Parenthood

“Mum, why are we going for a walk – I don’t want to go. Why can’t we do something we want to do for a change?” said my daughter.

I stared open-mouthed. We were on holidays and I’d suggested a walk before dinner.

A holiday that was filled with pool trips, beach picnics, kids’ discos and family-friendly restaurants. A holiday that had very little in the way of sunbathing, reading or relaxation of any kind for the grown-ups.

Which is fine of course  - that’s what holidays are these days. But the idea that we’d done nothing the kids wanted to do made me stop and think. They really don’t know that absolutely everything revolves around them. That there are things we do because we know they’ll love it – going for ice-cream or bringing them on the water slides – and there are things we do because we hope they’ll love it – like a day trip to a nearby town or hiring bikes or going for a walk on the beach before dinner.

That’s really it – things they love or things we hope they’ll love. There’s little room for things we do that are just for us – apart from a glass of wine on the deck after they go to bed.

And it’s true at home too – the structure of the day, the month, the year is almost always designed around the kids. The work we do to make the money to buy the things for the kids. The weekends we plan around them. The play dates and the days out. The picnics and the parks. The everything.

And of course, it starts at the very start – I remember the early days, when somehow a tiny newborn took up every second of my time. The plans I had to put photos in albums and learn Italian were tossed out the window with a smile at my own naiveté.

I remember the worry sending her to crèche. The guilt about going to work. Followed by guilt for feeling okay about being at work. Work was still work, but somehow it was about the baby too – being smarter about using video conferencing instead of travelling, leaving on time to do crèche pick-up, and thinking about one day asking for a shorter working week. Would it sound the death knell for my career? I wasn’t sure, but I did know it was a risk I was willing to take and a sacrifice I was willing to make.

And then there were more children, and there was less time than ever, and slowly our entire world morphed into something that was almost entirely about the kids.

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Our holidays changed - beautiful rented houses were replaced by basic mobile homes, because the kids loved the campsite pools and the activities. Our weekends changed – doing our own thing was replaced by sports classes and birthday parties. Our house changed – our ill-judged glass-topped table was replaced by a sensible pretend-wood one that’s far more at home with paint splashes and spoon bashing than its predecessor.

We signed them up for swimming classes – battling hot changing rooms and wet socks and cranky moods so they can be safe in the water. We discovered the world of school runs - with the hard to find parking and the groundhog day sameness. And uniform shopping, and schoolbag shopping, and the incomparable stress of the children’s footwear department just before back to school.

There are the meals we cook because the kids need to eat, even if left to our own devices we might just have toast. The nights out we don’t have anymore. The lie-ins we don’t have anymore. The day-trips we do because we’re trying to create memories. The tantrums we field because we have no choice.

And still they ask me when it will be about them – when will they get to choose.

And of course, all is forgiven. Because although we change everything for them, it’s a slow evolution, so it’s done incrementally and willingly. For every tantrum-filled dinner with kids, there’s another that’s laugh-out-loud funny and far more interesting than toast on my own after they go to bed. For every paint splatter on the table, there’s a picture to hang on the wall. For every swimming class meltdown, there’s the heart-melting smile of a child who has moved up a level.

And for every holiday moan, there’s a hug and a “thanks mum and dad, this is the best holiday ever.” I don’t miss my old life, or my glass-topped table, or my clean house, or my free weekends.

When I kiss them goodnight, as they lie asleep in their beds – in that moment each day when they are more perfect than perfect – the only thing I miss is the chance for a reciprocal hug. Though never quite enough to wake them up.

Andrea Mara is a shoe-obsessed, coffee-loving mother of three from Dublin. When she’s not working or looking after her three kids, she’s simultaneously making tomorrow’s school lunches, eating Toblerone and letting off steam on her blog.

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