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Parents Panel: What's the one thing you wish you'd been told before having kids?

Meet our brand new panel of mums and dads.

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AM I FEEDING my kids the right food? Is my child sleeping enough? How much internet time is too much? If you’re a parent, you’ll probably recognise most of these questions.

As part of TheJournal.ie’s brand new weekly Family Magazine, we wanted to create a space for parents to share their views. A place where mums and dads could share their experiences, lessons learned, and even mistakes along the way. With that in mind, we’re launching something exciting: TheJournal.ie Parents Panel.

Every week, we’ll pose a different question – be it what they pack in their kid’s lunch box or how they deal with sibling rivalry. To start – and to introduce our panel – we’ve asked:

What’s one piece of advice you wish you had been given before having kids?

Parents Panel All 7

Top L-R: Olly Keegan, Alan Dooley, Denise, Ken Hyland. Middle L-R: Ríona Flood, Ross Boxshall, Marta Lisiecka, Denise Cumiskey. Bottom L-R: Kait Strickland, Susannah O’Brien, Derek McInerney, Suzie Kelly.

You’ll develop an incredible new radar

Being tied to a feeding schedule was a huge adjustment for me. I personally developed what I called “Daddy radar.” My eldest son would only have to move and I’d be awake. That meant a lot of lost sleep!

- Derek McInerney, single parent with sons aged 13 and 9

There is no pause button

One challenge that no one seems to talk about beforehand – at least in my experience so far – is your kid’s complete and utter dependence on you. There is no pause or stop button that allows a ‘time out’. Even during precious moments of me-time, I still know that as a parent someone else’s life is entirely dependent on me and my actions.

- Ríona Flood, new mum with a 9-week-old girl

Know when to follow your gut

Learning to follow my instinct has been a big learning curve. People mean well when they offer advice, but no-one knows a child better than their parent. Hearing things like, “Oh, I would have done this…” sometimes boils my blood.

- Denise Cumiskey, single parent to daughters aged 15 and 2, and an adult son

Don’t forget your Kegels…

I wish someone had told me how important it is to practice your pelvic floor exercises. That stuff should be taught in school!

- Olly Keegan, mum to a 3-year-old son

It’s a long, hard road

One generous couple did warn us beforehand that the life transition that came with having kids was extremely hard. Everyone else was all roses and love, though I’m sure they struggled behind closed doors too. Stress, lack of time, and of course the challenge of trying to figure out what a baby wants when they can’t tell you – it’s tough.

- Alan Dooley, dad to sons aged 8 and 10, and a daughter aged 4

You, too, will resort to a sugar bribe

Years ago, my wife and I were quite critical of parents who used treats to bribe their children into behaving better. Four kids later, we were late leaving the house one day and my wife literally set a trail of Jelly Tots to lead all of them out the front door. Things change!

- Ross Boxshall, father to four kids under eight: two boys and two girls

 You’ll miss the headspace

I wish someone had told me to enjoy thinking exclusively about myself – my needs, my desires, my dreams, my plans, my routine and my food choices. I have not done that since I had my children. Even when I am away from my kids, I still find myself filling my head with what they need to get through the day.

- Denise, mum to a daughter aged 3 and a son aged 1

Worrying is okay

My eldest son had some health issues in his first couple of weeks. When I first brought him home from hospital, I knew something wasn’t right. I felt like I was being overly dramatic but followed my instinct and brought him back to hospital. It turned out he was quite sick and he ended up in ICU. From then on I decided that it was okay to worry about things. It doesn’t mean you’re failing.

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- Suzie Kelly, single parent to boys aged 6 and 3

Look out for the red flags

The big thing was learning to figure out what was worth worrying about and what would work itself out. When my eldest went into Senior Infants, he suddenly started getting in trouble nearly every day. It was so unlike him. Finally it transpired he was being picked on by a group of boys in his class. I learnt then how important it is keep an eye out for significant changes.

- Ken Hyland, dad to boys aged 13 and 11

Babies are unpredictable creatures

My son was a great sleeper until about 16 weeks, only waking once a night. Then teething, four-month sleep regression and vaccines all hit in the same week and – BAM! – we were suddenly up several times every night. I was really caught off guard.

- Kait Strickland, mum to an 8-month-old boy

The crying will stop… eventually

From three to six months old, my son cried a lot. I was constantly bouncing on a gym ball with him in my arms because it was the only thing that kept him calm. My GP must have been sick of me! Gradually though, it lessened.

- Marta Lisiecka, mum to a 1-year-old son

Find a good support network

Everybody goes on about sleepless nights and lack of a social life, but few talk about the constant worrying that almost borders on an anxiety disorder, especially when your kids start school. For me, having a go-to bunch of mums I could chat to in person or by text was always a great pick-me-up.

- Susannah O’Brien, mum to four kids under ten: two boys and two girls

Want to know a bit more about our panel? Read on below for a short bio on each.

  • Derek McInerney has been a single dad since his wife passed away five years ago. He lives in Co. Limerick with his sons and works as a lecturer.
  • Originally from Dublin, Ríona Flood moved with her husband to a small village in Cork last year. They welcomed their first daughter in April 2017. Ríona recently launched her own online business.
  • Olly Keegan and her wife have one son. They both work full-time and live in Co. Louth.
  • Denise Cumiskey lives in Louth and has a son and two daughters, aged 20, 15 and 2. Denise is a single parent who is currently taking some time out from her job due to health issues.
  • Alan Dooley lives in Limerick with his wife and three kids aged ten and under. An IT manager, Alan works from home, but regularly travels as part of his role.
  • Suzie Kelly is mum to two young boys. She has recently separated from her partner and lives in central Dublin.
  • Denise lives in Cork with her husband and their two young kids. She works part-time.
  • Ken Hyland is based in Dublin with his wife and two sons. Ken’s youngest son suffers with juvenile idiopathic arthritis and the family are involved with the Irish Children’s Arthritis Network. Ken’s sons both have diagnoses placing them at a high-functioning level on the Autism Spectrum Disorder scale.
  • Originally from the UK, stay-at-home dad Ross Boxshall has been living in Dublin since 2005. He and his wife have four children under the age of eight, including three-year-old twins. Ross’s wife works outside of the home.
  • Kait Quinn grew up in the US but moved to Ireland seven years ago. She and her husband live in Dublin with their baby boy. Kait is currently on maternity leave and her husband works full-time.
  • A Polish native, Marta Lisiecka lives in Dublin with her Irish husband. They have one baby boy who they hope will be fully bilingual when he’s older. Both Marta and her husband work full-time.
  • Susannah O’Brien lives in Wicklow with her four children, aged ten and under. From September she plans to homeschool her two eldest kids, who are currently in mainstream school. Susannah’s husband works full-time.

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