Families, in all their guises.

I started today watching a programme called “Maternity Ward”. Through the TV screen, I became part of the audience watching several babies being born. I watched fathers crying with emotion at the births of their children, and I watched mothers kissing little faces, and thanking doctors and midwives for their help in delivering these little miracles.

I saw them load their precious babies into car safety seats when it was time to leave the hospital. I knew that for most of them that first car journey was the start of a wonderful, though often difficult time. Parenthood is never easy, and those first few weeks of broken sleep, colic, problems with feeding, are very hard. As is often said, babies don’t come with an instruction manual.

But what we always hope is that through all the problems there is love for the child, and that will always help a parent deal with whatever is going on.

This afternoon we went to East Sussex to meet up with my daughter and her partner, and their two youngest children, a toddler and a baby. Their love for their children, all three of them, is so obvious. It isn’t proved by the buying of toys, or by constant fussing over them. It’s shown in their interest when a child says something, in their willingness to stand and wait whilst their toddler dawdles behind or gets distracted by something on the ground. It’s shown with cuddles and kisses and praise when it’s due.

We went to the Seven Sisters Country Park, and walked down to the sea, and of course as soon as I saw the sea, I needed to leave the others and hurry back to the nearest loo, about a mile away. It was a lovely day, so the park was busy with lots of families with buggies, children walking, dogs, people on bikes, some with children in baby seats. I was thinking about how each of these children had their own birth story. Each parent had experienced the joy of the births of their babies, and the hopes for their futures.

For a while I followed a couple and their little boy. He was riding on his father’s shoulders, and they all chatted as they walked along, the little boy asking questions, and the parents patiently answering him, and pointing out things to him as they went along. It seemed like a very loving little family, and I could imagine the joy at this child’s birth. He’s a lucky, obviously very much loved little boy.

I’ve always liked to see families out doing things together, and cycling is one of those things that can involve everyone, including tiny babies, with the use of trailers and bike seats. I was just coming up to a gate where a man and a little boy aged about seven had got off their bikes to walk through. I’d seen them earlier, a man, woman, and the little boy, and had thought that their bike ride through the park together was a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

As I got closer, I realised that the child was crying. The man, very impatiently, said “What are you crying for?”, and the boy replied “Mummy just said I was stupid”. I waited for comforting words, but none came. His father uttered what can only be described as a grunt, but which was obviously meant to be translated as “Oh for goodness sake grow up and stop making a fuss about nothing”. He got on his bike and cycled after his wife, leaving the little boy to trail after him, still visibly upset.

I’m sure that if we could see a film of that little boy’s birth, seven years ago, we would see the tears of emotion, the kisses on his little head…the love.  I’d like to know where that all went. What happened in the intervening years to cause a mother to call her child stupid, and a father to be able to ignore his child’s distress? What had seemed like an idyllic scene, parents sharing a bike ride with their child, suddenly seemed very different. All I can hope is that their actions today were out of the ordinary, and that tonight they are reading a story and tucking their child up in bed, and giving him the kisses and cuddles he needed this afternoon.


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