The quirks of Irish parents: Competitive sympathy 6 years ago

The quirks of Irish parents: Competitive sympathy

We are a nation of tea drinkers, of talkers, of grinning and bearing it but every now and again we need a good vent!

Being a new parent opens up a whole new arena of things you might want to vent about. The trouble is, if you try and access this venting potential you are met with one of the quirks of Irish parents, competitive sympathy.

I am definitely guilt of this myself. Competitive sympathy shows itself as follows:

“I had a terrible night. She kept me up most the night”.

“You were up most the night? Tell me about it, my one hasn’t slept since the womb!”

This is a truly Irish blend of sympathy and competition. Partly parents want to empathise with each other. We’ve all been there. But another part wants you to know you're not the only one who has put her clothes on backwards in a stupor of tiredness!

This ready admittance that it’s not all roses in the garden can be a blessing. Sometimes reading baby manuals and “How to” guides makes you feel like there is a perfect way to do everything and you just haven’t figured it out yet. But if you talk to most Irish parents you’ll realise there’s no such thing as a magic formula for dealing with the foibles of parenting. Once I asked someone with six children for advice only to get the response “I haven’t a clue, all mine were mad”. While that isn’t the kind of advice that you want to market in a book, it does offer some comfort. Nobody knows it all, so just relax.


But despite the relaxed exterior of parenting in Ireland there are some rules you just don’t break. They are not written but they are known. The most important of which is that you can’t praise your child too much. Praising your child is like talking about how much you exercise. Everyone can cope with a sentence or two but after that no one wants to know.

Over praise your child and you run the risk of being considered as having “notions”. You have a two-to-six week window to gush about your newborn, after that you have to rein it in.

Comments like “Ah he’s so well behaved” can only be answered with “You should see him at home!” As your children gets older phrases like “He’s getting on grand,” is considered the appropriate level of acknowledgement of their achievements. Anything more and you’re approaching “getting notions” territory again.

The second rule is to stay realistic. In the same way you know you’re never going to be a parenting guru you also have to assume that your little Mary probably isn’t going to go on to win the Noble Peace Prize and that’s okay. It’s not that you don’t hope they’ll do well, you do. But at the end of the day most parents in Ireland just want their kids to be happy and grow up to have a bit of cop on.

Everyone admits that no matter how much they act the maggot and despite the fact they are borderline hooligans, sometimes you wouldn’t have them any other way.

Ann Marie is a writer, blogger and mum living in Cork City. She enjoys all things vintage, making a craft mess and finishing a cup of tea without anyone throwing a tantrum. You can read more from Ann Marie on her blog or follow her funny musings as a Mum on Twitter, @thriftyamos.