Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The gifts your newborn brings

For those of you who saw the previous picture to this post, you saw my oldest son dressing up as Robin for his 4th birthday. We also put a mask on our 3 month old, who, in this picture anyway, resembles Dame Edna.

I think all those clich├ęs about being more relaxed as a parent the second time around are true. I was at the stove flipping bacon with one hand and my 3 day old in the other just after he was born. Had that been my first son, I’m sure we would have had him in a hazmat suit at least 30 yards from the stove.

The other miracle that comes with being a parent for the second (or third, or seventeenth) time—you can’t believe you have enough love in you to love the new one as much as you did the first one.

I often just stare at my infant son and marvel at him—“baby TV” as my sisters call it. I can just stare at him and become quite emotionally overcome.  I’ve met some men, however, who have been brave enough to admit that when their child was born, they didn’t “get it.” They loved their child, of course, but they weren’t overcome with emotion as they were made to expect. They then often say that after a few months, when the baby becomes more interactive, that bonding begins to take off.

If you are a new dad, or expecting, don’t beat yourself up if you are one of those aforementioned men. You aren’t alone and you aren’t a bad father. Trust that those feelings will come in time.

I’ve written before that I am most overwhelmed with feelings of love for my children when I am totally present to them. I think Eckhardt Tolle would say that in those moments, I am fully in the “now” which, he preaches is the only place in which we can really live.

If you are struggling a bit with those nascent feelings, take a page from Eckardt’s book (unless it’s a library copy ;-) and try and be in the present with your newborn. Try little things. Watch their little chest rise and fall with each breath. Marvel at the teeny little dimples between their knuckles. Caress their impossibly smooth skin. Hold them gently to your body and take in that wonderful baby smell. Let them fall asleep on your chest and just feel them there.

With each of these suggestions, don’t have any expectations. Don’t try for any results. Just let your baby take you into the present and let things be.

Bringing you into the present moment is one of the greatest gifts your child will ever give you.  And when it comes to that gift, no one is better at it than a newborn.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Happy 4th, Connor!

Happy Birthday my beloved Robin.  You possess the superhuman strength of lifting up a grown man every day!

How do I best serve my family?

I recently wrote a very short, very cursory article for website dedicated to working moms. I was trying to offer a 101 of why some men might not be as involved with their kids and domestic duties as some moms would like. In brief, I made three points—1) We are at the office all the time because it is in our genes to provide for our families 2) We can compare the housework we do, not with the work of our spouse, but with the work of our fathers 3) Maternal gate keeping chases some men away. (To read the short article, click here.)  This wasn't a "one size fits all" article.  This was intended to be a "if your husband is doing this..." article.

The responses have been fascinating—I’ve been called everything from “bang on” to a chauvinist pig. What has surprised me, however, is how many people have disagreed with my first point—men are hardwired to provide. Now, when I say “provide”, I mean in the traditional financial sense. I am a firm believer (and have based my business on the point) that men need to broaden their definition of “provide” to go beyond a strictly financial one (this is in no way to bash hard working, responsible, breadwinning dads, but rather to better understand them.)

I know we have a lot of at home dad readers on this blog, who have done just that—they realize that they have so much to offer their children and their families beyond just a paycheck. They are leading the evolutionary process.

Having said that, I’m guessing if you asked the average working father what are his two greatest fears concerning his family he would say, in order:

1) That someone gets sick, hurt or dies.

2) That I will no longer be able to “provide” for them.

There is a reason that more men than ever are saying that their work lives interfere with their family lives. Men are becoming more involved dads, and more is expected of them on the home front than was of the previous generation. They want to spend more time with their kids. However, there is still a pull (push?) from society and our genetic make up that says we are best serving those we love by earning money.  We feel guilty being away from our kids like never before, but still feel we are doing the right thing.

Do you feel genetics and society still puts pressure on you to earn?  If society still portrays women as sex objects, do they portray men as "money objects?"

 I’d love to hear some of your thoughts..

Monday, March 15, 2010

...of GI Joe and Barbie

Already programmed to save damsels in distress!

When it comes to gender issues and kids, as individuals we can all celebrate differences and we can criticize practices and beliefs which seem outdated. I still feel that society as a whole, however,  reinforces some  gender stereotypes. At a very early age, little girls are pressured to become women and little boys are channeled to grow up to be men. You don’t have to look far to find examples.  When have you ever seen a TV ad with a little boy playing Barbies? Or a little girl pretending her GI Joe truck is under attack?

Though I celebrate the differences inherent in gender, I have never pushed that “boys do this, girls do that” crap on my son. I have never admonished him for showing his emotions. I have never told him to stop crying, be tough or “suck it up.” And I think I’ve set a fairly good example for my son by not hiding my tears in front of him on numerous occasions (usually when the Mariners lose.)

This is why I was so disturbed by something that happened to my son the other day. I was dropping him off at daycare, and had to talk to his teacher for a moment. When I was ready to go, I asked my son if he wanted a hug good-bye. He went to leap over some toy to get to me, had his feet taken out from under him, and came crashing down hard on his tailbone.

Both my wife and I have never been a “sprint-to-your-child-the-moment-he-tips-over,” parent. Our philosophy is to wait a second or two to see how he will react on his own and then provide him with what he needs. Sometimes, however, you can tell right away that a fall is a big one, and this was a big one.

I scooped him up and asked him if he was ok. He was choking back the tears as he said he was fine. I kept rubbing his bruised little bottom and was using empathetic language, “That must have really hurt. That was a big fall!”

“I’ll be ok, daddy” he winced, and limped off to play with his friends.

I was shocked. Neither my wife nor I have ever told him to be tough…to be strong. So why was he compelled to choke back the tears?

Could it be that at the age of 3, my son had already been flooded with enough examples of boys being tough that it conditioned his response?

I don’t have any answers, but I do have a reflection. If society puts that much pressure on our sons and daughters to act like “men” and “women” respectively, we owe it to our children not to reinforce the negative stereotypes. Afraid too much roughhousing with your little girl will make her “less feminine”?  I wouldn’t worry about it. Think that being to affectionate with your son will make him into a “sissy”? Not likely.

Hell, I’m the “sissy” in our family and look what sort of a “tough” son I have!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I am the Gatekeeper...

I’ve written a lot about what you can do to deepen the bond and make the most of your time with your child. Despite your best intentions, however, there can still be barriers—sometimes within your own family.

No matter how “enlightened” we might be when it comes to our attitudes about traditional gender roles many men still define their primary role as that of breadwinner. For many men, losing a job isn’t just a financial hardship; it is failure to carry out the one function that society expects from us as fathers.

I think a similar situation arises for many women when it comes to parenting. No matter how successful a woman might be in the professional world, many women feel like society still judges her by how good a mother she is. “Abandoning” the family in pursuit of a career can cause feelings of guilt. When that feeling becomes too prevalent, the end result can be something called “gatekeeping.”

A maternal gatekeeper is someone who, at the same time, wants a greater sharing of child raising and domestic responsibilities, but who can’t give up control at home. It can be subtle, like always taking the crying baby out of dad’s arms. Or it can be overt, like demeaning dad for the way he dresses his child. The end result is often that the father becomes disengaged and the mother further resents her uninvolved husband.

By no means is every mother a gatekeeper. Likewise, gatekeeping is not uniquely the domain of women (just ask my wife, who has given up on loading the dishwasher since I just reload it anyway.) 

If this is an issue within your family, it needs to be talked about. Before you approach the subject, however, realize that your partner is not gatekeeping to be mean. She may be feeling threatened or dealing with her own self-worth issues.  Or maybe you really are just crappy at vaccuuming.  Either way, it needs to be discussed in a sane and rational manner.

Begin any conversation about gatekeeping by expressing your gratitude for all that she does for your family. Then you have to let her know that her behavior is having a negative effect on the family. You can remind her that we all respond much better to praise than criticism, and that by overseeing your parenting, she is making you feel more like a helper than a partner. You can also offer to make an effort to do things in her particular way in one or two areas that are of vital importance to her, but remind her that she has to give you some latitude to do things your way. As my friend and author Hogan Hilling says, “Focus on what your husband is doing, not how he’s doing it.” Lastly, if she can’t see the effect her behaviour is having on the family, consider marital counseling.

As for "giving up" on your fatherly duties because she’s just going to criticize you? It’s a cop-out. If the boss came into your office and told you he didn’t like a few aspects of your report, you wouldn’t throw your arms up in the air and storm out of the room shouting, “Fine, you do it!”

Anything that is getting in the way of you being the best, most involved father you can be needs to be addressed, not only for your kids sake, but for your own.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Evolution of Dad

I'm normally a "live in the moment" kind of guy, but having just seen the trailer for the upcoming movie, The Evolution of Dad, I'm looking forward to Father's Day, 2010.

I encourage you to check it out.

Monday, March 1, 2010

"Sorry" is the hardest word.

The other night I was struggling to get my son into bed. He was wired. He’d been to a birthday party and crammed his little cake-hole with plenty of junk. It was well past his bedtime to boot. I was aware of the combination of circumstances, which was the only thing that was preventing me from an outburst. I was tired. I knew that this wasn’t usually how my child behaved at bedtime, and was able to cut him a bit of slack. But it was still trying.

I managed to wrestle him into his pajamas and got him to snuggle down for a short story. Finally, I kissed him goodnight, and was heading out the door. I hadn’t really seen my wife all day and was looking forward to some child-free time to catch up. Just then, my son spoke up.

“Dad,” he said, “you forgot my glass of water.”

Part of the nightly routine is to get him a glass of cold water. He likes it cold so I let the tap run for a second or two to get it beyond luke-warm. That is, I do that every time except on this night. Feeling tired and a little grumpy myself, I let out a sigh, ran to the bathroom, got him some water, set it by his bed and wished him goodnight.

I got half way down the stairs when I heard him again.

“Dad,” he called, “the water isn’t cold.”

“It’s cold enough, sweetheart. Go to bed”

“But dad, I want cold water”

“Good night”

“No, but dad….”

“Good night, Connor”

Then came the wailing.

I grumped my way down the stairs, and could still hear him howling for cold water.

“What’s going on?” my wife asked.

“Ah, he’s all upset that I didn’t get him cold water” I said half annoyed and half chuckling.

“But we always get him cold water at bedtime. What do you expect?”

I stopped in my tracks. My wife was right.

Feel free to question my parenting skills for establishing a nightly routine of cold water in the glass. I have no problem if you think that is spoiling my child. I think you would be hard pressed, however, to say that my son’s reaction was out of order. From months of routine, he had come to expect something from me. To change it arbitrarily must have made no sense to him at all. His response was totally understandable.

I went upstairs, and sat on the foot of his bed. “You know what, sweetheart, I’m sorry. I was wrong. Let me get you a glass of cold water.”

Letting him cry himself to sleep wouldn’t have killed him, but what would that have served? I suppose there could have been a “life isn’t always what you expect” lesson but he, like the rest of us, gets enough of those on a day to day basis. I thought it was more valuable to show him that it’s ok to admit when you’ve made a mistake: that there is nothing wrong with saying, “I’m sorry.”

As dads, we’ve all gotten into a battle of wills with our kids, and quietly asked ourselves, “Now why did I pick this fight?” There are, unquestionably, moments where to not hold your ground is a mistake, but it isn’t always that way. In those moments, I challenge you to look beyond “winning” for winning’s sake and see if an admission of error and an apology can set things right. It might feel odd, but I think you are actually teaching your child a valuable lesson.