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Melissa Doyle: "It's a parent's worst fear."

In another exclusive extract from her new book, Melissa Doyle opens up about her fear of leaving her children behind.

Having children changes many things, from your social life to your hip size, but for me the biggest realisation was the value of my life—no longer for my own sake but for that of my children. To be needed so much is both an honour and a frightening responsibility.

I keep a diary for each of my kids, recording all those embarrassing moments and funny things they say and do. I tuck into it every card their grandparents send them, and I write how much I love them and how proud I am of them. It’s something from me to them for when I am no longer here.

It’s a parent’s worst fear, no longer being around for your children. I say a little prayer each time I get on a plane. Their future always crosses my mind if John and I go somewhere together without our kids.

Remember when Angelina Jolie made international headlines for her decision to have a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of

breast cancer from 87 per cent to five per cent? I wouldn’t hesitate to do the same. If there is anything I can do to buy some more time in this world as a mother then I will gladly do whatever is required.

And when we read about tragedies, or hear of another friend battling illness, it makes us think about the time we spend with our kids. Is it quality or quantity, is there really any difference and does it matter?

Life isn’t full of cheesy moments around the dinner table like in some contrived sitcom. Meals in our place are usually a negotiation: ‘Finish your dinner and then you can have dessert’ or ‘There’ll be no sport/ballet unless you eat up.’

While these moments don’t seem precious at the time (in fact, most nights they are agony) they are still moments together. I try and extract information from my son about his day; I try to get my daughter to stop talking and start eating. Battles aside, we are sitting together and sharing. I sit on the edge of their bath and chat. I involve them in cooking the dinner and setting the table. Sometimes I’m nagging them to do so, other times I even use bribes, but I figure it’s still time together. It’s not what you’d call quality . . . I’m just trying to pack in as much as I can. And every moment counts.

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When I am home with the kids I try hard to focus on them. No more long conversations on the phone to girlfriends or afternoons in the sun with a good book. When my daughter was in her final year at preschool I would always schedule things like a haircut on the days I didn’t have her with me so as not to miss precious time together. If I did have work to do at home she would sit beside me at my desk colouring in. The deal was after every paragraph written or phone call made I would stop and colour a flower in Dora the Explorer’s garden.

While working on Sunrise, I crammed the household chores into the hours before school pick-up and took exercise around the oval during Nick’s soccer training—all so I could make the most of the time I had with them each day. I spent so many years not being there in the mornings, so I made sure I was there every afternoon.

Now it’s reversed. I make breakfast and lunch before I wake them up. I take them to school, do any chores that need doing, head to work and make it home to spend time together at night.

It’s all about making every moment count while I can. I figure in a few years they probably won’t want me around as much as they do now, but as long as I am still around that’s ok.

- This is an edited extract from Alphabet Soup: My Life On And Off Screen, published by Allen & Unwin, and available now for $29.99.

How do you makes the most of time with your children?

Melissa Doyle has enjoyed an amazing career. Click through these photos of her most favourite moments: