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College Parenthood: What to expect when you’re expecting

Putting the fun into dysfunctional family


This morning, I woke up to the news that I had given birth to two lovely historian children. Realising I had two whole people to be responsible for, my maternal instincts kicked in, leading me to try and find (not stalk!) them on the internet so that I could reassure them about the Cambridge experience. Immediately I realised one of my children was actually older than me (my fault for being born in August). Panic set in when I realised: What could I possibly teach someone who was alive months before me? 

But I think this shows how dysfunctional college families can be. Sometimes you’re younger than your kids, sometimes your kids are the complete opposite of you, and sometimes you forget their names, weeks into term. My friends Issy and Esha tied the knot at our marriage formal in June, despite being college sisters. In fact, they come from a long line of HisPols who marry their siblings. This (almost) guarantees them HisPol children, meaning they can provide helpful insight into the HisPol lifestyle facing these silly freshers. As a result, their college parents tended to be more involved and (I hope) my friends will be as well. 

Before my wife Mia and I got married, we had already began talking about our future kids. Would they choose the same papers? Would they have her eyes? Would they be early or late to their 9am lectures in the history fac? Who was the fun parent? It’s me, sorry Mia. What advice would we give to them? Over summer, I began thinking of helpful advice, but the only thing I could think of was ‘bring a measuring jug for those instant noodles’. Naturally I doubted my college parenting abilities. But now I’m in Cambridge, it’s made me nostalgic for last year when I was but just a ‘silly fresh’. I had so many silly questions, even in Easter term (would there be a clock in the exam hall?), that I now know the answers too. This is the guidance I hope to pass on, not just whether there’s a clock in the exam hall (there was), but where’s the best place after Wednesday Revs (Van of Life), best libraries to work in (Medwards’ Rosemary Murray), and the most fun Cambridge societies?

The view from Medwards’ library (Image credits: Jessica Spearman)

I would go as far as to say that the college family system is as essential for second years as it is for freshers. Why? Because I can pass on my wisdom to my children, providing the serious advice and the anecdotes on the do’s and don’ts, which gives them a helping hand, but also means I can relive my first year vicariously through them. It also makes me responsible, maybe not for their whole lives, but for answering their questions. I’m now the key to all the answers, and have to step up and leave my ‘silly fresh’ era. 

Former ‘Silly Fresh’ era (Image credits: Mia Langtree)

More importantly, it’s helpful for the incoming freshers. They’re moving to a new city, hardly know anybody and probably have no idea how to reference properly. Having a parent is a really good way to get their bearings around Cambridge, and have a little extra peer support. Between my wife and I, we have three children, which means they can be introduced to each other, and potentially make a new friend (or a college spouse if you’re a HisPol). This is reassuring because it means they at least know someone else in their subject and college. By no means are they forced to be friends, but at least they have someone to walk to their first lecture with.