Innocence

The days we welcomed our children into our lives are etched in our memories forever. We remember the relief, the surprise, the perfection, the disbelief and the overwhelming love for these beautiful precious babies we had created. These perfect beings had lived within us, grown inside us, and were protected as much as possible from the outside world and all its dangers. We knew we would love them forever, however long forever was to be.
We changed forever too. No longer was life just about us. No matter how selfless we might have believed ourselves to be prior to becoming parents, our children’s arrival changed our perspective on everything. A love we never knew existed was also born and no longer could we look at the world with unaffected eyes. Our children knew nothing of our fears, worries and concerns for them. They were too small, too new and too innocent to know any of it.
It’s said ignorance is bliss, well innocence certainly is. Innocence doesn’t care about colour, creed, gender, sexuality or ethnicity. Innocence doesn’t know hate. Innocence doesn’t breed hate. Innocence sees a friend as a friend and the world as a beautiful place full of variety.
We live in frightening times. The recent terror attacks have horrified and broken the hearts of all who have watched the reports on television, read the articles in the newspapers, and heard the stories of the people behind the numbers. They have also made us all feel so very vulnerable. Vulnerability can lead to fear, the perfect breeding ground for hate. Extremity thrives in a climate of fear.
As parents we have a duty to protect our children from many things. We have a duty to keep them safe. The world is not a perfect place full of good people sadly, and we have a duty to teach our children to be wary of those who might do them harm or pose a threat. Who constitutes a threat, however, is not defined by a person’s colour, creed, gender, sexuality or ethnicity. It can only be defined by the actions of the individual. Our children are not born knowing hate. Only we can teach them that and we have a duty to protect them from it.

Bye-bye nappies

It’s one of the times most dreaded by parents of toddlers
and small children, but it comes to us all and can’t be avoided forever
(although in fairness, my husband has done his best to try to). It’s the time
you’ll need nerves of steel, the patience of a saint and shares in a kitchen
roll company. It’s potty training time! Potty training is a wee and poo fest
that the whole family can get involved in, so don’t let anyone off the hook! Here’s
my 10 steps to help you with the task in hand and hopefully take some of the
stress out of it.
1.     Firstly choose a time to start when you can be
at home a little bit more.  If you have
to run in and out on numerous occasions be it for school or activity
collections, you’re going to make life more difficult for yourself. Plan in
advance and discourage visitors if at all possible.  Distractions are not great at this time.
2.     Try to involve your child in the choosing of
his/her potty and within reason go along with their choice.  My two year old son is the proud owner of a
Princess Peppa Pig potty.  It has served
us well! Also involve them in the purchase of big boy/big girl pants all the
while reminding them of how grown up they’re becoming now that they won’t be
wearing nappies anymore
3.     Allow your child to go without a nappy or pants
on the first day you start.  They’ll be
very aware of the absence of a nappy if they’re wearing nothing. The presence
of pants however, can confuse them and make them forget they’re not wearing a
nappy.  Make sure the potty is always
visible and offer drinks frequently.  If
possible let them watch a little programme that they really enjoy while sitting
on the potty.  The idea here is to
“catch” a wee in the potty by chance. This can take longer than you might
originally anticipate because the security of the nappy is gone.  Don’t be afraid to use a little bribery here
to encourage your toddler to stay seated on the potty.  You won’t have to do it all the time but for
the first few times it might help. (Is that the mammy police I hear banging
down my door??!!) . When your toddler does produce something, and if you have
managed to keep him/her seated there for a while, it will most likely be just
by chance.  This is when it’s time to
make an enormous fuss.  Involve any other
family members that are around, in the praise giving.  Your little one at least now has an idea as
to what he/she is expected to do in the potty other than wear it on his/her
head!
4.     Prepare to shadow your child everywhere, literally
everywhere.  Small children get pretty
bored with the whole potty thing very quickly and are quite likely to run off
and pee somewhere else.  Move the potty
from room to room.  If there are older
siblings in the house ask them to help with the shadowing.  If your child starts to wee while not on the
potty, just quickly lift them up and place them on the potty.  Anything in there is better than nothing and
it reinforces that wees should be done in the potty.
5.     Throughout the day, keep saying to your toddler
“Where do we do wees and poos?….In the potty” Any success should be heavily
praised and misses met with a reminder that wees and poos are done in the
potty.
6.     When going to bed place a pull up style nappy on
your child but don’t refer to them as a nappy, just a variation on big boy
pants. No one is expecting this to be dry in the morning, but it’s good to make
the distinction between this and a nappy and it prepares the way for pulling up
and down pants which will be introduced over the coming days.
7.     Start day two the same way.  Remove the pull up.  Leave the child without nappy or pants and
keep the potty close at hand.  Day two
can be met with more resistance but praise, gentle insistence and bribery
should help.  Today your child might be
aware after they have produced a wee and may well jump up to show you (or not,
which is no problem either).  Again today
shadowing is very important so as not to miss an opportunity.
8.     Later in day two (or day three if you feel your
child is not ready) introduce the big boy/big girl pants.  You will be pretty much guaranteed an
accident early on but that’s ok because the wet sensation will remind your
little one of what happens if they don’t make it to the potty on time. Make
sure someone is on hand at all times to help pulling up and down pants throughout
the day and any success here should be met with a huge fuss.  This time your child has most likely been
aware of what they were doing and has deliberately used the potty.
9.      Day three
continues much the same as the previous day with hopefully a little more
success.  No doubt however, you will have
encountered resistance to pooing in the potty. 
It’s important to make sure your little one doesn’t become constipated or
holds on to their poo. If your child suggests that they need to poo, remove
their pants again so that they can easily get to the potty at the very last
minute. Again consider allowing your child to watch a favourite programme and
encourage them to sit on the potty while they do.  Hopefully they’ll get so caught up in what
they’re watching that they will produce! Leave the child without pants for a
while to see if this helps.  If your
little one becomes very distressed and still refuses to go, put a pull up style
nappy on them (still referring to them as big boy or girl pants). Continue to
encourage them to poo in the potty but don’t worry if they go in the pull up
nappy instead.  Poo-ing in the potty
always takes a little longer to master.
10.  By day four you should have proper idea as to
how your child is getting on.  If they’re
having less than a 50-60% success rate they’re probably not quite ready yet and
you might be better off just leaving it for a few more weeks (even just 3 weeks
can make an enormous difference).  Don’t
worry that all your hard work will be wasted, it won’t.  Starting again a few weeks later should be
easier, as your child will know what you and he/she are aiming for. Progress
can often be much faster then. 
Plenty of praise and encouragement are essential when potty
training, as are constant reminders throughout the day and reaffirmations that
big boys and girls do their wees and poos in the potty.  If things are going well, keep an eye on the
night time pull ups.  Some children, day
and night train at the same time.  If you’re
one of the lucky parents whose child appears to be dry at night also, remove
the pull up after about a week into potty training.  Remember to make sure your little one goes to
the toilet before bed and don’t offer drinks too late in the evening. If your
child however, is not dry in the morning when they wake, don’t worry, one step
at a time. Night time dryness can be tackled later!

Larger Families

I read today that Jools Oliver, the wife of chef Jamie Oliver, is expecting her fifth child. I love hearing that someone is pregnant. I am always hugely excited when I hear that one of my friends or family members are expecting a baby. I love to hear about scans, check-ups, birth details, everything. It’s one of my favourite topics. Impending parenthood is a very exciting time. To hear that someone is fortunate enough to be expecting a child – well there is nothing better. I was especially interested today to hear that Jools Oliver was pregnant, not because I’m a big celebrity fan, but because this is baby number 5. They can now prepare to have to defend their family size!

Families have gotten smaller, this is undeniable. People are having less children for many different reasons, some by choice, some by circumstance. A third child tips the balance in the children’s favour. For the first time ever, you have more children than hands. It’s unchartered territory and you’re relying on someone to behave! Four children and you’re going against the norm. Logistics and practicalities come more into play and you may need to consider a mom-mobile type car. On the plus side you’re already used to the lack of hands so the transition can be sometimes smoother. Five children upwards – people start wondering, “what’s wrong with you??!”

I’ve heard all the jokes from “haven’t you figured out what’s causing it yet?” to “you need to get a television”. I have received plenty of positive comments about having a big family from the “they’ll have friends for life” type remark to people sharing happy memories of having grown up in large families themselves. I’ve had parents say their children have had great fun when they have come on a playdate with one of my children, only to find when they get here there is a readymade army of willing participants available to play most games imaginable.There have also been plenty of negative comments too, and sometimes they come from the most unexpected sources. My daughter has felt uncomfortable during a geography lesson when a cause of global warming was laid at the feet of large families. She tried to explain that we tend to holiday in Ireland, our mom-mobile rarely travels anywhere with a free seat (at this stage I’m close to putting children on the roof), we don’t eat much meat and because we’re fortunate enough to live close by to their schools, the children all walk there each day. She discussed how much we recycle, how clothes can be handed down and how when the house is heated nine people are kept warm, whereas in some houses the same amount of heat might be used for just one person. She suggested our carbon footprint might not be quite as big as was possibly thought! During another lesson, however, they learned how big families were generally born to the uneducated. It can be sometimes hard to deal with the sweeping generalisations.

I have had all sorts of questions put to me as to why I have worked my uterus so hard. Two people asked if it was driven by religious beliefs. It is not. Many more have suggested it’s because of my uneven gender balance. I’ve explained here that had gender been the driving force, I’d have stopped after two. I had a much more socially acceptable “gentleman’s family” then. The reason I have such a large family is much more simple. It’s because I love children and I’ve been fortunate enough to have seven. Getting there and the journey since hasn’t all been plain sailing. Rearing children is very hard work, we all know that, but I never take my good luck for granted. I count my lucky stars every day that this crazy, hectic, exhausting, life full of love is mine. Being a parent is a privilege. A privilege that I have been blessed with seven times. A privilege denied to many.

Easter holidays

Excitement is steadily building, well amongst the kids anyway, as the Easter holidays are looming. The prospect of a longer than usual Easter break however, is filling parents everywhere with an impending sense of panic! My troops finish early on Wednesday and it’s been their main topic of conversation at the breakfast table these past two mornings as they chat away about their plans for the almost three week break from school! I say their plans, I have a slightly different take on things. 
The school holidays are a great break from the routine but without a few ideas and/or plans in place, boredom can quickly lead to frustration! Next thing you know mini Bruce Banners everywhere are turning into incredible hulks without the innate compulsion to do good! The weather this week has certainly set the scene and if we get anything similar to it over the Easter break we’ll be on the pig’s back. Much easier to find cheap and cheerful ways to occupy the children when the weather is good. I have decided to be proactive this year and have started a list of things we can and might do depending on the weather, which won’t break the bank. Thought I’d share a few that I’ve come up with so far
– play some of the games I played when I was younger such as rounders, kick the can, red rover, crocodile crocodile.
– visit a pet farm
– meet up with friends and cousins for a picnic
– baking
– cinema
– movie afternoon with curtains drawn and microwave popcorn
– take the older children to Kilmainham Gaol, especially with the year that’s in it.
– get everybody to do a self-portrait and make a collage
– make some lego
– have some of the kids friends over- go to the library
Of course I don’t plan to occupy their every waking minute. They have enough structure and organised activities throughout the school year and it’s so important that they can play freely and amuse themselves. All children need a chance to use their imaginations, create their own games, pretend to be superheroes and escape from reality. The list is partly for variety and partly for when the superheroes’ worlds collide! So if anyone has any other suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

Sunday, Sunday

Sundays here, like most houses I imagine, are normally hectic. They usually involve huge amounts of housework, shopping and washing, getting ready for the week ahead. Sunday nights are spent locating missing pieces of uniform which were supposedly put in the wash but somehow turn up wedged down the side of someone’s bed and finding odd shoes whose partner has seemingly grown legs and run off. Bath-time resembles a factory assembly line and there’s always a nasty surprise to be found when one of us goes searching in the school bags for a beaker or lunchbox that didn’t quite make its way to the kitchen sink the previous Friday! Sundays have become both exhausting and boring to be honest. 

This Sunday, however, we decided we were going to “do something” and headed into town with the troops. Definitely not a task for the fainthearted, but we loaded the mom-mobile and headed off. In spite of a few grumbles from the boys in the middle, fearful that an afternoon of shopping awaited them, we actually had a lovely time. Granted it took a good ten minutes to unload the car and assemble buggies (and restrain the toddler) but it was lovely to all get out as a family and do something different to the usual chores that take over our Sunday. The weather was lovely so it was nice to wander around and soak up the busy atmosphere. I even got a giggle out a few people that I saw counting as we passed by them with the kids! We returned home with a big box of doughnuts and the promise of a hot chocolate to go with them. 

It wasn’t an overly eventful day or an especially exciting one but it did feel like a day off. It felt like a break from the mundane and it did serve as a reminder of the importance of taking time out to spend quality time together instead of always being caught up in what has to be done. They say very few people on their death bed look back and think “I wish I had done more housework”. While there’s a need to be practical too, I am going to try to remember this more. The kids won’t remember whether or not the house was immaculate when they get older, but hopefully they will remember some of the things we did together. It’s easy to forget this in the craziness that is life. In the meantime you’ll have to excuse me. All my slacking off today means I have an important date with my ironing board this evening!

We returned home with a big box of doughnuts and the promise of a hot chocolate to go with them. It wasn’t an overly eventful day or an especially exciting one but it did feel like a day off.It felt like a break from the mundane and it did serve as a reminder of the importance of taking time out to spend quality time together instead of always being caught up in what has to be done. They say very few people on their death bed look back and think “I wish I had done more housework”. While there’s a need to be practical too, I am going to try to remember this more. The kids won’t remember whether or not the house was immaculate when they get older, but hopefully they will remember some of the things we did together. It’s easy to forget this in the craziness that is life. In the meantime you’ll have to excuse me. All my slacking off today means I have an important date with my ironing board this evening!

Teenagers

Just when you think you have it sorted. Just when you think that you are finally getting the hang of this parenting lark, you find that you are the parent of a teenager! Harry Enfield’s Kevin and Perry could not have been more accurate (if you can’t remember this you should really google when Kevin turns thirteen, it’s hilarious). Suddenly everything you ever thought you knew, every reaction you thought you’d have and every “not until you’re such an age” goes flying out the window as you realise to survive this challenge you’re going to have to pick your battles! 

The teenage years can be a very stressful time for parent and child. It’s a difficult time for teenagers, who, while full of hormones, are dealing with growing up, finding their place in society, trying to assert some independence, and dealing with peer pressure which is at its most fierce at this stage of life. It’s also a difficult time for parents who are trying to balance allowing their child have more freedom to grow while trying to keep them safe from harm and maintain a decent relationship – all at the same time. One of the particular challenges encountered by parents is the virtual world in which our teenagers spend so much time. As adults we choose to log on to the internet. Teenager are always online. The virtual world means today’s teenagers are never away from the influence of their peers. There is a constant bombardment of snapchats, Facebook messages, updated viber groups messages with pictures and messages about who’s doing what, who got what, who went where. There is no escape from the peer group and the influence of family is pushed more to the side than it could have been in years gone by. In the virtual world there is also a pressure to engage in activities they might not otherwise consider. It’s not an easy situation to manage as most teenagers place huge importance on their virtual friends. 

Compromise is essential, but so are boundaries. While no one wants to fall out with their child, it’s our job, difficult as it is, to be their parent rather than their friend. They have enough friends who’ll support them through the trauma of having a cruel mother or father who insists all electronics are left downstairs at bedtime! 

Coming up with an agreement for an acceptable amount of internet usage and involving your teenager in the discussion is a good place to start. Explain your concerns. Teenagers being teenagers will always challenge what’s agreed, but try, as much as possible not to get dragged into an argument, no matter how hard your teenager pushes (not an easy ask by any stretch of the imagination). Consistency really is the key here. If you give in over an unjustified strop, you have just given them reason to have another one in the future. Less strops, generally equals less arguments. The teenage years are certainly a minefield to navigate, but I’ve met quite a few parents who’ve lived to tell the tale. So there’s hope for us all! 

Baby Love

Something I wrote about my youngest, but it could be any of our babies….💜
It’s 3am, the night is dark,
But baby wants to play,
He beams at me, touches my face,
So I begin to sway.
I softly sing him lullabies,
Encourage him to doze,
But he keeps smiling up at me
And wriggles baby toes.
I try another tactic,
I stroke his little cheek,
His baby blues begin to close
And ‘neath his lashes peek
My baby boy is fast asleep,
All snuggled in my arms,
And though I’m tired, I gaze at him,
Won over by his charms.
For nothing ever could foretell,
The love that I would know,
When baby came into my life,
And how that love would grow.

Lunchtime

We have pretty much the same drill here every day regarding what happens when the kids get in from school. They’re each told to take their lunchboxes and beakers out of their schoolbags and after being asked about five times, they actually do it. I’ve become wise enough at this stage, to know that any keen “emptiers of lunchboxes” haven’t actually eaten their lunch, hence their sudden cooperative nature, so they’re always treated with particular suspicion. I am always told by way of explanation, that they “don’t have enough time” to eat their lunch. This may well be true because I hear similar stories from other parents that I’ve spoken to about this, but seeing as they have a set amount of time for lunch and it’s so important that they do eat as much as they can to help sustain their concentration and energy levels throughout the day, I have compiled my top 5 tips to encourage your child to eat their lunch
1. Be reasonable with the amount given. An oversized lunch can be very off-putting for a child as well as impractical in terms of time allowance. It’s also an excellent opportunity to establish good eating habits in terms of portion size. An appropriate sized lunch gives your child a chance of achieving what you have asked of them and finishing it, rather than feeling defeated before they even start.
2. Involve your child in lunchtime options. Is there anything in particular that they would like for lunch this week? Is that a reasonable option? If it is great, no excuse not to eat it so. Ask them for different suggestions and give them some of your own. Remind them that you are providing what you have discussed so they need to make a special effort to eat it.
3. If your child has two different breaks, which most schools do, consider wrapping the food for their breaks separately so that it’s easily accessible and no time is wasted deciding what to eat (or what not to eat until they have to!). Consider also providing a way for your child to store his “rubbish” from his smaller break in particular. A lot of schools don’t allow the children to discard their rubbish in school so they have to put it back in their bag and bring it home. The smell of fruit cores and empty yoghurt cartons can be very off-putting, especially, if like some of mine had a tendency to do, they placed them back in their lunchbox. Nobody feels much like eating the rest of their lunch when their tinfoil is coated in yoghurt! Nappy bags can be a solution here. Cheap and compact and usually fragranced to keep school bags from smelling of rotten fruit
4. Remind your child the night before, or the morning of school, what they have for lunch that day. This way you can get all the objections out of the way and explain, in advance, exactly why all the reasons they propose for not eating their lunch are invalid! It also means they know what to expect so there’s no room for disappointment or “I was hoping for…..”
5. Good old fashioned bribery, the secret to good parenting. If your school allows a small treat on Fridays (lucky you) then talk to you child about what that might be and agree if they make an extra special effort to eat their lunch this week, that treat might be a possibility. If that’s not allowed maybe a chart recording lunchtime success with a certain amount of ticks by the end of the week/ month meriting a favourite magazine/treat or whatever works best for your child.
Above all be consistent in your expectations and keep the faith! Lunchtime won’t always be this type of battle. As they get older the problem will providing enough!

Survival tips for life with a young baby!

My youngest little dude has just turned six months old. Even though he’s my seventh child and I’m pretty familiar at this stage with most things baby, I still have to succumb to baby demands and the restrictions that go with having such a young child. With this in mind I thought I’d share my top five survival tips for life with a young baby!
1. Try to make some new friends with babies. Sometimes easier said than done but it’s great to have someone who is going through the same stage as you. Friends with older children can be fantastic sources of advice but they can also have short memories when it comes to sleepless nights, the inevitable nappy explosion that occurs as you try to leave the house and the need to stop and feed your baby at a moment’s notice. Mother and Toddler groups, breastfeeding support groups and even your Public Health Nurse can be a great medium through which to meet new mum friends
2. If you’re offered help, take it. The smallest things can make the biggest difference. If it’s not offered, ask. Sometimes people just don’t think. Whether it’s asking someone who has come to visit to hold the baby while you have a quick shower, or taking someone you trust up on their offer to watch the baby while you get out for a quick walk , do it. Life is swings and roundabouts. We all need a bit of help sometimes and there’ll be another opportunity for you to be the person who helps in the future.
3. Be realistic about your expectations. Not many babies are sleeping through the night at six weeks. You are not doing something wrong. If you breastfeed, some babies, particularly in the early days might feed every twenty minutes and yes they can be starving again an hour later even after taking a substantial feed. If you’re bottle feeding, the same rules can apply. Do you eat on a strict four hour schedule? If you plan to go somewhere, allow yourself adequate time and be realistic about how long you can manage to be out for. Babies are predictably unpredictable. If you allow for the unexpected, you’re less likely to end up frustrated if and when things don’t go according to plan.
4. Don’t take the baby books as law. People are different, babies are different, even within the same family. The books can be a great source of advice, but they’re a rough guide. Not all babies crawl, sit, walk or talk at the same time and that doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem. There can be months of a difference between different babies meeting their milestones. Trust your instinct and talk to your G.P. or P.H.N if you’re worried.
5. Enjoy the coos and the smiles. There is nothing more infectious than a baby’s laugh. It won’t take away the tiredness but it helps you cope with the daily slog!

Mother’s Day

I can’t remember my life before I was a mum anymore. I can’t remember the last time I had a full night’s sleep, went to the bathroom without an audience or made an uninterrupted phone call. I can’t remember when I last went to a shopping centre without clock watching, knowing I had 23 and a half minutes before the whining would start (impressive eh?) or a time leaving the house without preparing for the apocalypse (just in case). 

Sometimes, when you list it out (and we all know there are many, many things missing from that list) it seems that the difference is mainly negative when you consider your pre-mum days to your now 24/7 mum days but of course we know that’s far from the truth. Being a mum lets you know love you never knew existed and it is the greatest privilege I’ve ever known. It gives us an insight into how things were for our own mothers and while we might or might not do things differently to them, we now know the conditions they were operating under! Mums are great! Happy Mother’s Day to mums everywhere especially those celebrating their first one as a mum. Thinking also of those whose mums are no longer with them.