When I’m with my children I’m often not 100% there

I need to schedule a little special time with each of them so that they feel the full force of my undivided attention

Our childminder is like Mary Poppins. Honestly.

She bustles in at morning time, to joyous exclamations of “Mary’s here!” (Her name actually is Mary. Truly.) As soon as she speaks our three children listen, and take turns conversing. They eat their breakfast, brush their teeth, and skip for coats and schoolbags happily, disappearing out the door on scooters or holding her hand with storybook smiles.

I arrive home and she is sitting playing board games or doing jigsaws with them. Or having a “baking afternoon”. Or reading stories in the garden. Or making works of art together. Or talking about a beautiful nature walk they’ve just been on. They have always tidied up nicely, washed their hands after meals, and are calm, peaceful, cherubic children.

Everything is practically perfect.


When I have them myself it’s more like the early scenes of Nanny McPhee. Unfortunately. They have to be prised from their beds with a crowbar. There are at least three tantrums before breakfast. They have to be manhandled to the bathroom where, if truth be told, there are often chase scenes involving a loaded toothbrush.

They dawdle and whine and drag their heels just enough to make us almost late for school, resulting in a harried sprint down the town with the little one wailing the whole way because she wanted to walk, not scoot. I come away cross, tired, and begrimed from having to carry the blasted scooter after the little one refused to get on it.

Wrong ones

After school isn’t much better. Having fortified myself with adult interaction, work adrenaline, and caffeine during the day, my sprightly “how was school today?” is met by a nonchalant shrug or a litany of grievances.

Whichever clothes I’ve left out for them to change into are invariably the wrong ones. I have to take each piece of homework and insert it in front of the relevant child’s nose where, if truth be told, there are often chase scenes involving a loaded pencil (not as loaded as the accompanying comments, mind you).

And the time spent between homework and dinner is usually fraught with at least three more tantrums, the pulling of various body parts, and an elusive, mysteriously silent bomb which seems to whirl through all the rooms, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

A strange sort of magic, indeed.

Affordable, accessible, quality childcare – either in a creche or with a private childminder – is the holy grail we, as parents, seek, and can be incredibly difficult to find. With a Siptu report in January of this year revealing that 43 per cent of childcare professionals are seeking to change careers due to low pay and lack of contractual stability, this is likely to become even more challenging.

None of us wants to settle for anything less than the best childcare for our children. We want them to be minded, in our absence, by someone whom they will trust, feel safe with, and are happy to be with.

We want someone who will care for them tenderly, be completely attentive to their needs, and who is genuinely interested in getting to know them and their individual quirks. We want someone who will be passionate about understanding them, playing with them, nurturing them, challenging them, and being a good role model for them.

We want them to be the parents we aspire to be.


And that is the difference between my childminder and I. When she is with them she’s 100 per cent with them. The quality of her presence is key, and they respond accordingly. When I’m with them I’m often not 100 per cent there. Not even, if I’m honest, 50 per cent there.

I can walk them home from school with the sole intention of getting in the door just in time to go back out again. I’m supervising homework while trying to answer emails. I’m watching them play while calculating how much tidying up that will mean at the end of a long day. I’m doing dinner while taking a call. I’m chatting with them while thinking about the deadlines due this week. And they know it.

Yet, I feel it’s good that my children realise I have an identity outside of them, an existence which is larger than just them. That Mam has a life of her own, with all its rewards and challenges, and has other demands on her time and attention. That she has skills to use and develop. That she has a contribution to make to the world at large, as well as to their world.

Our children don’t see us still making lunches, doing laundry, and looking up the school calendar at 10pm. Our attentiveness to our children never gets switched off, but maybe it needs to be dialled up a notch visibly during their waking hours.

So, I need to ensure I allow those few minutes to really listen to how their day went without one eye on the clock. I need to carve out a space each day when unanswered phone calls and emails don’t exist. I need to schedule a little special time with each of them so that they feel the full force of my undivided attention enough. I’m not quite sure what “enough” is, but they’ll let me know. Because, like all relationships, we need quality time together in order to have quality relationships.

I just need to be perfectly practical about it. Because I want to catch the sand as it slips through the sieve.