When my children were born, I thought a lot about the direction their lives might take. Could one grow up be a famous doctor who’d discover a cure for cancer or some other terrible disease? Might one prove to be a talented footballer whose goal in extra time would see Man Utd relegated after a particularly poor season? Was there a chance that I might end up attending the Oscars on the arm of one talented actor son or daughter who felt their mammy was the only person who truly deserved to be their “plus one”? Or did musical accolade await another whose fans would spend hours online trying to get tickets to their concerts that were destined to sell out in minutes?
And then the morphine wore off and I focused on the most important thing– that they would be happy.
But the world and real life seems to measure things differently. As any parent of more than one child knows, the same ingredients don’t necessarily produce the same results. Just like Bassets we have allsorts in this house – and I love that they are so different. Personalities, interests, abilities – all hugely different, and all contributing to the wonderful unique child that each one is.
And each unique child learns to measure themselves by standardised tests, sporting achievement and dramatic excellence. Hard work is valued and championed and success rightly acknowledged – but why are all things not measured equally.
Where is the value on kindness? We know that youth mental health has never been under so much pressure. We know the influence of their peers has the potential to be with them always. We know they have to find their own way in the world without us always by their side. But while it’s not a single layered issue, there is a fundamental change we could make – a change in emphasis.
We see lots of advice given on what to do if things do wrong but it’s reactionary and forgets that most important point – prevention is better than cure.
Kindness and empathy are applauded and celebrated when our children are toddlers and smallies, and though in theory, an ethos may remain once they go to school, as the years progress and the targets become more obvious it becomes apparent that excelling at kindness doesn’t feature to the same degree.
It’s probably not a deliberate omission, but how lovely it would be to see it as a deliberate inclusion, throughout the entire school cycle, recognising the different and yet same shape it can take as our children get older. A focus away from the books and the sports field. A focus on caring and compassion and thinking of others. A focus on words, actions and consequences and how to build each other up, rather than tear each other down. A focus that makes up as consistent a part of their education as their academic studies and sporting outlets.
And a focus that would surely lead to a lot more happiness.
Maybe when the morphine of achievement and competitiveness wears off….
Benny is a father of two who lives in Waterford and is married to his childhood sweetheart – or long suffering wife as he likes to call her. He has an 8 year old son, who loves technology but not football, and a 2 year daughter who is a Paw Patrol fanatic and is the boss of the house (those of us with toddlers can definitely relate!)
Benny is a stay at home dad and his son has dyspraxia DCD. He spoke to me about life as a stay-at-home dad and what having a child with dyspraxia means for his family.
Why I became a stay at home dad
My wife was returning to work after Maternity and a year off to concentrate on studies (but how she studied while being at home I’ll never know). We were right in the midst of making arrangements with crèches and after school, who’d could collect who etc when I dropped the bombshell… “What if I stayed at home?” After the initial shock of my idea we sat down and worked out the figures. Between the tax saving of only having one income, not having to pay for childcare and some tightening of our belts we decided that it could be done. We reckoned it would give us a better quality of life and this was the main thinking behind it.
The reactions from other men – and women
Most people are great. Most women have a ‘good for you’ attitude to it. Most men are like “huh, huh, you’re retired then!” But it’s all in jest. I say ‘most’ because there are people who don’t seem to grasp it, yup, you guessed it ‘the elder generation’. The ones who grew up with defined roles of ‘male breadwinner’ and ‘female home keeper’ but this attitude is dying out, literally. Us younger folk are fairly on the ball.
The best and the eh “most challenging” parts of being a stay at home dad
The best is easy, being with the kids. When I was an auctioneer I worked long hours (there was no ‘off’, my phone was constantly going outside of hours), I used to see them for a few minutes in the morning and come home stressed to land on top of the bedtime routine. It just wasn’t working for me. Now I get to watch them grow and develop and be much more involved in their lives.
The most challenging aspect, ya ready for this? Being constantly with the kids. There’s no ‘off’ as a stay at home parent either. No sick days. No going to the toilet alone for God’s sake!! But you know what, I’m delighted I made the decision. Plus it’s allowed me to start up daddypoppins.com and write both comedy and serious pieces for various newspapers and websites. I’ve always wanted to write and being a stay at home dad gives me the best of both worlds.
How we discovered our son had dyspraxia.
We knew there was issues at school but their description of our little man and how we found him to be at home were very different. He gotten on great in crèche and Montessori and they thought he’d fly at school but he just never settled. He became anxious and socially awkward and the happy boy we knew retreated into himself. As time went by he became worse and worse as we explored every avenue to help him. Unfortunately the Irish system has waiting lists of up to 2 years for assessment. In fact at the time of writing this we are still waiting. We have paid to go privately (as early intervention is key), he’s been diagnosed with Dyspraxia DCD and sensory processing disorder, we’ve had 2 separate blocks of occupational therapy and still nothing. You have to be wealthy in this country to be seen (something we aren’t, but we’re struggling in to help our kids in any way we can)
In the end it was actually a relief, for us and him. We knew what was going on and put a plan in place to try make things as easy as possible for him.
That’s the issue, it’s very difficult to describe. There’s no one sentence that sums it all up. It’s different for everyone affected by it. To me, it’s a brain-based developmental condition that makes it hard to plan and coordinate physical movement (both fine and gross motor skills are affected). Dyspraxia isn’t a sign of muscle weakness or of low intelligence, in fact the Little Man is super smart. Some children with dyspraxia struggle with balance and posture. They may appear clumsy or “out of sync” with their environment. Our little man struggles with writing, organisation, emotions, breaks from routine etc. our little girl is the same, there’s definitely something happening there too but at 2 and 1/2 she’s too young to diagnose.
The difficulties dyspraxia presents for our son – and for us.
The Little man is 8 and like all 8 year olds there’s worries to be had. How much of it is down to dyspraxia and how much of it is down to him being our first kid is up for a bit of debate. You’d never really know without a control subject. Why don’t they come with manuals?
Dyspraxia has made our life hectic and full of worries about how he’ll cope with situations. It’s made me much more of a ‘helicopter parent’ than I ever thought I’d be. Everything has to be done in a specific way or there’ll be meltdowns; from laying out of clothes in a specific order for the morning and checking upon every detail as we work our way through the daily routine. It’s exhausting. He isn’t able to do what other 8 year olds can, everything needs parental supervision.
We’ve created our own support system because there’s been a total lack of support from the state. We are still waiting on public assessment. If we hadn’t gone private (much to the detriment of our finances) then I’m not sure where we’d be. The little man’s mental health and emotional wellbeing were deteriorating at an alarming rate.
It’s another reason I’m delighted I made the decision to become a stay at home dad as I know my sons routine and needs. Both myself and my amazing wife are his home support. The wonderful Hannah in Sunflower Clinic is his support and I’m glad to say that since her report the school have rolled in behind us and life has been made much easier.
I’ve become immersed in dyspraxia since the diagnosis. I attended a local meeting one night (hastily arranged by a small group of concerned parents) and it snowballed from there. It was only then that I realised how many people are affected by it. So many people don’t know a thing about it. It’s pretty invisible as a special need and has gone unnoticed in so many people in the past. Did you know that 1 in 20 people has it? I know of 7 kids in my estate of around 60 houses that have Dyspraxia DCD (to give it is full title). This meeting has spawned a group of concerned parents (all in the same boat as me) and has grown and grown and we hope to have club formed by September of this year that will provide an outlet for kids and parents going through everything that dyspraxia brings (from the initial worry, to diagnosis and acceptance, planning, engaging, techniques and tricks and the support and friendship of someone who understands your situation).
Because Dyspraxia isn’t ‘obvious’ to the naked eye it’s often dismissed or ‘tutted at’ by others and assumed to be ‘bad parenting’ or an ‘unruly or emotional child’ or something to that effect. It’s not. They don’t grow out of it. It needs to be recognized like autism or dyslexia. It’s currently being pushed to the side by our health services as regards funding.
I’m delighted to say that I’ve become the public relations officer for the Waterford Dyspraxia DCD Support group (link to page here) and currently run both their public and private Facebook pages. So I’m part of the support, but it’s a huge group effort, we have a board of 16 (who all have different skill sets, from; barristers, insurance professionals, special needs assistants and fund raisers) at this point we also have 15 fully trained couches (some of whom are young adults with Dyspraxia). So to answer your question about support, the involved parents are the support, others don’t seem to understand. But we’re working on making them.
The biggest challenge.
In a word, worry. What does the future hold for my child? How can we continue with this exhaustive routine. How can we afford to continue treating them privately? Will they ‘fit in’? Will they be able to secure work and look after themselves properly later in life? Will they be happy?
..and the positives
I’m not sure whether it’s dyspraxia or just my little ones but they are the most caring, in touch with their emotions individuals I’ve ever known. Their empathy levels are off the charts and when they find something they are interested in their concentration and knowledge of the subject is off the charts. Bottom line, they’re still the special little people they were before a label was attached.
Advice for other parents in a similar situation
Address it ASAP (and I mean both them and you) it’s a shock but it provides a roadmap to help. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know the question. The sooner you get to work on things the better the results.
I’d personally say ‘Let them know’ (although some others may not agree) it helped my little man no end to know there was a reason he wasn’t as quick at writing and found some things more difficult than his peers. It changed his attitude from one of ‘I’m useless’ to one of ‘That’s just because of ‘my difficulties’ but now I know how to get around that’.
Finally, get online and find your local support group. People have been there before and can provide a sympathetic ear and advice on who to call or what to do. You aren’t alone. If you can’t find your nearest group then give a call to Harry in Dyspraxia Ireland (link to site here). He’ll set you on the right track.
The first week of the school hols is over and high-fives all around, we survived it – relatively unscathed, well kinda. And we’ve learned a few lessons that I thought I’d share. The sort of things that it’s handy to know as we navigate our way through the remaining, approximately thirty five weeks, or thereabouts, of the school holidays.
1. Never leave the house without babywipes. It’s just asking for trouble and without them, your child’s first port of call with their snotty nose, carrot stick orange-coloured mouth and chocolatey hands will be your cream jeans – if you’re daft enough to wear them on an outing with the children.
2. Never wear your cream jeans on an outing with the children
3.“Live food” for reptiles in the pet shop is actually live. This will bring about two types of reaction in your children. Those who think it’s really cool will want to touch it. Those of a more sensitive disposition will continue their emotional meltdown well after you’ve arrived home. Steer clear of the live food for reptiles section in your pet shop.
4.Always ask your four year old what’s in his pocket before checking for yourself. Sometimes it’s a spider.
5. Small children cannot be distracted from asking relatives about their boobs. It’s best just to answer.
6. If you are trying to gauge the weather and the likelihood of rain – hang out a load of washing. Expect imminent downpour.
7. You will never have enough food in the house and they will always be hungry- always.
8. Small children don’t do “appropriate” very well. If they know they correct name for genitals they are quite likely to shout it very, VERY loudly and only mildly mispronounced, in the park with maximum audience attention. For example “Mammy I can see your dagina through my binoculars”
9. The row over who pushes the lift button can potentially see your 4 year old escape in a lift alone if you don’t wedge yourself between the door very quickly. Your four year old will not be as traumatised as you.
It’s finally arrived. A day that the last few months and weeks have all been about reaching. A day that I think my children have been looking forward to even more than me. A day that means I won’t have my head buried in the laptop at every available moment, night and day – to the same degree anyway. A day which means that I can start to join my kids at the park again, rather than over enthusiastically waving them off with their father, to the chimes of “don’t rush back” just so that I can get a chance to work in
It’s book deadline day!
A few months ago, I was given this wonderful opportunity to write a book, all about my favourite topic – parenting. In my delight, I pushed the workload to the back of my mind, and focused on the fact that I had loads of thoughts on all things parenting and plenty of inspiration in the forms of mini and not so mini-mes, who were as varied in their personalities as their views on underwear and its necessity. I just needed to get it down on paper– how hard could it be?
Very – is the answer. Life kept getting in the way and in spite of the important and significant sized project that I had undertaken, the kids insisted that I continue to look after them, feed them, bathe them, help them with their homework, attend one’s confirmation, another’s school musical, and a child had a stint in hospital for good measure.
But now, today, I HAVE FINISHED MY BOOK!!!! I have pushed the send button and the electronic copy is winging its way to my editor. As I typed those immortal words “The End” – I felt like Daddy Pig as he contemplated the muddy puddle before him. I was and am at one with the world again.
So if you’re looking for me, you will find me sitting on the couch with a celebratory glass or several of wine, eating copious amounts of chocolate to compliment it and beaming like that proverbial cat.
And who cares if tomorrow is a school day because I have finished my book – until my editor comes back to me at least.
The Easter holidays have been a very different affair this year. Normally when the children are off school, we try to go somewhere each day, just to get out the house.These trips can vary dramatically in terms and ranges of excitement, but once they know they’re going somewhere and once cabin fever isn’t allowed to set in, I tend to have more civilised children on my hands.
This Easter things had to be different. With barely any time left, until my book manuscript needs to be submitted, everything is on a very tight schedule. The sort of schedule that hyper children and snot filled babies and threenagers, don’t care much for – and that “wingers of it” , like me, struggle with.
Spotting the rising chaos and recognising the challenges in hand, I managed to convince my mother to take three of the older boys for a few days. Younger children are more content with shorter outings and with a teenage daughter still here, I knew that we could manage the resulting change to dynamics a little more easily. Everyone stood to benefit, except my teenage daughter, according to her. My undying gratitude isn’t sufficient it seems, but we’re finding that feeding her coffee slices at random and frequent intervals over the course of the week is helping to cushion the blow.
With three of the boys missing, the house has seemed so much quieter. As child number five, stepped up to the role of “biggest boy in the house”, we realised that it’s a role that he quite enjoys. It hasn’t made much of a difference to child number 6 though. He knows the power of the dark side. He remains very happy in his own personal role as “destroyer of things”and “family streaker”.
This morning as my hubby loaded the car and prepared to take the remaining troops with him, to collect their brothers, a very “peachy” smelling three year old entered the dining room. As I sat at my laptop, typing away furiously, I heard the words that every mother dreads to hear –especially from the mouth of a threenager.
“I have some good news and some bad news, mum”, he said. I looked up in a panic and could see immediately that there had been an incident.
“What’s the good news?” I asked, “Eh, eh, – oh yes, I found a charger” he replied.
“And the bad?” I followed, swallowing in fear.
“This, eh, fell on my head” he said, producing a now completely empty bottle of conditioner from behind his back, and looking at me in staged shock with his green eyes aghast.
“But I smell really, really nice” he added for consolation.
Much later than planned, my husband left to collect my other children.
Winging it and hoping for the best, is my general adopted position when it comes to the two thousand things that have to be done here in any one day. It largely works, kind of, with priorities being met and the less important things going on the neverending, non existing, list of “stuff to do” tomorrow.
With a book deadline drawing ever closer, the usual deadlines to be met, a transition year musical on the horizon and upcoming both confirmation and communion, in addition to the other million and one things that go hand in hand with rearing a family we decided that we might need to give our whole winging it policy a bit of a helping hand – so my husband booked Monday off work.
Our internal walls were badly in need of a little TLC thanks to the combined artistic efforts of my 3 year old and 18 month old with a purple crayon and a red marker, so the plan was to tackle them, let me get some serious writing done and declutter some of huge amount of homeless junk that was gathering in every room of the house. We were a man and a woman on a mission. Our plan was to restore order to our gaff!
Rookie mistake. Making plans when you have children, is just tempting fate – and fate was weak.
And so it came to pass that we spent Friday night in A&E waiting for my daughter, who had been referred by our G.P. with suspected appendicitis, to be assessed. Trooper that she generally is, meant that the first attending doctor viewed us suspiciously, wondering why she didn’t just take painkillers and stay at home. She didn’t seem to be in enough pain apparently. I explained how she had been screaming in agony earlier and that it was actually the G.P. who had sent us over and that she still was in a lot of pain, it was just relative. When the surgeon came to see her, she decided to admit for surgery in the morning. The consultant the next day, had her in theatre within ten minutes of his examination.
While I waited for my daughter to come out of theatre, a message arrived in my inbox. A preparatory photo, I like to call it. My husband, the responsible adult at home taking care of our other children, had thought rugby scrumming with my eight year old in our kitchen, you know the sort of place where there are hard tiles on the floor, was a good idea. Turns out he was wrong, and the eight year old had an impressive lump on his forehead and black eye to prove it. Some culpability was directed my eight year old’s way by the responsible adult– apparently, “he hadn’t bound properly”.
Naturally enough the weekend passed with intricate negotiations necessary to allow myself and my husband to take turns spending time with my daughter at hospital, without unleashing the full force of a Hogan invasion. The boys were fretting for their sister and were keen to see how she was doing but we had to keep messages to the video kind as her stitches wouldn’t have coped with the physical impact of their concern.
And as Monday, the day that we were supposed to take control, drew to a close, we realised that in terms of all that had to be done, we were now in a worse position than we were before, but our daughter was home, and all was well, and the eight year old’s shiner was every colour of the rainbow.
Normality had returned to our household, there was lots to do. Winging it was best option.
It’s Friday night, you know the the feels, The weekend stretches out, It’s time to relax, kick off our shoes, And “FREEDOM ” we can shout, From all stresses of the week,
The things that drive us crazy,
The work and traffic and school runs,
There’s no time to be lazy,
Tomorrow’s not a working day,
No hectic morning to dread,
Cos Friday evening is our time
Once the kids have gone to bed
So what to do, and how to chill
Is what we now must ponder,
Sweet or fruity, red or white
Of which type am I fonder?
Then pour a glass and settle down,
Remote in hand securely,
Peppa banished for another day,
And grown-up programmes purely,
It’s Friday evening and we own it
Relaxed, no we’re not boring,
At 9 O’clock, I’m wine in hand
By ten you’ll hear me snoring 😴
Just thought I’d drop you a line ahead of tiny people taking up residence in your womb. I hope you’re keeping well. All is good this side of the timeline. Exhaustion is a bit of an on-going issue, but you get used to it, and sometimes in all the madness of life, sleep deprived delirium can even be a bonus.
Hope you’re enjoying some carefree wild nights with your friends. Still a total night owl here, but the rave moves have become more of the “swaying the baby to sleep kind” and the attire is now less about displays of pert, voluptuous cleavage and more about the support and easy access to sometimes melon proportioned breasts for night feeds.
Enjoy all the latest cinema releases. While now you may hold an opinion on all the Oscar nominated and winning movies, in the years to come if it’s not made by Pixar or Disney, you won’t have seen it – over and over and over again.
Go out while you can, anywhere, everywhere, whenever, without the military preparation required to take a small person and half the house with you. Visit friends and family while they still smile happily to see you arrive rather than stare at you with a look of terror as you unload the troops from the car.
Wear crop tops more often. Your tummy is going to look a LOT different in years to come. Whether it’s sunny, blowing a gale, raining, snowing or -10, show off your stomach, while you can …sob.
Take long showers and lather yourself in luxurious smellies while treating your glossy locks to some hair masks. The day will come when you’ll shower with just one leg in the cubicle as you strain to hear if your baby is crying and your hair will be washed with baby shampoo, or maybe just liquid
soap – assuming you have time to wash it at all that is.
Enjoy life and don’t sweat the small stuff. There’s a whole load of small stuff, of the human variety, coming your way, that’ll really give you plenty to sweat about.
Oh and don’t buy that beige couch. You’ll have to replace it in late 2001, after an unfortunate Ribena incident.
Mid-term is here and a welcome break from school runs, school lunches and most of all homework beckons. The prospect of a week that belongs to us is very appealing and romantic notions of quality time spent together with less shouting, cajoling and/or threatening pleasantries fill our heads, well mine anyway.
Of course the reality MAY be somewhat different. Bearing in mind the “challenges” that all this quality time together, possibly during a rainy, cold week, may bring, I’ve compiled a list of tips to help make the experience more enjoyable – and hopefully ensure that everyone is still on speaking terms at the end of the week!
1. Take a breather: Spilled juice, upturned bedrooms, sibling rows, home phones down the toilet and constant calls of “mammy, mammy, mammy (or daddy, daddy, daddy) can cause a marginal increase in our stress levels.
Walk away and literally breathe. Big deep breaths for just a few seconds or minutes, enough time for you to feel more at one with the world and less likely to scream like a banshee. It will hopefully stop a knee-jerk reaction punishment such as grounding or no electronics time, that only you will ultimately pay the price for, over a loooooong day.
2. Get up earlier: Yes every school morning, you have to literally drag them out of bed but at the weekend and school holidays, they’re first up, playing the recorder, ransacking the kitchen as they “prepare” breakfast for themselves and generally causing mayhem!
Getting up before them means that you can get yourself sorted first rather than in the midst of chaos, where you’re chasing the baby who has swiped your deodorant and finding your missing bra on the three year old spiderman costume wearing enthusiast. Managing to get dressed before they’re even awake means you’ll be ready to leave the house without any (ok, as much) of the drama.
3. Leave the house: And speaking of leaving the house – leave the house. Go somewhere, anywhere. Escape the confines of the four walls. Even if the weather is not great, wrap up, wear wellies and get out. Go for a walk, along the beach if you’re lucky enough to leave near one. Visit some poor unsuspecting friends or family members. Visit a pet shop. Have a picnic, in the car if necessary. Go for a muffin. Go to a playground. Check out the kids club at the local cinema. Something small every day – and it doesn’t have to cost much, or anything. It’s about getting out and not letting cabin fever set in.
4. Playdates: Because after all, who doesn’t want to look after even more children over the midterm! But seriously though, having a friend or friends over for your own kids is not only great bribery, it gives you a break from the “what are we doing now?” question that you are in all likelihood facing every five minutes otherwise. And, if the weather is good you can chuck them outdoors. Then, when you return them to their parents later, while polishing your halo, you can explain that they had plenty of fresh air and spent a very limited time on electronics. Win, win!
5. Stock up on wine and chocolate: No explanation required.
It’s Sunday Night, you know the drill,
It never seems, to change,
Lunches to make, ahead of school,
And uniforms to arrange,
All neatly at the end of beds,
When they’ve come through the laundry,
Except for the missing pieces of course
Therein begins the quandary,
Where could they be, the kids deny
They put them anywhere,
Except in the wash-basket of course,
And into space they stare,
“Yes definitely there, I remember it well,
Straight after we had our bath”
I look in disbelief at them,
Knowing generally there’s a path,
Of clothes that they leave in their wake,
All strewn across the floor,
One sock here, and a shirt over there,
Underpants hanging from the door,
A frantic search begins upstairs,
As shoes are missing too,
A white runner is under one bed,
But the one we need is blue,
Ah here it is, in the underwear drawer,
I really should have thought,
And the trousers are there, under baby’s cot,
Just a jumper now is sought,
Hurray more washing on Sunday night,
Just what every mother needs,
And fun and games to get them dry,
Visions of an early night recedes,
Yes it’s Sunday night you know the drill,
As the week ahead is beckoning,
But I won’t be able to sleep tonight,
It’s a syndrome by my reckoning!