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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.

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.

Fears… The times they are a changing… again

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When my son Aidan was born I was out of work, an involuntary stay at home dad. I went off and studied, I did a course to set up my own business. but for the majority of the first year and a half of his life I was the go to person for him and my daughter who I was minding as well and bringing to and from play-school every morning.

Aoife and Aidan enjoying dinner out before I went back to work.


Then I went back to work, and he went to a child minder for a bit and then on to preschool. He is one of the nicest lads you will ever meet, kind, considerate to his friends and  quick to forgive. But he can also be a bit lazy, has little self control, can’t sit quiet or behave during times when you need to be still, and when he feels aggrieved he becomes (or at least his behaviour) is quite rude and sullen.  His behaviour last week made me realise that when I do things that he finds really embarrassing in front of his friends when/if he becomes a teenager it will just be karma coming back to him for all of the things he did as a child.

It is perfectly illogical that I should blame myself for his misbehaviour, my rational brain tells me that 1. he is a child after all, and it’s not easy for them to have the attention span to behave as I would always like him to and 2. he is a boy!. Now parents of only girls will not understand the reason for this possibly un-PC separation of the sexes, especially on this World Women’s day. But having observed my sons, my daughter and other nieces and Daughters friends there is a difference. And boys need to keep moving, cannot settle and calm themselves as well as girls, cannot concentrate as well at least until they are older and catch up in maturity. (If anything this could be a basis for all those objectives of the women’s rights movements- Boy’s never grow up- they just get taller)

I worry though that perhaps that his behaviour would be better if I had been there with him longer, those critical years from 2 till 4 when I I was there for Aoife. Is it perhaps that genetically there is no difference between the behaviour of boys and girls and that my daughter has more self control etc because I was there during those formative years. How much is nature… how much is nurture?

For the last two and a half years now again I have been a Stay at home Dad, but this time it was more out of choice, I have fully engaged in my role, and focused my time on the kids more than ever before. I’ve maintained this blog much more than I did before, I take Tomás to parent and todder groups, I’ve ended up running one and I have really enjoyed this time.

My son has too, OK he has still managed to turn into a bit of a TV addict (I blame his big brother who gets up early in the morning to come down and see the start of rtejr  or Milkshake on Channel 5 before he gets his breakfast), but he is confident, happy, mixes well with other kids and has no fear or feeling of limitation.

But alas I need to go back to work again both for myself and for the family. We need to have a bit more financial security of having both of us earning and the longer I stay out of the work force the harder it will be to get back into it.

And this is were the new problems start, not just the activity and work and worry about getting a job but then what job. I can try and go back to doing what I was doing before, working in plastics manufacturing and recycling. However I lack experience in one of the most common machines and also in medical devices which is the highest growth area in the sector in Ireland, so I’d have to retrain (again) and take a job on a much lower wage than I was on before. Or go for shift work in a factory as a supervisor or similar, which is a challenge with a young family. But that’s what I might have to do in the end.

Alternatively I could go and do something completely different, possibly with better hours, but due to lack of experience the salary would be lower. I’ve no hope of getting what I was earning before, not just because the recession has reduced wages, but because employers look at my CV and question- so what have you been doing for the last 2 years… the longer out… the longer it will take me to get up to speed is probably their thinking.

So that’s fears 1 and 2; Will I be able to get a new paid job? and Will the salary be enough to cover the cost of going to work?

But I also worry about my family, how will the kids cope with me going back to work, they have all enjoyed the security of having me close, collecting them from school and doing things with them (they would probably have an easier life if I go back to work) especially Tomás who has seen me around nearly 24/7 since the day he was born. Would he settle with someone else on a daily basis? Will he grow up like his brother, restless or feeling aggrieved that I’d abandoned him?

Making the kids do their homework.

Making the kids do their homework.

I also worry for my wife, she finishes work around 4, but pressure would be on her to collect the kids, to cook their dinner and do all those jobs that I had to do, but at least I had the advantage of having more time to get them completed and didn’t have to do a days work first. She says she’ll cope, and I know we all will, we have to. Doesn’t stop me worrying about them though.

I eagerly await the release of Fathers, Work and Family’s new book Working Dad’s Survival Guide and I hope that it will provide me with help to be the best father that I can be even when I’m not there 24/7 for my wife and kids.

Getting back to work

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It’s been 2 months since I’ve posted a blog, I could say that I’ve been busy, which would be partially true. Between my wife and kids being back at school, Toastmasters, Parent & Toddler Group and looking to go back to work I have been busier. However not so busy that I couldn’t have written something. I did write more in my journal with the intention of transcribing them into blogs, and I might again as this was an attempt to improve the quality of my writing by putting it down on paper first.

The biggest reason why I haven’t written however is one that all of us can be guilty of at times, the lure of the TV and general tiredness causing me to get out of the habit of writing. I never could keep a diary as a child for more than a few days before I would forget about it and stop for a while before trying again.

But it is good to take a break and focus on other things for awhile. I’ve spent loads of time with the kids, made big improvements with how I look after them, slightly less shouting, a lot more patience and understanding. I’ve been reducing Tomás sleep time during the day to ensure that he sleeps at night and spending quality time with him, encouraging him to speak, play and make animal noises. And he’s been making great progress.

The weather has been unquestionably great (for Ireland) and after collecting Aidan from school we hang around to collect his big sister an hour later. We’ve used this time to get some of his homework done and to allow the 2 boys and some other kids who are around for the senior school pick up to play together.

But now after this sabbatical from writing it’s time to get back to work. I’ve spent the last 2 months getting everyone adjusted to the new regime of school and playgroups, homework and job hunting, now it’s time to get back to the other things that I have to do, writing, developing my own skills and capabilities.

Child care Dilemas

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First written and posted on my old blog on the 5 November 2010. I had been out of work for just over a year, it was the first time in 10 years I’d out of work. The first time I’d ever been “unemployed” and I didn’t take too easily to it. So almost the first thing I did was to enroll on a Masters course, and then start a 2nd course in 2010 on starting by own business. So we went from me being at home with the kids all the time to sometimes with trying to do work, study etc in my free time while someone else minded Aoife for us.

“Don’t leave me on my own daddy…”

That was Aoife’s plea to me at 7:30 am as I was preparing to go out for an interview on a cold Thursday morning. Her mum was still asleep in bed and Aoife was drinking her morning Yop and having breakfast.

And that is the challenge that I faced a few weeks ago as my wife’s maternity leave finished up. We had gone 9 months with my wife and I both at home, so any time I was called for a job interview or to go down to the Dublin jobs club or to do some networking to try and develop some job opportunities.

It’s difficult to know what to do when you have 2 small kids, whilst not every interview is at 8.00 in the morning, I would still need to be able to have some childcare options available to me. One problem is that my childcare needs are not regular or routine, the second is that once I arranged childcare any networking opportunities would cost me without necessarily bringing in some returns. As a result I now have to become more careful and picking of my networking, so I’ve had to drop the Dublin Job’s club, which I think was very valuable and in time may have lead me to new opportunities, but when it is costing €60 a week when I’ve no income then it’s hard to keep justifying. Which is a pity, but there are other options which I need to pursue.

So a few weeks ago we secured some childcare with a local woman who lives around the corner. The crèche costs for a 9 month old were frightening at over €480 per month in Dublin and over €540 per month in Drogheda. Luckily a child minder is cheaper and much, much more flexible. So fortunately we had cover for when I had to go to Belfast for 3 days for my course she was available to collect Aoife and mind her until my wife collected her and she minds Aidan once a week to enable me to do the things that I need to get done.

It has also brought other added benefits as she runs a parent and toddler group in her house on Fridays so now I’ve been able to meet up with some of the other mothers in my estate and it means that I know a few more people in Drogheda. I now need to focus my Mondays to networking and pursing those other opportunities.

Life after childcare

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Every once in a while I wonder what I will do with my life… what will I do when I grow up and have to get a “real Job” when the kids are all old enough to go to school or sooner if our finances needed me to to go back to work sooner. I don’t know how many mothers or fathers who are doing the house -partner role see it as their long term plan. I know some don’t have a choice, but most do.

Recently I watched a TED speech  (Larry Smith: Why you will fail to have a great career) where he sets out why we will all ultimately fail to have a great career. In many respects years ago, I thought that I had indeed succeeded in landing my perfect career as Production Manager in a small start up company, and I ran the show more or less apart from the selling and the finances. And ultimately it was these parts that caused the business to close, but you can’t blame the people with responsibility, the whole construction market collapsed, not just our business.

Since then Smith’s prophesy have all run true. Alas. And now I have time again to think about what I might do in the future and how I can go about succeeding in finding success in my career and life in general. I’ll not debate now what success is for now.

Smith identifies that we need to find a career that we are passionate about, willing to make sacrifices for, serious sacrifices (although preferably not involving chanting, fires, altars, knives or pure animals). Having an interest is not sufficient enough it needs to be a passion. You can have any number of interests and I have had interests in the past come and go.

In primary school I played hurling for a while until a few too many cracks across the head with a hurley convinced me to give up on it for a while, not committed enough to sustain concussion on an increasingly frequent occasions.

I played the violin for a long time, and enjoyed playing in orchestras in school and education boards, but I was never good enough to make it into a profession.

Now a days I do have interests, but I’ve never really sat down to think about them properly, to identify what they are and wither I could be passionate about them enough to become a future career. Not that I didn’t enjoy the Production Manager role, but they are few and hard enough to come by in my own back ground, especially if I am looking for a small company looking to grow rather than as a small part of a larger organisation (as in my last paid role).

I am competent and even content do do most things in live and elicit joy from them, even the worst of tasks but would I be able to make a great career out of it?

The advantage of being a SAHD with a 1 year old, one in preschool and another in school is that I can take time to look at these things and work out what I want to be doing and to put together a plan to re-enter the work force when the time comes, and have my 5 year plan together as best you can when you have small kids.

And so I need to clarify what exactly am I interested in, in order to find my way back either to my old career or to a new one.

So what are my current interests:

– My Kids (in spite of the awful job I seem to be doing with them, I like being there for them and they seem to like it too)

– Public Speaking (I go to Toastmasters as a social outlet)

– Innovation and Knowledge transfer (I like reading about the new, innovations and how it happens in companies)

– Education (my own, that of my kids and the education process and progress in general)

– Depression (mitigation, prevention and understanding)

– Service to communtiy (I get out to parent & toddler groups etc and like helping out)

– DIY (but I tend to procrastinate a bit and only do the needs to be done)

– Plastics (I did work in this sector for 14 years after all)

– Business management, understanding and development (I did a 2nd Masters Business & Innovation, need to make it pay for something)

– Exploring new and novel ideas (I do actually keep a list of new business ideas)

– Solving problems

So the question now is what am I going to do with this list, and how do I find one that I am passionate about.

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