Thursday, June 27, 2013


Being a full time 'stay at home' parent (why doesn’t someone come up with a better job description), is not for the faint hearted.  It is a job for which there is no training and most of us just jump in at the deep end.  But it strikes me that in the current climate, there must be many women and men who are now finding themselves as 'stay at home' a role they never anticipated for themselves.  Looking back over my years at home, there are a number of things I wish I had known at the beginning which may have made life a little easier.  Things like….

Being a 'Stay At Home Parent' is probably not forever
As you embark on this new and possibly unexpected phase of your life, remember that is most likely going to be a defined phase of life. Your children will grow up… you won’t be needed forever.  So it is vital that you keep that in mind and keep your professional skill set up-to-date.

A place to work from
I remember clearly when I left the world of paid work I did two things immediately:
I bought a laptop (ten years ago not every home had a computer) and I also felt I needed a desk.  I couldn’t rationalize why I needed a desk but I knew I had some deep need for a desk.  Perhaps it was a ‘me place’ – my own corner of the living room devoid of family or baby paraphernalia.  Although for most of the time that ‘me place’ was in fact the end of my kitchen table.

 Get involved
Having left the workforce you have skills that voluntary organizations and local committees may be delighted to have at their disposal.  Take some time to think about what interests you, what causes you may have some passion for, what charities’ you particularly support.  Then make contact and get involved. 

Your children’s school will no doubt regularly be looking for assistance with various tasks.  Making tea and coffee at communions etc. may not be your bag but you could offer to help out with various other ad-hoc jobs.   If your children are involved in sport, your help could be very useful there, whether it be in training the kids or doing some of the administration work.

Invisibility and The Art of Saying No
Being at home, particularly if you have very young children, can be very isolating and lonely.  It is vital that you get involved with activities beyond the local parent and toddler group.  If you don’t reach out, you run the risk of losing confidence very quickly and becoming invisible.

Being a house-spouse can easily mean that various well meaning friends and family begin to depend on you for helping with menial tasks.  You might find yourself running here and there or minding other people’s children on far too regular a basis. 

Learn early on to say ‘no’.  Remember you are still doing a job.  Just because you don’t get paid, doesn’t mean that what you are doing is not just as important as any other job you have had.  Never fall into the guilt trap of “I’m not earning money so what I am doing is worthless

It can be lonely
Unless you worked in a solitary profession, you will miss people.  Kids can be great entertainment but you will really pine for a good old chat and laugh with adults.  It is vital you work to make connections – with other parents (yep, the school gate mafia) and neighbours etc.  

Along with meeting and connecting with people in real life, the internet also offers a great way to connect with like-minded individuals and renew old friendships.  It doesn’t appeal to everyone but personally I love Facebook and Twitter  – but you know that.

Learn a new skill
Now could be the ideal time to learn a new skill.  How many times have you thought, 'I would love to learn to dance, or to write, or do some research into family history.'  Signing up for a class for a couple of hours a week should be easy enough, especially when the kids are in school.   Just make sure you do something you enjoy.

Remember Who You Are
Working in the home, looking after children and all the domestic chores, is tiring and seemingly endless.  Lunch or coffee breaks are not guaranteed and your day will certainly not finish at 5 or 6pm.  So make sure you build in some ‘you’ time into your week.  Once a week either meet some friends or former colleagues for lunch or coffee. Protect your sense of self.

Get Out!
Finally, especially if you have small children – remember you can leave the house!  I know there is a huge amount of palaver in getting young kids out for an excursion but I remember well rainy, winter days when packing them into anoraks and wellies and heading out to the park or the beach saved my sanity! 

Make memories
I could wax on lyrically about how wonderful it is to spend time with your children when they are young… or to even be around for teenagers, as I had both, but that’s also a different post.  It has all been a marvellous privilege but I know it's not a choice all have or indeed want.   

The day I left work my colleagues gathered to toast my departure.  One wise older woman gave me a card.  When I opened it her message was simply:
“Good luck Barbara.  Enjoy making memories with your children.”

And I have.  Very much.  So whether you find yourself being a so called 'stay at home' parent by accident or desire... I hope you do too.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


It’s a beautiful Tuesday in suburban Dublin.  My neighbourhood is humming with the sounds of lawn mowers but as it nears lunchtime that sound is punctuated by the regular buzzing of helicopters flying slow circuits a couple of miles away.

My twitter stream is full of #obama and #dalkey tweets as the Obama ladies make their way to Dalkey village for lunch in the pub with Bono! 

I didn’t realise till yesterday that the first girls are the same age as my two youngest and so I watched with added interest as they trailed around Trinity College yesterday and I was much cheered by the normality of Sasha who was photographed crossing her eyes as she sat in the Gaiety Theatre waiting for a special performance of Riverdance. 

If they manage to get through today’s lunch with equal aplomb I will be might impressed and at the same time a little sad for them.  Was there no one in the Dept of Foreign Affairs or the American Embassy who might have suggested injecting something into their itinerary that was a bit more interesting for a pair of young teenage girls?  I wish someone could have called me for advice.  I could have made a few suggestions for their itinerary.

What about a visit to GAA HQ at Croke Park, where they could view the city from the Skyline roof walk.  Afterwards they would be treated to a short display of Camogie and women’s football.  We have some really cool young women excelling at both of these national sports.

I know the girls would have enjoyed a visit to the DSPCA in Rathfarnham which is a beautiful facility and where they could spend some time with the kittens, cats, dogs, donkeys and horses who are waiting for their forever home.  Imagine the photos!

Glendalough is wonderful and as the weather was nice I think that might have provided a nice idea of our beautiful scenery.

But my girls would have suggested flying Niall Horan back from wherever he is at the moment so that Bono could have chatted to their mammy while they bathed in the glow of Mr Horan’s special appeal to girls of a certain age.

So Malia and Sasha – I am sorry if we got it all a bit wrong.... but they should have checked with some teenagers before they organised your time here in Dublin.

But that said, I hope you enjoyed it here and that you both might come back at some time when you can decide your own itineraries.  In the meantime may I congratulate you.  You both looked great, and most of all ye were awake.... before lunchtime.. in the summer.  Well done!

Friday, June 14, 2013


So after lots of hoopla and advance PR last night I sat down with my cuppa and bun, ready to be amazed and educated about ‘The Secret Life Of The Cat’ – a Horizon special on BBC2.

Regular readers will know that while I don’t consider that I am (yet) in the Crazy Cat Lady category (although there are some who know me who would disagree) I am the current slave to 3 moggies and have always shared my life and home with felines.  Suffice to say I love cats and I would never choose to live without at least one.

But like anyone else who lives with kitties will tell you, they are a bit of a law unto themselves and we all know that they do have a ‘secret life’ – whether that just goes on in their little cute heads or in reality remains to be seen. I was hoping that august broadcasting corporation that is the BBC was going to enlighten me last night.

The programme started well enough with ‘cat scientists’ (really?... and if so I want to be one.. where or what do I study?) arriving into a very pretty village in Surrey.  We got images of cutesy rose covered cottages, a village green, and the centre of operations, Cat HQ was the local village hall.  All very ‘Vicar of Dibley’. 

We then were introduced to some of the cast of 50 kitties who were going take part in the experiment.  50?  Yes.  In one village?  Yes.  The Brits love their pets.  I wouldn’t think you would find too many Irish villages where there were 50 (unrelated) cats.  In fact we were told there were 10 million cats in the UK.  That they know that is amazing in itself.  Needless to say we don’t know how many pussies there are in Ireland.

As the programme outlined the science behind this week long study we were also told that most cats only roam a short distance from their homes.  Male cats about 100m and females about half that.  Cats spend most of their time at home with only about 20% of their time outside.

By now my tea was drained and my bun polished off and I was getting a bit antsy.  This was all very nice.... but WHAT IS THE SECRET LIFE OF THE CAT? 

Well revelations were thin on the ground.  We learned that one cat, Claude leaves home every evening and heads down the road to another cat house where he lets himself in the catflap and helps himself to the neighbours’ cat’s food.  Wow ? No not really!

As any cat owner knows, cats retain a very high percentage of their wildness which is most evident in their ability to hunt and kill their prey.  I have been gifted with mice (dead and alive), spiders and once a baby rat.  The Surrey cats were far more exotic in their hunting endeavours with a rabbit, a mole and a shrew among the reasonably limited ‘kill’ over the week.  As I wrestled with the concept of loving cats while contemplating the wholesale murder of the entire cast of The Wind in the Willows, I heard one of the Cat Scientists work out that from 50 cats this haul was very modest and he concluded that cats don’t pose a serious threat to local wildlife.  Good

In fact this element of cat’s lives really produced the only interesting piece of information as far as I was concerned; although it wasn’t really a surprise.  Apparently cats are becoming more domesticated and less wild as they work at fine tuning their relationships with us, their families.  The exception of course are farm cats, who understand very clearly that they have work to do on the farm keeping down rats and mice around barns and animal housing. 

As the programme wound its convoluted way towards a subdued climax we were introduced to the Edwards family whose cats, we were told excitedly, provided the biggest surprise of all.  “Oh here we go” I poked the sleeping feline beside me on the couch.. “now we are going to find out about your secret life.”  He opened one eye lazily and then went back to sleep. 

Back to the Edwards family who have six cats.  “And the biggest surprise of all is that these six cats who are un-related all get along just fine.”  “Whaaat” I roared at the telly.  “I could have told you that.”  We have usually a permanent quota of four cats but sometimes when we foster for the DSPCA we can have up to 10 and we have never had a fight.

“Well that was all very underwhelming” I said to the sleeping mound of fur beside me.  He didn’t move but I thought I saw one side of his mouth curl into a wry smile.

“The Secret Life of the Cat” he seemed to say.... which bit of ‘secret’ don’t you get? 

As I tried to contain my disappointment I had a picture of the little village in Surrey now abandoned by TV Crews and Cat Scientists, its Village Hall returned to its original use.  In my mind’s eye I see a moonlit, midnight gathering of cats on the village green.  Tails up, purring contentedly... and just faintly I am sure I can hear something else.  Yes.. the cats are laughing.

Cat Scientists indeed....  I think TS Elliot had it right in his wonderful poem, The Naming of Cats.

But above and beyond there's still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover--
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.

Yep.. old TS knew what he was talking about.  The Secret Life of Cats is as deep a secret as the inner workings of a Masonic Lodge.  If you are not a cat – forget it – the cats ain’t confessing.