The nuclear family should be blown up. ItÕs over-rated, over-priced, but unfortunately, never really over Š well not until youÕre looking at full-time nursing care.
The joys of family life are like the joys of sex, often written about but rarely practiced. You get the two point four kids (the fraction being usually a hangover from a spouseÕs previous marriage) the dog, the cat, the Volvo estate and you think itÕs all going to be a nice little Normal Rockwell fantasy for the front of your Christmas card. And then you wake up and smell the nappies.
No one needs to expound upon the horrors of surviving infancy, but at least then there are compensations for the sleepless nights, the obsessive interest in the performance of disposable nappies and childcare juggling nightmares: Babies are cute, helpless and infinitely appealing. You would, and do give your life for them. No, itÕs afterwards that the foot rot really sets in. Whatever your initial ideas about family life, the biggest misconception is that they grow up. They donÕt. They just get older and a lot less cute. All too soon you discover that living with your own offspring is like being in a prolonged student flat-share hell with you paying all the bills. They trash your stuff, eat your food, run up huge phone bills about which they deny all knowledge, wear your clothes then lend them to their friends, borrow the last drop of the fabulously expensive cologne youÕve been saving for a special occasion, just to dry up their spots, and they refuse to tidy up after themselves. However, unlike the student squat, you have no hope of evicting these tenants, and you canÕt move out yourself without paying child support. Furthermore, if you yell at them about their unreasonable antisocial behaviour, they yell right back at you, usually threatening Childline. I know one highly functioning, over achieving man, whose staff quake at the sound of his footsteps, who shrugs impotently when his petulant thirteen year old daughter blithely tells him to Ōfuck off daddyÕ. IÕve heard a thirteen-year-old boy address his chic, corporate mother who controls a budget bigger than the GNP of a small country, as a dickhead. And IÕve also seen a person outside the school gates who rules the airwaves and decides what we, the viewing public, watch on television, quiver like jelly at the PG-13 behaviour by his adolescent children. You canÕt but sympathise. Well not if youÕre a woman who has ever negotiated a supermarket check-out with two kids in a double shopping cart.
I have tried to avoid enrolling at the touchy feely school of indulgent middle class parenting by running my own home like a totalitarian dictatorship that is in no way benign. My kids donÕt yet call me a chief phallus, at least not to my face, but I have heard myself referred to Stalin, especially during my periodical purges on their bedrooms. Granted, there are similarities Š I was not democratically elected, I have a tendency to spy on my children (apparently checking to see if they have eaten the sandwiches in their lunch box constitutes an infringement on their civil liberties), I expect to hold my unpopular position until I die, and I tolerate no dissent. Nevertheless, we all know that repressive regimes donÕt work. So no matter how many Ōmummy looksÕ I bestow, gimlet-eyed, on my recalcitrant children, the peasants are indeed revolting.
Thus, my son who is banned from all telephone calls after running up a bill of £300 in two months, lives in a parallel universe where ŌbutÕ is a comma and use of the phone doesnÕt count if someone else rings him or heÕs connected by modem. I was also, shall we say ŌannoyedÕ, when he was recently brought home in the middle of the night in a Police paddy wagon. Apparently he and four others went walkabout from a friends sleepover at 2am, all dressed in black ŌhoodiesÕ the Chador of the Gary generation, looking like trainee thugs armed with spray cans. The parents slept on, blissfully unaware of their guestsÕ abscondment. We all met later in what felt like a 12-step program for parents of teenage children, to admit our powerless and inadequacy. But I should be grateful, IÕm told. My children are pretty good as delinquents go. They are not drinking Bacardi Breezers on Chiswick High Road, smoking cigarettes, selling the silver, buying dope, or, more importantly, dealing in it.
But the family still turns you into an unpaid servant for thankless masters and offers absolutely no privacy. Intimacy is forbidden. Kids have better sex lives than you do, and make retching noises if you as much as exchange a meaningful glance on the sofa, where they sit between you, like chaperones. They have locks on their bedroom doors. You have a sign on yours saying come in; help yourself.
And then, of course, they leave. They turn into adults and begin to find you as much of a nuisance as you do your own parents. And they also want you to baby-sit. You have now turned into the extended family, a fiction in the mind of The Waltons. What extended really means are responsibilities slung across your back like twin panniers on an overburdened donkey. Clingy kids on the one side, elderly, feeble parents on the other - all high on high on interference and low on support.
In the end, children arenÕt like puppies. They are just for Christmas, if youÕre lucky. ItÕs the only time youÕll see them again Š well unless they have somewhere better to be. Though at least with the Christmas puppy, you know itÕs definitely going to pee on the floor. With your inebriated, adult children, sadly, youÕre never sure.