My eldest (21) has popped home for dinner. When I say popped home, I mean that he caught a bus to the tube, tubed across London then jumped on a train at Liverpool St Station – some 3.5hrs or so.

It’s always lovely to see him. As he lives away now, homecoming tends to be a bit of a ‘do’. Last time it was granddads birthday & father’s day. Son footed the bill for 6 for dinner. This time, it was for my youngest’s birthday. Youngest turned 18 on Tuesday, so eldest made the journey to join us for a nosh-up. Again, there were six of us because we just had to include nanny and granddad!

My boys are growing up. Eldest, classically handsome (if I say so myself), is fiercely independent. My streak passed down maybe, or the environmental factors of childhood? My youngest is growing more and more self-assured with each passing day. He’s got his own wheels, a haul of GCSEs and has just passed his first year of college with a double distinction. I think putting off college and doing a year in 6th form has paid dividends.

Kids – I never expected to have any & had barely even held a baby until I’d given birth to my own. Babies, you see, really aren’t my thing. And yet, I so enjoyed watching my boys grow up. They, of course, blame me for everything but isn’t that part and parcel of parenthood? Parenthood is pretty much self-defined, a state of being a parent, but what about childhood?

Childhood I think is a much less definable term – the state of being a child? But what is that? Until recently, childhood didn’t really exist. The idea that children were somehow different and in need of nurturing didn’t really develop until about 400yrs ago. You were a small adult who was expected to work from a young age. As educationalists and reformers got involved, schooling became compulsory. Some psychologists, like Piaget, may describe childhood as three phases, infancy, middle childhood and adolescence.

When does childhood now end? Are we running the risk of elongating it so far that child and adult has no clear boundary? The SEND reforms considers that at 16, a young person can advocate for themselves and yet, education protection is afforded to these students until 25. Is that at all contradictory? And how about wider law? Surely 18 is an adult? Or is it 16, or 25, or sometime else? It all seems so mixed up. Like teenagers joke – you can have sex at 16, don’t look down as you need to be over 16 to view such things!

Under the SEND reforms, a 16/17yr old should be enabled as far as possible to make their own decisions, but what if those decisions differ from those of their families? I’m all for advocating the need to be allowed to make our own mistakes, as it only by making them for ourselves that we will learn from them. But with these particular young people, how far do they understand the results of their actions? Mental capacity has to be considered in each and every decision, but it is the parents who have legal responsibility until their offspring is 18. Their child may decide against the provision which will give them the best life chances, in favour of something that the parent knows will fail. A failed placement may also result in the parent losing their job and a severe reduction in life quality and chances. Extreme? I’m not so sure. Many of us have had to give up work because of failed school placements/LA failures to provide suitable provision. What then happens at 18?

There are arguments suggesting that childhood ends at 11, the start of secondary school. I think that, from personal observations, childhood is being extended to 25 – not just because of the SEND reforms, but also the fact that 18+ yr olds are no longer going to get certain benefits until 25. But I’m back again at the fact that an 18yr old, in law, is an adult. No longer the responsibility of the parent. Parenthood may never cease for us parents, because once a parent, always a parent even if our children are no longer with us – for any reason, joyous or sad.

I’m beginning to see more and more adult children living at home, not only living at home, but also being treated like children. I find that a difficult concept. My youngest child may need a touch of extra time being supported, but my ‘job’ is to grow him up. My ‘job’ is not to be permanently responsible for him and every aspect of his life. My ‘job’ is not to extend his childhood, but to nurture his adulthood. It may be that this started at 11, the start of secondary school, but it does not mean the end of childhood in one fell swoop. Maybe Piaget would have something to say on the subject if he were here now? The stage of adolescence where young men and women prepare for adulthood? I don’t like the idea of childhood stretching to 25…..


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