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How the number of children affects society

It doesn’t.

There you go, it’s nobody else’s business how many children you have.

That’s the short answer, if you’ve just popped in quickly to see what I have to say on the matter. Here you will find no arguments over global warming, over-crowding, snow-flake children, pensioners needing more tax payers to prop up the welfare system in their old age…

Your reproductive choices are not open to public discussion, comment or approval. That’s the bottom line.

I guarantee you that no matter how many, or how few, children a woman has, there is a comment considered appropriate to her family situation. How many of the following have you heard?

“Ah you can’t just have the one, it would be cruel to deprive little Barry of a sibling.”

“A boy and a girl! Perfect, the gentleman’s family; you’re done now so.”

“They’ve no children, just the pair of them in that house. Wouldn’t you think they’d get a move on?”

“So, do you think you’ll have another?”

“Pregnant again? Don’t you have two at home already?”

“Only children are selfish adults and can’t share.”

“Are you going to go again for the girl?”

“Are they all from the same father? Jaysus.”

“A fourth? Don’t you know what’s causing it?”

“That poor father, living in that house of girls. Wouldn’t you think the wife would try again for a son?”

Nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors, in people’s hearts and a couple’s relationship. I know that for the most part people are just making conversation, idle chit-chat to pass the time while waiting for the bus to arrive.

But for those of us in the trenches, with young kids and not so young kids, chances are we know someone who is trying desperately to get pregnant; someone who would love another baby; someone who suffered a miscarriage or endured the tragedy of losing a child.

Personally, as a result of being more aware of the experiences I have seen people wade through, I am more sensitive of how comments I may have flippantly made in the past might now cut a little close to the heart for some people.

I think before I speak.

I’m not some kill joy who wants everyone reading from a set list of conversational topics, keen to stamp every interaction with a large “PC approved” label. These throwaway comments are made without any hidden agenda, but sometimes watching to see how they are received can make all the difference.

There are so many comments that can be made that are a safe zone; simply saying that someone’s children are lovely and must bring so much happiness is fail safe. No probing comments there. And if the little darlings before you aren’t acting quite so darling, then a simple “How old are they?” is enough to break the ice and open up a conversation.

 

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An ode to The Green

To many it is a seemingly innocuous, irregularly shaped, grass-filled space. To my children and the neighbour’s children, it is an imagination playground. You might drive by in your car, reading house numbers and trying to find your destination, totally missing the magic that is happening right outside your car window.  The wonder that is The Green (or The Field as you may know it).  Suburban housing estates throughout the country boast similar spaces, an enclave of greenery in the middle of rows of houses.  An oasis of opportunity.

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I realise this is more appropriate to us urban dwellers and the countryside folk with their large areas of outdoor space will probably scratch their heads.

But space isn’t just simply space; a shared space can take on extra qualities.

This is never more evident when children of all ages congregate and find ways and means to play together, sometimes amicably, sometimes with squabbles – all skills that will help them mix with others.  On the green in front of my house, my two year old can find himself part of a game with a group of kids that range up to eleven years old.  While he is highly unlikely to be following the rules and is most probably just chasing them all around as fast as his little legs will carry him, he is delighted to be included.  Equally, when one of the “big girls” says hello and waves at my seven year old on the way to school, I can see her puff up with pride.

The green is about belonging, about finding their place in a small world that offers a taste of independence.  Parents patrol the green, clutching steaming cups of tea and coffee while they supervise the younger ones from the sidelines.  Adult friendships are cultivated sitting on the wall chatting while the kids use pavement chalk to decorate the path.  It’s not just about children.  I have come to meet more of my neighbours during my time following the toddler in his attempts to keep up with the older children than I would otherwise.  Neighbours who aren’t chasing children of their own stop to talk, remember a time they spent with their now grown up children in the same space or simply commenting how nice it is to see children playing.  It is a space that encourages community.

Numerous “studies” bemoaning the state of childhood today berate the lack of outdoor play for children.  The Green helps counteract such a fate.  Children freely climb (and fall from) trees, helped and encouraged by the older ones who have mastered the art of those particular branches before them.  The games of our own childhood are repeated and enjoyed.  Impromptu performances of plays concocted require urgent parental attendance.  There are few props and toys in use, the majority of the play comes from the minds of the players, inspired by the area around them.

My seven year old takes off in the evenings the moment the car doors are opened, off to play with whoever else is roaming about.  She is old enough now to not require constant supervision and it is wonderful to watch her blossom and her confidence grow from my vantage point inside the sitting room window.  While she enjoys having her little brother along too, most of her daily timetable is dictated by his requirements so it is important that she has that outlet, just for her.  Boys and girls, young and older play together.  Finding common ground and learning from one another.  It does my heart good to watch the gaggle of children tear from one end of The Green to the other, all shouting in unison and rushing to escape whatever imagined villain is pursuing them.

We feel exceptionally lucky in the neighbours we share The Green with; its value is appreciated and savoured.  There has been community BBQs with kiddie sports days organised.  Afternoon birthday parties have been celebrated that bled into the evening with take-away pizzas ordered so as to allow the adults stay out enjoying the company.  Picnic blankets and folding chairs appear at the peripheries of the space on sunny days as the adults gather to chat and enjoy the weather while the kids play.  It is the heart of our community, and in a time where community is a struggling concept, I will cling to The Green.

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Dads don’t babysit

Men are not dogs.  I’m convinced this is the root of this problem; somewhere along the way I remember “advice” circulating that recommended approaching men’s behaviour as you would your dog.  Reward good behaviour and ignore the bad.  Simple!  Soon your man would be cooking up a cordon bleu storm in the kitchen and sorting the laundry like a pro.  We have been told they respond better to positive feedback, and therefore to stop pointing out the negatives.  This in insulting to all concerned.

Things have gotten out of hand.  It needs to stop.  I am taking one for the team and I will confess that my husband does not get trained as a dog.  He gets criticism, both negative and positive.  I’m sure he would argue the positive comments are few and far between, but I believe he is sometimes coming from a place where he expects to be applauded for putting down the toilet seat.

The generation of women before us play no small part in this.  I imagine I’m not the only one who constantly hears admiring grannies, aunties and random women in the park comment on how great the fathers of today are.

It’s not helping ladies, please stop.

Praise is a helpful tool in encouraging progress and growth.  But it needs to be balanced. In this case, there is no balance.  Daddies are fantastic for simply being present and playing with their kids, changing a nappy or wiping dirty faces.  And unlike dogs, men perfectly understand language and take all this on board.

They have internalised the notion that they are doing an amazing job and sure wouldn’t their own mammy have given her right arm to have his father tell him a bedtime story every second night?  The mother of his own children is lucky to have him!  Look at him flex his fatherly muscles and reward himself with a cool beer in recognition of his parenting feats.

Except they’re not parenting feats; it’s quite often not even an equal division of parental and household labour between father and mother.

There’s probably an up-ended box of Lego at his feet as he puts them up to better enjoy his beer.  Chances are there is a permission slip from school to be signed on the kitchen table that he walked past as he opened the beer, or a birthday present to be wrapped on the counter as he sought out the bottle opener.  He doesn’t see any of it.  His job as a better-than-ever father is done.  Story read and toddler asleep.  Self-congratulatory beer in one hand and remote control in the other, he’s earned it.

I fully appreciate that the fathers of today are more engaged with and active in the upbringing of their children than our own fathers and those before them – which is wonderful and to everyone’s benefit.  But that’s not the only change and it needs to be viewed as part of the bigger social picture.  Mothers “back then” did more child-rearing and household management in general (I’m making sweeping statements here, I realise it’s not a one size fits all situation but it’s not possible to discuss each and every variation throughout) but they didn’t tend to be employed outside of the home.  The home was their workplace.

Mothers these days are more likely to be working outside the home, commuting to an office where they have to be present and capable in the same way as fathers are expected to.  Yet I don’t hear the platitudes about how amazing mothers are, creating such examples for their daughters and sons, contributing to the household finances.   Why not?  A mother’s role has changed as much as a fathers.

Stay-at-home mothers don’t have it as easy as the ones before them either.  There is a ticking schedule of play-dates, extra-curricular activities, and god knows what else to ferry small people to and from.  There is more pressure than ever on the sort of food the children “should” be fed, screen time, social media and a whole other host of worries that simply didn’t exist before.

Mothers needs fathers to pull their weight – and in saying this I am not saying that a lot of fathers are not pulling their weight, but that is is needed.  Not because they will be rewarded and praised, but because it’s their job!  If we keep telling fathers how fantastic they are for “minding the kids” or “baby-sitting” when in fact all they are doing is parenting their own children, they seem to believe they are going above and beyond what is expected of them.  It’s akin to praising a child for learning a-b-c and then never encouraging them to continue with the rest of the alphabet.

We are selling our men short, they are capable of much more.

 

 

 

 

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5 simple steps to less stress

We live in a time of information overload; constantly bombarded by images of what we should look like, what we should be doing and the lives we should be living. All of this can drain you and make you feel like a failure when you’re already struggling to do do your best. As a parent, it just adds an extra layer to the guilt.

Social media is a double-edged sword, it gives mothers a virtual place to find their tribe but also perpetuates the mommy wars in certain zones. A social media and internet ban isn’t realistic as they are powerful, useful tools that do have their place.

Lately, I’ve felt frazzled and burnt out just batting away information coming at me uninvited. Our parents generation didn’t have to deal with this, they just go on with what they knew and the support of the “village”. Nobody is denying that there have been great advances in safety etc. that means we can’t just view our childhood through rose-tinted glasses. I just don’t suspect they double-guessed every single decision they made.

So in a bid to release myself from the chains of, well e-mail chains, I made a few small changes which have helped:

  1. Unsubscribe from a couple of e-mail services a day – my inbox used to fill up regularly with unsolicited advice that robbed me of a few precious moments.  I don’t need a dozen hotel special offers emailed to me weekly when the chances of me staying in a hotel are more of the annual variety.  Click that unsubscribe option down the bottom.  The information is still out there if you need to go looking for it and if you really miss those updates you can always sign up again.
  2. Unfollow a few online pages.  Perhaps there are a few pages you followed but now find their posts are not of interest to you or if you do read them you end up irritated and frustrated at their style or content.  Select that unfollow button.  If you’re going to be spending time reading posts, try and ensure they’re the sort you really care about.
  3. Read a book – have a book to hand, so when you have a few spare moments you can read a chapter rather than some inane drivel online.  Even with good quality and information, well researched online pieces, you can’t beat a book.  Even the kindle app for a smart phone will do, and there are loads of books available for free.  Or try our your local library.
  4. Unfriend those people that make you roll your eyes so often you fear they might get stuck.  If you don’t feel you can unfriend them, just hide their posts.  You will still technically be friends but you don’t have to look at the incessant drip-drip of posed, less that truthful over-sharing of their lives.  #blessed I’m looking at you…. You can still click back into their page to check what they’re up to if you feel like a good eye roll, but it’s on your terms.
  5.  Delete apps from your phone – I can’t be the only one with a myriad of unused apps I down-loaded when I felt I couldn’t possible manage without them.  It turns out I can manage perfectly well and I’ve waved good-bye to several of those little squares that had been taunting me from my over-loaded phone screen.  The apps are still in the cloud (which one day I will understand) and can be brought back to life if I realise they were imperative.  So far this hasn’t happened at all.  Most apps are just another way of making the information which is available on a web-site more readily accessible.  The info hasn’t gone anywhere, you just need to actively want it.

Simple steps that you can do so quickly and reverse just as quickly should you have major regrets.  Quality over quantity wins out.

 

This post originally appeared on The M Word

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Away with the fairies.

Before you condemn me as an opponent to imagination and creative play, let me stop you in your indignant tracks.  I’m all for fairies and am not about to banish them from my house, but I do fear that I opened my arms too widely when I invited the magical beings into our home.  I should have laid down a few ground rules before just letting them take up residence willy-nilly.

Our resident fairy is called Twinkle Fairy Night and she arrived into our home ceremoniously via a fairy door from the Irish Fairy Door Company.  I don’t think a small painted piece of wood has ever inspired such greatness before.  I have gifted these doors to a few children and I hope each time a fairy found their forever home.

Life with a fairy can be wonderful, the conversations and games which come from this set up is beautiful.  We discovered shortly after Twinkle moved in that her cousin, Tallulah Flower Belle, is the local tooth fairy!  Letters to Santa can also be sent to the North Pole by fairy post.

All this fairy dust is intoxicating, but very quickly your new house-mate can give you a headache.

The fairy and humans can sign a lease agreement which was provided with the door, which is very sweet and entertaining.  However, if you are taking on a magical lodger I would recommend you tag a few extra terms and conditions to the end of that bad boy.  In my experience it is best to get some matters resolved in advance, and save you from magical mayhem.  Nobody wants fairies running riot in their home.

  1.  Clearly defined visitation schedule – put it in writing that the fairy can only visit on certain days and those days only.  It does no good for weary adults to discover that unbeknownst to them the child left a note out for fairy which the fairy never came to collect.  Nobody likes tears first thing in the morning before they even get a sniff of coffee.  To prevent this, make sure the child and fairy are clear on the days notes and gifts can be exchanged.
  2. A deposit box – in order to ensure that no notes or gifts are missed, have your child create a little box to leave them in.  This can be decorated to their hearts content.  This is closely related to point 1, and means that when you think that that scrap of paper lying there is just rubbish your error is quickly corrected.  If it’s in the little box, it’s for the fairy.
  3. Weight limits – a fairy can only carry so much at a time.  It is not reasonable for a little fairy to be expected to collect 3 notes, a pair of barbie shoes, a conker, paper flower and sticky jewel all in one visit.  And if by some feat of strength that little fairy manages to carry it all, there can be no expectation that she returns something that same day.
  4. Tit for tat – follows point 3, you don’t just give to receive.  A good life lesson!  This means no whining because the fairy hasn’t left anything for your enthusiastic fairy fan despite all the junk gifts they left out for their winged pal.
  5. Parental approval – fairies don’t have space for an awful lot in their little fairy homes.  Parents have a good understanding of what a fairy family can or cannot cope with.  Therefore, final approval must be sought before the brand new toy that Nana bought is left out to be taken away with the fairies.  The same goes for objects the child is trying to get rid of – homework, uneaten vegetables and so on.

I know it’s only April now, and Christmas is a long way away yet.  But a word of warning – one regular fairy is enough to keep a family busy.  Stand firm and resist the lure of Elf on the Shelf when December rolls around.  Ben and Holly might show fairies and elves living in harmony but in my house it was a disaster.  Take it from me.  Nobody has time for that much magic.

This post first appeared on the lovely M Word site.

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Sun-cream, we need to talk…

Dear Sun-cream,

I need you more than you need me, I get that. I know you could decide to walk away and leave me exposed to the elements with the children, but please don’t act so callously. I fully accept that life (in the summer) would be worse without you around.

But that doesn’t mean you have to can get away with treating me so badly at times. We need to talk about our relationship; I think you need to make more of an effort. You’ve become complacent and lazy at times. I feel like you take me for granted.

I dutifully give you your many days out, slathering you on small (and not so small) bodies at prescribed regular intervals. You are not neglected; I do all I can to help you achieve your purpose in life. Nobody is arguing that you don’t help me with my parenting objectives but this is a two way street and I need to you to hear me out.

I’m just going to be honest and bite the bullet, you’re a total bitch to apply. As soon as the kids even spot you, the whining starts. They don’t like you. I think you could make more of an effort to hold their interest, perhaps a musical twist, the transfer of temporary magical powers or production of mini-unicorns or rainbows might suffice? Have a think about it and come back to me, I will help out where I can. I want the kids to have a good relationship with their SPF lotion.

Your consistency could do with some tweaking. I know that to have the full benefits of your protection, the gloopiness is a pay-off but it’s wreaking havoc on hands, hair and clothes in the family. I spent almost as much time scrubbing sun-cream stains out of clothes as I do applying the lotion in the first place.

Perhaps we could talk about your longevity? Could you not work a bit harder to last a little longer? I’m not taking any satisfaction from batting around words like premature erosion of ability, but I feel if I don’t say it nobody will. I’m hopeful that a medical team somewhere may be approaching the problem (as I have heard other mother’s bemoaning the frequency of the re-application process without feeling they got much from it) so please pay attention to any developments.

I’ve heard other women talk about aspects of sun-cream in a boastful way, to be honest I’m not even sure I believe them. But I want you to be aware of the sort of things other women see as part of the sun protection relationship. There’s no pressure here, I’m just filling you in on the playground gossip. There are whispers of intense, long-lasting moisturising abilities, self-tanning properties, skin smoothing and polishing features among others… all with the same protection from UVA and UVB rays that we have come to know and love. There I’ve said it now and it’s out there…

I want us to enjoy many more summers together, mutually making the most of the sun when it goes deign to appear. I am sorry if this letter has shocked you, I’ve been muttering these things to myself over and over lately but I don’t think you’ve been listening.

We’re in this together, neither of us wants sizzled skin.

Yours,

A sticky-handed mama

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Mammy Summer Camp – the dream!

It’s the time of year when brightly coloured flyers promising to make our children singing sensations, Oscar winning stars or Olympic athletes in one short week abound.  The (annual) age of the Summer Camp has dawned.  As I waded through the collection of leaflets, ads and notes about various camps on offer in the area, it got me thinking about how nice it would be to go to a summer camp myself.  A Mammy Camp.

I’ve put together a sample schedule and description, I don’t think I’d have any problem selling the spaces.  Who’s in?

Mammy Camp!

Introducing the first of its kind, a camp designed solely for mothers to cater to their every need.  We promise to help you make the most of your precious time with a focused and intensive programme guaranteed to assist you in being the best mother you can be.

The camp features several modules which women can attend, but there are also break-out areas dotted around the campus.  We have taken on board requests from interested parties and located the camp in a luxury spa to best meet the needs of our attendees.

Come join us, relax and feed those souls!  The relaxation modules include:

  • Sleep pods – you will notice the cocoon shaped sleep pods artfully arranged around the campus, each is fitted with a millon thread count Egyptian cotton bed-linen for your comfort.  The sleep pods feature integrated music and meditation sound-tracks and also have an in-built refreshment station to help prolong your stay.
  • Yoga, pilates, aqua-aerobics, milk-shake making and chocolate eating classes run throughout the course of the day.  All our instructors have been approved by the accredited model agency.
  • A fully-equipped library of every published book awaits to help ignite your imagination.  Escape to another world.
  • Your personal assistant is trained in all types of massage, therapy and the ability to change toilet rolls.  Just ask and you shall receive.

If you are feeling more energised there are many targeted sessions which may be of interest:

  • Obedient children – we have sourced several child-bots which are guaranteed to pay full attention to your requests and do as they are told; sit back and enjoy the experience.
  • DIY station – the DIY station is fully equipped with professional tradesmen; upon your arrival at the centre you will be assigned a camp husband.  This temporary partner will carry out all sorts of DIY tasks at your request, and demonstrate the best practice in common areas such as the putting up of a shelf.  Leaflets and manuals will be available to take home.
  • Culinary arts – lounge in the state of the culinary arts theatre and feast your senses on all manner of edible delights.  No request is too small.  Please be advised that due to atmospheric qualities in the spa, the calorie content of all food stuffs has been reduced by 75%.
  • Anger management – we appreciate that sometimes it can be hard to switch off from the frustrations and stresses of home life.  In order to best help you achieve the most from your time in the camp, there is an anger management station.  Just input the requested celebrity and their hologram will be projected on the punch bag.  Enjoy the opportunity to vent your irritation with the inflatable mallets.
  • A comedy club is at all times in operation, come and flex your funny bone.  There’s not much in life that isn’t improved with a good belly laugh!
  • The gin and tonic tent is a last minute feature added for your enjoyment.  Become a mixologist and create your own combination from the multitude of options available.
  • The best friends diary room enables you to teleport your friends from far flung places in order to savour their company in person.  Please note that this service carries with it some challenges and best practice has discovered that the consumption of tea and biscuits or wine and crisps (dependent on the users preference) will assist in the optimal service use.

We are open to feedback and requests from our campers, so please feel free to come over and rub the magic lamp!

We look forward to returning refreshed women to homes at the end of each day.