Brexit has been mercifully overshadowed in our household by the significantly more terrifying run-up to GCSEs. The family has moved seamlessly from stockpiling toilet paper and long-life milk for a no-deal crash-out into caching comfort food for the cliff-edge exam scenario. While other families fret about the availability of fresh lettuce or European blueberries, we are endeavouring to ensure uninterrupted supplies of pickled cucumbers and fig rolls.
There are parents whose offspring obsess over their grades, and have to be forced to take breaks for their own health. All I can say is that our house has never been blighted by these problems.
Unless you are blessed with children of this kind — and this temperament brings its own concerns — GCSEs are one of the most testing times in a normal parent-child relationship. By A-levels, kids can largely be trusted to motivate themselves but GCSEs feel like the last moment for overbearing parental intervention.
We had hoped that the girl, having watched us browbeating her brother, would have understood what was coming and internalised the need to shape the debate over revision by, well, doing some. OK, that’s unfair. She has now got a revision timetable, complete with several hours of study and designated breaks. It is just that, at this stage in the exam cycle, she still seems a little too committed to the breaks. Attempts to raise our concerns are met with significant force, the girl being a big believer in overreaction as deterrence.
Admittedly, the spawn have been careless in their choice of parents. Other adults have the talent for leaving their kids to get on with things. Sadly, that ability is not an integral part of our skill set. All parents fret but, when it comes to education, we are never knowingly out-fretted. The girl might think she can avoid our intrusion by just getting on with her work, but oh no. We would just move on to worrying about whether she was working in the right way. There is, for example, the past-papers-versus-reading- notes debate to angst over.
I do think the revision-timetable principle could use some updating. Aside from a detailed breakdown of study, there ought to be designated slots allocated to ancestral hand-wringing and parental badgering. This would go a long way to easing household tensions. The girl would descend from her bedroom for a 10-minute nag, laced with questions about whether she is “doing enough” or “leaving it too late”. Since this is an agreed part of her timetable, she would take this in good part, deploying the easy-going nature we one day hope to instil — or achieve ourselves, for that matter. (I have never worked out why our children are not more easy-going; we’ve nagged them since birth to be more laid-back.)
Instead, the girl is therefore having to manage excursions from the safety of her room, listening for when one of us might be in the shower, so she can scurry down to the kitchen and grab some food without fear of interrogation.
It is like a scene from an Alistair MacLean war movie. She sneaks in, knowing that, if captured, her parents will be waiting with doses of Scopolamine to force confessions on the amount of time she is devoting to the Stuarts. (Actually, the school advises against truth serum, as it can hold down grades).
The biggest blight of the moment, however, is art. This is my lesson from the frontline. Unless you have reason to think you are incubating the next Tracey Emin, an art GCSE is simply there to increase anxiety. Not only is art intensely time-consuming, but for most kids it is much more fun than swotting up on physics. This means the girl can classify an afternoon dabbling with watercolours as GCSE work and get righteously stroppy with any parent who dares to suggest otherwise. Close to a full day of her Easter break will be spent at school pouring resin into moulds.
Perhaps this is apposite. The horror and pressure of GCSEs are, to some extent, about pouring our children into moulds called exams and qualifications and hoping that they set. In our house at least, this is a battle between the liquid and the mould. Hence the comfort food.
Get alerts on Parenting and families when a new story is published