Is Age Just A Number?

A popular topic on Mumsnet lately has been the right age to have a baby. Somewhat inevitably, it’s leading to a fair few arguments, as everyone disagrees on what constitutes an “old” mum, what constitutes a “young” mum, and what is the ideal age to have a baby at.

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I spoke on Radio Five Live about this last year, and you’ll probably remember me being quite affronted by another guest’s assertion that older parents had wanted their child for longer and therefore loved them more. Similar tired old stereotypes were rearing their heads during these posts on Mumsnet – the “younger parents will live longer” vs “older parents are more mature” debates are old and, quite frankly, a little bit boring.

I’ve made no attempt to hide my feelings that while having a baby at nineteen, smack bang in the middle of uni, was far from ideal; we’ve made the best of it and I wouldn’t change a thing. I couldn’t even begin to comment on what it’s like to be an older mum, as I don’t have that experience yet – but I asked some fellow bloggers about the age they became parents, and their personal views on the “right age” to have a child, and here are some of their responses.

Rachel from Coffee, Cake, Kids was 25 when she had her first child, and she said: “I wish we had held off another couple of years if I am honest. I had only graduated from uni just over a year before, so I went from being a skint student to a mum quite quickly, and there’s so much I would have liked to do before having kids. Saying that, I wouldn’t change it for the world now!”. 

Kate from Family Fever said: “I was 21. In hindsight I wish he had waited a bit longer and got stable careers sorted first, but I loved the fact that we had so much energy – having had another baby at 31 I can definitely feel the difference!”. 

Feeling that you’re missing out is a common theme among young parents, although not everyone feels that way.

Beth at Twinderelmo says: “I had my son at 23 and when I look back now I think it was quite young but I never felt like I missed out on partying”.

In a similar vein, Charlotte from Bloggersaurus said: “I fell pregnant at 19, gave birth just after turning 20. It wasn’t planned but I have no regrets we are a very happy family and I love being a young mum, I love that when she’s 20 I will only be 40”.

I’ll be honest, that’s something I love about being a younger parent too. SB will celebrate her 21st birthday less than a year after I celebrate my 40th, which calls for a nice big double celebration if you ask me (triple, seeing as Daf will be turning 50 that year, but I think he’d rather I didn’t mention that!). It’s quite scary to think that if she follows in my footsteps and gives birth at 19, I’ll be a nan at 38 (and I’ll be honest, I’d like it if she could hold off a little longer than that!).

While people are very forthcoming about the positives of starting early, stories of starting later on seem to be tinged slightly more with regret.

Mary from Over 40 And A Mum To One says: “I was 41. Mine was down to the situation but if things had been different I would have preferred to be mid 30’s I think”. However, she also says there are pros to being a mum a little later on in life – “We are in a financial position where I don’t need to be at work full time and I’ve travelled well before my son arrived”.

This is a definite pro, as I know right now I’m struggling with needing to work full time to keep a roof over our heads, which may not have happened had we waited until we had a little more financial security before having SB.

Sometimes, the choice is simply taken out of people’s hands. Rachel at Rachel Bustin said: “I was 33 with my first. We started trying when I was 30 but I had 3 miscarriages before we were finally lucky. I know it’s old fashioned but we wanted to wait until we were married and had bought our own house. If I knew how long it would have taken us to get pregnant I would have wanted to start earlier. I feel as If I should have be on our second now”.

It goes to show that we can have our “ideal age” to have a baby, but sometimes life has other ideas. I know that I wanted to wait and be married and financially secure before having a baby – although if that had panned out, this blog would never have existed – but my life took a very different direction. There are people out there who want to start early, and who don’t see marriage/living situation as a barrier, but for reasons like infertility, miscarriage and ill health, don’t become parents until much later on.

Most people are in agreement that there’s no uniformly perfect age to have a baby – you could suggest any age and someone would be able to find a drawback to becoming a mum at that age – but many people consider their age to be perfect for them.

Sarah at Each Peach Pear Plum says: “For me 25 was just right, I haven’t never felt it was too young. I do know friends who did think we were too young and as my hubby is 2 years younger at 23 becoming a Dad people thought it to young. However we had planned and prepared and felt it was the right time for us!”.

Renee at Mummy Tries said: “I was a few weeks away from my 30th birthday (32 and 34 with my 2nd and 3rd), and felt it was completely perfect timing. I had been on a huge journey of healing a few years previous, my husband and I had been together five years, and we were ready in every way”.

However, sometimes it’s not as simple as any age being perfect – it’s making the most of the hand life deals you, and seeing the pros and cons to every situation.

Laura from The Unsung Mum posted: “It took us a year and a half to conceive. We now wish we had kids earlier (The Hub is 37, I’m 31) but I don’t think we were ready as a couple any earlier”.

Sharon at Rivers Writes says: “I was 16 when I got pregnant, 17 by the time I gave birth. pros – I had loads of energy and have grown up with my son and we are very close, cons- none of my friends had babies so it was lonely and it was a battle to get educated etc with a baby but wouldn’t change it. 10 years on I’ve been to uni and worked full time so haven’t missed out on anything and have gained a lot”.

Personally, when I used to say how positive I felt about being a young mum, people would say “see if you’re still saying that in a year/two years”. Well, I’m now 22, and I still have no regrets about going through with the pregnancy and having a baby at 19. It definitely wasn’t planned, and the timing was less than ideal, but there’s so many pros to being this age.

Yes, I was the first of my friends to have a baby, and it was a lonely experience for a while – but my friends know that when they have babies, I’ll be on hand to offer help and advice.

We may not be financially set for life, and I may have to work, but I’m raising SB with a good work ethic, and I could’ve waited until I was 30 and still not been in the perfect financial position.

I think one thing is for sure – whether you’re 15 or 50 when you become a parent for the first time, it’s daunting and exciting and a true learning curve. We can all learn from other parents, and we’ve all got wisdom and experience that we can share with others too.

Thank you to all the bloggers who contributed towards this post; I’m sorry I couldn’t use all of your contributions. Please check out the lovely bloggers linked to in the post!

Why Pokemon Go! and parenting are basically the same thing…

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of weeks, you’ll have heard of Pokemon Go!, a new mobile-based game that lets you catch Pokemon around the world, doing battle with other players and so on. It has its fair share of critics – no game that has men in their forties chasing fictional creatures around the world was ever going to be immune to criticism – but there’s also a lot of positivity surrounding the game, mainly due to its ability to actually get nerds and geeks to leave the goddamn house for once.

I’m one of those geeks and nerds, I’m not ashamed to say, and I’m really enjoying the game when it works. It got me thinking, however, that actually, Pokemon Go isn’t too dissimilar to parenting. In fact, I think parenting makes you a better Pokemon Go player – and here’s why…

  1. You’re surrounded by small, fluffy-looking fictional creatures. For people who rarely see the outside world (i.e. Pokemon Go’s target demographic), suddenly being surrounded by Eeevees and Zubats might be a bit of a culture shock for these indoor-dwelling geeks. You’re in your element – your house is full of tiny inanimate creatures, in the form of your child’s stuffed toy menagerie.
  2. Chasing small wild creatures around. You think getting a Golbat into a Pokeball is tough? Try wrestling a two year old into dungarees.
  3. Inordinate amounts of walking required. I walked for miles around and around that hospital to try and coax SB out during labour. 10km egg-hatching hikes? Bring it on.
  4. The constant demand for the sweet stuff. If you want to win battles with your Pokemon, you’ll need to feed them candy. That’s pretty much the same for your toddler – there’s nothing quite like chocolate-based bribery.
  5. It’s all about the competition. Are you Team Mystic, Team Instinct or Team Valor? The online battles between the three teams are almost as vicious as the Team Breast vs Team Bottle feud, or the eternal conflict between Team Disposable Nappy and Team Cloth. The claws are always out.
  6. Bye Bye Data. Whether you’re hunting Pokemon or browsing Mumsnet, one thing is for sure – your data bill is going to be sky high at the end of the month.
  7. Solidarity. Once upon a time, you’d meet the eyes of a fellow battle-hardened parent in the supermarket. They’d share your unbrushed hair; your slightly bedraggled outfit; your willingness to give up all your worldly possessions for a good night’s sleep. That’s the parent solidarity. You’re unlikely to make eye contact with a Pokemon Go! player, but on the odd occasion you do glance up from your Pokedex, you’re almost certain to see someone else walking along haphazardly, their phone held out in front of them as they hunt down that Kakuna so they stand a chance of taking over the Pokegym in the public toilets. It doesn’t matter what team they’re on; you are both risking getting hit by cars, cyclists and irate pedestrians in your quest to be the very best (like no-one ever was). That’s solidarity.

 

By that logic, I should be a master Pokemon hunter, right?

There’s just one tiny problem. Being a parent means you’re responsible for a small human who relies entirely on you, and hunting Ponytas and Pikachus takes away from your “I’m responsible for my child” time.

Which may go some way to explaining why, for all my transferable Poke-parenting skills… I’m still only on Level 2.

 

23 Things Before 23

I don’t know if it’s a universal thing, or if I’ve just become a bit of a humbug since having SB, but being a parent has made my birthday feel pretty unimportant in the grand scheme of things. I’d say my favourite days of the year are Christmas and SB’s birthday – once, my own birthday would have been top of the list. Now it doesn’t even feature.

I’m 22 today, and I’m working (hence why I’m writing and scheduling this post now), and I know everyone older than 22 who reads this is going to think “Oh dear god, stop saying you’re old” but I FEEL OLD. I’m not ready to be 22.

I enjoyed being 21. In fact, it’s probably the age I’ve enjoyed the most for a long time. I can’t quite pinpoint what it is that makes this age stand out above any other, but there’s something nice about saying “I’m 21”. It’s like saying “I’m in the prime of my life! I can take on the world!”. 22 is like “It’s all downhill from here” – in my head, anyway.

I’ve never been one to make bucket lists. I haven’t even got a contingency plan or a will in place for if I die, let alone a list of things I want to do before then. However, the lovely Tracey at One Frazzled Mum suggested that I do a sort of bucket list post ahead of my 22nd birthday – and I loved the idea!

So, without further ado, here’s my list of 23 things – big and small – that I want to do before I turn 23 in a year’s time.

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  1. Climb Snowdon. I lived practically in the shadow of Wales’ tallest mountain for years, but I’m yet to actually climb it. That’s going to change this year!
  2. Be able to hold a conversation in Polish. That’s the language I’m learning at the moment – by this time next year, if I can have a fairly understandable conversation in Polish, I’ll be happy.
  3. Be able to cook 5 different, edible meals from scratch. As someone who, to quote Daf, “could burn water”, that’ll be no mean feat.
  4. Take SB to her first film at the cinema. There’s some great kids’ films due to come out in the next year!
  5. Run 5k in under 30 minutes. If I can just get my joints under control, I’m confident that this one is doable!
  6. Go to the library at least once a month. We take libraries for granted, and they’re not going to be around if nobody uses them!
  7. Get another tattoo. Ink addiction is real, people.
  8. Write a play. I’ve got that degree – now I need to use it!
  9. Go on a date. It’s harder than you think when there’s a toddler on the scene.
  10. Write an article and have it published. Anywhere except this blog counts.
  11. Do a 30-day challenge. Whether it’s blogging, photography or squats (please not squats), I’m going to take on one of these challenges and stick it out!
  12. Read 50 books. I used to get through books like it was no-one’s business. Now I’ve got a shelf-full that I haven’t even read yet. Next year, I’m going to change that.
  13. Visit Scotland. I’ve lived in the UK all my life and never set foot in Scotland!
  14. Carve a pumpkin. I’ve never done one by myself before – no more relegating the job to Daf!
  15. Start saving up a deposit for a house. As if I didn’t already feel old enough; 22 is the year we start saving for a family home.
  16. Walk across Barmouth Bridge with SB. I’ve walked across it before (I used to cross it every day on the train on the way to and from school!) but not since before SB was born.
  17. Eat gluten-free fish and chips. I have heard about this modern culinary miracle, but not tried it yet.
  18. Binge-watch a series on Netflix. Unfortunately, I’m not going to count Dragons: Race To The Edge, which I think we’ve watched about six times with SB.
  19. Watch a new movie every week. I am so behind on movies. Time to play catch-up!
  20. Keep blogging for another year. I’ve never kept a blog going for so long before – I don’t want to stop!
  21. Fly a kite. It’s a silly one, but I’ve never successfully flown a kite before!
  22. Get married. Okay, so I’m cheating a bit on this one, because I know it’s happening on December 18th – but still, how could I miss this one out? I can’t wait to marry my best friend.
  23. Look back on a great year. Whether I achieve all of these, half of these or only one, if I can look back on my year of being 22 and be happy, that’s good enough for me.

 

A lot of these aren’t parenting-focused, and there’s a reason for that. So much of my identity now is wrapped up in my life as a parent – and while I wouldn’t change that for the world, this “23 before 23” list is of things I want to do, mostly for my own benefit. It’s my way of reminding myself that I’m still a person – I have my own identity outside of Maddy the Parenting Blogger – and there’s a world out there for us to explore as a family.

In the words of the fantastic musical “Hamilton”… there’s a million things I haven’t done, but just you wait.

Haven Holidays: Thorpe Park, Lincolnshire

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I’ve been going to Haven with my family since I was four. For some people the great British “staycation” is their idea of hell, but for us, it’s tradition. No planes, no tropical sands, no extortionate luggage fees – just a car and a roofbox, miles of motorway and a good old Haven site.

We’ve been to many over the years, all across the UK – but for the last couple of years, we’ve been to parks owned by a different company instead. Haven was getting a bit tired – everything seemed to cost extra; the entertainment lost its zing; the customer service was really falling apart.

This year, my parents decided to take a chance on Haven again, and they asked SB and I to join them. I’ve got to admit, I was apprehensive about trying Haven again, but the park we were going to was one we’d visited in the past, and I knew it was a fairly good one. We had nothing to lose by trying it, so off we went.

 

 

Location

Thorpe Park is in Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire. Cleethorpes has a reputation as one of those run-down, faded British seaside towns, but it’s actually very nice. The park is beautiful – it’s close to a gorgeous sandy beach where ships and tankers can be seen arriving in nearby Grimsby, with beautiful landscaping and fishing lakes surrounded by families of ducks and geese (with ducklings and goslings!). It’s great for walking dogs, or tiring out your toddler with a trek around the lakes.

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Accommodation

We stayed in a nice caravan in the Lakeside area, which was lovely and close to all of the facilities. When we arrived the caravan was spotless – the beds were made up; the table was laid out for us and the feedback card even gave us the names of the staff who cleaned our caravan with room for feedback, which shows that they put a lot of effort into it. The caravan was spacious, with parking right outside and plenty of grassy space for the dogs to enjoy. Every morning we were able to watch the ducks waddling about, but we weren’t right on the waterfront – I don’t think a toddler plus unrestricted access to open water is a good idea.

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Food

We ate on-site on the first night, from the fish & chip shop. All of the restaurants and eateries seemed to be good value for money, and they knew their stuff when it came to allergies too, which had been a major stress for me in the run-up to the holiday. I didn’t want to spend the weekend having a reaction, after all! We ate at The Wellow, which is owned by the Hungry Horse chain, in Cleethorpes, and at The Pear Tree, a Marstons in Humberston. Both of these were fantastic – the service was quick and friendly, and The Pear Tree were great in helping us deal with a very noisy tantrum from a tired, hungry SB. On top of that, they were reliable with their allergen information, and the Hungry Horse even had a dedicated gluten-free menu.

 

Entertainment

The last few times we’ve been to Haven, we’ve been pretty disappointed with the entertainment. I first went to the Tiger Club when I was five, and I’ve collected loyalty awards, t-shirts, pin badges, all the way up until I was too old to go to it anymore. The evening entertainment was always fun, but there was always pressure to buy things – glow sticks for the disco, balloons for no discernible reason other than to make the journey home an absolute nightmare and so on. There was none of that here – instead, we went along to Ned and Polly’s Sing and Sign, an activity for under-4s where two of the characters taught sign language. If you’re familiar with the blog, you’ll know that SB loves her sign language, and she had a fantastic time learning “I Can Sing A Rainbow” and other songs, and she was a little bit awestruck by Polly herself! (I, on the other hand, suddenly felt very old when the characters referred to The Tiger Club Song as “so last century” – I can still do all of the moves… “We’re looking for tigers, we’re chasing the cheetahs…”). The evening entertainment was great too – we were all a little bit bemused by hearing Greedy the Gorilla rapping about the importance of four servings of fibre a day, but I think that’s just because I miss the days of Cocoavomango. 

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Facilities

The last few times we went to Haven, we’ve come away thinking “I couldn’t have stayed any longer, there wasn’t enough to do”. There was none of that this time – I could gladly have extended that weekend break into a two week holiday had it not been for work (and missing Daf). The pool is fantastic – SB had the time of her life on the slide, even if it terrified me. She was the smallest coming down it by far, with kids twice her age clinging to the side and edging down slowly. Not my little daredevil – the excitement on her face as she hurled herself down this slide into the pool was infectious.

There was also a land train, which took us all around the park and was a lovely 50-minute trip. The driver was… a character, to say the least, but it was a lovely ride around and a chance to see all corners of the park, including the 9-hole golf course. There’s coarse fishing, climbing walls, sports courts, a small fairground, crazy golf, bungee trampolines, inflatable water walker balls, an outdoor pool with a lazy river, flume and space bowl ride, a splash area, lots of adventure playgrounds, an amusements arcade… the list goes on and on. Couple that with a jam-packed programme of scheduled activities for all ages from tiny tots to the young at heart; we could have easily filled every day of a week-long holiday at Thorpe Park.

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Constructive criticism? There could do with being more changing areas; especially changing tables. It was quite a cramped space to change in for such a big pool, so a revamp of their changing area definitely wouldn’t go amiss, but it was still nowhere near as bad as Butlins Minehead, where we really struggled to get SB changed for swimming.

 

People

Although the people at check-in had been lovely, we were worried that we’d been given a taste of what was to come on our first afternoon. We took the dogs for a walk, and a lady who owned a caravan on the site had a go at us for daring to walk the dogs past her caravan. Was this what all of the people here were like?

It couldn’t be further from the truth. Every single member of staff, and every other holidaymaker that we encountered, was polite and friendly. The staff were more than happy to help and made a fuss of SB; the Funstars (are they still called Funstars? Again, I remember the days of the Havenmates!) were great, the other visitors were always happy to stop and say hello. Thorpe Park is definitely the friendliest holiday park we’ve visited so far!

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Summary

We’d go back to Thorpe Park in a heartbeat. In fact, Daf and I are looking at a Haven holiday for September, and Thorpe Park is definitely on our list to consider. From the people to the facilities to the location, everything was spot-on. If you’re looking for a staycation this year, and want whatever-the-weather fun for the entire family, Thorpe Park should definitely be on your shortlist.

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Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored/paid-for/commissioned review. We stayed at Haven Thorpe Park on a family holiday, and I wanted to review the holiday park for the benefit of others considering a stay at a Haven Park.