Motherhood words of wisdomLucy

What words of wisdom did a child-rearing guru mum-of-eight have to share with Lucy Mangan?

The other day I met up with a schoolfriend whom I hadn’t seen for 25 years. We got back in touch the old-fashioned way – a friend of a friend of a friend put our dates, anecdotes and past addresses together, and made the brilliant deduction that we probably knew each other – rather than Facebook, so I had no clue what she’d been up to in the past two and a half decades.

Let me tell you what she’s been up to in the past two and a half decades. She has had eight children. I’ll give you a moment before I tell you that they are all boys. All wanted, all planned, all of that. Just many, many, many, many, many more times than the rest of us do it. And she’s still standing. Thin, and slightly mad-eyed – but standing.

She showed me pictures. Aged four to 18, they look the same but slightly smaller each time, like living Russian dolls. I simply sat there and goggled. I didn’t know what to say. What do you say? I settled for the truth. ‘That’s... that’s AMAZING!’ I said. ‘I cannot imagine...That’s AMAZING!’

I was about to start grilling her on the whys and wherefores, when I suddenly realised that my time could be much better spent on more selfish questions. What a resource, I realised, I had in front of me! This woman has done everything eight times, on material as similar – same gender, same DNA – as you could hope for. She is the head of the greatest accidental control group ever presented to a 21st-century mother-of-one.

So. How did she potty-train? Get them to stay dry at night? When did they walk? Speak? Read? What did she do when they were fussy about food? Is it normal to be consumed for large parts of your day with love, fear and rage all at the same time, and be unable to distinguish between them?

The answers, respectively, were: The first ones potty-trained themselves, the others mostly learned by copying. This is the childbearing equivalent of a supermarket BOGOF offer, and I suppose she’s earned it.

They became dry at night at different ages and for different reasons – one hates mess, one wanted to go for sleepovers with friends, one just did it, for a couple she enlisted their competitive spirits (‘All your brothers did it by the time they were X’), and so on.

They walked, spoke, read at different ages.

If they’re fussy about food, they go hungry; there’s always someone who’ll eat it for them.

And, yes.

Discarding the odd octet-bonus, what I took away from our meeting was this: there are no rules. Your child is unique, even among a band of brothers. You and he/she
do as well as you can and figure each other out as you go. You adapt, invent, deviate, innovate as necessary. You know them best. You are the alpha and omega. Just do what you think – a terrifying and liberating thought in equal measure. Try to let it only free you.

Eight children. I’m goggling still.

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