04/11/2014 11:14 GMT | Updated 20/05/2015 06:12 BST

​Starting School: Tough For Kids, Tougher For Parents


School days weren't the best of my life – I'd much rather have been at home watching Bagpuss and overdosing on Angel Delight than struggling with the complexities of Roger Red Hat and having sand thrown in my eyes.

But experiencing my daughter's first tentative steps in the education system has made me realise, compared to parents, kids have it easy.

I expected starting school to be tough on my daughter. Her nursery had primed, prepped and readied me for a transition that would take her from a cosseted world of fun and on demand adult attention to, basically, Grange Hill.

But, it turns out, reception class is actually an extended play date with a little bit of phonics and arithmetic thrown in, punctuated by organic snack breaks.

Tucker Jenkins wouldn't have liked it, but after leaving the eldest of my offspring on her first morning I thought: 'She's going to be fine'. Even if I was the only parent who had to do the entire Wake & Shake dance and it took three teaching assistants and a buzz saw to extricate her from my legs.


Whether I would be fine was another matter. Children have no idea of the logistical and emotional demands school places on the people who brought them into the world. They simply have to get up, get dressed, refuse breakfast and get ferried to the gates.


The most challenging part of their morning routine is coming up with a new thing to complain about every single day: 'I HATE toast cut into triangles!,' 'some wind blew on me!' or 'a leaf touched my shoe!'

Entering the classroom for the first time is an epochal moment in a child's life that he or she doesn't fully comprehend.

Parents, however, can sense a major lurch towards independence has taken place as their little 'uns begin untethering themselves from their influence, which seems ridiculous to say about a group of people whose favourite pastime involves spinning around until they're so dizzy they can do nothing but stagger into the nearest hedge.

It's a harrowing experience prompting a flurry of doubts and fears:

How will a child who cries when a fly lands near her cope in the jungle of the playground?

Will she eat hot dinners if they don't keep the sauce separate from the pasta? (The answer is no, which is why we're one of three families in the UK still making packed lunches.)

Once in the system, there's no turning back until you're pushing 50 and have lavished enough cash on sensible school shoes to fund the kind of hedonistic lifestyle that would have impressed Elton John in his prime.


You'll also have spent approximately 6,678 hours of your life trying to remember the name of the mum you always end up chatting to at drop off.


My daughter will pop out of this machine a fully-fledged adult who might possibly have held a boy's hand and will be ready to leave home to go to university, start work or 'find herself' on an extravagant travelling expedition to Asia that I WILL NOT APPROVE OF.

Obviously she'll be back when she starts looking for work. It'll be the 2030s by then – all the jobs will be taken by robots.

It's clear the once unshakeable grip I and other parents had on our progeny is loosening, which is why we stumble home on the verge of hysterics, hiding our reddening eyes behind oversized sunglasses.

But that's not the only reason we're all so upset, we know a decade and half's worth of hard, repetitive grind has also kicked off.

Clean uniforms - or at least ones that give the impression of cleanliness - must be ready to wear every morning, five days a week and your child will have to be cajoled to wear it on at least three of those days.

Crumpled forms will be found and filled out using a combination of guesswork and creative thinking; homework will be cobbled together over breakfast and hair arranged into some kind of presentable form, all in time to leave the house by 8.30am.


​Not to mention getting yourself dressed – you don't want to be the parent who turns up in pyjamas. Not every morning.


Before long somebody – ideally a family member, but a passing stranger will do in emergencies – has to be back to pick your child up because schooldays have been contrived to finish at the most inconvenient time possible. Which was fine in the old days when it didn't take two working parents to service a mortgage and have money left over for treats like food, heating and water.

Unfortunately your childless boss whose only goal in life is to hit third quarter sales targets won't understand this, and your other half won't understand that your boss doesn't understand, radically increasing the number of unwanted awkward conversations in your life.

Still it's all worthwhile when your child bounds out of the gates, eager to tell you all about her day, her horizons broadening before your very eyes as she starts to stack knowledge on the empty shelves in her brain...

That's if she was designed and built in the laboratory-for-perfect-children. The most you're actually likely to get when you ask: 'What did you do today?' is 'I CAN'T REMEMBER', because although she's four she has just located her inner 14-year-old.

You'll have to store up your pressing questions about her progress and emotional wellbeing for a ten minute parents' evening slot in two months' time.

Thankfully you've only got around 14 more years of this to endure.

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