Tag Archives: Challenges

Parents: The Social Leper

Children are amazing and beautiful little creatures and for a long time I wasn’t really interested in having any of my own. I’d noticed that there was quite often a shift in the attitude of people after they have children and it made me uncomfortable. It seems like parents of young children can become more myopic than they were in their pre-parenthood lives. There seems to be an inability of some new parents to recognize that the world does not revolve around their children.

Perspectives

Shake hand
Hi, my name is parent, and all I parent is parent. Nice to parent you.

Although the world doesn’t revolve around any particular child, I fully understand that a parent’s world very well might revolve around their own child. To be a respectful social being, however, it is important to try to find common ground with people when engaging in conversation. Likewise, even though a parent’s world may start and end with their kids, it is important to maintain an awareness of others in the world.

This disconnect between a parent’s child-centered world and the world that everyone else inhabits can be difficult for parents to overcome. Before having kids, I know that there have been times when I spent significant amounts of time engaged (almost obsessively) in an activity throughout a day and then met up with a friend. In these circumstances I have found it almost impossible to talk about anything other than my project. The focus of anyone’s attention can easily become a social impediment if they let it dominate their social interactions.

Beyond the Social Awkwardness

Having a child is a life changing event. It puts everything in the world into a new perspective. Children can make you aware of things that you may not have considered as seriously before. Social and political issues may take on a new importance. Likewise, environmental concerns also seem more real, now that (through your child) you have a stake in the future that, in all likelihood, will surpass the duration of your own existence. This new outlook can have a powerful influence on how a person views the world, and can affect significant positive changes.

bunker
It’s safe inside, … but it’s inside.

Becoming a parent, it seems, can also induce a sort of sociopathic myopia and bring out a survivalist type of mentality in some people. The same issue that might make one parent take up a political cause to fight for the future of their child, can cause a different parent to isolate their child from the world in an attempt to protect their child. I think the helicopter parenting phenomenon is, at least partially, a product of this inward turning tendency of some new parents. For example, the perception that the park is no longer a safe place to play, so kids should just stay inside. The result, unfortunately, is that children can often be the ones that suffer the worst effects of their parent’s shift in perspective.

My Report Card

I guess it would be more interesting and objective if my children gave me a grade on my parenting, but personally I feel like their assessment of my abilities would be fairly incomprehensible. Honestly, I can say that I am completely aware that the world does not revolve around my kids. It is also true that my world is largely dominated by my kids. I, without a shadow of a doubt, have been guilty of indulging in the socially awkward conversation that revolves around kids and excludes those who don’t have them, but only to a point. I don’t go all nuts with kid talk when I’m in a room where most people don’t have children. At work, I’m usually all business, but I may slip a story about my kids in there if it seems appropriate.

On the sociopathic myopia front, I have some interesting observations. Because my world revolves around my kids, I often feel like I have almost completely lost touch with the outside world. I used to be a news hound, and now I am embarrassed by the things that I am unaware of. Luckily this isn’t because I don’t care, or am apathetic, but because I just don’t have time to keep up to date with current events while I am changing diapers and going on play dates. While I am not aware enough of current events at the moment to take up any particular political causes for the benefit of my children, I am also not inclined to isolate my children from the world to protect them.

As a new parent, I will admit that there have been times when I took steps to “protect” my kids from things that, in reality, were really not dangerous. There is a learning curve to parenting, and I think in the good old information age, there is a perception that there is a lot more danger out there in the big bad world than there really is. This understanding is a work in progress, and while it is true that I have helicoptered my kids a little in their first couple of years, I feel like I am a pretty quick study. I am still finding my feet in my role as a parent, but I feel like it’s because there are so many changes happening that I have to constantly readjust my role. How has having kids affected you and your social life and social skills?

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Parental Diplomacy

Our community has a lot of great resources for new families. There is a group that is hosted by some community nurses and a few volunteers that Jenn and I took the kids to when they were younger. They talk about the issues and concerns faced by new parents. It was also a great place to meet other new parents in our neighbourhood. When meeting other new parents I found that there were new things for me to consider in my interactions. Most notably, I had to learn how to allow my children to play with other children whose parents may have a different parenting style.

First Contact

The first time that I remember being made aware that I would have to pay quite a bit of attention to the parenting styles of others was at the parent group. I remember the mom of another baby was making quite a fuss over preventing her child from touching any other kids. Of course, within minutes, one of my kids was trying to grab the foot of that mother’s child. I felt like I had no choice in this case, and I prevented my child from playing with the neighbouring child.

I don’t really know why the other mom wasn’t letting her child touch other children. I can think of a lot of reasons that she may have had. From my perspective, as a parent of twins, I was quite used to my kids interacting with one another, and so I had no issue with other children touching my kids, and I felt it was quite natural for my kids to be allowed to touch other kids. In this case, because a rule had been established by the mom next to us, I felt obliged to make my kids follow that rule with her child. All told, this was a very gentle introduction for me into the world of parental diplomacy. The “no touching” rule that had been tabled was pretty insignificant, but it did make me aware of some of the issues and decisions that I would face in the future.

Parenting Styles and Bullying

bullySince then I have had quite a few exchanges with other parents. I have realized that, usually, when parents are managing their children’s social interactions, they are trying to be polite to other children and parents. Having said that, I am also becoming aware that as my kids get older, there will be more significant issues at stake. Bullying is an example that jumps to mind.

For a long time bullying has been a bit of a mystery to me. It seems unlikely that any parents would actually want their kids to be bullied or to be a bully. If a parent told me that my kids were bullying other kids, I would absolutely address it with my children, preferably with the other family present. Likewise, if my kids were being bullied, then I would want to talk to the parents of the child that was doing the bullying and would expect the parents to address the issue with their child. I think this is probably easier said than done. It seems quite likely to me that parents may not be open to hearing about their children’s bad behaviour from other parents.

I think there is a responsibility for parents to accept that their children are not perfect, and are capable of doing bad things to people. By no means am I suggesting that you always think that your child is bad, but if the assumption is that they might do bad things from time to time, then you will probably be more approachable if and when another parent has to discuss bullying concerns. Let there be no mistake, however, that telling a parent that their child has been bullying people would require expert parental diplomacy skills.

I invite any thoughts or stories about bullying. The more we share about this, the more we stand to learn.

The Crapshoot of Life

When I was a high school student, there was a day that I was walking home. I was at an intersection waiting for the light to change. To successfully cross the street I had a couple of things going against me. First, I was a teenager, and therefore I was tired. Second, I was a teenager, and was listening to music way too loud, so I was down by one of my senses. Third, (you guessed it) I was a teenager, and too cool to do things like wait until the walk signal appeared and verify that there was no traffic. I anticipated the walk signal and started to take a step out and a guy I didn’t know grabbed my arm and pulled me back. My initial thought was that I was angry that someone was grabbing and pulling me very aggressively. A split second later a bus went whizzing past my face. I was breathless. I turned to say thanks and realized that Darwin wasn’t going to give me too many chances like that.

I Rolled the Dice and Won

crapsI learned a valuable lesson that day. It wasn’t calculus or a foreign language, but it was something that would help to keep me alive long enough to learn a little calculus. The funny thing is that I’d been crossing streets for years successfully all on my own by that point, but there was a new lesson that day. I had grown complacent and was using my ho hum attitude to be “cool”. If I was going to survive my youth, I was going to have to ditch my “cool” attitude and replace it with something a little more pragmatic.

Obviously not everyone needs to learn the same lessons in the same way. There are risks in life and you can’t, and shouldn’t, insulate your child from all of them. Taking chances is an important part of what makes life worth living, to a point. Risk management is an important skill that you develop over time. For example, sometimes I still listen to music when crossing the street, but I am aware that this deprives me of an important sense, and I use a lot more caution than I did when I was in high school.

Coping With the Shoulder Season

So, the world presents risks, and with time we learn to manage them with varying degrees of success. This leaves us with some chunk of time when we don’t have the best risk management skills. This period is what my wife and I have dubbed the “crapshoot of life”. Ironically, this period of a person’s life never really ends. To carry on the metaphor, generally your odds of succeeding in this game increase with time and experience.

As a parent, I have found that there is a new skill I have to learn. I have to gauge what “dangers” to expose my kids to so that they can figure out how to make some of these judgements for themselves. The tricky bit to this is that the media bombards us with reasons to fear for our children’s safety. This media induced fear causes a lot of parents to restrict the freedom of their children to the point where they are actually just inhibiting the ability of their kids to develop their own risk assessment skills. Even if you manage to somehow avoid the media induced paranoia surrounding children’s safety, there are social pressures to parent your children in a particular way. Simply “being yourself” as a parent can be quite difficult.

The Uncomfortable Truth

My kids are going to get hurt, both physically and emotionally. There is a chance that throughout their journey they may be permanently injured. There is also a chance that they may die. In order for myself to be a good parent, I feel like I have to fully accept these statements, but not obsess over them. Throughout their lives, I have to make reasonable decisions on their behalf as to how much risk they can accept. I have to accept that, over time, my decisions will have less authority over their actions, and will be replaced with their decisions. Finally, I must be okay with the fact that my kids will make some bad decisions. This is the craps game that I signed up for.

I decided to write this post today because I was reading news on the sentencing of Ariel Castro. It is one of those cases which is very rare, but that the media focuses on to the point that most people think that everyone is out to get their children. It is the sort of story that I think hits an emotional chord with parents and has the effect of working parents up to a point where they lose track of the reality that most people in the world are pretty good people.

Recommended Reading

For a very comprehensive exploration of this topic, I highly recommend reading Lenore Skenazy’s blog, called Free-Range Kids.

Sleep and Baths

Having a bath is one of the things that I find most relaxing. It’s funny that I say that because I don’t think that I have taken the time to have a nice bath in over a couple of years. Particularly since I’ve had kids, there really doesn’t seem to be time for such things during my day, so it has been showers for me.

A bath, when done right, can almost be a mystical experience. Turn the lights down, light some candles, fill the tub with nice hot water, add some soap and slip into the bath. Nice deep breaths with your eyes closed, you can feel the tension from your day slipping away. Once you get out of the bath, you feel like rubber and could probably fall asleep within about a minute of your head hitting your pillow. All of this sounds like the perfect recipe for something that you would want to build into your child’s nighttime routine. Maybe throw in a story, a cuddle and a song or two and you might think that this is the golden recipe for getting your child to sleep, but you may want to reconsider.

Baby Bath Time Realities

bath-time
Would you go to sleep right after this?

There are significant differences between the type of bath time that your child experiences and the “adult” bath time that I described above. I think there are a range of reactions that children have to the mention of a bath. In our house, for example, it is usually like a party has been announced. Once they are in the bath, there is playing, laughing, fighting over toys and screaming from being splashed. Our kids are still not partial to having their hair washed, so there may be tears shed when it is time to wash their hair. Once they are out of the bath, they don’t look at all like I feel when I climb out of the bath. They seem fresh, awake, invigorated and entirely unlikely to go to sleep. Having considered the obvious differences between adult and baby bath times, you can see how it might not be the best part of a good bedtime routine.

Sleep and Sanity

The fact of the matter is that if your child is not getting the sleep they need, then neither are the parents. As parents become increasingly sleep deprived, they will also become much less able to deal effectively with their sleep deprived children. Avoiding bathing your child right before bed isn’t the sole answer to establishing a good bedtime routine, but it is a factor in the overall picture. I have written a couple of posts pertaining to sleep already:

Both of these posts are based on suggestions we received from a sleep expert who lives in our area, named Wendy Hall, PhD, RN, and I can’t recommend her advice enough. We have had our own troubles getting our kids to sleep at times too, but overall we have had a great deal of success using the methods that Wendy put forward. Building a good sleep routine for your kids takes time, and you may not get the results you want as quickly as you want, but the sooner you start, the better off you’ll be. If you have implemented a good sleep routine, but are still striking out with getting your child to sleep, then it may be time to consult an expert to help you consider other potential problems and solutions. Good luck!

The “Big Talks”

Adult content is for kids too!

There are a lot of “big talks” that my wife and I are going to have with our kids and one of those talks will be about sex. I have a rough idea of how I’d like to approach the topic of sex. Very generally, my preferred approach is to start dialogue with my kids very early. In fact, some of the ground work has already been laid with my kids, as we have already given them some of the basic vocabulary that they will need to develop some of their own questions.

The (Not So) Big Talk

I don’t actually plan on having a talk about sex with my kids. Instead I plan on having a series of small talks with them as new questions arise. At the moment, my kids are really just observers that make comments about the world. They don’t really ask many questions, but they do have some of the vocabulary that they will need when they do decide to start making sexual queries.

When the first sexual questions arrive, my general plan is to provide simple answers addressing the questions that are asked. If more questions follow, then bring them on, but there is no need to overwhelm them with extraneous information. Providing simple and accurate information will be easier to present in a way that is not awkward and it will establish Jenn and I as a reliable source of information. My hope is that this will encourage good communication about sex as our children’s questions become more complex.

Starting Young

I was talking to an acquaintance the other day about this topic and I found it interesting when he told me that his parents talked to him about sex when he was very young. He said that the result was that he started trying to have sex from a very early age. Unfortunately the setting was not the right one for me to probe this topic deeper, and the conversation drifted to other topics. Without more context to this comment it is hard to make any useful commentary about this statement. I find myself wondering what kind of “talk” this person was given. I also wonder if he fully understood my motivation for opening up the dialogue about sex with my kids at an early age.

There certainly seems to be some good reasons to try to discourage your kids from having sex at too early an age.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Early timing of sexual initiation is important for two reasons. First, the younger the age of first sexual intercourse, the more likely that the experience was coercive, and forced sexual intercourse is related to long lasting negative effects. —Source

This quote seems to support the idea that people will benefit from becoming sexually active at an older age. I wonder, however, if youngsters are  more likely to have a coercive sexual experience because they are young or because they had bad sex education? More to the point, I wonder if bad sex education leads to a situation where people choose to have sex at a younger age than they would if they had better sex education?

One way or the other, the graph below shows that kids do start having sex when they are quite young. With that in mind, the intention of my approach is to provide my kids with the best information that I can give them about sex and sexuality to help them make informed decisions.

Percent of teens who claim to have had sex, by age

Age Boys Girls
14 7.9% 5.7%
15 14.6% 13.0%
16 25.3% 26.8%
17 39.4% 43.1%
18 54.3% 58.0%
19 65.2% 70.1%

I want my children to have good, fun and meaningful sexual experiences when they are prepared to have such encounters. This will not be possible without a good understanding of their sexuality and all of the implications of their sexual interactions. The point of teaching my kids about sex and sexuality isn’t so that they don’t have sex, it is so that when they do, they are prepared.

A Challenge That I Didn’t Expect

In hindsight, my decision to have children was about as informed as is the decision of a typical eight year old child to get a puppy. An eight year old thinks that having a puppy is a great idea because the puppy will provide companionship and a close bond. The eight year old hears that they will be responsible for the animal, but doesn’t have the adequate conceptual framework to comprehend the actual significance and meaning of this responsibility. I was much like that eight year old when I first started seriously entertaining the idea of having children. I had heard that raising a child was challenging for a multitude of reasons, but I lacked the insight to understand the implications of my decision.

The “Little” Difficulties of Parenthood

There have been many hurdles to overcome while on this trek called parenthood. To be honest, many of them revolve around the very basic idea of taking care of yourself. Having kids was, to say the least, a lifestyle change and I don’t think I fully comprehended what this entailed. Sleep, for example, is something that I had been told take at every available opportunity, but it is very hard to put myself to bed when I feel that I haven’t had adequate time to myself during the day to appreciate just being myself. As a result, I typically stay up much later than I should trying to give myself a little “me” time during my day.

Prior to having children, I had also been warned that having children might jeopardize friendships. Yet another case of hearing the words of warning, but not fully understanding their context. I think there are at least a couple main reasons that having kids can make you drift away from people that were good friends. Once you have children, you will have some pretty intense limits placed on the time you have available to partake in your pre-child lifestyle and this is likely to dig into the time that you have available for friends. Another strain on friendships is the inevitable change of your priorities. As a father, I still have all of my old interests, but since I am one of the major care takers for our children it stands to reason that the details of my children’s lives will be one of my primary interests, and I think this can be alienating to friends that don’t have children.

The frustrations that children present are another thing that I had been warned about, but that warning just didn’t quite sink in. I have worked a fair bit with slightly older kids and find them relatively reasonable. Infants and toddlers, however, I hadn’t had a lot of experience with and have since learned that they are almost entirely unreasonable. Don’t get me wrong, they are cute, beautiful and charming, but they are also incredibly unreasonable. It is both hilarious and exasperating to watch a toddler walk around and interact with their environment. They will generally make a move for anything that you don’t want them to touch; move random objects from one place to another without any obvious reason; repeat themselves ad nauseam; appear to make concerted efforts to obstruct any reasonable course of action; find that thing that is most likely to stain your carpet and hold it so that if it were to fall, it would only barely miss the table (which could easily be cleaned), and then with infuriating grace they will drop it on your carpet, thereby destroying any remaining hope you had of retrieving your damage deposit.

Although I had been warned about the aforementioned “little” difficulties, I still found that I wasn’t fully prepared to deal with them. Parenting has a momentum to it though, and I found that I certainly became prepared to deal with the little challenges very quickly. Having had the warnings was useful, because even though I didn’t have a deep understanding of exactly how these challenges would look when I was in the situation, at least I had a frame of reference. This made the act of becoming a father much less of a culture shock than it otherwise may have been.

My Unexpected Challenge

The negotiations went on long into the night

I have this underlying belief that fathers of multiples (twins, triplets, etc.) are much more engaged in the raising of their children than fathers of singletons. I know that I had every intention of being a very involved father prior to finding out that we were having twins. Once our twins came along though, there was really absolutely no choice for me to do anything other than be a very engaged father, and because of the higher work load, I suspect that I took on more than I would have if we had one child at a time. As a result of me being so involved with my kids, Jenn and I both felt like every parenting decision that either of us made became quite the negotiation, and this is what I hadn’t heard anyone mention in the lead up to having kids.

To be clear, I think it likely that the parents of any child are often involved in negotiating how to do certain things, however I also think that the amount of negotiating increases with the level of involvement of the parents. It seems like a fairly natural association, because the more both parents are around and the more involved they are, the more both parents have at stake. Although the negotiations were a natural consequence of a high level of involvement from both of us, at times it was also quite difficult and both Jenn and I found it quite frustrating at times.

When deciding how to proceed with different issues, there were obviously times when Jenn and I didn’t agree on the best course of action. Generally we’d both give the other a chance to try their method, and ultimately this was a great learning tool for both of us. Trying an approach that individually we might not have tried started yielding some good results for both of us. It was a great learning tool and we have both had times when we benefited from trying something that is outside of our usual bag of tricks.

Although it is sometimes exhausting and frustrating, negotiating with your spouse on how to deal with parenting issues it’s certainly worth it. It implies that your child(ren) have two parents who are involved enough to care about how things are done and it has helped me to remember that there are usually multiple ways to achieve your goal. Moreover, there has been a benefit to my communication skills and with luck our kids will benefit from growing up in a house with parents that communicate fairly well.

The Lesson That a Trivial Parenting Decision Taught Me: Daddy or Papa?

daddy-vs-papaWhat is in a word? Over time, I suspect that my children will call me a wide variety of things, some of which I’d rather they didn’t. Initially, at least, I have some control over how I am known to my kids and I opted for the less conventional (in my region) “Papa”. I quickly found out that this decision was taken much more seriously by some of my acquaintances than it was by me. Don’t get me wrong, I put some thought into it, but my decision actually seemed to bother some people more than, in my opinion, it ought to have.

Why Papa?

There were a few reasons that made me choose to be called “Papa” rather than “Dad”. The most basic reason was that it was unconventional in my area, so it was just a way of being a little different. This has turned out to work pretty well for me, because when my kids are with a group of kids, it is very easy for me to tell when I am being called because so few fathers are called “Papa”. So I like being unique, and I’m a lazy parent who doesn’t like having to look too hard for my kids in a crowd, but there was a more personal reason for me to go with the more unconventional option.

When I was a boy there was a time that I decided that instead of calling my father “Dad”, I was going to try calling him either “Pa” or “Pop”. My father and mother came into my room one day and I tried it out, and they both really loved it. They tried to get me to say it again and out of embarrassment I refused. It really is a shame, because I liked it and it seemed like they both liked it too. In any case, as a bit of an homage to my father, this is why I chose to be known by my children as “Papa”.

What Did I Learn?

The decision to be called “Papa” by my children was one of my first real decisions as a parent. Clearly not a big or terribly important decision, but I did learn a lot from it. As I mentioned, I took a surprising amount of heat from relatives and friends for making this fairly trivial decision, and this, my friends, is what they call foreshadowing. You’d be amazed at how many of your decisions other people will call into question when you are raising your children. Unsolicited parenting advice abounds, and can come from a close relative or the person sitting next to you on the bus.

In the end, I feel that this early “parenting” decision gave me a little bit of a heads up that it is important for me to be able to let people’s opinions about my parenting style roll off of me. To be sure, this is easier said than done and honestly, I feel that I am still fine tuning my understanding and implementation of this lesson. On the other side of this, I have also learned that I should not offer fellow parents unsolicited advice. The role of a parent is so deeply personal, that it is very hard to say things about parenting without making a person feel criticized. What sort of parenting advice have you had from relatives or strangers? Also, what is the preferred nomenclature (obscure reference to a Coen brothers film) of your child’s father: Daddy or Papa? Finally, what Coen brothers film did I just reference?