a future.

Some of her daily meds.
Just totalled up Minty’s meds & care for the year just to keep her healthy! Approximations.
Dornase alpha £2019.10 per 3 month course
Creon Micro £31.50 per pot, 5-7 per year
Flucloxacillin £26.04 per week x 52 – £1354 per year
Saline around £80-100 per year
Azithromycin about 3-4 courses per year at £11.04 each
Co-amoxiclav around 4-5 courses per year at £3.60 each
Vit E 4 x £42.12 per bottle
Dalivit 10 x £5.58 bottle
Salbutamol – around £3.50 a year!
Clenil – around £3.70 per year
Colomycin £324 per 3 month course
Tobramycin £3.77 per day, 2 x 2 week courses
Ceftazidime £8.95 per vial, 3 per day, 28 days around £751.8
eFlow Nebuliser (specifically for CF patients ) around £800
extra eFlow kit for Dornase alpha around £300
MDT clinic follow up every 8 weeks – doctor, dietician, social worker, psychologist, physiotherapist, specialist nurse. Appt lasts 2 hours
2 x hospital stays (approx 2 weeks each) including 2 GAs, one PICC line and 1 long line – hospital bed around £225 per day
Minty has had 5 chest x rays in her life
Microbiology – around 10-12 cough swabs per year with results
Home visits – as many as she needs from CF Team.
Meds & Nebs alone cost over £7000
This is all funded by the NHS from tax payers like yourselves. With extra support from CF Trust.
This is to say thank you to everyone involved in keeping her healthy and giving her a future.

ALS, Breastpumps and Jam

It’s 7am and the babysitter has arrived. I’ve spent the past week reading up the ALS (Advanced Life Support Manual) in 5 minute breaks; in the garden, in the kitchen or while breastfeeding. I’ve not left my baby for this long, I’ve got a 1 hour drive to the course and the last exam finishes around 6.30pm. I’m worried. Baby needs to nurse else the day will have unknown consequences. But she’s having none of it and 20 minutes late I leave the house with my breasts full of milk. As I’m driving up and get stuck in traffic I’m now 40 minutes late. The last time I did a simulation course was after 9 months of maternity leave and I was terrible. I realise again, that I’ve not been on the ward in 6 months and I have baby brain. Husband has been on nights and I’ve been up 3 times breastfeeding baby. ‘This is sheer lunacy’ I think to myself. ‘Why am I doing this?’

Arriving late and last, the instructor announces ‘there’s a space at the front’. I walk to the front in front of everyone and sweating take my seat. I’m the only FY1 on the course and there are ICU consultants, anaesthetic registrars, other senior doctors and a few FY2s. Intimated. I am doomed to fail.


The morning passes. We do our simulations of cardiac arrest scenarios. It’s about 27 degrees Celsius, hot and sweaty. I’ve let them know ahead of time I’m still breastfeeding and will need to pump at some points during the day. The timetable looks a bit tight. They’ve kindly found me an office and while everyone else pops off to lunch, I go in there and begin pumping. The fact there are 5 people in the office next to me and my pump is noisily whirring and sucking, unsurprisingly I have no let down of milk. Hard staring at pics of my little baby I eventually manage a measly 1oz of milk. ARRRGGHH!! Panic sets in as I know that I have 7 hours to go until I get home.

I return to the course with milk a plenty, sore jumbo boobs which spurt milk with every cycle of CPR. It’s quite distracting. Still, we’ve a nice bunch, supportive instructors and we continue our day. By the time it comes to my exam, I’m thinking it’s a tall order whether or not I will pass. My first scenario exam goes horribly wrong. I do that classic stressful situation thing of saying the opposite of what I mean. I can’t fix it. Midway through my exam I realise what I have done, explain and carry on. I know I’ve failed. My boobs are set to burst with all the stress!

I’m taken to another room where I do another exam. Nothing to lose this time. I think I’ve really extended myself now and will really be quite happy if I fail. Miraculously I pass. Praise be. In celebration, my boobs join in and spurt yet more milk. I now wait for the written paper. It’s 1 hour long. I have no time to express milk. I sit it and wait. Eventually after a long day, it’s announced that I have passed. I am too exhausted to be delighted and manage a relieved, wry smile. I need to get to the car and get home as I’ve not seen my kids in 12 hours.

My breasts direct me to the car and drive me home at top speed. I run in the door. ‘Where is she?’. Poor child reunited with mum is overwhelmed by the abundance of glorious milk. Husband shouts ‘did you pass?’. ‘Yes’, I yell as the joyful softness returns to my painful boobs. Now, I’ve got 2 kgs of strawberries in the fridge lovingly picked by my aunt and if I don’t make jam with them tonight they will go off. So I now begin the prep for jam making. Shattered!

Now, you will have to forgive my honesty. I talk frankly. Breastfeeding mums will empathise with what I am saying. Part of my frankness is to say. WHAT ON EARTH am I doing this for? The past few months have been pretty hellish. I’ve even Googled ‘alternative careers for doctors’ as this life is too much. There aren’t enough hours in the day to fit this in. On maternity leave, I’ve done two teaching courses, started two audits and quality improvement projects (and ALS). Why? Because I need to boost my CV for specialty applications later this year. Oh, and by the way, after three long years I can finally say I’ve been signed off for FY1 and will start FY2. This small piece of news is actually quite major! I’m delighted.

The main reason for the hell I’m afraid has largely been to my husband’s Emergency Medicine job. The hours and the rota are brutal for families. With no disrespect to single parents (my mum was one) I feel like a single parent most of the time. I do ALL the household chores, which with 4 kids is rather extensive and add in all the other ‘man’s jobs’. I’m not one for calling this man’s jobs but there are some I’m afraid. I haul the bins out, fill the car with power steering fluid, mow the lawns and basically seem to do everything in the house. He works long stretches at a time. Average 70-80 hours per week, most of them antisocial and weekends. He seems to have nights virtually every week. My son has no idea where or when he will see daddy. The few days off he gets between these 7-8 day stretches just don’t make up for his absence. By the time we get to a week’s break we are both so exhausted in takes 3 days to feel slightly normal again. When he works antisocial hours, it means I do every evening and the routine, I get up in the morning, there is no rest time. In the early days, I actually had days stretches where I got about 2 hours broken sleep. I would get to bed at 11pm, feed regularly throughout the night and when my son decides to get up at 4.30am, I’d be up for the day (until 10pm). This kind of lifestyle is unsustainable. I will say that my lovely husband does what he can when he is home, and does a lot. But I recognise that the nature of his job means he needs to stand and run around all day. I will ‘allow’ him the lie-in instead of me, when the chance arises. We are used to napping at odd occasions and he will tell me to nap when he can. This means we rarely have time together. Some days we may have only 15 minutes to discuss important things, re-mortgages, catching up with the kids and so on. It’s relentless. This kind of lifestyle impact is why emergency medicine is in ‘crisis’. This week the GMC reported that fact. My husband loves emergency medicine, but the toll on family life is too great. Around 50% of junior emergency medicine trainees leave the job at ST3. I am counting down the days until this job is over. In the past 2 and half years he’s done 16 months of emergency medicine in total, largely coinciding with the first few months of our youngest ones lives. I’m over it already.

Next week I return to work. I’m already encountering problems with the old breasts again. Despite being an NHS hospital there is nowhere that I can express my milk. This was the same situation 2 years ago, but I managed by visiting my son in nursery at lunch. I can’t do that this time and my baby is only 5 months old. With her CF she needs my breast milk for as long as possible and I want to give it to her. Bizarre that the NHS advises mums to breastfeed for as long as possible but have nowhere for their own staff to do so. I’m working on this with ‘health and safety’, but it’s one added stress I can do without before returning back. All I need is a quiet place where I can discreetly go off for about 15 minutes and pump, once or twice a day. I’ll give up my lunch break to do so, so as not to affect the team! Its been suggested that I tell my team members that I’m breastfeeding and ask my consultant if he knows of an office I can use. I will do this, but I find it rather personal info to share. I may as well announce to the team ‘I’m off for a poo now’. It’s my private bodily function and I’d rather not share it with my professional colleagues. Oops, just shared it with you though. Ha ha!

Must finish up now. But this week I also did a fundraiser for Cystic Fibrosis Trust and have raised around £1000! Absolutely delighted. Been moved and humbled by people’s generosity and caring. It was hard work (a cake bake and coffee morning) but so worth it. Again, I thank you all. We’re not quite at £1000, so if you fancy adding a few pennies to the pot I’d be most grateful. In return you can enjoy a slice of virtual cake and feel pleased that you are helping a good cause.

Here is our Just Giving page called the Marvellous M!

P.S. Everything I write represents my own views. I am very aware that colleagues, GMC, employers, husband’s colleagues and so on may read it. My blog is about the fact that doctors are human too. Our personal and professional lives are one! Hopefully our dedication to our profession, patients and our own families comes across.

Toddlers & Teens: The Twilight Times

Sometimes I look at my children and I think , “Bloody hell, I’m their mother. I’ve no idea what I’m doing.” Truly, each day comes and goes and I hope I’ve just done my best. I hope I’ve given them some happy times, good food, love, hugs and not shouted too much. But parenting brings such new challenges every day. I have to constant re-evaluate myself, adapt and proceed with that unknown outcome of producing sane adult children. I am in envious awe of you parents with grown up, well adjusted adult children. You deserve to sit back and feel smug at your success. I’ve no idea how you got there, but you did.

As a mum of four I’m often asked, “how do you do it?” Honestly, I’ve no idea. My four are in groups of two separated by ten years! That makes quite a difference really. In some ways it makes it easier, but at the moment I am going through the challenges of having both a toddler and teens. My delightful little three month old daughter with cystic fibrosis (another story) easily just fits into the bigger picture. But step into my house between the hours of 4pm and 8pm and you will descend into another world, a twilight zone. That is when you will see my most frazzled. It begins post toddler nap, after which he always has a meltdown, and he is then stuffed into a car to pick up his older sisters from school. He likes to wear his dressing gown and space monkey pyjamas at all times at the moment. They sometimes stick to his chubby little body with jam, sand and whatever else he’s been into that day. If you see me in the bank with such a child, do forgive me and don’t judge, for its easier to take him like that than face another tantrum. Pick your battles I say.

The school run complete we return home for toddler supper that coincides with infant cluster breast feed (between 5 and 7.30pm). This also happens to occur at teen snack time, of which they always ask me “What can I eat?” and evening meal preparation. Really evening meal overlaps with toddler and baby bath and bedtime. I can stick the rice on and run upstairs to bath one, while breastfeeding the other or the baby has to wait screaming until I can get to her. The act of producing a home cooked meal at this time I consider a small miracle. In a word – it’s CHAOS! Chaos hopefully filled with laughter, tears, frustration and lots of love. Please forgive me that if I answer the phone during that time or you ask me a question, I’ve no idea how I will respond, I may be short with you. This is far more challenging to me than many of my days struggling with the demands of being a junior doctor.

Rather apt, trying to balance the see saw of ages.

Rather apt, trying to balance the see saw of ages.

Now it has struck me now that I am facing very similar challenges in parenting a toddler and a teen. I have my lovely 12 year old, she’s almost 13, so for sake of argument let’s call her a teen. And, my oldest is 14, soon to be 15 (read her excellent blog here) has already traversed some difficult stops on the teen journey, but at the moment is on a nice smooth flat section of the teen rollercoaster. My toddler pushes me to the limit, he’s seeking his boundaries. “I WANT BISCUIT. I WANT CHOC-CA-LAT” he has been known to scream at 5.15am when he wants breakfast. “No, darling, we don’t eat biscuits or chocolate for breakfast” is what I try and say. Really, I want to scream “FOR F~@$’s sake WE DON’T EAT THAT FOR BREAKFAST. I AM IN CHARGE HERE, YOU WILL DO AS I SAY!”

Whatever, we parents have been given the tough job of not causing emotional damage and setting the example. Crikey, we must be perfect. But I can tell you what, my kids have unfortunately heard me use some very bad words, shout and scream and throw my own tantrums. Now, never mess with a MUM TANTRUM as they can far out-do any toddler or teen. Now my toddler has found a new object of joy. An object of mischief. It’s his Stool of Power. This red plastic stool has been introduced as my latest parenting challenge. It came with an electronic drum kit, which I have hidden as it has only one volume – extremely loud. (Manufacturers, I’m sure you don’t want your drum kit implicated in some parent-child altercation, so please put a bloody volume control on it.) Now the Stool of Power goes everywhere with him. It has enabled him to reach into drawers containing matches, find sharp knives, pull down books, pick up the kettle using no handles just the bare metal (thankfully it was cold) and other such mischief. I need eyes in the back of my head to see where and what he is using the stool for. Rationalising that touching the ceramic hob after I’ve made a stir fry is going to hurt doesn’t seem to work. I am forever providing safe limits to his testing of boundaries. If you see me in the Emergency Department (where I may well run into my husband as he’s there more than at home at the moment) with a toddler in pyjamas, screaming baby and grumpy teen, know that I did try, honestly I did try.

Now where can I begin with the joys of parenting teens…. My oldest daughter’s recent blog post of the challenges of living with a Belieber will give you some insight. I find myself facing different boundary challenges. What is acceptable speak between mother and child, when to come to the table for supper, how I cannot buy yet another thing and so on and so on. Now, I come from the school of frank parenting. I don’t like the idea of my girls not being equipped with the things I didn’t know. So we have frank chats about:

  1. condoms (and how they aren’t 100% reliable)
  2. sexuality
  3. trimming pubic hairs
  4. waxing hair on the upper lip
  5. how never to get a credit card (if you do make the limit tiny)
  6. how to use a debit card
  7. not to go to there area as that’s where the doggers go (“What are doggers?”. We’ll come back to that one.)
  8. to save for a pension
  9. to save for a deposit on a house
  10. how to make a delicious pastry

I always have my ‘lectures’, hopefully some of it will go in. I just want them to be loved and grow up and be happy. Hopefully, not get a job as a pole dancer or doctor (but I will love you even if you do). But teens.. they really try me to the limits of my patience. It’s not that long ago that I remember the teen years, but believe me I do know that I didn’t know a lot of stuff. So, I SPEAK FROM WISDOM and EXPERIENCE my lovelies. I find the teens so often depicted on TV and the movies so obnoxious, the parent’s so dysfunctional and they seem to talk so rudely to each other. I hope this isn’t what my girls think is normal teenage behaviour. I hate the sexualised music videos, the constant depiction of seeking love and losing your virginity. I find myself asking for things to be turned off and sounding like my own mother! Our latest attempt to blend our family into one functioning unit, complete with happy memories, is to embark upon camping trips. This has met with considerable teen groans. Disdain even, as my embarrassing ‘Mum-Mobile’ arrives to pick them up from school. A seven-seater enormous ‘car’ complete with roof box. I do suggest that they may walk. We must be mad to consider camping with teens, a baby with CF and a toddler. But I’ve got a spread sheet checklist for all eventualities – slightly embarrassing, but organisation is key to everything.

Vehicle of Embarrassment

Vehicle of Embarrassment

Must go as toddler now has a heavy metal object and is swinging it over the head of little baby sleeping peacefully. Oh, she is saved by him trying to put Borat into the DVD player. Which shall I retrieve first? All this and it’s not even 9am. But I’m filled with this feeling that this time is short. My girls are growing older and I can count the family Christmas’s left with them living at home on one hand. My youngest may not even remember living with three other siblings. I’m trying to capture memories for you in video and photos.

But let’s end on this. I love my kids, I love every one of them with their differing personalities and smells. I’ve been sniffing the tops of their heads and smoothing my chin on their soft hair since minutes after birth. I am your mummy and I hope I am doing OK. Happy Mother’s Day to my friends in America.