Sunday 18 August 2019

'My kids are allowed to challenge me on my behaviour and take away my phone or my red lipstick' - RTE presenter Karen O'Donohoe

Karen O'Donohoe is Head of Community Development at GIY (Grow It Yourself) and mother to Dylan (9) and Saoirse (6). She is currently on screens co-presenting the RTÉ1 show Grow Cook Eat

Karen O'Donohoe from Grow, Cook, Eat
Karen O'Donohoe from Grow, Cook, Eat

Dylan and Saoirse are at an absolutely brilliant age where we have fantastic conversations

Often times these conversations are in the car because I've definitely turned into 'taxi mom' going between the various activities and commitments. They have a better social life than I do. They're still at the age where they think I'm awesome, so they haven't quite hit the bit where they hate me yet. I'm sure those days and years will come, but they're just fantastic children.

That I'd be a parent was always something I'd assumed

And I use that word 'assumed' intentionally. I wasn't a babysitter and I wasn't looking after loads of cousins, so it wasn't coming from that direct experience. But I suppose I did always want to be a mom and, like a lot of women, I just assumed that I would be and that I would easily get pregnant and that I would easily stay pregnant and it would all be just fine. And, actually, the reality of that was very, very different.

GIY is all about encouraging people to grow as much food as they can, wherever they can

There are all sorts of families living in all sorts of places. I, myself, am a single parent, I'm divorced and we have a bit of a backyard. Then you have extended families where maybe older members of the family are living maybe in the same home, sharing the same space and have all the skills they want to pass on. You have people who fly solo - you have everything. One of the messages that GIY promotes, and certainly through the programme Grow Cook Eat, is that everybody can grow some food somewhere. The very simple act of growing food on your balcony or on your window sill, by yourself or with your kids or with your granddad, is a really powerful way of reconnecting with food. Not only do you learn a life skill, you start thinking differently about food and you actually then become much more informed. That, in itself, has a huge effect on your other consumer choices. That's at our core, but we also want to have a bit of craic. We want to have our children getting dirty and want them to be food literate.

My children have a better vocabulary than I do

I swear a lot and, in our house, there are consequences for the children in terms of behaviour - as in if this happens or if it doesn't happen, there is a consequence. But there are also consequences for me and they are allowed to challenge me on my behaviour and then they take away my phone or my red lipstick or my books.

For me, in terms of juggling it all, it's difficult

I can't lie. It takes immense organisation. It means certain things can't happen. Without looking for a pity party, my social life is on the back-burner because I choose my children, my home and my work. But that's fine and that's my choice. Sometimes you realise you have three dental appointments, the car needs to be NCT-ed and you've run out of toilet paper all at the same time. These are the times you just have to take deep breaths. I'm very, very lucky to work for an organisation that has family values very much as part of its culture; that we have a flexible, working policy; that my colleagues trust me to get the work, and then some, done. Therefore, if I have to take that Friday off to get to the dental appointments, that's my life and everybody here really understands that.

My shopping habits have absolutely changed since I've been working with GIY

I have a very privileged life. I'm healthy, I have income, I have an education, I'm mobile, I've had lots and lots of opportunities, but with life challenges, for sure. I think I've always been able to make - or my parents made for me - good food choices. In my academic learning, that was furthered because my master's was in health promotion.

But, actually, it was only when I started working with GIY and before that, became a parent, that I understood the importance of every morsel of food that I give to my children, every morsel of food I give to myself.

Everything we eat is either helping your mind and your body or it's having a negative impact on it. For me, it has been about making very different choices about simple things, like the type of bread that we now have. I would now always choose a sourdough bread over a shop-bought sliced pan.

That's not to say it's not sometimes a pain, because I'm late, or there's none in the bread bin. Things like the importance of five-a-day - it's not just a theory. Some days are pizza days, but I either add vegetables to it or, at the very least, serve it with a bowl of peas or broccoli, or carrot and cucumber sticks to always ensure that the vegetables are still there.

Grow Cook Eat airs each Wednesday evening at 8.30pm on RTE until April 24. See growcookeat.ie

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