It wasn’t until my daughter was born that I realised how truly grateful I was for my dad.
But by then it was too late to have this discussion. He had passed away the year before. Of course, I had thanked him as much as I knew how prior to his death. But after having Niamh, my realisation moved to a whole different level.
Growing up, my opinion was that my dad was too strict. And looking back now, yes there were certain times he really was.
But alongside his strictness came immense love. I never had to question my dad’s love for me as his child. This was particularly important to me because it was a question I was constantly forced to ask in respect of my mum.
As a child, I always knew where I stood with my dad. I knew his rules and I knew the consequences of breaking the rules. And I am glad to report that I grew up unscathed by strict parenting.
Niamh is my only child. She is highly creative, loving, funny, kind, intelligent, and a stubborn “why” child. If I had a dollar for every time I could see a big fat “fuck you” look on her face, I’d be sunning myself in Bora Bora like a Kardashian, drinking fabulous cocktails, rather than being sat here on the couch on a Sunday morning!
And sometimes Niamh nails me with that dreaded combination of intelligence and stubbornness! I mean we are talking about a child who very articulately expressed to me her disappointment with her school, for not having a jar with smell of the earth, before humans existed, in it!
I also have three step-children. With them comes a mixture of more creativity, love, fun, kindness, intelligence, stubbornness, “why’s” and of course, “fuck you” looks.
Here is the thing, I may have three times more of the good (and three times the bad!), but I never imagined that I would be in a position where I only got to see my baby grow up part-time.
When Niamh’s dad and I split up, I knew that giving up being with her every day was the biggest sacrifice I’d have to make. But we both realised that staying together would cause more harm than good for her in the end. We were amicable under the same roof, but the marriage was over and the cracks were starting to show. Staying together for the sake of our child meant she would grow up setting the bar for her relationships at a height neither of us would want for her.
Fast forward to now. My partner Rob and I have been living together for a year and half. We have our kids week on/week off with their respective parents. So, every other week we have a full house. We have learned a few things (and are still learning a few things) that work for us, to maximise quality time with the kids when we do have them.
Some may say we have the best of both worlds, and in some ways yes, we do. We get to nurture our own relationship in between the 12-hour days we work most of the weeks we don’t have the kids. We work hard those weeks so that we can work part-time the weeks we have them. So that we can be present.
Blended families are exhausting, hard and cause of the majority of our arguments. It’s really fucking hard. Blending a family where one half only consisted of one adult and one child and the other consisted of one adult and three children is tricky to say the least.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things Rob and I agree on when it comes to children. But parenting an only child is very different from parenting three. There have been a lot of things Rob and I didn’t agree on!! We continue to discuss, argue, discuss and then compromise on a lot when it comes to our family rules.
We even have rules about our rules! Our family rules are not just about staying sane because despite being the best and most rewarding thing you will ever do, being a parent can be extremely exhausting and frustrating.
We don’t want to spend the precious little time we have with our kids locked in battles. If I have a bad week with Niamh, I feel horrendous the week she’s not with me. So little time already…I want it to be as good as it can be.
Plus, there are four of them. If one kicks off about something, sure as shit they will all start. Dealing with four complaining, moaning and being defiant when you’ve only had to deal with one is a real baptism of fire.
Like it or not, there is a big world out there and it is full of rules and expectations. There is not always going to be someone there to entertain you, clothe you, feed you, molly coddle you.
Parenting is not actually about you. I believe that we have children to satisfy a selfish need. A need to have a child of our own. Being selfish does not make it wrong by the way! Wherever that need comes from, be it maternal or societal expectation, wanting to have children is about adding something to our lives.
Rob and I want to raise our children to be happy, emotionally stable, motivated, upstanding members of society. It is our job to help them do this. It is our job to help them find a path in life that follows their dreams and makes them feel fulfilled. To help them understand their worth and their importance. How to love and be loved.
We need to teach them life skills such as how to deal with disappointment. Don’t always let them win that game on purpose. Life is full of disappointment. We need to foster resilience and teach kids that perceived failure is in fact an opportunity to learn and grow.
We need to teach them how to take responsibility for their actions; set fair consequences that teach not humiliate and stick to them. They are going to fuck up as adults. We all do. Learning to take responsibility for things we have control over is empowering. It stops victim mentality. It allows us to create change, be compassionate without burning out, set good healthy boundaries and increases our self-esteem.
We need to teach them how to entertain themselves. In today’s instant gratification society, we need to deal effectively with perceived boredom.
If we constantly jump in to entertain our kids or hand them an electronic device the minute they tell us they are bored in that whining voice, we are not allowing them to learn a basic human skill; how to self-manage. And if one day as an adult they find themselves feeling down or have a problem that is so big they start procrastinating; how will they know how to find something constructive and helpful to do with their time? They need to learn how to be comfortable in their own space with their own company sometimes.
We have to set clear and consistent boundaries. Our four kids have grown up in the Montessori system. The philosophy of which is freedom within boundaries. I love this. Empower children. As Rob frequently says, “don’t come from a place of power over”.
So, our rules have to be clear and consequences have to be appropriate. And yes, as much as I would love to see a world where we only have to explain to kids how their actions make us tired or hurt our feelings for them to have an “ah-ha” moment, I imagine very few children operate like this.
In fact, as much as I find stubbornness, consistent “whys”, “fuck you” looks, complaining and all the rest, very frustrating, I am glad Niamh has these characteristics. Channel this the right way and she will be a young woman who stands her ground, questions things, and does not allow herself to be anybody’s fool.
Our kids understand why we have the family rules we do. It’s three-fold. We need to teach them skills and an understanding of how every action has a consequence. Some good, some bad.
We want the time we have with our children to be valuable quality time, getting to know these beautiful little humans for who they are in their own right. What makes them tick, what makes them happy, what makes them sad. What they need from us.
But we also need to be able to parent from a place of calm and be as emotionally intelligent as we can be. We want to make happy memories. We want a household with respect for each other. One where everyone knows how to listen and where everyone can be heard. To do our best, be thankful and say sorry. A household with love and laughter, kindness and truth.