Subscriber OnlyYour Family

Claire Byrne: ‘I had lived an adult life up to the age of 38 not having had children, so I know what that freedom is like’

Parenting in My Shoes: Broadcaster was child-free until age 38, but now adores having youngsters

Claire Byrne didn’t always plan to be a mum. “Now, I’m thrilled that I had my children, but I probably would have lived a very happy life without children,” she says.

The broadcaster and mother-of-three explains that she “was quite late having my children. I was in my mid-30s when I met my husband, and so I didn’t factor having children in as a given.

“Your life changes so radically, and I had lived an adult life up to the age of 38 not having had children, so I know what that freedom is like, and I know now that I don’t have that freedom. I know what the pros and cons are. Now, I adore having children. It’s a wonderful gift, but, at the same time, I remember what having an adult life is like.

“When I had my first child, the change was just colossal, and I don’t know how many times I asked myself, ‘How do people do this every day and not tell us what it’s like’? I went through such a shock in my life when my boy was born, that I thought, ‘That can never happen to me again because I’ll never survive it the second time. This is it, I can’t do it again.’ And then I found out very quickly afterwards that I was pregnant and I was in shock for about three or four months.


“I have this very distinct memory of walking up the stairs carrying Patrick, who was 10 months, and being very, very pregnant with Jane... and she was kicking me from the inside and he was kicking me from the outside, and I was struggling up the stairs pulling on the banister thinking ‘This is too much. This is too hard’.

“And then I did it again and I had number three,” she laughs. “I think actually the truth is, if I’d started earlier, I probably would have had four children.”

As for the pain of childbirth, Byrne admits, “It was terrible. It’s like nothing you’ve every experienced before. I felt like at one stage I was in the Exorcist movie and this thing was going to throw me off the hospital bed. You can’t explain it. It’s like a car crash happening inside your body.”

I do not need strangers interfering in my life in this way, and that’s when I came off Twitter

Byrne didn’t take much time off after the birth of her children, “which in hindsight maybe I’d do differently now. But that was the choice I made in the moment. I think there’s always that fear probably as well, because I had spent so long as a working person, I was sort of fearful of stepping out.”

With a child of almost 10, along with an 8- and 5-year-old, she sees new challenges on the horizon. “As my oldest boy is about to turn 10, there is a lot of conversation happening about devices, which really worries me, because I just get very frightened when I think about what’s on social media, and him saying to me that boys in his class – he’s in third class – have phones.

“He plays Fortnite as well. We do allow him, but we’ve to manage the screentime. And, sometimes, I feel like that dominates our weekends. It’s conversations around Fortnite, conversations around how much time he can have, how little time he can have, and it makes me cross that it has become such a part of our life. And I think the next stage of our life will be dealing with social media and dealing with phones, and I just dread it.”

Byrne doesn’t use social media very much, having left Twitter when she found “comments were getting very personal. I was getting comments about my family life, my family situation, my choices in life. I thought, I do not need strangers interfering in my life in this way and that’s when I came off Twitter.”

She uses Instagram occasionally, but, having put up a picture of buns she made with her children, quickly realised how easy it is to be sucked into the culture of likes for validation. “For about two weeks afterwards my son was saying to me, ‘can we go back and see how many likes we got, how many comments we got’. I thought this is extraordinary. He doesn’t really know anything about social media. He doesn’t have a phone. He doesn’t have any social media accounts, yet he wanted to get that gratification from the likes and from the comments.”

In spite of her limited use of it, social media has influenced Byrne. “In that whole period when my name was in the frame for The Late Late Show, I did see some of the social media comments which I thought crossed the line in many cases. I don’t often look at social media about myself and I’d never go searching for what people would say about a programme, but I did then because I was trying to weigh up what it might mean if I kept my name in The Late Late Show loop. And I really did stop and think about whether I wanted to introduce the level of scrutiny that that show brings into my life, and for me the decision was that I didn’t. Because I get enough of it, without taking it to a whole other level.”

Byrne’s children weren’t keen on the possibility of their mum taking up the role either. “They wanted me home on Fridays, because Friday is sort of a family night. I said, ‘What about the Toy Show?’ and they said to me, but we want to watch the Toy Show with you.”

During the pandemic, Byrne admits that she was nervous her work life would cross over into her family life. “I remember during the pandemic, being out walking the dogs with my children, and this woman said to me, off the top of her head, ‘God, there’s people on social media that really don’t like you’. And I was really annoyed with her because I thought what a thing to say in front of small children who I now have to explain this to.

“At the time [during restrictions] I was very much aware that there could be someone outside the house who was vocal about me on social media. Where was that moment going to happen where somebody took it offline and brought it into real life? So, I was probably hyper-aware and a little bit nervous at the time. There was one person online who has asked people to contact me and ask me how much money I was getting from the drug companies who developed the vaccine. I smile now because it’s so bizarre, but you do get a little bit nervous when that happens. You can’t help it, and I suppose that impacts how you behave with your children, and you try to protect them from that.”

Sadly, in 2021, Byrne lost her father. “I try not to think about it too much, but in the period of the pandemic where he was still well, there were moments that we missed. When I look back on that and I think, ‘Well, had we gone to see him and broken the rules and he got Covid, and he was an older person, pre-vaccination, well we could have ended his life. So, I accept that.

“What I really struggle with is in 2021, when we were vaccinated and he was hospitalised, the visiting rules were still in place and we had to fight and fight and fight as a family to get in to see him. He was a man who was not happy to be in hospital, was very distressed, was very unwell and needed his family around him. And if I could go back and change that, I would.

I loved my dad, and I was very sad, and you think that children can’t cope with that. They completely understood it

“I think, when we look back and if there is a Covid inquiry, I would hope that that’s something they look at very, very carefully, to make sure that that is changed, because I think a lot of people suffered. We saw them all around us at that time when we were involved in the hospital with him being there, and that was really distressing and really, really difficult.”

When Byrne’s dad died, she was open with her children. “I didn’t hide the fact that I was really upset about it, not even for a second. I put up lots of pictures of him around the house in frames and made sure each of the children had a picture with Pop in their rooms, so they wouldn’t forget him. And even now, you look back and you go, ‘Gosh, you were so tiny in that picture’ and time moves on and you feel like you’re losing a little bit of him with every month that passes, but I was very open with them.

“I loved my dad, and I was very sad, and you think that children can’t cope with that. They completely understood it. They were brilliant and the little size of them – when I look back at how understanding and how much space they gave me to feel that grief.”

Byrne’s approach to parenting is a relaxed one she explains, and she tries to encourage independence in her children, such as sending her nine-year-old to the local shop for bread, even though he’s a tad reluctant.

It’s a gentle encouragement, in light of a break-in to their house a few years back. “We had been camping and we came back to the house... the whole back door of the kitchen, which is glass, had been smashed in. And somebody had just been in the house and had ransacked everywhere. In the aftermath of that, I was fine, my two girls were fine, my husband was fine, but my little boy was absolutely petrified. He has never in the three years since gone to sleep without a light on beside his bed,” Byrne says.

I love my job and I do believe it makes me a better parent because I’m happy in that aspect of my life

“The guards were brilliant in that they came back when the dust had settled to talk to him. Because, thankfully, they caught the person who did it. But the impact was huge. Because the guy who broke in had used my son’s hurl to break the window and then he had taken his little savings box and smashed it open with the hurl and left all of that outside. So, for him, this man was going to come back at some point. And he still has that awful fear of somebody breaking in.”

Byrne admits to putting pressure on herself, as a mother, asking, “Why can’t I get this right? I know that I’m never at 100 per cent any day. I’m never getting it fully right, and that disappoints me – you know when you get cross or you forget about the birthday party. It’s hard to get it right. It’s hard to stay on top of everything.

“I think the way I was brought up, my mother was at home and didn’t work. So I have put this pressure on myself to be a mother who does everything.

“I love my job and I do believe it makes me a better parent because I’m happy in that aspect of my life, but I do have to compromise on things sometimes, and that can be difficult.”

As her children get older, Byrne says she’s not one for sentimental lamenting. “I take great pleasure in them growing up. I see them turning into little people and I love to see them progressing and getting bigger.”

Parenting in My Shoes