Raising a child in Ireland - how is it for you?

Ahead of Father’s Day on Sunday, Jonathan deBurca Butler asks three foreign dads living in Ireland what it’s like to rear children here.

Raising a child in Ireland - how is it for you?

There isn’t a huge difference between being a parent in Ireland and being a parent in England according to Lee Kingcombe. The Plymouth-born radio producer has been living in Dublin for nearly nine years and has a three-year-old daughter named Poppy.

“The only thing that I really miss is having family nearby to take Poppy to now and again,” he says. “It’s hard work being a dad and a parent. We’re in a particular situation where my wife Nicola is from Mayo and so we don’t really have family here in Dublin.”

The 35-year-old met Nicola in Byron Bay in Australia while the two were travelling around the continent with their friends. After a year back in his hometown, the couple decided to move to Dublin and they have been there since 2006.

Daddy’s little girl: Plymouth-born Lee Kingcombe and his daughter Poppy.

As well as a lack of access to family support, there is also the heart-rending fact that grandparents, uncles, and aunties are missing out, and while Lee acknowledges that Ireland has plenty to offer in terms of culture, there are parts of his proud Devon heritage that he would love Poppy to see more often.

“I feel sorry for my family and extended family,” he says. “They come over a lot but they don’t really see her growing up from week to week. I think she’s missing out on the kind of cultural bits too. I’d love her go down into Devon and Cornwall and see the places that I was brought to as a child. I’d love her to meet the diversity of people down there. She’s missing the whole ‘oo-ar I be from Devon’ bit. She’s only been to the UK a few times. She’s also missing out on a savage Cornish Pasty every week.”

Lee grew up in a family of five with his two brothers, Paul and Ryan. His father still works at the Wrigley’s chewing gum factory he has worked in all his life. Lee sees vast differences between himself and his own father in terms of their roles within the family. “My dad was an amazing dad and a grafter,” he says. “He worked all the over time there was. You might see him at the weekends or the odd afternoon.

“But he was bringing in the bacon. Mother raised us all and it’s not that he didn’t want to be around he was just working all the time to pay the mortgage and the bills. I can’t get a full-time job at the moment, so I spend a lot of time with Poppy. The parenting is really shared. In fact I probably spend more time with her than Nicola at times.”

Lee believes Poppy has a few years to go before understanding the fuss that is Father’s Day. He suspects that the event is something of a “racket... driven by the card industry” and it would be hard to disagree with him.

“I’ll probably appreciate it more when she makes me a card by sticking bits of dry pasta onto a card or drawing a picture of me with more hair than I actually have left,” he says. “It’s kind of forced upon you, the whole Father’s Day thing, and it’s just another money making thing. But if they make you something rather than just getting you a pack of beers and a card they buy, they’re the real treasured moments you get from Father’s Day.”

Quality time: New Zealand native Stephen Nelson and his two daughters, Gabriella and Mia.

According to Stephen Nelson, Father’s Day is “non-existent” in his native New Zealand.

“It’s a bit of a strange concept to be honest,” he says. “You just buy them a present on their birthday. Christmas, Easter and birthdays that’s it thank you very much.”

Stephen also met his Irish wife abroad. He had been in Cologne for over four years when he first laid eyes on her working in an Irish bar. “Tina was doing a masters in German and politics in Cologne,” recalls the architect. “She was working in one pub and I was working in another pub. When she finished in Cologne I’d go and visit but I got sick of the commute over and back so I moved over to Ireland after about 12 months.”

Stephen relocated to Dublin in 1999. He and Tina have since married and live in Deansgrange in south Dublin with their two daughters Gabriella aged five and Mia aged two. Though he finds a lot of common ground between his native and adopted countries in terms of morals, family values, and of course a love of rugby, there is one glaring difference when it comes to children.

“Your kids don’t walk to school by themselves,” he says.

“There’s very little unsupervised time for kids at a young age; just even to let them go to school by themselves. That might be down to the whole school system being different in New Zealand. You live in the catchment area for the local school that you go to. So you don’t commute across town to get them to school and you see a lot more kids on bikes and a lot more kids walking.

“People are paranoid here, they’d never let their kids walk by themselves. There’s an underlying concern about children being unsupervised in this country.”

For Stephen the New Zealand school system has a broader underlying benefit for the whole community.

“Every child in the area more or less goes to the same school so you have bit more neighbourly relations,” he says. “Kids get on in the community because there’s no competition because they all go to the same school. And it gets across the class divide too. Communities are just communities, the local church, the local school and kids are out playing in the local area. That’s a bonus I think.”

For Stephen, like Lee, the debate over fatherhood is inter-generational rather than international.

“They’re a hell of a lot more hands-on these days,” he says. “They want to spend more time with their kids, especially when they’re younger and that’s important, you don’t get that back. I think it’s a good thing. But it was a different mindset back then. The man was the bread winner now both mum and dad can do multiple roles. Look at playgrounds and school drop-offs; dads are much more involved.”

Positive parenting: Robbie van den Hoven, who is from the Netherlands, and his son Conor.

Robbie van den Hoven, 38, from the Netherlands, says that society in his country has come to appreciate and even encourage the importance of the father in the modern family.

“Because of feminism really, women wanted the dads to participate more in family life,” he says. “So what gradually happened was a situation where you now have managers [in the Netherlands] who work four days a week so they can have one daddy day during the week or maybe they build up time and every fortnight the Friday is a daddy day. That is accepted by employers and they’re pretty flexible on it, they’ll allow you work nine hours a day to make up the time. So there’s an awareness and acceptance of the role of the father.”

Robbie, an account manager for a software company, met his fiancée Helen through a mutual Irish friend he was visiting in Dublin. The couple started dating and two years ago Robbie made the move to Dublin. Their son Conor is now eight months old.

Though Robbie admits that he is a little new to the job, he says he does see some differences in how children are brought up in Ireland. “I think the social aspect is a little bigger in Ireland,” he says. “Montessori isn’t big in Holland and here it is and that’s all about seeing a child as a little person and letting him develop instead of trying to force him to develop. In Holland it’s more you sit in the class, you listen, you do your thing, you learn and that’s it and in that I see more positives here.”

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