It has been like a three act play; act one was writing the book, act two was getting it published and act three is publicising the book now it is released. I had been working as a psychotherapist with parents and children for a number of years but it was only when I felt I was drowning in the complicated waters of raising children myself, that I began to believe that a whole new type of book was needed to analyse the complex issues that face parents and children today.
I became pregnant for the first time in 2007, the same year that Madeleine McCann went missing and, during that long summer as my belly got bigger and I became engrossed in Madeleine’s disappearance, I realised that something weird had happened to the Madeleine McCann story. Everyone from the ‘Tapas Seven’ to the cat next door were accused of killing Madeleine and what had begun as a serious news story had turned into a sick pantomime. Life went on and, like many mothers-to-be, I tried to read nearly every baby book there was so that I’d be ready for my baby’s arrival. However it wasn’t long before I realised that the babycare books were full of solemn warnings about how I could destroy my baby’s life. ‘They are all contradicting each other,’ I wailed to my husband, Henry. ‘It says in this book if I pick the baby up every time it cries I will create a needy, attention-seeking monster but in this other book it says that if I don’t pick the baby up every time, I will create an insecure and depressed child!’ Which would I prefer, I thought to myself pensively: needy and attention-seeking or insecure and depressed?
Some time later, while writing a thesis on parenting in the twenty-first century, I was startled to discover that, in truth, parents and children have never been safer, have never been healthier, and have never have had more opportunities to be happier. But we parents have missed the party; instead we are strung-out by sensationalist stories in the media that convince us that we are living in a dangerous jungle instead of one of the safest countries in the world. I became increasingly furious with the pup that parents were being sold. The backlash had to start, and it had to start right now!
I found it very easy to write this book as I was so incandescent with rage about the way childhood was being ruined needlessly. The only issue was, as with all working mothers, I had no time and I had two energetic little children who craved my company at all times. It’s a very bizarre feeling when you have to tell your children for the hundredth time, ‘don’t disturb Mammy because she’s writing her book about raising children and parenthood!’ Bizarre, but after a while I began to enjoy the irony.
As the years passed I realised that the book would never come out unless I began to take a more ruthless attitude to it. At first I tried to read the internet, but then oh, about halfway through that, I realised that I needed some focus. Somewhere along the way I read that to achieve something big you need firstly to decide what is your ‘one big thing’ and then you had to prioritise your ‘one big thing’ each day; everything else could wait so long as you made sure that your ‘one big thing’ got done. Once I had established priority for the book I found it easier, however I’m not someone who enjoys working to a timetable and I found I worked best when Henry took the kids off for the whole day and I would spend all day, and usually well into the night, getting tons done.
I needed the same ruthless resolve to getting published as I took to writing the book – in fact I saw them as two similar projects; a long run into the abyss with no comment or response from anyone – nothing except your own insecure judgment to analyse the situation. I knew that I had an important message and that it really needed to get out there but as with many writers, I was racked with anxiety about whether my writing was good enough. I’m no James Joyce – indeed an ex-boyfriend once told me that I was ‘more Molly Bloom than James Joyce’ – and I come from a place where daring to write a book would be sniggered at and so, to avoid sarky questions about ‘your book’, I had to keep the whole thing secret. I had a friend called Pauline who was also writing a book, but apart from Henry and Pauline, not another soul knew about ‘the book’.
Like many would-be writers, I didn’t feel that I was even vaguely important enough or good enough to write a book and as a consequence, I found it difficult to approach the publishers to sell the concept to them. My saving grace was that I am a natural saleswoman and I am extremely passionate about this subject. I believe that it was for this reason that I ended up with a publishing contract – that and the fact that I paid for help from a literary consultant, Emma Walsh, who showed me how to structure my proposal and my book so that publishers would hear my song.
The day the book arrived was strange. I was on my own. I signed for the package but then I had to go straight down to the office as I had clients to see. I knew the package was waiting for me and I waited until I had a few moments on my own before I ripped open the package. I looked at the cover that I had previously agonised about. It suddenly looked absolutely fine. I opened the pages and read a few lines here and there. It was all very familiar. Oh God, I thought to myself, will I be good enough? I flicked through the pages as fast as I could. Yes! I thought of Molly Bloom, and my heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
(c) Stella O’Malley
Stella O’Malley is an accredited psychotherapist with over ten years experience as a mental health professional.
Much of her counselling and teaching work is with parents and young people and she has written a series of articles on over-protective parenting for the ‘Sunday Independent’.
She is originally from Dublin, worked for many years in Co. Galway and now lives and works in Birr, Co. Offaly.
About Cotton Wool Kids
What has happened to Irish childhood? Parents are keeping their children indoors for fear of predators lurking around every corner and children are spending their days in front of screens or in supervised activities, over-controlled and growing steadily fatter and more unhappy. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Commercial interests ensure parents feel anxious and filled with fear simply to sell them more stuff, when in fact childhood has never been safer; the rates of child mortality, injury and sexual abuse are lower today than at any time since records began. ‘Cotton Wool Kids’ exposes the truth behind the scary stories and gives parents the information and the confidence to free themselves from the the treadmill of after-school activities and over-supervision that has become common today. The author provides parents with strategies to learn how to handle the relentless pressure from society and the media to provide a ‘perfect’ childhood and instead to raise their children with a more relaxed and joyful approach, more in touch with the outdoors and the community around them.
Cotton Wool Kids is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here.