When your first child is born, whether you are ready for it or not, your career options open up. Professions you never considered become part of your day-to-day job. As unappreciated, unpaid and, more often than not, unqualified as your efforts may be, the parent has to accept the role and go on as best they can. Which is why mums and dads are the first line of medical defence in an infant’s life. For the first baby, that means a lot of sterilising, frequent trips to a specialist, catching puke in your hands to stop it landing on a couch and researching symptoms online until the early hours of the morning. If a second child comes along, standards are relaxed and unless a toddler has actually managed to stick themselves to the ceiling with snot then a wipe down with a wet wipe and a glass of warm milk is the most common prescription.
As your child’s first teacher, it falls on you to impart wisdom from an early age. Thankfully things like walking and language are innate, leaving you to concentrate on the important stuff. Instilling an early interest in books is great for early-ears development. Any parent who can recite the entire Gruffalo with their eyes closed knows that reading books to children every night means reading the same handful of books. Again and again and again.
Solving crimes and doling out punishments. That is basically the definition of 90 per cent of parenting.
7 Riot police
Biting, screams, a dirty protest and eyes streaming with tears. It can be hard to tell the difference between police breaking up a violent protest and the way a child reacts if you give them the yellow plastic spoon instead of the green one to eat their supper. As a parent, no matter how much you want to go and lie under a duvet, you have to leap into conflict zones. This is doubly true when siblings are in the mix.
People go through years of university and decades of training and academic research to make advances in the field of psychology. A parent, on the other hand, is forced to take a crash course and make snap diagnoses on three hours of sleep a night. Every day a parent makes a dozen decisions that will end up mentally scarring a child yet we don’t require any qualifications or proof of sanity before asking parents to explain why there are no such thing as monsters, deliver a eulogy to a dead pet or explaining the morality of why it is not nice to scratch your behind in public.
Even if they employ an actual maid, the average parent still spends between 20 and 30 hours a week walking behind their kids picking up toys, wiping up crumbs and mopping up assorted spillages.
Cooking an interesting meal for a demanding and highly critical audience several times a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year makes parents the most in demand and unappreciated staff in the catering industry. Even the hardest and most foul-mouthed of kitchen chefs would crumble and walk out of such conditions in any other situation.
3 Taxi driver
To school, home from school, to their friend’s house, to the beach – kids need to be taken everywhere. We’re not saying they lack initiative or gumption, but it seems unlikely the average toddler would even consider flagging down a taxi and going to the swings in the park on their own. Even when they’re on the swing they wave their arms around and wait for a parent to come and push them. It is laziness and there are no other words for it.
2 Event planner/children’s entertainer
It is not enough to flick on a movie or hand them a phone to play with. Between managing and developing special occasions like summer holidays, birthdays and a complex network of playdates, mums and dads have to do some playing themselves. Taking part in endless games of cards or playing with dolls can feel like a tough assignment.
1 Financial advisor/researcher/life coach/tutor
The work never stops until you become a grandparent. Then you achieve the honourary role of critic.
Will Milner is a contributing editor.