THE sound of anguished mothers and fathers pouring their hearts out on the phone is one that we in Parentline have become all too familiar with.
It is the sound of grown men and women helpless in the face of behaviour by their children they just cannot handle.
There's the baby who will endlessly cry and won't sleep. The two-year-old in creche who won't settle after being dropped off. The senior infant who has been sent home for hitting his or her schoolmates. The ten-year-old who shows no inclination to make friends. The teenager who has no second thoughts about firing 'f' words at his parents. The odd behaviour of the college-going son and the discovery of a suspicious looking package.
The life of a parent carries far more joy than difficulties -- but try telling that to a mother or father having issues with their children. Raised voices, bitter words, and the listening ears of younger siblings all make these traumatic episodes in the lives of Irish families.
You can read all the books and watch all the videos on parenting -- but becoming a mother or father is one of those roles where training is very much 'on the job'. And what a job -- the responsibility of caring for and nurturing baby boys and girls from the time they come into the world through their different stages to adulthood.
In other areas of life we automatically reach out for help when things are not going right. But we are more reluctant to ask for help with our parenting. We think the world expects us to know what to do, forgetting that we have not parented this child before.
Parentline is there to help and listen. It is a support helpline offering parents time and space to talk and be heard without judgment and in complete confidence. It is somewhere to offload stress. Parents who contact us express concern, frustration, and lots of love.
Our trained facilitators will encourage them to express how they are feeling, and to think about ways of feeling better about themselves to allow them deal with their parenting issue in a more positive way.
Some of the suggestions can be as simple as going for a walk, reading a book, meeting a friend. Sometimes, more professional support is needed and the facilitator will make suggestions as to where to get that help.
Parentline receives calls on all sorts of issues. Last year, we had an increase in the number of parents reaching out for our help, with contact from more than 4,000 families.
One of the biggest causes of concern was abuse, accounting for 11pc of total calls. More than one fifth (22pc) of calls related to "teenage issues" including anger, aggression, discipline, and staying out late. 8pc complained that their teenagers were "out of control".
Parentline never judges the severity of a problem or issue. If something is causing stress it has to be dealt with. A small issue that is not nipped in the bud may develop into something greater as the child grows.
Very often, a parent will not tell anybody about the problem. They don't want to be disloyal to their children and feel that friends and family may remember the issue in years to come when the child has grown up and the problem long since gone. That is the benefit of a confidential and non judgmental helpline.
For people who are not comfortable talking on the phone, Parentline offers a face to face meeting with a facilitator. This must be made by appointment via the helpline.
One of the most isolating times for a mother is after a new baby is born when she has come home and all the visitors are gone. The baby blues and, occasionally, post natal depression can set in.
Parentline's facilitators have specific training to support women with post natal depression. They will listen and offer the reassurance that you will recover.
It is very important that a mother asks for help if she is feeling down. The helpline is ideal as the mother can pick up the phone when her baby is asleep and she will be given the time and space to talk about how she is feeling.
Rita O'Reilly is CEO of PARENTLINE. Helpline: 1890 927277 www.parentline.ie