Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Let me do it!

I’ve been having some epic battles with my son these past few days. I don’t know if it’s been in direct relation to our sleep training (see previous post…hell, see all the posts, they are really good!) but he has been as hard nosed as I’ve ever seen him.

My son has been defying me at every turn. This isn’t like him, nor is it like me to have to be much of an authoritarian largely due to his happy, compliant nature. The bulk of the standoffs have to do with me asking him to do things. He has also taken his independence to a new level. I can’t do anything for him at the moment—pour his milk, brush his teeth, wipe his bottom—without huge resistance. Now I am all for independence as well as learning, but at 3 1/2 , if he does any of the above on his own, he’ll be swimming in milk, riddled with cavities and stinking like poop. Not even the usual, “let’s do it together” for the afore mentioned tasks seems to placate anymore.

My cool and patience has been tested a lot in the last few days. But every time I come close to needing my own “time out” I’ve tried to focus on the positive; my little boy is growing up. Whether as an act of protest or learning, my son is gaining independence daily. I remind myself that this is a good thing; I want my son to be independent. Much better that than the opposite. It’s funny, however, that each little step towards his own independence, even at this age, is a further creep towards me letting go.

That is my tip for today. At times like these, when your child is railing against any attempt at help on your part, let it go. If it takes him five minutes to button his coat, so be it. If he spills a little milk trying to pour it, well, we all know what they say about spilled milk…

I’m not saying it isn’t frustrating to be told, “let me do it” at every turn. But it’s probably no less frustrating than being told when to get up, go to bed, what to eat, what to wear and when to pee. At times like these, take pride in your child and her desire to be independent.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

First or Last?

My heart is breaking as I write this.

Ever since we went on a two week family vacation where my wife, son and I found ourselves crammed into one bedroom accommodations, we have grown accustomed to one of us snuggling down and falling asleep with our son. After stories, one of us will lie with our little boy until he falls asleep. Sometimes that takes 5 minutes, sometimes it takes an hour. We’ve been doing it for over a year.

As you can imagine, when one is trying to work, maintain a household and have some sort of relationship with one's spouse, giving up an hour a night to lie with a squirming child is not a luxury that most of us can afford.

The problem is, despite the regular frustrations and the time constraints, we love it. It is glorious to feel a little hand slip inside the sleeve of my t-shirt and squish my arm, or to hear a great big contented sigh followed by, “I love you so much, Daddy.”

We are about four weeks from the birth of our second son. We know with the impending birth will come the inevitable sleep deprivation, the exhaustion and the short fuse. We know that one of us lying down with our eldest son will be next to impossible. However, we want to get him used to sleeping on his own before his little brother arrives so he won't have something else to blame on his sure to be less-than-popular-already sibling.

Tonight is the first go. We set up a fountain with soothing gurgles and soft glowing lights. He thinks it’s beautiful. But when I just left his room seconds ago and told him to look at the beautiful lights while I go work on the computer in our bedroom, he said, “But daddy, I can’t feel you when you are in your bedroom.”

My wife is currently taking a moms writing course. The assignment the other night was to write about a “first”: a first step, a first word, anything to do with baby’s “first.” It got me to thinking; we are great at recognizing firsts, but not so great at recognizing lasts. How would you look at things differently if you knew you were holding your child’s hand for the last time? If you knew this was the last time he’d want to play catch with you, or kiss you goodbye in front of his friends?

Try to savour the simplest little pleasure you get from your child like it might be the last. It will force you to slow down, make you focus on the present, and deepen the love you have for your child.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Providing...it's not just for breadwinners anymore!

I’ve just returned from the 14th Annual At Home Dads conference in Omaha, Nebraska.

If the misperceptions about being an at home dad can be boiled down to one over simplified generalization, it’s this: at home dads are men who’ve lost their job and who are now expected to look after the kids while mom goes back to work. In other words, men, due to economic circumstance, have been forced into parent duty.

Certainly, in the current economic climate, some men do find themselves in that position. Some will find a job and get back into the work force. Others will come to realize that getting out of the rat race was the best thing they could have done, and will fall in love with being a full time care giver.

The men I met at the conference are at home dads by choice. With their spouse, they’ve agreed that having one parent at home is the best decision for the whole family. In their cases, obviously, it’s the dad that stay at home.

Numerous studies about at home dads and involved fathers point to the obvious: their children will do better at school, have fewer social problems and be less likely to get involved with crime and drugs. The bottom line is involved dads make for healthier children. As far as I can tell, however, no one has ever attempted to measure what being an at home dad means to men.

Here is my humble observation on that last point: none of these men have lost their penis.

What these men have is an amazing sense of balance. Our workshops on quick and easy hair styling, or coping with ADHD were punctuated with drinking beer and football games. These men reveled in what it is to be a man, yet they are all loving, caring fathers who have grown immeasurably as a result of day to day contact with their children. Hardly a masters thesis there, but I’d still wager it is true.

At one point, a father named Charles was recounting how he would sometimes worry if he was doing a good job raising his daughter. He liked to roughhouse and wrestle with her and he questioned if he was somehow warping her with his male version of parenting skills. Then he told how one day, while at the park, another little girl fell down and tumbled down a hill. Charles’ daughter promptly went over to the fallen girl, helped her up and asked her if she was alright.

“At that moment,” Charles said, “I knew I was doing a good job.”

We all question our parenting skills. As men, we sometimes face the added pressure that we can’t do the nurturing as well as the women. My message to you is, “trust yourself.” Society likes to suggest that women are born with the parenting instincts and we are just the providers. Well, guess what? All those at home dads are providers; they just aren’t providing the money.

If you are struggling a little bit with parenting your child, trust that you can do more than just be the disciplinarian or the hero that  swoops in and whisks the family to Disneyland. Trust that you know how to nurture and “provide” for your child beyond being the breadwinner.

For one of the breakout sessions at the conference, we were asked to begin by giving one example of how we are a good dad. I’m going to steal from that wise man. If ever you are struggling, start all over again with that question: “What is one way that I am a really great dad?”

Give yourself some credit, and move forward from there.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Once upon a time...

I’ve just registered for the At Home Dads Convention in Omaha, Nebraska. I’ll be there talking to dads, doing some research, and putting together a radio documentary for the CBC.

I’m looking forward to gleaning some great parenting tips from all these at home dads.

Since we’re on the subject of tips, I have one of my own to offer. This is particularly for dads who are away a lot on business, or who pull a lot of late nights at the office and often miss bedtime.

If I’m going away for a few days, I’ve taken to the habit of recording bed time stories. After my son has brushed his teeth and put on his jams, he and my wife cuddle up and watch a video of me reading him one of his favourite stories.

If you have a busy life and often find yourself saying, “just a minute sweetheart” or “daddy just needs to finish this work first,” it isn’t long before your child will pick up on the fact that they are less than your first priority.

Think of your own life. Think of how you perk up when you get a post card from a traveling friend or an unexpected cup of your favourite coffee from a coworker.
We like to feel like we are being thought of. It is good for our well being and the health of a relationship when someone demonstrates thoughtfulness.

A child is no different. When you record an audio or video tape of yourself reading them a bed time story, what you are really saying is, “I love you.” You are telling your child that, even though you can’t be with them, you are thinking of them.

Don’t we all want to be remembered like that?