Just One Thing – One Thing I’ve Learned

As the series is drawing to a close, I wanted to share a contribution from a perspective of what you might call an ‘experienced parent’ (although I’m not sure she’d call herself that…) Jokes are often made about how the first child is treated as a precious object and, by the third, they’re organising their own birthday parties. So I thought it would be useful to hear from a mother-of-three about what she’s learned along the way.

Charlotte Philby, journalist, writer and mother-of-three, has just one very important message for all new parents reading… “No-one has the answer (honestly)”

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him you have a plan. If you want to fall about in heaving fits of hysteria, tell him that plan involves mapping out exactly how you intend to parent your children.

Having had my first baby at the age of 27 (which was in fact the national average at the time, in 2010), I ended up becoming a mum long before a lot of my friends. As many of them now begin to have kids of their own, while I’m on my third (and very much final) toddler, I get asked a lot of questions. Apparently, because I’ve done it three times before – my kids are now 7, 4 and 2 – I should have this parenthood thing cracked. I should have systems and tried-and-tested routines; I should have answers. I should understand how to respond to the endless, meandering needs that children have as they grow from babies into small, highly-opinionated, highly-emotional people.

The problem is, I don’t have answers. And frankly, I don’t believe anyone does. Because if there is one thing I’ve learnt over the years, as I find myself grappling with the metamorphosis of moving from life as a young(ish) adult, to a mother-of-three, it is that there is no answer. There is no single solution. There is no one-size-fits-all parenting model, because each child is different, each parent is different, and each child—parent coupling is also complex and particular to that specific relationship.

The upshot is that what works brilliantly for soothing my middle child has absolutely no impact on my youngest; while I might have at the time imagined my eldest’s ability to sleep through the night from a few months’ old must have been the consequence of something inherently excellent about my parenting skills, I now realise, having battled against my youngest’s apparent insomnia, it was basically a lottery and on that occasion, we got lucky.

As in all of life, humans are humans, and every human is unique, with their own particular, and often peculiar, set of quirks, characteristics and instincts. This is beyond any of our control. My children, and the way I interact with each of them is necessarily unique. Of course there are overarching factors that runs through how I raise my children. I insist on, but when it comes to navigating the minefield of having a family, there is one word I have come to see work for everyone, and that is pragmatism.”

Charlotte Philby, Journalist

Charlotte Philby is a journalist, writer and Contributing Editor at Marie Claire magazine. She is a former columnist, reporter and feature writer at The Independent newspaper, and founder of Motherland.net. She is currently finishing her first novel – a contemporary spy thriller – and lives in London with her husband and three children, Rosa, 7, Jesse, 4 and Xander, 2.