TV3 presenter Karen Koster: 'We lavish love on our boys but we're firm too'
TV presenter Karen Koster talks to Claire O'Mahony about her parenting style and instilling good habits into her family with
Ask Karen Koster how she's feeling at the moment and the response is a frank -"Tired!". The Xposé presenter and her husband, businessman John McGuire, are expecting the happy arrival of their third child in early summer, joining their two sons, Finn (3) and JJ, who is almost two.
"With Finn and my first pregnancy I felt so special walking around and now I just feel so sluggish, really," she says. "I think it's just a combination of having little men to look after and trying to keep the normal pace up. I'm finding myself slower and out of breath. I feel like I'm way more pregnant than I actually am."
She herself grew up in a family of three and always wanted to have a similar number of children herself. "I'm delighted to have gotten to it, please God, all going well," she says. "Why am I adding to the chaos? I just have a handle on two of them, but it will be great."
The 36-year-old is still overcome by the reaction to TV3 documentary, Mammy Guilt, which was broadcast last month and which followed different working and stay-at-home mothers and saw the presenter let the cameras into her own home, as she tackled what is a significant issue for many women.
"When I pitched the idea, I wanted mums who work, mums who stay at home or whatever choice they have made to come away feeling comforted and that has been the overwhelming response. Obviously online you get a lot of feedback and I've had emails in, texts, Instagram messages, tweets, and even people just coming up and telling me face to face on the road or out in the park with the kids saying 'I work, I totally relate to what you're saying and it struck a nerve with me'.
"I really wanted the tone to be right and I didn't want anyone to feel judged so I've been really pleased with the feedback I've gotten."
It's an area she'd like to explore more but given that it took six months from pitch to broadcast for Mammy Guilt to happen, Karen is unlikely to be able to take on a similar project before her maternity leave.
"Hopefully I'll come back more creatively after having this baby, and who knows, I may want to do something else but the whole issue of parenting is fascinating - the choices people make and how they raise their kids - so it's definitely something I'd like to go back to," she says.
She is currently the ambassador for Dental Care Ireland's 'First Dental Visit' campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the importance of establishing a good dental routine from an early age and which will see Dental Care Ireland practices nationwide offering a free first dental visit to all patients under five throughout the month of March.
"It was an easy fit for me because I was phobic about the dentist as a kid growing up and I just hated the idea but it was something I only got comfortable in adulthood, and I didn't want to pass that onto my own kids," Karen explains.
"I've always tried to instil good dental habits in my two, although JJ is not even two and I haven't got a hope of getting a toothbrush anywhere near his mouth, but with Finn I try as much as I can. But it's hard and it's like the last battle of the day and some days you think it would be easier just to put them to bed. But now, this year, I'm trying to make more of a concerted effort so that they do grow up with good habits and going to the dentist isn't a big fear for them.
"I think in my head that I thought I only go to the doctor with them when there's something wrong, why would I go to the dentist? So I'm also trying to get better about regular cleanings and things like that. If you put the effort in, it prevents bigger problems down the line."
She describes her and John's parenting style as "fun but fair".
"To be honest I gave up on the books in terms of 'am I a helicopter mum?' or 'am I a tiger mum?' because I was given advice by a public health nurse who said stop reading the books and start reading the baby. The baby will give you the cues you need," she says.
"We lavish love on them but we're firm with them too. JJ is nearly two and he's going through a major biting phase and you think 'What have I done wrong here?' But then you think about it and they all do it. Trying to be firm with a two-year-old is very difficult because he can win you over so quickly with a smile and he's not 'getting' it. So we're trying to discipline and with that there's lot of time in the thinking corner and hugs and sorries and trying to teach him when it's not in the heat of the moment. But we're kind of learning as we go."
As parents, they have found the help of the staff at their crèche to be invaluable, and the positive role that a crèche can play in families' lives was something that she wanted to get across in Mammy Guilt.
"The manager of the crèche has been like a parent coach for us, it's been brilliant in terms of discipline, or problems with sleep, and they've been great in helping us with those things," she says. "The thing is you have to be so consistent and some days you're too tired to do it but you have to say 'I have to do this now'; also I'm going to have a new baby in the house in a couple of months so you're trying to iron out certain things."
Life in their household is, she admits, full on. "We're about to enter into the terrible twos [with JJ] and we have a threenager [Finn] as well - you can't say anything, he's right about everything, but he's also describing his dreams overnight and just listening to his little laugh... he's well able to stand up for himself and stand up for his brother and they're really becoming proper buddies now and it's really lovely to see.
"In comparison, a newborn is probably easier - obviously there's the lack of sleep and waking up every two hours is not fun, but the fact is that you can put them down and they stay in the Moses basket."
The best parenting advice that she has ever received and would pass onto other mothers is to just love your baby.
"Because honestly it comes from that. I know that sounds really corny but you'll make some good decisions and you won't go too far wrong if you just do that and be kind to yourself. I just second-guessed everything with Finn - why wasn't he sleeping during the night, and then with JJ, I realised I was quite good at this because Finn is turning out great," she says. "You should trust your instincts and always go with your gut. If you don't like the look of something, if you feel you're being precious - doesn't matter. Get them into the hospital if you need to."
Baby's first dental visit
Dr Paul O'Dwyer, group clinical advisor at Dental Care Ireland, offers the following advice:
• Most parents would say 'why should I bring my child to the dentist, they've got no problem'. I would say that's exactly the time to bring them, when there's no issue.
• With regard to the best time to go, we say try and come before they're two and ideally the best time to go is just when the first tooth appears. Parents might think it's very young but there are a couple of things. First of all, it's to build trust between the young little toddler and the dentist. It should be as normal an experience as going to the shops. Secondly, children learn by example and they can get the idea by seeing the waiting room, the environment that's there, the big chairs and the lights and get used to all of that. And finally from a parent's point of view, it makes sense because you have access to wonderful knowledge with regard to brushing techniques, dietary advice, the dos and don'ts behind teething, and all those sorts of things are readily available to you if you bring your child along with you to the dentist at that time.
• Frequency is the biggest issue when it comes to eating sweet things. We can have sweet things in our diet and we can't avoid them completely. If we're having them at the time we're having our main meal, great. The big danger is snacking between meals and the reason for that is quite simple. Many of the refined sugars that we find cropping up in all of our food stuffs create an acid attack and have an erosive effect on our outer enamel, so if we can limit those kind to attacks to meal times, then that's not too bad. The issue is where we snack between meals and those acid attacks are occurring more frequently and are likely to cause more damage.
• Ideally children should visit their dentist twice a year, but should definitely visit at least once. Parents will say they can't remember when they were last at the dentist so a good top tip is to come along in August, just before the school year starts, so they don't have to take time out of the busy school year. Or come in the week before the child's birthday and get their teeth cleaned in time for the birthday photograph.
Throughout the month of March 2018, Dental Care Ireland will be offering a free first dental visit to all patients under five. For details of practice locations nationwide, visit dentalcareireland.ie