Saturday 20 January 2018

The boy in the bubble: Five promises all parents fail to keep

Despite their best intentions, every parent gets wrapped up in their own world, says Pól Ó Conghaile. But that's just the nature of parenting

Pól with his son Sam
Pól with his son Sam
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

I am a boy in a bubble. A big, beautiful beast of a bubble. I've been there just over nine years. Of course, I didn't think it would be like this. "I'll still have a social life," I said, back when my wife was expecting our first child. "I'll still play music. I'll still go to the cinema."

But that was then. Like every first-time parent, I ridiculously underestimated the impact having kids would actually have; and ridiculously over-estimated my ability to be both a dad, and a balanced man about town.

Oh, sure, I try. I use the 'Browse' button on Spotify. I read Le Cool Dublin. I have a pair of trainers. But I haven't been to the cinema in months. I have socks older than Hozier. I'm scared of Snapchat. My daughter is now nine. We also have a five-year-old son.

They are awesome kids - but you don't need me to tell you why. Every child is awesome in their parents' eyes. Every snotty, shouty little tyke inhaling a doughnut is a young George or Amal Clooney in the making.

There's a difference, however, between being consumed by parenting and forcing others to consume your parenting.

Remember the storm in a teacup recently, when English mum Jade Ruthven went public with an anonymous letter sent by 'friends' after she spammed their Facebook feeds with relentless updates on her adorable daughter? Mean as their reaction was (why did they not simply un-friend her?), it touched a chord. Sure, we felt sorry for Ruthven and her little girl. But honestly, who hasn't wanted to punch a Facebook parent at one stage or another?

There's a thin line between the natural desire to share your parenting adventures and celebrate your children's milestones, and becoming the kind of uber-intense, helicopter mum or dad that hovers over their kids and provides amazingly annoying updates at every available opportunity.

We all cross that line from time to time. A cup of tea becomes a chat about the kids. Pints become a chat about the kids. Dinner becomes a chat about the kids. For most parents, however, that doesn't happen because they are slightly psycho. It happens because they care about the kids.

That's the bubble I'm talking about. It's not a choice, or a force-field. It's not an evil cockpit from which to broadcast status updates. It just is.

It's like being a gamer, wrapped up in a game. When you become a parent, you cross a river. You go from Column A to Column B. You switch from independence to being absolutely dominated by a creature the size of your kettle.

You are on call, on high alert, 24/7. Your children occupy every single atom of your being. They own you. At best, that makes you feel exhilaratingly alive. At worst, it's like they're cannibalising your life force.

This bubble is not about being over-involved in your children. It's about children simply being over-involving. Half of your life is spent caring, feeding, loving, caring and providing for these little people. How could that not take over? How could you not be completely wrapped up in that?

Of course, the topic in which you now find yourself an expert can annoy friends who don't have kids, or who are at a different stage of parenting.

But as long as you don't litter their newsfeeds, turn every glass of wine into a stream-of-consciousness rant or take your fabulous creations to the pub after 9pm, I think people are for the most part pretty forgiving.

I had great intentions. Nine years on, I'm happy with good ones.

I show up, I try to stay healthy, to turn off the phone during playtime. I give the best advice I can at the time. I've made more mistakes than there are stones in Connemara, but I muddle through. I hope that by the time my awesome little boy and girl are adults, they'll have a reasonable set of values.

As bubbles go, it's not bad. I'm just trying not to burst it.

Five promises parents fail to keep

1 I will keep in touch with all of my friends. 

No you won’t. You will keep in touch with some, fall out of touch with others, and make a whole bunch of new ones based around shared topics like breastfeeding and Saturday swim lessons. Get used to it.

2 I will keep my interests, such as going the cinema. 

Yeah, to Madagascar 3 maybe.

3  I will let my hair down once a week. 

Nope. You’ll socialise once or twice a month, at most. You’ll spend the day beforehand feeling too tired to go, the night itself wondering why you don’t do it more often, and the following day promising never to do it again. 

4 I will not use bribes. 

You will use bribes. 

5  I’ll keep fit. 

Oh dear. You will fall out of shape. In your 30s, you might get massively into triathlons, but then you will fall out of shape again. 

Irish Independent

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