These are the things Irish mothers wish they'd known before having children

Mums, and especially first-time mums, can be floored with the torrents of advice coming their way. In advance of Mother’s Day, Andrea Mara talks to mums, in their 20s-60s, about the advice they wish they’d received and what they did well as parents.

Regrets? I’ve had a few — particularly when it comes to parenting.

Like expecting far too much, far too soon from my first child. Like going back to work too early after every maternity leave. Like taking no videos whatsoever of my poor neglected third child. Like drum-kits and soothers and glitter. But mostly glitter. Do all parents have some regrets? And other things they got spot on? Here, five mothers ranging in age from across all the decade tell their stories.

Endless patience

In her 60s: Noeleen Rooney from Co. Longford says she lacked patience when her three children were small.

“I always wanted to have everything right. It annoyed me if the girls did something to upset the plan. Two occasions spring to mind — both involved two little girls ready for mass in pastel summer dresses. On one bright sunny morning they found their way to the sandpit outside, and the next time it was indoors, and even more destructive, as they practised painting their nails bright red. I remember being very annoyed and doing a lot of shouting. I see how my daughter corrects her son now — she does it in a positive way, replacing what he is trying to grab with something of his own, and explaining everything as she goes along. I can only stand and admire — she has endless patience.”

What would Noeleen keep exactly as it was?

“I was proud that I never wished my children’s lives away. We gave them lots of good experiences through involvement in simple activities. The caravanning years were great. We rode our bikes all over the place and the weather always seemed to be good those summers. I remember them heading straight for the playground and making new friends as we struggled to set-up camp and connect to the electricity.

“They have great memories from those years. I always get sad when I look over those photographs. Spend time with your children — their little lives fly by, so make good memories.”

Problem fixer

In her 50s: Teresa Hanley from Co. Meath has one grown-up son, and she wishes she had let him do more things for himself.

“A lot of my learning — I’m a qualified coach — would have been great if I’d known it earlier! I’m a fixer by nature but I’ve now learned to back off. When my son was a teenager, I was too inclined to try to fix all his problems,” says Teresa, who works as a facilitator and trainer.

“I rang him this morning to ask him what he would have changed about us and he said we weren’t great at explaining things — we’d say ‘You do it because I’m telling you to do it,’ but other than that, we didn’t do too badly, he said!”

Looking at her now adult son, Teresa clearly sees what they did well.

“We instilled in him a set of values about family and helping others — he always saw us helping people, like taking in my 11-year-old niece until her older sisters could foster her. I was always the one that family turned to for help. I think we brought him up to be helpful and respectful.”

Fussy eaters

In her 40s: Suzanne Hull, a classroom assistant living in Co. Armagh, would change how she weaned her babies onto solids.

“My first child was lactose intolerant and was diagnosed early, so because of that I was very careful and I made all her first foods from scratch. She now eats every vegetable and fruit under the sun,” says Suzanne. “My second baby arrived 19 months later and when it came to weaning I was exhausted and just bought ready prepared jars of babyfood, and at age one, I realised he was a very picky eater. My third baby died at 24 weeks prematurity and then when my fourth arrived 10 months later, I was still grieving and extremely anxious, and again I ended up with another picky eater. Pizza is about the only food that everyone in the house all eats, and you can’t serve that up every day! In hindsight I wish I’d given them my own dinners from day one, and been firmer about getting them to try new foods. But, hindsight is marvellous and who’s to say, that it would have been any different?”

And is there something she wouldn’t do any differently?

“The one thing I’m glad I did, and wouldn’t change for the world, was reading bedtime stories to every child, every night until they were finished primary school.

“Those nights spent reading books are hundreds of hours of precious quality time that I can never get back again. I’m so grateful, that no matter how busy my day had been, I spent that time with them.”

Holiday howler

In her 30s: Dublin mum of two Deirdre Reidy regrets booking a holiday when her first baby was very small.

“I bought into the whole ‘Oh they’re so portable at that age, sure it’s the easiest time to take them anywhere,’ spiel. So off we jetted to Lanzarote when Aoife was five months old, full of optimism that she would totally change her personality once she hit the Canaries. Not a chance. She hated the heat, freaked out in the pool, and just basically protested loudly the entire time. We took turns staying indoors in our air-conditioned apartment with her and got take-away most evenings. I even looked into flying home early.”

And what does she feel she’s getting right?

“I hold them when they need to be held and always pick them up when they cry. I’ve been told I’ve made a rod for my own back, but I don’t care.

“They’re only small for so little and if having me rock them to sleep helps when they’re unsure of what’s going on or in pain, so be it. It’s what I’m here for. I’ve had all sorts of baby-wearing wraps and slings in my efforts to keep them close when they needed me. Some babies are happy in their own space; some want to be held more. I was just guided by them and I’m glad I didn’t subscribe to a ‘one size fits all’ approach.”

Second opinion

In her 20s: Lorraine Palles, mum to one-year-old Maisy, wishes she had been more assertive with doctors.

“At four months old, Maisy was suddenly waking, screaming, crying and coughing up a watery clear phlegm-type substance. I knew that something wasn’t right but when I went to the doctor I was dismissed and told it was probably teething. I went away, knowing it was more but never said anything. The next week we were still in the same position. I visited a different doctor and straight away he knew she had a throat infection — the antibiotics worked immediately! You know your child better than anyone and if something doesn’t seem normal then its probably not.”

Is there a decision she wouldn’t change?

“ Being a confident breastfeeder is what I got right! I breastfed Maisy until she was six months old. I was able to and had a great experience. I didn’t over think it and tried not to get frustrated in the first few days.”

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