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It’s looking up for Irish Parents

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The Irish Independent on Friday had more leaks concerning the forthcoming budget in the Autumn.  Announcements relating to the recent Government Report on Childcare have made a number of proposals which will prove beneficial for our children in the future.

While the report is not published yet it sounds promising with recommendations including:

  • extension of the Early School Year;
  • rationalising existing childcare subvention schemes to a single scheme;
  • six months’ paid parental leave in addition to maternity benefit;
  • paternity benefit paid for by the State of one or two weeks.

Commentators have long identified that 3 hrs of preschool care for the 38 weeks or so of the normal school year is in adequate at best.

Most promising however is the additional parental leave and the long over due introduction of up to two weeks specifically paid paternity leave. At present fathers at best get a few days extra leave from their employers when they have a new arrival. As a result most new dads will have to take their built up holiday leave to spend time with their new borns.

The additional 6 months paid paternal leave will be open to both mothers and fathers to take and will bring Ireland up to the accepted recommended first year where a child has the direct care of it’s parents. How we get these benefits to apply to people who are currently falling through the gaps in the existing child welfare laws such as the self employed.

The next challenge now however is to get more fathers to take some if not all of the additional 6 months of parental leave. How can we encourage parents that the “missed opportunities” from being away from work is worth it for the benefit of their children. Perhaps mothers and fathers will be in a good position to that sharing parental leave between them balances the opportunities for career progression with equal time missed. Even better if it encourages employers to find better ways to keep their employees engaged and to manage their absences better.

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Why should I bother?- it’s for the children!

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I woke Saturday morning feeling a little sorry for myself, a bit low and ba humbug.

Before going to bed last night I read Gerry Duffy’s article “Do the write thing” in the April/May edition of the Irish Runner. It’s all about setting goals, writing them down and making them targeted, all good advice I’ve heard before.

What has got me feeling low is that I don’t have any real goals that I’m currently working towards. I have my daily objectives that I want to get done… mop the floors, get the ironing finished, get the wash hung up, get something for dinner… the stuff that every body has to get done. I’ll maybe include going for a run or write a blog post, but not aspirational goals to strive for.

I have nominal aims, unspecific achievements that I am slowly working towards. I’d like to be able to run 5k in under 25 min (27:17 is current cross-country PB) but other than a notional this would be nice there is no driver for me to meet this target. I would also like to be able to run 10k in under 60 min, I’ve signed up to do the Boyne 10k in May to try and do it, but it still feels a bit of a nice to do.

Oldbridge Sept

I’ve made progress on going back to work, but its difficult to plan and set targets for myself, before I start or even talk to any future boss about what those targets might look like.

Perhaps this is what happens when you decide to focus your time on family and kids. Your life becomes a mix of  child minding, cleaning and cooking. I have to give a stage 10 speech to complete my Toastmasters Competent Communicator Award, but I’m struggling a bit to find something that I am passionate about.

That’s part of the reason I’ve never went into business for myself successfully,  I wasn’t passionate about what I was doing to really make it work, rightfully I compromised my ambitions for my family. My family has always been my main concern,  despite some of my stranger decisions in life (I am after all almost the living embodiment of a character in a Bazz Lurman/Mary Schmich song).

So as I was lying in bed Saturday morning, thinking I should really have got up at 7.30 and went for my run so that I’d skip the Parkrun and let my wife have a lie on in bed. Instead I lay on until after 8.30 thinking about how I don’t have any great passions in life at the moment.

But then something changed,  I got up to wash, and my daughter woke my wife, so when I returned to get dressed, I was told to go for the run, which I did and a nice easy run it was this morning. It kept me just focused on taking my time, working on form and breathing.

I didn’t solve any world or even personal problems, but I did lift myself out of the doldrums. But when I got back from my run I heard news that proved to me that I am passionate about something- family. I believe that it is important to be honest with your family, yes I know there are always some small secrets but you shouldn’t needlessly worry your family, to deliberately exclude them from the important things in life, especially when they try to be there for you and to support you.

I also believe that it’s important to try to set good example, which is probably one of the hardest things to do on a consistent basis. But that’s OK because no-one is perfect.

I quit sugar in my tea to set an example for my kids, but I still need to improve in cutting sugar out of my snacks, I suppose that should be one of my new aims. I also want my kids go grow up with a strong sense of family, to be there for their siblings and to support them when they need it and when they don’t.

And I seem to remember vaguely that that was the same reason for me starting running and looking after myself better. I want them to have good health habits, like taking exercise and be involved in organisations or clubs. It will help them when they are older to have a healthy body and mind. I have the chance now to give them the skills and habits which will give them the strength when they are older to hopefully face the stresses and hurdles that life will throw at them when they are older. I also want them to have the confidence to seek help and to know that they can get it, and expect it form a kind and loving family and good friends.

So I think I need to go now and find some new goals with targets and to include my children in setting these goals, because if they see me setting my own goals and working hard to achieve them then hopefully they will learn to do the same, wither I am successful in achieving them the first time, the second time, or the one hundredth time they can learn the value in putting in the effort, develop resilience and persistence in achieving their goals.

The Cost’s and Benefits of stopping working for the kids

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Louise McBride, Freelance Personal Finance Journalist wrote in the Sunday Independent about What’s the real cost of stopping work for the kids and it got me thinking about what the costs and benefits where for me and my family since I stopped working.

Unfortunately for me I’ve worked in Engineering and Production Management in plastics companies since I first left college 17 years ago. So unlike Louise,I can’t work from home and continue in the same kind of roles. All the roles I’ve had in recent years have involved a big commute, usually over an hour to and then from work, so an 8 hr working day, usually ended up with me leaving at 6:30 to be in work for 8, then working on till 5 to keep on top of the work load and then not getting home till 6:30 to put the kids to bed.

The other problem I had with work was that it often in small companies who were linked with construction, and in recent years there has been the small matter of the recession in Ireland.

So the cost of going to work, the childcare, the mileage, the food away from home as well as the cost to my family of being at home so little and very tired, stressed and cranky when I was at home was high. With the down turn, pay rates were reduced and the balance between wither it was worth going out to work was tipping leading me to stop working.

Louise identified the costs to her as her salary, pension and work perks. For us it was the same, my salary was cut to zero and if it wasn’t for some savings we would have been seriously in trouble. We didn’t live the high life when I was working, but when I stopped we still had to make major cut backs, all swimming lessons we stopped for the kids, take-aways reduced to once a month, controls put on grocery shopping to reduce waste, and holiday’s were kept local and at minimal cost. Eventually over 2 years I managed to bring our out goings and spending closer to the amount of money we had coming in. But we did burn through a good bit of our savings in the process.

My daughter’s big hope for this summer is that we’ll get to go on holiday… on a boat, not just to my parents in Belfast or to Donegal, at the moment we’ll have to see how things are going.

Naturally Louise in her article focuses on the impact of stopping work on our financial position… it is her job after all. But with out stopping work I would have missed out on so much, treasures much more valuable and precious than the money I would have made while at work. For starters I would probably have had to move away from home to get a job, and only see my wife and kids at the weekends. I’ve friends who have had to do this, and I would have hated this, it would have been awful for my wife and kids as well. I know why some families have to do this, and I know how fortunate that I am that we didn’t have to take this route.

So actually getting to spend time with my family, even more than I use to is the first major perk. OK sometimes seeing a little less of them would have had it’s attractions, but that’s just the sore head from the noise talking.

I got to do some great things with my kids, cycle with them down to school or run while they used their bikes or scooters. Bring my son to school on his first day, and be there to collect him and ensure that over the next few months that he was happy going in, found the benefit of reading and learning his letters, meeting friends and talking about how he was getting on.

Aidan's 1st Day at School

Aidan’s 1st Day at School

I’ve raised the baby from birth, introducing him to P&T groups, making friends and learning to mix and play with other kids. I’ve become his go to person for everything. We celebrated his birthday 2nd birthday a few weeks ago at the P&T Group with his friends, something he could not have done if I’d been working. The joy in his face was a pleasure to behold.

Enjoying his 2nd Birthday

Enjoying his 2nd Birthday

As a blow in to the town we are living in I knew a limited amount of people as I never grew up here. Limited to neighbours and a few people I’d bump into who I knew from canoeing, which I did before Kids. So I did get to other parents at the school door and improve my own social network.

It has been great for me, as well as improving my social network at the school gate, I’ve also made good friends through the P&T groups. I’ve been able to volunteer and help run one of the groups that I’ve been going to. It also gave me the time to join Toastmasters, which has really boosted my communication skills.

Also it has given me the opportunity to go back and study, as I did for a bit around 5-6 years ago. This most recent spell as a SAHD, gave me time to think back over my career and make some choices about what I wanted to do in the future. I was able to figure out that I either needed a complete career change, or go and develop a career in larger organisations than the ones I had been working in the past.

So now after two and a half years I am gearing myself to go back to work. The youngest has just turned two and needs the stimulation and interaction with other children that he can get in a play-school and so I believe that he is ready to move on the newer things as well.

It has been a good two and a half years where I have settled into the role as a SAHD, perhaps I’ve been a little too comfortable most recently but my kids have found it beneficial and have developed into really confident and happy kids able to take on the world. What ever the next few years hold for us, I am determined to make sure that the family don’t suffer, no more 12 hr long days away from home for 5 days a week.

Dad’s in the Delivery Room

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I was asked a few months ago  by a parenting magazine to write a bit of advice for dads in the delivery room and about bonding for the Ultimate Maternity Guide that they were producing. The guide is now published but I don’t think that they ran my contribution. So here it is in full. I probably should have published it 2 weeks ago, before my wee brother went in with his wife to have their first. I put it down to being too busy with the kids and job applications.

Our new family relaxing in the Anti-Natal ward in 2007

Our new family relaxing in the Anti-Natal ward in 2007

The role of Dads has changed a lot over the last 40 years, you’re no longer expected to wait outside, it’s time for you to get right in there and claim your right to parent as equal to your partners.

There will be loads of advice during the pregnancy (this whole guide is for you as well as for your partner.) Take it on board, some of it will be good, some of it conflicting but you need to decide for yourselves as a couple what you want to follow.

At the beginning…

Your partner may only suffer mild nausea or you may end up holding her hair or emptying basins several times a day. Regardless which you can start from the very first weeks to provide support by doing as many as the jobs that need to be done from housework, cooking light meals, and supplying cups of tea and glasses or water to keep her energy and fluid levels up.

During the later months attend anti natal classes, discuss with her the plans for the labour so that you are aware of what her wishes are; discuss possible baby names and even what style of parenting that you want to follow when the bay comes home. You might also have to do (finish) some redecorating as she begins nesting.

In the hospital

The labour can be a long process and you’ll end up being in the hospital for a long time. When preparing the bags, bring food, proper food (sandwiches) as well as snacks, chocolate for both you and your partner. Bring something to read, magazines or a light book for your partner and something for yourself. Reading the newspaper or magazine is somehow less offensive than if it looks like you’re playing on your phone.

Find out how to properly install the car seat (40% are installed wrongly in Ireland according to the RSA), and understand how to put the buggy up and down.

The labour can range from a wonderful to a frightening experience for your partner, it’s part of your job to make it the former. You might feel like a lame duck there but holding her hand, rubbing her back, supporting her to walk if she needs to pace the corridors, fetching her book, water or whatever else she needs is all invaluable.

If your partner considers changing her plans support her and ask the midwifes to act on it. If she decides she wants an epidural, it will take at least 1 hr 40 min, with blood tests and surgery for it to be effective.

During delivery focus on your partner, tell her she’s doing well, help her with the breathing (breath, pant, push with her) and remind her she’s beautiful. Listen to the mid wives and communicate well with your partner so she feels reassured.

If she can’t make skin to skin contact because she needs stitches or had a section then you take your top off and do it. It is truly the most amazing feeling you will ever have. Don’t be afraid.

Don’t wait or leave it to someone else to change your baby’s nappy and if your partner is not breast feeding be there to feed the baby while your partner sleeps, or gets cleaned.

Back home

It’s perfectly natural to feel unsure of what you are doing and it’s OK to ask other experienced parents for advice they are always happy to share their experiences. You can find other dad’s, bloggers or on some discussion boards as well as your own social network who will be happy to get to chat about their kids, failures and successes.

Post natal depression is a very common illness so be aware that she might need help, it’s not a failure. Help your partner get a good night’s sleep by doing night feeds and helping the baby settle when they awaken. Yes you might have to get up in the morning to go out to work, but until you actually spend 24 hrs a day minding a baby on your own you will never know how draining it is.

Bonding

It’s perfectly natural not to bond instantly with your child and it might take a few months but like anything the more you put into it the more you get out.

The best way to bond with anyone is spending time with them. Hold your child a bit while they sleep, feed them, change them and play with them (when they are awake) as much as you can. In particular have a time of the day which is yours to spend with them. For example, at night time give them the last feed, tell them a story and sing them a song to help settle them to sleep. You’ll find as the baby grows that this routine will help them settle at night, and help them get back to sleep quickly if they waken.

By doing the night feeds it also gives you a very personal time with your child. No-one else is there with you, it’s nice and quiet and you can give them un-distracted time to get to know you. The down side is for the next 10 years when they waken at night it’ll be you that they call for at night, but sure it’s great to know that you’re loved and needed despite what they will tell you during the day time.

Messy Play – an analogy for life?

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Recently Mamacourage initiated a Messy Play Linky, which has been so far taken on by Wonderful Wagon and Where Wishes Come From.

Mamacourage wants people to write about doing messy play with their kids. Messy Play…

grants children a precious kind of freedom. There are no rules; there is no goal that needs to be achieved. They can choose to create, dismantle, transform or destroy. Children are met with boundaries in almost every aspect of their life. They are told what it “right” and what is “wrong”. They are constantly trying to meet conscious and subconscious expectations. A lot of this is necessary in order to function in the real world, but it is also lot of pressure to impose on a young, creative brain. What a beautiful gift it is, then, to offer them a session of free, unstructured chaos.

Whilst the opportunities for messy play do have to be created, or at least allowed to happen they don’t have to be organised actively. Sometimes the best moments of education and happiness for kids is when you just let things happen on their own with out our interference.

This morning for example Tomás played for ages with our Sand/Water box while I hung up the washing. (Who knew I could be so adventurous- hanging up washing in this weather). Now at the beginning of the summer the sand pit had been filled with nice new and clean sand for the kids to play with. However as kids are over half the sand has now been spread around the garden and flower petals, leaves, stones and other bits and pieces of dirt from the garden have contaminated the sand. Add to this the recent rain fall and you have what would be best described as an accident waiting to happen when a 1 year old gets at it. But as he played, I remembered Mamacourage’s post and thought to myself that if we were at the beach I wouldn’t stop the kids playing in the sea, which is infinitely dirtier than our mix of sand and water.

Looks like the sea side in a box

Looks like the sea side in a box

By stepping back and letting him play he had a great time pouring the water, yes getting some sand in his hair but he experimented with what happened when he lifted the sand in the shovel, how the water poured etc. before he moved on to something else to play on.

Which lead me to consider how messy play is a bit like life. If we relax and let it happen, there will be mess, broken hearts, dreams and promises. Things will not always happen as planned and sometimes your better not planning otherwise your own hopes will be dashed. But life when we let it happen has a lot to teach us.

Even as I write this the mess which is our home life, caused an enforced break as Tomás firstly wanted me to swing him and then as we sat down and played with each other got into hysterical fits of laughter as we blew his dummy to each other from our mouths. He only got up and left me when he heard my wife and daughter singing in the living room and they sounded more interesting than me trying to throw a ball to him. And even as I finish this now he’s back to me, wanting to play or get fed, or both.

Dad’s in the Irish Times

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One of the ambitions of I would say all bloggers is to have someone read what they have to say. Well I had a very interesting experience a fortnight ago when someone asked me if they could include what I had to say in an article they were preparing for one of the main national broadsheets.

Now who would or could say no to that?

Sheila Wayman was preparing an article on Fathers in the delivery room for their Health + Family supplement which appeared in this morning’s Irish Times.

It’s interesting to read other peoples experiences in something which is very common, but amazingly special and unique in every case. The role of the father is an interesting one, to some degree we’re an extra body that needs to be worked around, an external examiner looking at everything that is going on and in my case someone who’s at serious risk of fainting when the epidural was being installed in my wife spine!

Beingaoifesdad.wordpress.com blog Epidural photo

Just looking at this churns my stomach


But we do have an important role as well, to provide support for our wives or partners, to do whatever running is needed for her and to be there for our child when it arrives. I wonder wither we’re all up to the task though and wither Dad’s wouldn’t benefit from having a more experienced hand around. It is daunting, especially the first time. I was 32 when my first was born, I am generally very confident and I found it an intimidating experience. How do dads in their twenties or even in their teens cope? When my first was born there was a young lad, his girlfriend was in her teens and after several hours of labour she was rushed into the operating room for an emergency section. I saw the young dad-to-be walking the corridor outside, on his own, terrified.

Aoife and I just home from Hosiptal

Aoife and I just home from Hosiptal


In another case I’ve heard the mother had an awful time with some of the midwives while she was in labour. Perhaps if her partner had been older, had someone with more experience with him then he may have had the confidence that Rob, mentioned in Sheila’s article, had to speak up on behalf of his partner. Her experience of labour may have been less traumatic.


It would be interesting to read the other responses from Rob, Lorcan and Diarmuid, particularly to the question: Did you feel useful or did you feel excluded during the whole process? Explain why. And to hear what their other recommendations are for dads-to-be.


Daniel Oakes, a male midwife from Dundalk talks in the main article and is looking at the idea of running “beer and babies” evenings for experienced and dads-to-be to give us a space and time to talk. This is a great idea, and one I’d be interested in. In NY there is a NYC Dads Group who arrange meet ups for dads with their kids. In Drogheda we’re actively trying to encourage dads to come along to St. Mary’s P&T Group so that they are not left to survive on their own. But there is a physiological barrier which dads need to get over before they go to these kind of groups; they need to feel respected as dads and that they have an equal role and right as mothers to be parents.

Is it safe to say Sophie’s Wrong?

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At the weekend Sophie White, “The Domestic” writer in the Sunday Indo’s Life Magazine discussed her despair at not getting a second look now that she’s a pram pushing woman. Men on the other had are converted into magnets getting more attention than ever before once they head out with the buggy.

Man Pram

Man Pram Do men get noticed more than women?


Now I don’t wish to deny that men pushing a buggy do get noticed… its a novelty thing, we’re the minority, but to say that women don’t get noticed are in no way invisible. Now I may be putting my head above the parapet in saying this but I for one do notice. However in this new sexual equality environment I doubt any man would be willing to make it too obvious for fear of being accused of being either a pervert or on the hunt.

The fact of the matter is that I am married, but I’m not blind. As a SAHD I see notice lots of women out on the school run and I enjoy talking to mums at the school, shops or the P&T groups because I like talking to people. If they are nice looking, pleasant to talk to or simply good “Craic” then all the better.

It may be Sophie, like me when you’re out with the pram you’re focused on making sure you don’t crash into anyone, that your child doesn’t throw away another shoe, eat their socks or trying to prevent an older child from running off again; to notice if anyone is coping a sneaky 2nd look at you. Although I doubt I’m even getting a first other than to think who let that edjit out with their children?

Image courtesy of http://www.themotorreport.com.au/56995/skoda-reveals-man-pram-to-celebrate-octavia-rs-unveiling-video

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