"You think it's hard now? Just wait until they're older."
Whenever I heard that, I just used to smile wanly through my veil of exhaustion and hope that they were saying it for effect. After all, it couldn't get any harder than two children under two and a full time job crammed into four days on next to no sleep. Could it?
In my turn, I repeated the adage to those with children younger than mine. I remember almost causing a stand up row at a birthday celebration by asserting that it was, in fact, true. The older they get the harder it becomes.
Now that I have emerged, almost unscathed, from pre-school hell and have two teenage children to boot, I feel able to be more circumspect in my consideration of the issues. Parenting is tricky, whichever stage you're at. It is hard with very young children because they are so demanding of your time and sleep is at such a premium. But it's not challenging. They cry, you work out what is wrong and hopefully sort it. They smile, your heart melts and all is well.
Pre-school years, my own personal nemesis, are hard. Dealing with a child that thinks it can when actually it can't is frustrating to say the least and I found the constant repetition soul-destroyingly dull.
I look back on my life with four children aged 7 and under and compare it to how it is now. When they were little it was relentless. I had no time to call my own. Even leaving the house was an effort. I was time poor and would have given my right arm for an uninterrupted cup of coffee. But I now look back at the things I agonised over and laugh. How I fretted about whether I should allow my child a break time snack of jam sandwiches? How I worried about why the teacher wouldn't tell me precisely where in the class my little darling sat in terms of intelligence?
Fast forward to now. By comparison, my days are easy. The children are all gone for hours on end. My evenings are filled with ferrying them backwards and forwards which isn't hard and I no longer have to jam everyone in the car with me every time I go anywhere. But the parenting? That's something else altogether.
Last week alone we encountered exclusion from school for possession of drugs, chemically induced abortion and oblivion due to alcohol. Not the actions of my children as far as I'm aware but children not that far from our lives. Not the children about whom you might knowingly shake your head but nice ones from nice homes with nice parents just like me.
This is where things get tough. I'm starting to understand what those prophetic parents must have meant. Keeping your children safe from an ever-encroaching adult world, helping them to make grown up decisions when they are nowhere near being grown up and hardest of all doing it without driving them straight into the path of the thing you are seeking to avoid.
When they were little, all I had to do was say no and stick to my guns. Now the decisions are bigger, more important and may make a difference to how the rest of our lives pan out. I'll confess to being a bit overwhelmed by it all, feeling my way in the dark for a light switch that keeps moving. All I can do is keep on doing what I think is right and hope that it all turns out for the best. Deep breath Imogen.