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How I learnt to be a family

Oh my my, but there are so many parenting traps I didn’t anticipate! So many potential things to do ‘wrong’, ways to mess up your kid without even noticing, layers and layers of judgement about your parenting style if you buy into that (I do not). But if there’s one thing I’m certain I do well as a parent, it’s be a family. Let me explain…

My dad was the eldest of nine children (including triplets – let’s let that sink in for a moment… How on earth did my gran cope?) He grew up in rural Ireland with very little money and a whole lot of love, and as a result he has very strong ideas and ideals about family.

Growing up, we ate dinner together at the table every. single. night. Seriously, we maybe ate dinner in front of the TV once a month? If we were lucky?

Birthdays were and are a big deal: the birthday girl or boy could choose their favourite three courses for dinner, there were presents and candles and everyone dressed up. As a result, I am still (at the grand old age of 35) obsessed with birthdays.

My dad had his own business and worked long hours (6am to 6pm, in my memory) which means my mom worked long hours (6am to 6pm at home with four kids), but when he walked in the front door he was 100% present with us – he never brought work home, no matter how stressful his day had been. My defining image of my dad when I was a kid is of him sitting on the kitchen floor with a beer, while we all ran around and over him, and the dog tried to sit on his lap. My mom would be cooking dinner: we would all be together.

And I suppose that’s what being a family means to me: we were all together. My parents were strict but not overbearing – we knew what the rules were and how we were expected to behave. Home was a safe space. Home was a fun space. I never doubted for a minute that I was loved, and respected, and held to a high standard.

So when I look at my little family, that’s the picture I want to replicate. We eat dinner together, every night. Mark and I try our best to leave work stress at the door, and be present with and for our kids. We have a pretty strict set of guidelines for behaviour, but within that we have a lot of fun. And there is love: so very much love.

What a gift to have been given this framework from my parents… I know how blessed I am.

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