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‘Parenting and work takes up every minute I have. I’m losing myself’

Jen Hogan: These aren’t parenting fails, though many said it made them feel this way. This is parenting in 2024

There’s a scene in the television series, Cold Feet, where, during the christening of Pete’s son [Pete was one of the main characters], a note from Pete’s own father is read out from the pulpit. It reflects on how parents love their children more than their children love them.

It’s one of those things that’s stayed with me, as I muddle through parenthood, sometimes wondering if I’d have embarked on this journey had I realised how much worry it involved.

Because parents worry, all the time.

I see it in my own parents and my parents-in-law, and I’ve realised as my children grow, that’s never going to end. The worries just change, and so it goes, I suspect, because Pete’s father was right. We worry so much, because we love so deeply.

What we don’t do as parents, is talk enough about these worries. Meaning all too often parents can feel alone in their struggles and concerns. Will talking solve the problem completely? Perhaps not. But there is a degree of comfort in knowing others are experiencing similar.

So I asked parents what they worry about when it comes to parenting. Many of the same answers cropped up repeatedly. These aren’t parenting fails, though many said it made them feel this way. This is parenting in 2024.

These are just some of parents’ worries.

  • Money. Not a new worry, but a major one, as parents replied they were struggling to manage day-to-day costs, unexpected bills, rent, mortgage, activity costs, routine childcare costs, clothes, school costs, school tour costs – “€60 for a primary school tour,” one parent explained. “So stressful living week to week,” another said. And with the summer looming, parents expressed huge worries over covering the cost of camps and summer childcare costs.
  • School anxiety and school refusal. “It has been the cruellest time,” one parent reflected while others explained their upset at throwaway comments from other adults that show a lack of understanding of the issue. But an overall sadness and worry permeated the messages from parents about what school absences mean for every aspect of their child’s development as parents expressed feeling helpless in trying to manage the situation.
  • Guilt. It’ll be no surprise to hear that most of these feelings of guilt were expressed by women. “The guilt of leaving the children into creche every day,” one mum said. The guilt of not being able to afford things for their children. The guilt of difficult family relationships. The guilt of getting frustrated or cross with their children.
  • Phones and screens. “Managing screen time” is a huge challenge, one parent said. While others expressed concerns about what their children may see online and how much real-life interactions were being missed by their children, due to time spent on screens. “Lots of homework now assigned using technology” is adding to the challenge, another parent said. Meanwhile, the pressure to get a phone for younger children remains constant.
  • Sandwich generation. The demands of raising children and teenagers, along with caring for elderly parents, is creating a lot of stress and worry for some parents. Many have jobs to juggle too. “Am a sandwich generation cliche, balancing work, kids, mam with dementia and other mental health issues,” said one parent. “Juggling job, teens and elderly mum in nursing home. Feeling constant anxiety and worry,” another said.
  • Vaping. Incidentally, not one parent expressed concern to me about their children smoking, but plenty had something to say on vaping. If you’re a parent of teenagers and you’re not worried about vaping, then you probably should be. “It’s everywhere,” one parent told me. While another parent whose 14-year-old had been “caught vaping again” was finding the problem compounded by the fact that “some friends are allowed vape”. Who’d have thought brightly coloured, candy-flavoured, vapes could appeal to children? But it’s not just vaping (and what might also be in those vapes) that parents have to worry about. “A lot of them have moved on to snus [nicotine pouches], which is inside their lip during class,” one teacher said.
  • Supporting children with additional needs. Parents described the stress of trying to support children with additional needs through school, and “constantly fighting for supports”, as a huge source of worry for them. “There are no services. It is soul destroying,” one parent said. How children value themselves in a system that measures success on grades was also a big concern for parents. Parents of dyslexic children shared their worries, as we approach summer tests and state exam season, about the negative impact results can have on their children’s sense of self-worth. Parents of children with disabilities and additional needs also spoke of their worries about what the future holds for their children.
  • Exhaustion. From sleep deprivation caused by waking babies and young children, to sheer exhaustion from the need to be everything to everyone, and running, here, there and everywhere, parents are feeling the pressure. Along with the physical demands, “the mental load” weighed heavily on some parents. “Juggling work and the kids”, including the non-sleeping variety, left some parents feeling totally overwhelmed and completely “exhausted”. “All the drops and collections. Feel like I spend the weeks racing in and out of the car,” one parent said.
  • Teenagers. I’m “finding being a parent to my teen exhausting, even on good days,” one parent said as others followed sharing their worries about teenage friendships (and lack thereof), challenging behaviours and attitudes, and trying to navigate teenage mental health difficulties. “Teenage daughter going off the rails,” another parent said. While another described her teen son as struggling “to make friends and I feel he’s missing out”.
  • Loss of identity. I feel “like I’m losing myself as parenting and work takes up every minute I have,” one parent said amid a sea of similar responses from parents explaining the inability to do anything for themselves as they prioritise work, family and children’s extracurricular activities above all else. Poor work-life balances mean some parents, in spite of taking no time for themselves, still feel they’re not giving enough to their families.

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