THIS has to be one of the oldest and most cliched sayings that exists, but it is no word of a lie that when you have children, time passes by in the blink of an eye.
My eldest lady is nine years old, a tween apparently according to Google, and honestly, it feels like we went from changing nappies to her walking home from school with her friends instead of me in the blink of an eye.
I have to say I feel a little sorry for our eldest though, I am an eldest child and I totally understand now the restrictions my parents put on me when I was younger compared with how my younger siblings faired as time went on.
It is so tricky parenting the eldest child and trying to figure out how comfortable you are about letting them have freedom, or chatting to them about different topics as they get older.
It is not easy being the eldest child because no matter how you look at it or how you try and engineer it as a parent, the eldest undoubtedly ends up with the lion’s share of responsibility — I try my best to distribute jobs amongst my girls, but the eldest, despite my best efforts, gets called on more than the rest. That said, the eldest child is often a natural born leader given their familial position, so it is not all bad.
I have found that, with the eldest, new stages can creep up on you and take you by surprise, you may have an idea when they might happen but often you are unprepared, or maybe that’s just me! We would have always been firm in our view that she wasn’t going to have access to a phone or tablet in order to contact friends until she was in sixth class (and perhaps that is completely naïve, but every step is a learning curve!). And then the pandemic arrived, so we felt we had no choice in the matter.
If she was going to communicate in any way with the outside world, she needed access to a phone and whatever messaging apps and games that her friends were using, because that is how they kept in touch. We didn’t want her left out and we didn’t want her feeling isolated, so it was a necessity.
But it was tricky, walking the line between her freedom and my desire to keep her safe from conflict, that we all know can flare up all too easily as words without context are misconstrued, even for adults.
Of course, these conversations, out of pure curiosity, filter out into the playground too, so one moment you’re sitting down about to have a cup of tea and the next you’re being quizzed on ‘but how do the babies actually get into the Mummy’s tummy?’ because apparently ‘everyone else knows how it happens’! And you can be left rightly flummoxed in that case, because on one hand you do not want them to gleam that sort of information in dribs and drabs at school, but on the other hand you don’t want them to be laughed at for not knowing things that perhaps they should know.
Don’t worry if you’re breaking out in a sweat at the thought of talking about the intricacies of sex with a nine-year-old, it isn’t something they need to learn until a later date, despite what my nine-year-old tells me, not everyone does actually know at that age!
My lady is in a split class with fourth, and the children in that class had ‘the talk’ last week, which, again, filtered out in the playground (I am not suggesting that’s a bad thing by the way, it is what it is!) so I did find myself, not over a cup of tea but on the way to camogie training being asked about puberty. And in that split second, where I had to decide the direction I was going to take, then and in the future, so I decided to go with openness. I didn’t shut down the conversation, I let her lead and I explained the bit I felt she could handle or the bit I figured she already knew but just didn’t want to say.
Because it is important fundamentally to be open. To encourage conversation with our children around technology, being online, periods and puberty.
You don’t want to leave any child or teenager feeling like there is a topic in the world that they can’t talk to you about, no matter how hard that may be now or in the future.
* Eimear writes a weekly column in WoW! every Wednesday.