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‘I’m terrified. I’m a single parent on a fixed income, and I’m just managing to juggle it all as it is’

Jen Hogan: Hard-pressed parents are stretched — and stressed — even before we enter the winter of discontent

I’ve been watching news of energy price rises through my fingers in recent days, trying not to panic at the scale of the jump.

I’m watching fuel prices at the pump, trying to gauge when the best time is to fill the Transit needed to transport my family. And I’m thanking my lucky stars that we live within walking distance of one school and on an excellent public transport route of another.

“Have we changed energy provider?” I call to himself. “Conor Pope says we can save a fair bit doing this”.

My ignorance is borne of the fact that usually when I answer the door to someone calling about an energy provider’s latest special offers, I deflect to my husband. Not in an incapable-of-dealing-with-it kind of way, you understand, more in a I’ve-enough-else-to-be-dealing-with-so-I’m-leaving-this-one-to-you kind of way.


A bit like the bins – yes, I could empty them, but they’re gross and smelly, and I don’t want to.

He confirms he’s already dealt with it, and our energy provider offered the same discount not to move. So I go back to trying to rack my brains about other ways to save money – in a time where you’d already need to consider the sale of one of your kidneys to afford the price hike involved in signing a child up to the local soccer club – before we even enter the winter of discontent.

I suppose the kettle could do with updating.

There are times during the year that parents anticipate will be particularly expensive occasions. The silly season here is one – that period where four of the kids’ birthdays fall within a three-week stint, thanks to a careful lack of planning. Christmas is an obvious other.

And the all-too-recent back to school perennial rip off, that causes a storm in the media in the lead up, but is all forgotten once the school gates open. Only to be revisited the following year, when schools still continue to ignore the 2017 circular so crested uniforms remain all the rage, booklists continue to cost far more than they should in spite of book rental schemes, and digital technology – well, sure what’s a cool near €1,000 ask of struggling parents. Books and iPads as the world burns and bank accounts are drained.

Still, we shouldn’t be talking about that now, because the school gates are open so it’s time to move on. Only that’s easier said than done for some parents. Some parents are still trying to deal with the significant financial burden of, and sacrifices made to pay for, their children’s free education.

But there is no breather this year. And the worry of winter is real.

One worried parent explained to me that both she and her husband had well-paid jobs, but had no savings or emergency fund to fall back on. It was a story echoed in the words of other families with two incomes, fearful about how they might manage the bills.

One mother described herself as “so worried, it’s not funny. We are cutting down on absolutely everything”. Another said “not sure how we will put oil in the tank this winter. There is nothing left after all our bills are paid”. “Sleepless nights” plagued another parent with the worry of what is to come.

“I think we will have to pick between heat and eat this winter”, a parent added.

And for those starting out on their journeys or awaiting the pitter patter of tiny feet things weren’t any less stressful.

“Don’t think I can afford unpaid leave but I also can’t afford childcare,” one new mother said, while another, who was awaiting the birth of her baby, feared how she would afford the winter bills on maternity leave pay.

And for some parenting alone, the worry was overwhelming.

“I’m terrified. I’m a single parent on a fixed income and I’m just managing to juggle it all as it is”.

The financial hangover from back-to-school costs lingers still.

“Just after putting twins into secondary school. No money for oil tank”, a mother explained and I wondered if parents will ever be heard. Pressures and problems let drift from one year to the next, when the media hype will kick off again, without fail, and we’ll once again rage about the pressures, burdens and consequences, safe in the knowledge that nothing will ultimately change.

Is it any wonder parents look to the winter days and colder nights with trepidation? We’ve already been screaming into the abyss for so long.