Dad’s Diary

Dad’s Diary

Children have a remarkable instinct to put things where they don’t belong. They do this with amazing industriousness. Parents may spend hours tidying their home but, within mere moments, kids can transform a once-tidy house into a scene of total destruction.

As I look around the place now, out in the garden I can see a sodden jacket, a sock and a single shoe left under the trampoline. Post-its with scribbles on them have been stuck to each of the kitchen cupboards, for no discernible purpose. My shoe has been filled with Lego. Most horizontal surfaces are littered with drawings, teddies and bits of half-eaten food. There is an apple in the coal scuttle, for reasons that are not completely clear. A pyjama top has been placed on the record player, apparently as a sort of decoration.

A huge cardboard box is still blocking the hallway the to stairs. Yet, when I announced that I was going to throw out the cardboard box, I was met with desperate cries of horror, and protestations that “it’s my boat and we all love playing in it”.

Having small kids is certainly a messy business. Yet they cannot thrive in an insufferably tidy house where kids are not allowed to play creatively or freely. They must be allowed to have their freedom, to make a happy mess, to some extent. Yet, of course, it’s also important that they learn to clear up after themselves too, as best they can. However, in reality its often impossible for small kids to do so. How can a two-year-old clear up after a painting session which saw paint get all over the table and floor while they were in the zone of their “creative process”? How can they put the laundry on to wash their paint-spattered clothes? How can they wash the paint from their hair? Of course, they cannot, so it’s up to us parents – as is the cooking, cleaning and the million other daily tasks that supports a family, from rushing to make lunches and brush hair each morning before piling the kids into the car to get to school on time, until we eventually persuade them to sleep at night.

Of course, as kids get older, they can do a lot to help around the house. From washing up to cutting the grass to hoovering or minding the smaller kids, they are well-able to help out. They can even do odd jobs like painting a fence or other repair work. They take pride in these accomplishments, and also learn to enjoy the sense of wellbeing that a reasonably orderly home provides. Yet even when it comes to older kids parents inevitably make all sorts of sacrifices, from money spent on university or summer courses, weekends spent taking them to matches, or dropping them off at birthday parties.

The most remarkable transformation happens when we go from being single, to being married with kids. After many years of living free and easy, according to our own whims, we soon find that we must live each moment of every day almost continually in the service of others. The surprising thing to most is that they find this a far more joyful life. The world prizes individual freedom, yet many find that the greater joy lies in making sacrifices for others, and putting them first. This sort of dedication to families comes naturally to most people, but it is also countercultural these days, even though it is necessary for the next generation to grow.

Unless people are willing to give the ordinary, mundane time-honoured self-sacrifice that is needed to raise families, nations soon decline and veer towards collapse. As cultures become more individualistic, the birth rate rapidly declines. This has been seen across Europe for decades. Ireland is now following this trajectory, with only 1.6 children per woman, on average. That is far below the replacement rate. The tragedy is that most find that the promise of individualism is a false one. Happiness does not lie that way. Happiness lies in pulling socks out of the coal bunker.