Illustration: Naomi Wilkinson


Parents can suck at adulting, too

Robyn Wilder is learning that being a parent and being a grown-up aren’t always the same thing

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By Robyn Wilder on

Here's a secret: I am an idiot. Objectively an idiot. I am terminally disorganised, I can only cook about four things, I can't find my way around a map and I’m generally the sort of person who everyone moves all the drinks away from when she sits down, lest she upend everything with an errant gesticulation.

In fact, one of the reasons I left it so late to have my kids (at 38 and three days shy of 42, respectively) is because I assumed I’d grow out of this idiocy. That, at some point, I’d stop counting on my fingers and exclusively wearing trainers and magically transform into someone with a capsule wardrobe and five-year plan – and that I should probably wait until then to make “big” decisions.

Obviously, this didn’t happen. Obviously, the decades of my life flipped away like calendar pages in a black-and-white film and, by the time I realised that I’d probably always be the sort of person who accidentally grills cakes instead of baking them, I was in my late thirties.

In the end, I got married and had kids anyway. And not to someone who was wildly different from me. Although he’s levelheaded and a far more accomplished cook, my husband is still the sort of person who listens to French jazz and invests in Kickstarter projects at the weekend, rather than, say, working with wood or participating in team sports.

Despite this, we've somehow produced two relatively well-rounded children. Granted, they’re young, so there’s still plenty of time to arse it all up, but for now they’re fed, secure, contented and curious, and I have no idea how we pulled it off.

You see, I have a blueprint in my mind for the ideal parent. It’s someone who’s nurturing and compassionate, but also inspiring and great in a crisis. A cross between Mary Poppins, Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society and Bear Grylls. Essentially, the person you’d want to be around come the apocalypse.

My husband listens to French jazz at the weekend, rather than, say, working with wood or participating in team sports

Neither my husband nor I are that person. Come the apocalypse, we would have nothing to offer, unless it was a very specific kind of apocalypse where mankind’s last hope was a perfectly chewy meringue (my husband) or a brainless listicle about cheese (me).

But I’m starting to believe this blueprint is wrong. Firstly, because adulthood isn’t something you arrive at fully formed; it’s a constantly evolving process. It’s evolution; adaptation in response to change.

This is no more obvious than when I compare how green and simple we were when parenting was new to us. Back then, we didn’t know about silent reflux, or how boys and girls have different nappies, or how The Happiest Baby On The Block DVD would haunt our dreams for years to come.

After almost four years of parenting, though, I am a nappy wizard. And more things are changing. My husband recently bit the bullet, passed his driving test and bought a family car, which is not only handy, but also feels very grown-up.

And I put together a flatpack desk this weekend. Fine, it doesn’t sound as impressive, but it was my first-ever flatpack. I bought it, unpacked it and frowned at the instructions, as is tradition. Then, armed with an Allen key and an electric screwdriver (and after only a brief pause, when someone had to explain the difference between the two), I built the thing. And it is solid. It is level. It is unequivocally a desk. I have done an adequate job and I couldn’t be prouder of myself.

I’m so glad that past-me didn’t sit around, waiting for adulthood to arrive on my doorstep. It turns out adulting, whether that’s raising a baby, clearing out the gutter or doing your taxes, isn’t something you have to do confidently – or competently, at first. You just have to do it, however you can, until it sticks. The learning comes with practice.  

You probably knew all this already. But, like I say, I’m just an idiot.


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Illustration: Naomi Wilkinson
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