There is an moment I have with my son, often in the car, it is a moment I live in fear of. It happens when it’s just the two of us, he goes quiet, and that is the sign.
They cover anything you can imagine; nothing is off-limits.
What happens when you die?
What happens when you marry someone?
Why is Mum a different colour than you?
Is there a God?
Can I come back as a Ninja?
How do you have babies?
Where did my sister come from?
Is she staying?
Why can’t I have the Death Star?
What happened to Grandad?
I yearn for a simple, are we there yet?
I grew up in a family full of laughter, blues music, chocolate and the kind of family ribbing that comes from being a mixed-faith family growing up in the troubles in Northern Ireland. Surrounded by the reality of life and death, we made room for each other and our tribes.
There were few boundaries, every move was open to critical interpretation and cutting jokes. As a result, we’re very comfortable with each other and close too.
When I found out I was adopted I was shaken.
I was a teenager in the middle of multiple surgeries, dealing with high school, buck teeth and irrational hormones; so, the news came as a shock. In the long term, it has convinced me that I am blessed to be part of a family so full of love and humour.
It has shaped my view of family in ways that are hard to describe.
My parents fostered kids all their lives, we joked we should install a turnstile in place of a front door. We had an ever-changing family that welcomed people regardless who they were. If you had thick enough skin for the jokes then you were welcome to sit and drink tea with us, there was always tea.
I like to think my history, the politics of family, my work where negotiation is key to success, where selling a concept or a daft idea is the norm would equip me for having two children.
Boy was I ever wrong.
I don’t think parenting is easy, I’m not sure it is supposed to be. You have these small people and no matter how much planning you put in they still come like a bolt out of the blue. I will never forget the moment the nurse in the hospital uttered the words “Your baby needs changed” and left the room.
Neither of us had ever changed a baby. It very quickly became something out of a Melissa McCarthy movie. This was a new, terrifying world and it stank. I say that as someone who has cleaned a music venue at four in the morning after putting on BYO night parties.
When you have children you think more about the world, what we leave behind, things beyond your reach, geopolitics, greenhouse gasses, sea levels, unemployment; you think about capitalism, the cost of university, houses, public funding, bank crashes and people taking every opportunity to steal your energy and empty your wallet.
The world is a minefield and our two have yet to hit double figures. We have the teenage years to get through and if memory serves there is another level of parenting required.
For me, these conversations start now.
It is our job to teach our children about respect, to be kind and courteous, take care of each other and their friends and to work hard. One of the most difficult things we can do is show our small people how to behave, explore what is right and wrong, that starts on day one.
Frankly, we need all the help we can get.
If that help comes in the form of a comprehensive, whole-school approach to relationships education then I am all for it. If our children are surrounded by people who are supportive, engaging, respectful and patient then they will get it, they will understand how to approach difficult situations.
Not long ago our little boy went through months of unexplained turmoil, nightmares and tears; the stress was so much that he started to dread school, getting so stressed he would vomit in his sleep.
We were beside ourselves.
One of the children in his class was behaving in ways he couldn’t understand, in ways he couldn’t manage, we didn’t know what it was but it wasn’t bullying. He dreaded going to school and seeing this boy; our hearts broke every morning. We discussed home schooling, changing schools, anything to stop the nightmare our tiny human was living through.
When we figured it out what was going on the school helped us understand the issue, they helped our son understand it and calmed the situation to help him feel that school could be a positive place where he could make friends for life. He is now best friends with the child who scared him not long ago, and that is a wonderful thing.
That situation shows the power of a staff team that sees what is going on and understands how to deal with it, that approaches relationships in a caring way and helps everyone understand challenges and how to deal with them.
It shows a school that understands the power of positive relationships and relationship education and how to share those values with their pupils. colleagues and community. The early days of that situation we horrible, it led to conversations with my son that I never imagined I would have at his age. Conversations I never want to have again.
At any age.
As for Relationship and Sex Education and me, well, anything that can add to the conversations we have, anything that backs us up as fledgling parents is to be welcomed.
God knows we need the help.