TV3 star Aisling O'Loughlin: 'Motherhood has defined me'
Juggling a career in TV and a blended family can get hectic, but Xposé presenter Aisling O'Loughlin says that becoming a mother has made her a happier person, writes Claire O'Mahony
Ask Xposé presenter Aisling O'Loughlin about her parenting style and she'll tell you she's not a micro manager. She is, she says, quite laid back when it comes to her two sons, Patrick, who is three and Louis, who is one-and-a-half, her children with partner Nick MacInnes.
"When I'm with the children I like to be relaxed. I like to have fun and I'm not that authoritarian, and that's probably because I work full-time. It might be different if I didn't," the 37-year-old says.
"I don't want little robots. I don't want them to be that obedient. I know that's annoying for other people to hear because they want obedient children and especially when we're in France [Nick, a photographer, is half French] because the children are very obedient over there. But I kind of like that they're a little bit wild.
"They're children - I like them to play and discover and see how things work. Now, I don't want them breaking up anybody's belongings or anything like that, and if they're out in a restaurant, they're not great. But there are certain places like planes and restaurants where it's not great to have children anyway. You tend to try to avoid that, or if you have to travel, you just do it and sorry to all the other passengers aboard."
Besides juggling work and motherhood, the previous year wasn't an easy one for the Co. Clare native and her partner, with Nick being diagnosed with cancer in February of last year. Thankfully, he's since been given the all clear.
"He's better," Aisling says. "He gets his blood tests regularly in St Vincent's and there's an amazing team there. No sign of leukaemia, so they seem to have done it. They've succeeded."
There had been rumours that she was set to leave Xposé, which she's been with since its launch in 2007, to co-host a new TV3 show called Life with Sybil Mulcahy. Plans for that have now been shelved, but the presenter is happy exactly where she is. "It's allowed me to be a mom at work and come in a bit later or work a bit later if necessary," she says. "I'm lucky I'm in a flexible job and my bosses are both parents, my male boss and my female boss, and you do need that level of understanding.
"It's really important that they know you are working your ass off, you're not cutting corners and you're doing the best you can."
Motherhood has made her a happier person - it has defined her, she thinks. "You focus on these little fellas and it's kind of given me a sense of purpose. You can have these little existential crises - 'what the hell am I doing here?'. Now, I'm sure I can still have them, there's no doubt about it, but it's given me such a lovely sense of distraction, where I've come out of myself, and it's freeing to be busy with little people," she says. "They are your responsibility and you have to try to guide them and allow them to be themselves, and you get to love them and you get cuddles."
She believes that, from a female perspective, becoming a mother really allows you to open your heart. "Half the time, you're trying to temper that - maybe you shouldn't love too much because it will hurt with romantic love - but this kind of love is unconditional, which is a really good feeling."
Her older son Patrick (3) is determined ("That's the nice word we use for 'bold' these days, isn't it?" she quips) and younger son Louis follows him around everywhere. "This morning, we had a really beautiful development where Patrick and Louis gave each other a big kiss," she says. "Now five minutes later, they could be pushing each other to the wall. They love playing with each other and Patrick loves waking Louis up. It's very much 'big brother, small spud' and I have to keep an eye on them. I hate the thought of sibling bullying and you can definitely see that Patrick is two years older than Louis. Sometimes, he just pushes him because he can, so it's just something that I have to be aware of and defend poor old Louis, and in my defending, I have to make sure that Patrick is loved equally - not that simple!"
As the youngest in her family, she wasn't used to little ones, and having her boys has made her appreciate how much minding and protection small children need. She's an ambassador for Barnardos and fronted the charity's recent Cow & Gate Big Toddle, which saw thousands of toddlers across Ireland taking up the challenge to toddle a half-mile and raise €250,000 for Barnardos.
"It's a superb organisation and becoming a mum, you just get tuned in to how innocent and vulnerable children are and you just see the great work that Barnardos does in this country and think, 'God, if I could just do anything'.
"Sometimes you feel helpless when it comes to what you can do, and you still do, but whatever little bit that I can do to help, count me in."
By her own admission, becoming parents put herself and Nick under pressure because of their different attitudes to how children should be raised. "I can be quite relaxed and sometimes too relaxed. But Nick has the French perspective on things and likes things to be done a certain way and I'm like 'just chill' - oh, we can kill each other as a result of our different ideas!" she says.
"We both really enjoy the kids. They make us laugh and we get a kick out of them. But we've different ideas of parenting so it's a challenge in terms of our relationship as well, no doubt about it." Their intention is that Patrick and Louis will be bilingual - she's learning French and Nick speaks French to them.
Her advice to other mums is to not be a hero and to ask for help -parenting isn't a job for one person, is her belief. "You know that old phrase, 'It takes a village to rear a child'? I completely concur with that. You need help, you need help to get a few hours kip or even just to sit down and have an hour to yourself every now and again. So the more you can get, the better, and wherever you can get that help from - if you can get it from family, you're really lucky, if you can get it from your partner or husband, great. Nick is a great partner and a great daddy in that respect. He pulls his weight."
As to whether or not she'd like a larger brood, she points out that she already has a big family. Nick has two boys, Luke (11) and Oisin (12) who come over to them at the weekends.
"It's very much an open-door policy in our families because we don't want anyone to feel excluded or left out. My kids just adore Nick's boys - we call them brothers, there's no half-brother malarkey, they're just older brothers. They really love each other and they're so happy to see each other.
"They're great kids and they've never questioned me, which is really lovely.
"They've just always been very warm with me and made it very easy. They've just accepted, utterly accepted, Louis and Patrick from the get-go.
"It's just family, in our own way."
As a mother, you become a little bit more practical because you have so much more to do. But I'm not that practical at all actually. I've kind of gone back to my old ways of high heels and silk blouses. I got my hands on the most amazing Jennifer Rothwell silk dress, which is completely impractical, and I've hidden it away from the kids. I can't wait to wear it.
Her beauty regime
Concealer is now important to me because I look so tired the whole time. You look in the mirror and think 'Oh no, what happened to you?'. A nice blusher is essential too and I've gone mad on red lipstick. It's all about concealing shadows and trying to add some colour and to look somewhat alive.
Her parenting essentials
I could be the one who's forgotten the nappies - I'm really not that organised. I always have snacks because my two fellas are savages so I bring a banana. You want to feed them healthily too and that's a challenge because once they get their first taste of sugar you're really up against it. Wipes are essential for trying to clean down other people's furniture after your kids have tried to wreck their belongings. But I don't over-think it really.
Her advice to other parents
I'm slow about giving parental advice because we all come to the table with different views. As parents, we're just surrounded by what we should be doing and continually told what the right and the wrong way is. You've got to trust your instincts and your own gut, and also to allow that little personality to come out and not try to suffocate it too much.