Kieran Cuddihy: Since I no longer carry my son, I find it harder to put down his sister

Invisible children’s milestones we should be on the lookout for . . .

Most of the milestones our children hit are obvious. Though not all. Some sneak by unnoticed when we are not paying attention. But milestones they certainly are, and we should all be on the lookout for them.

Recently, I took a trip to Dublin Zoo with my family. Somewhere around the African savannah, my five-year-old daughter tripped and fell. So I did what any parent would do in that situation: I picked her up.

That simple act alone went a long way to helping her overcome this awful (and quite regular) occurrence. As I carried her and assured her that she was indeed “very brave”, my seven-year-old son ran past us. He was excited to see the hippos after learning that they kill more people every year than lions. As I watched him, a realisation struck me – I don’t carry him anymore.

In fact, I don’t know when I last carried him. If I tried to carry him now, I’m pretty sure I would do myself an injury. It’s very likely that I will never carry him again.


Presumably this development had occurred at some point over the last year or more but none of us had noticed it happening. Because it’s a gradual change, it’s invisible. But invisible as it might be, it’s a fundamental change in our relationship.

The changing or evolving nature of our relationship isn’t new. In fact, from the moment they are born, all of our children begin a slow and steady process of disentanglement from us as parents. As they grow, they gradually get more and more independent. Those teetering steps to self-reliance, however, are usually noticeable. This one happened by stealth.

The first distance created between mum, dad and baby is when they are assigned their own bedroom. The Moses basket is consigned to the attic and the cot is duly assembled. For the first time in their short little existence, your child will spend several hours every night without you. Well, that’s the plan. Most of us would settle for a good 60-minute stretch without a cry for attention.

The next lurches in the direction of independence come thick and fast. Your baby starts crawling and suddenly doesn’t need your help to get across the livingroom in order to eat a piece of Lego. Not long after they will pick up and hold their own bottle. You might still have to make the food, but he or she is now the boss when it comes to eating it.

They walk. They talk. They go to creche. They make friends. They navigate a whole (little) world that doesn’t involve you.

All of these events represent a seismic shift in their reality, an enlargement of their world. They also represent a decrease in their dependence on you.

As parents, we are acutely aware of what is happening. That is why each event is usually marked by tears and documented by photographs. Our children are growing up. Or more accurately, they are growing both up and away. They are getting older and establishing their own sense of sovereignty.

Don’t get me wrong, none of this is something to be lamented. It’s a good thing. The almost symbiotic relationship that exists in those early days can’t last forever, nor should it.

But at least when most of those milestones are reached, we can see it happening before our eyes. We recognise it and we can process it. Not so when it comes to carrying.

Now I haven’t completely lost the run of myself. My son is only seven years old. There will be plenty of tears in the years ahead. Actually let’s be honest, there will be plenty of tears in just the week ahead. He will still run to me or his mother when something goes wrong. We will still be his beacon of safety and security. He will turn to us for comfort.

But the way I comfort him will be different to how I comfort his five-year-old sister.

Never again will I pick up my son when he falls. Never again will I feel his head nestle into the crook of my neck. Or feel his tears drip on to my shoulder and soak into my clothes. His bum won’t settle on my hip as he wraps his legs around me.

That day in the zoo, I realised he had taken another step into a world of his own and I couldn’t even tell you when it happened.

And since I realised that, I’m finding it harder to put down his sister.

Kieran Cuddihy presents The Hard Shoulder on Newstalk each weekday from 4pm to 7pm