SARAH VINE: Time off for mothers of teenagers? What a great idea!

SARAH VINE: Time off for mothers of teenagers? What a truly great idea!

The chief executive of Co-op’s food division, one Jo Whitfield, made headlines this week for her decision to take four months’ unpaid leave to help her two sons prepare for their GCSE and A-level exams.

Opinion is divided. Is this a shining example of someone striking the perfect work/life balance, or a cop-out?

From my point of view, I’m just rather envious. Not only that she can afford to take unpaid leave in the first place (she earned £1.4million in 2020), but also because I wish I’d come up with the idea myself.

Sarah Vine writes: ‘Young adults may not require constant supervision and endless one-to-one attention. But in terms of emotional input they are almost insatiable’

I had exactly the same scenario last year. My daughter was doing her A-levels, my son his GCSEs.

Of course, things were a bit different: everything was all over the place because of Covid.

My son didn’t sit any actual exams, but pretty much every school day was classed as a test, as he was being judged by teacher assessment.

My daughter, on the other hand, was sitting physical exams – although, again, a disproportionate amount of her grades were down to teacher assessment.

None of us really knew what impact it would all have on their results, and the general confusion only added to the immense stress of the situation (advice to would-be mothers: don’t have your children 16 months apart or else you will end up in double exam hell).

‘Happily, maternity leave is now a well-established concept in the workplace, as is paternity leave,’ Sarah Vine adds (file photo used)

The tears, the tantrums, the anxiety. My mothering dial went from a comfortable five all the way up to 11.

I did my best, of course, but it was exhausting. Work inevitably took up a lot of my time, and I suspect I wasn’t the only one trying to spin a few too many plates. Parents up and down the country must have felt the same pressures.

Happily, maternity leave is now a well-established concept in the workplace, as is paternity leave.

But while employers are generally sympathetic to the demands of small babies and children, once the kids are out of nappies the assumption is that you’re good to go.

But the truth is that while those early years can be physically demanding, the teenage years are also a crunch point. In some ways far more so.

Young adults may not require constant supervision and endless one-to-one attention. But in terms of emotional input they are almost insatiable.

Mine certainly occupied – and continue to occupy – far more of my mental space as teenagers than they ever did in primary school, for the simple reason that they are now much more complex individuals.

And even though they may act all grown up and independent, it is precisely when they seem the most self-sufficient that they require the most input. Because that’s when they’re at their most vulnerable.

It’s not just that classic thing of picking them up from parties and making sure they occasionally eat broccoli.

It’s being there often enough to keep the lines of communication open so that when big, scary things happen in their lives – exams, yes, but also relationship or friendship traumas – they know how to ask for help.

‘Teenager leave’ could be another way employers could implement support for parents, Sarah Vine says

It’s making sure they don’t disappear down emotional rabbit holes, or become obsessed with TikTok, or end up harming themselves in ways that can be very hard to spot.

Being a young adult is so much more fraught and complicated than it was in my day. There are so many additional pressures that simply didn’t exist when I was a youngster.

They grow up much faster, but that doesn’t mean they need their parents less. If anything, the opposite is true.

Of course, being a parent is ultimately about raising a child to be a successful, independent adult. But so many of us, as parents, make the mistake of assuming that just because they have their own front-door key and know how to microwave a lasagne, our job is more or less done.

Far from it. Those practical skills are easily imparted; the more nuanced life lessons take much longer to acquire.

That’s why I admire Ms Whitfield for her choice, but also applaud the Co-op for its vision in allowing it.

We live in a time of rapidly declining birth rates. A population crisis looms – and parents need all the help they can get. ‘Teenager leave’ could be one way of providing it.

Paul McCartney is pictured kissing his daughter, Stella, on the lips. David Beckham does this a lot too, with ten-year-old Harper Seven. I know, technically, there’s nothing wrong with it – but I certainly can’t imagine kissing my 17-year-old son on the lips. Not least because it would be extremely unhygienic.

For once, I sincerely hope Princess Diana was right about the Royals being a frosty lot. It might mean Prince Charles – who has since tested positive for Covid – kept his distance when he saw his mother the other day. The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.

If you’re interested in sleaze Mr Major, look in the mirror

John Major reacts as he answers questions after giving a speech on trust and standards in democracy at the Institute for Government, in London earlier this week 

Is the John Major lambasting Boris Johnson for his poor conduct in office the same John Major who was Prime Minister between 1990 and 1997?

I only ask because this John Major seems to have forgotten that he led a Conservative Party up to its neck in sleaze – from the cash-for-questions scandal to his own affair with Edwina Currie.

In fact, it was largely thanks to his leadership that the Conservatives were locked out of government for well over a decade. Heard the one about people in glass houses, Sir John?

Police dragging a naked woman through the streets by her hair is the kind of thing you might expect in a tyrant state like Russia or China. But New Zealand?

This is the stark reality of Jacinda Ardern’s deranged zero-Covid strategy, which has led to some of the strictest lockdown rules in the world.

There’s a fine line between protecting public health and using Covid-19 as an excuse to exercise a sinister form of control over citizens. Judging from these latest scenes, Ardern has crossed that line. 

Rih-inventing the maternity outfit… 

Rihanna at Fenty Beauty and Fenty Skin photo call in Los Angeles, California earlier this week

Say what you like about Rihanna, but she is certainly reinventing the concept of maternity wear. I wouldn’t say all her choices have been an unadulterated triumph, but there is something about her refusal to give in to the lure of the elasticated waistband and comfy shoes that I admire. That said, I’ve had ultrasounds that have been less revealing.

There’s no doubt that barrister wigs are rather old-fashioned and possibly superfluous to requirements these days. But ‘culturally insensitive’? So says Britain’s top black QC, Leslie Thomas.

I always thought the point of the wigs was to convey the impression of wisdom and years of experience.

Since all hair types, including Afro, turn white or grey with age, I don’t see the insensitivity. Unless it’s simply the case that everything white is racist now.

Council has lost the plot over a vegetable patch

This week’s winner of the ‘You couldn’t make it up’ prize for bureaucratic obstinance goes to South Kesteven District Council. It issued Lee and Kirstie Lawes with a £500 ‘change of use’ charge after they turned their garden into a veg patch during lockdown.

A friend once got a letter threatening a fine unless she removed some wind chimes from her garden. Apparently they breached noise pollution guidelines.

It wouldn’t be so bad if you thought the money might go towards something useful, like services for the elderly, but you just know it’ll end up paying for another sodding cycle lane. 

Adele during the filming for the Graham Norton Show this Thursday. She recently ended up drunk and pole-dancing in a nightclub

We’ve now reached a point where a woman (Adele) can’t say she is proud of her achievements as a woman without being accused of transphobia. No wonder just hours later she ended up drunk and pole-dancing in a nightclub.

Sometimes a bit of madness is the only sane response to the modern world.

There is a special place in Hell for whoever came up with the term ‘galentine’. As in ‘valentine’, but with your ‘gal’ pals. Up there with ‘veganuary’. Please can we stop ruining the English language to sell chocolates and tofu?

Tory donor John Armitage declared he was switching allegiance from the Conservatives to Labour, saying that Boris Johnson had lost ‘moral authority’. Bit rich, given that Mr Armitage is a hedge fund manager? 

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