July 2007

Sometimes parenting is like raking leaves.

Sometimes the forces are with you;

Sometimes the forces are against you;

Sometimes the forces seem neutral.

Sometimes parenting is like raking leaves.

Sometimes living at home with the parents is like raking leaves.

Sometimes the forces are with you;

Sometimes the forces are against you;

Sometimes the forces seem neutral.

Sometimes living at home with the parents is like raking leaves.

Sometimes life is like raking leaves …

≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈

28 July 2007. This poem was inspired by an episode this morning with my 15-month old daughter. I was trying to move the plastic fruit from the big basket into the small tub. She was trying to move the plastic fruit from the small tub into the big basket. Sometimes life is like raking leaves …


Hamelife has a beautiful wee post here on giving our kids enough time to nut things out, process information and respond.

Here’s a preview:

… sometimes parents just need to give their child enough time to let the cogs turn, to allow a moment to process the information. Those few more seconds might take some patience on our behalf, but they could be absolutely priceless when it comes to our child’s personal development. Their little minds going over the words, processing what they mean, deciding what to do. I wonder if when parents hurry their children up, push them out the door, they deny them the opportunity to do that … Parents seem to be under increasing pressure these days, run off their feet. In the choice between the quick hit or the slow release it might feel like we have no time to go for the lengthier option. But in the long run, when they look back, parents might be glad that they extended just a little bit more time to their children, time to allow the cogs to turn.

There’s also a good podcast here on Family Values in The Simpsons and one here on Steiner Schools and a discussion on whether public schools are as good as private schools.

There’s a great little 6 minute reflection here on siblings by Dorothy Rowe, author of My Dearest Enemy, My Dangerous Friend: Making and Breaking Sibling Bonds.

I was chatting recently with another dad about the issue of disciplining our kids. It was a really fruitful conversation and I thought some of the things he was saying were worth sharing here with a view to encouraging conversation on this long-debated topic. He wrote …

”Carol’ and I use talking and reasoning as our primary way of correcting our children’s behaviour, figuring that if they’re too young to reason they are not necessarily doing something with mal intent. Our positive role models of parenting have been those parents who explain to their children why they are not to do this or that. We have also found that channeling our children’s energies into positive actions is often the most effective way of keeping them from bad actions. Often kids act out because they are bored or want attention, so helping them find something creative and showing them affection can often be a much better solution to their seemingly bad behaviour than some form of punishment.

There are also just plain physical reasons a child might act out – ­tiredness, hunger, etc. It’s good for us to be in tune with ‘Jodi’ and ‘Clare’ to know why they might be acting as they do and it makes us more understanding as well. Punishing a child when they are actually just bored or hungry is not wise parenting­ after all; we are the parents and they the children. We should be more wise to those things than they are, even though it is their own disposition we are dealing with.

We do spank but we use this as a rare last resort and are very cautious when we do spank. There have been times we have spanked ‘Jodi’ for doing something we thought was dogged disobedience only to learn minutes later that ‘Jodi’ was acting that way for good and logical reasons. So we have encouraged ‘Jodi’ to explain to us why she is doing what she is doing. We try never to spank out of anger. In fact, I have found that gentleness goes much further in correcting behaviour than any physical or verbal harshness. I also believe threatening a child with physical punishment is detrimental. Therefore, whenever we do get to the point of spanking, we give ‘Jodi’ options like, ‘You have some choices: you can listen to Mommy and Daddy and here’s why we want you to do such and such, or you can get a spanking and here’s why we don’t want you to do such and such. Which do you choose?’ It is important to explain to a child why they should do the right thing or why they should avoid the consequences of the wrong choice. We also try to persuade her of why it is beneficial to her to do the right thing and disadvantageous for her to disobey. This instills in ‘Jodi’ not only the ability to communicate her feelings and reasoning to others, but also teaches her to make wise choices.

In the end, I think there are far more constructive ways to discipline than spanking, but I don’t see why spanking should be ruled out if administered properly. Depending upon the issue, there have been times we have just let ‘Jodi’ work through her disobedience without our physical intervention; at other times, we have felt a spanking was necessary in order to let her know there are certain boundaries she should not cross. The ultimate rule is, ‘What is most beneficial for the child in each instance?’’

I’ve just finished reading Peter Baylies’ The Stay-at-Home Dad Handbook. Like every book on fathering, this one’s fairly hit and miss in terms of what I found most useful.

Baylies largely treats fathering as a ‘career move’, and the book is shaped to that end – that is, helping fathers enjoy their ‘new career’. While it’s not the way that I like to think of fathering, there are strengths in this (that will no doubt appeal to other personality types), such as helping new father’s approach their responsibilities thoughtfully, purposely and seriously. Adversely, although the book is clearly set out, and somewhat ‘practical’ (including a somewhat useful appendix of resources), it often lacks the personal warmth, and focus on the parent-child relationship, of many parenting books.

Whether it is just cultural or personality or values (and I suspect it’s all three and more), I found Baylies’ book just too basic. Although much of the ground that he covers is useful (the section on playgroups and networking with others for example), it is difficult to believe that most fathers have not thought through most, if not all, of the issues he raises. If you’re after a ‘Fathering 101’ handbook, this one may well be what you are looking for, though it wouldn’t be my first choice. If you feel that you could skip ‘Fathering 101′ and move up a grade or two, you would be better served to look elsewhere.

One of the strengths of the book, however, is that Baylies has clearly spent much time listening to other fathers. Although at times I was left wondering if he has spent too much time doing this – as the inclusion of copious fathering stories betrays – it does give the book a sort of common-sense, communal wisdom (or ignorance?) feel. Of course, it’s easy enough to navigate your way around the material and jump to the next section if you want.

In talking to at-home dads over the last ten years, Baylies has asked dads what they have changed for themselves that made for a more stress-free family. Here are ten useful things that he lists (pp. 152-3) that one can do to make the household a more pleasant environment:

1. Talk to them and listen to them. When your kids know you are listening to them, it makes them realize their input matters, and gives them a feeling of control and self-worth.

2. Treat them with respect. When you respect them, they will respect you back.

3. Give a lot of hugs and kisses. A feeling of being loved gives your kids a feeling of self-confidence.

4. Show you love your spouse in front of your kids. Seeing Mum and Dad show affection toward each other gives them two role models.

5. Allow kids to be self-reliant. Let them try things for themselves, no matter how foolish it may seem to you (provided it’s safe). For example, my kids liked to do experiments by mixing water with several objects and putting it in the freezer to see what happens. They couldn’t wait to see what it would look like the following day. After a while, when we trusted them with the toaster, we encouraged them to make toast. (My oldest son is twelve and is making a pretty good ham and cheese omelet now.)

6. Communicate with your spouse and agree on parenting styles. To avoid a public argument and mixed messages, make sure you and your wife agree on your children’s behavior.

7. Get to know your kids’ friends. As your children get older and a few neighborhood kids start to visit, listen to them and learn what they are like and how mature they are. This will give you better judgment when they start asking to do more outside the house.

8. Don’t expect too much, but don’t be a pushover. Pick your battles: some disagreements may not be worth the argument. For example, if your children want to walk to school without a raincoat, let them do it, and see if the consequences will help
them make a better decision next time. But if you have a serious issue, stand by it.

9. Avoid yelling at them at all costs. Always discipline with reason, not fear. When you don’t like a decision or action your children are making, calmly ask them why they are making the decision. Have them explain what might happen; sometimes they will see why you might be right.

10. Create as much adventure as possible for your kids. Creating adventure, although it may not be a popular pastime for the mums, is one way that many at-home dads deal with burnout. This does not mean taking the kids skydiving or white water rafting. It is amazing what adventures you can find within a few blocks of your house. In fact, many dads find that every time they take their children out of the house it can be an adventure.

This podcast is an interesting discussion on different parenting styles. Psychotherapist Katie Altham offers some insights into our archetypes and how they shape our lives. She suggests that our parenting style doesn’t come from what we know, but from who we are.

A ‘true’ father is much more than your child’s friend. Your love, commitment to and involvement in your daughter’s life is unshakeable. Whatever happens, you will be there for her, as long as you live. So, you have to be kinder, and more forgiving, than any friend would possibly be. Also, to do your job, you have to sometimes be tougher than any friend would risk being.

There will be times when your daughter will not like what you say, or what you do or what you insist she does. A true father expects and teaches his daughter to be a cooperative member of the family, who keeps her agreements, treats others with respect, is thoughtful in any situation and pulls her weight regardless of the circumstances.

Toughness, however, is not the same as meanness. Your daughter will be impressed by your quiet strength more than by your attempts to intimidate her. She will respond to your good-humored suggestions more readily than by caustic verbal criticisms. It is, ideally, a mutually respectful relationship, but not, for many years, an equal one.

What do children, especially teenagers, need from their parents? The security that comes from knowing that Mom and Dad stand on a firm foundation and can’t be manipulated. By pushing against this firm family foundation, teenagers learn invaluable lessons about ethics and values, about compromise and standing fast.

One day, and sometimes at a surprisingly young age, your daughter will argue with you – and win! And, if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll find yourself thinking, ‘I guess she’s right!’ At this point, you can choose to feel put out, or you can choose to feel proud that you have empowered her so effectively. (I once heard a father at a barbecue say to his teenage daughter, when a discussion became heated, ‘l don’t agree with you, but I think you’re making a great argument!’ Both father and daughter were aware of other people around them listening in, and she glowed with pride.)

So much of fatherhood is in the little things: like driving her to volleyball practice and watching from the sidelines, to comfort or cheer or both; knowing her friends and meeting their parents; helping her find a good photo of Kakadu National Park on the lnternet at 10:30 at night while she frantically writes out her assignment due the next morning.

If you can work with her cooperatively and good-naturedly on a project (assembling a piece of furniture, for example) without getting tense and angry, then you are laying down the foundations for how she will do this kind of thing with her partner when she grows up. More importantly, you will be setting the standard for the kind of partner she will choose. If you are a remote or indecisive or uninvolved dad, she may choose partners who are distant or indecisive or non-participatory. These are pretty good reasons to work at being an actively good role model for your daughter.

Of course, you will have conflicts. But whatever time you spend in conflict with her needs to be done really well. If you are able to say ‘no’ to your daughter, kindly but firmly, with good reasons and no arbitrary rejections, she will not only learn how to hear ‘no’ reasonably, she will in turn learn how to say ‘no’ reasonably to others when she needs to. You can be much more effective in setting limits and getting cooperation if you avoid using hostility or fear tactics. A father doesn’t bully, shout or intimidate.

Many women reading these pages will remember how their fathers launched humiliating tirades at them: ‘While you are under my roof, young lady.. .’ (as if we have a choice); ‘You are a selfish, rude, inconsiderate, useless …’ (maybe, but do you have to point it out at the cost of my vulnerable self-esteem?). As men, we often seem to forget (or are careless about remembering) the fact that we are bigger, louder and stronger than our little girls and that physically and emotionally we hold all the cards. Our daughters long for our love, respect, admiration and praise. Which means every cut from a father goes very deep. The true dad is clear and firm, but he isn’t aggressive. His underlying tone is warm, even when he is setting clear, firm boundaries. He takes his time, and listens to his daughter’s side of the story.

Of course, this isn’t always easy. It takes a lifetime of learning. But every inch of progress is worthwhile. Imagine how it might be to really get this right. Our daughters, our little women in the making, will respect and love us, and will want to earn our respect and love and never, ever have reason to be afraid of us.

Taken from Gisela Preuschoff’s Raising Girls, 173-6. See my review here.

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