The other day I went out for dinner with an old friend and fellow school mum, we spent most of the meal discussing our favourite topic – secondary school places. My eldest son is in Year 5, so it's something that is dominating most of my conversations at the moment.
This got me to pondering on how maternal obsessions evolve along with your children, each as all consuming as the next, each taking over our lives for a few months and then fading as one problem is solved and the next rears it's ugly head. So I thought I would chart the 10 stages of motherhood, some of which I have experienced, some of which are still to come.
1. The Birth Plan
This is the red hot topic amongst pregnant first time mums. From NCT classes to pregnancy yoga sessions this is the one subject that ignites the most discussion. A coffee cannot be shared without endlessly debating whether baby will splash out into a water bath, be born at home or in hospital, will you be mainlining every drug on offer, or humming your baby out while your partner gently massages your back?
This particular topic is quickly scotched by the experience of actual birth, which has a nasty way of undermining the best laid plans of mums and midwives. Though this does lead neatly into the next fixation: the birth postmortem, which is carried out with forensic precision and graphic detail at all ensuing mum and baby coffee mornings.
2. The Feeding Dilemmas
To breastfeed or not to breastfeed that is the question vexing most new mums. The pros and cons are endlessly, and heatedly, debated thanks to the stress and guilt that is heaped on this particular maternal choice. Though I always recall a friend of mine pointing out to me as I struggled to get my firstborn to latch on that within a year they would all be tucking into birthday cake in any case.
Which leads us smoothly onto weaning - when, how, what with - oh the hours I devoted to mulling over these questions, and pureeing the finest organic produce, with my firstborn. My next three sons lived off jars (organic in my defence).
3. Going Back to Work – or Not
Some mums can't wait to cast off the shackles of child rearing in favour of the relatively more civilised world of work, others think this attitude is sacrilege, after all why have children at all if you aren't going to look after them?
The latter option does let you off the next nasty hook of motherhood, which is choosing what kind of childcare you want. Do you go for nursery, child minder, au pair or nanny?
Just know that whatever option you are considering friends with older children will be full of horror stories about each choice: nannies who leave kids in front of the TV all day; au pairs who get pregnant; a nursery that let a child wander out into the road, by which time you will be almost too terrified to leave your beloved baby with anyone. That's before you work out the ruinous cost of childcare will mean you end up working for less than minimum wage.
4. Primary School
After several years of single-handed child rearing or paying through the nose for childcare, you might think things get easier once they go to school. But that's forgetting that you have to get them into one first. Parents spend hours poring over Ofsted reports, visiting all the local schools and once they have selected the one they want will move mountains to get their child into it.
From finding God to moving house, nothing is too much trouble when a highly contested school place is at stake.
5. Secondary School
This is the stage I am at now with my eldest. My fellow mums and I have spent the last few months touring the local schools, I am not entirely sure why as one school looks much like the next and they only ever allow their most pristine students to come into contact with prospective parents.
If you live on the doorstep of a great school, bully for you. If you don't, you will soon get caught up in the merry-go-round of tutors and music lessons to get your child into a selective or, if you can afford it, private school. Or again it's amazing how many Damascene Conversions occur when test scores aren't quite high enough and there's a fantastic faith school nearby.
6. Exam Stress
I was sure that I had left this behind forever when I completed my degree. All that stropping over revision, worrying about making the right choices, ruing the day I chose to take Physics GCSE when I didn't understand a word the teacher was saying. Sadly I was wrong as I am assured that it is even more stressful when it's your children's turn. I am firmly closing my ears to this though as it is a hard enough battle to get my sons to do homework now, I dread to think how I will manage it when they tower over me with teenage hormones raging through them.
7. Sixth Form Entry
Naively I thought that once they were at secondary school it was plain sailing until it came to higher education. How silly do I feel now as I watch friends agonise just as painfully over the choice of a sixth form. They are once again doing the rounds of schools, biting their nails in the hope that their son or daughter gets good enough exams to get into the school they want.
8. University Entry
All the usual stress of getting into a chosen academic institution twinned with abject terror at the sky high fees and the fact that to tour all the possible options you will have to spend hours in the car navigating the motorways of Britain with your surly teenager in tow.
9. The Empty Nest
This one doesn't bear thinking about when your children are as young as mine, but I am told that after enduring the teenage years most parents are pretty happy to see the back of their large offspring. No more huge food bills, late night calls for a lift home or huge shouting matches when you refuse to shell out for yet another new phone/iPad/laptop. Now you're desperate to get a text.
10. The Boomerang Kids
Just when you thought it was all over and you could convert their bedroom into a study, or downsize to cash in on that equity, they are back. With house prices spiraling out of control and no jobs available adult children are descending on the parental nest like huge cuckoos who refuse to fly solo and still expect to be spoon fed by their aging parents.