Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Relationships

A Lesson in Loss

“Please keep the socks on!” She takes them off. “Honey, it’s cold, keep them on!!” She takes them off and grins. “Look, I really think you should wear those socks. Come on!” (my voice gets louder and more impatient). She dances with the socks through the living room, throws them in the air and giggles “no socks, no socks, no socks”. That’s my two-year-old. At the same time my six-year-old is creating a big mess on the kitchen table when he spreads playdough literally everywhere, including into the food I’ve just prepared. My nine-year-old sits on the sofa and calls me for the twentieth time to read him his Asterix-comic. Paralysed I just stand there, watching the scenery. I feel like a bystander at a party, where everyone is having fun but me. Tears fill my eyes. I could scream. Or cry. Or just run away. Or maybe all three.

Normally, I would say that I’m a quite balanced, patient and easy-going dad and man. I love being a father and I’ve been supporting other fathers and men for more than 12 years. I did a lot of research, published a book on fatherhood and my wife and I have spent a lot of time reflecting on childhood, schooling, parenting and life. All sorted then?

Bang! The truth can sometimes feel so much harder and more painful than we think. It’s like looking into the mirror after a sleepless night, expecting to still look awesome. This year reality struck and I was reminded how much I still need to do, how much my inner child still needs attention, and how easy it seems to leave past wounds unattended and push problems aside when you live a busy life, trying to meet everybody else´s needs, especially my kids.

MEETING RESPONSIBILITY

At the beginning of last year, my father died. It wasn’t unexpected as he suffered from a tumour in his throat. No operation, no therapy could help. While he was getting treatment he nearly passed away twice. Both times I immediately took the plane to Berlin to see him, laden with anxiety and fear. Each time I wasn’t sure whether I would be too late. Sitting next to his hospital bed – or later with him, in his home – was painful. He couldn’t talk and I tried my best to interpret and meet his physical and emotional needs. I felt responsible for him. Caring for his physical needs, sharing these intimate moments with my dad, who I did not feel close to for so many years, felt strange at first, but then, to my surprise, quickly became natural. I cooked nourishing food for my mother and held her when she cried. Even though my childhood was nowhere near perfect, it felt like I was able to give a little bit of nurturing back and my parents both very much appreciated my practical as well as emotional support.

THE LAST TIME

The last time I saw my dad was three weeks before he died. When we met, I somehow knew this was going to be the last time. Forever. The relationship between him and me wasn’t always the best. In our family we didn’t talk much about feelings and emotions in general. My parents had certain expectations of life and my siblings and I. However, the problem was me; I didn’t comply. I had my own ideas, I didn’t follow their hopes and dreams for me. Instead I made plans of my own. Following my dreams, my aspirations, my hopes. So, I didn’t finish university, didn’t apply for that “safe” 9 to 5 job and didn’t opt for a mortgage that would have enslaved me for the next twenty or so years.

My dad wasn’t present when I made important choices in my life, like leaving Germany. Often silence was his disapproval. He only voiced his concerns a few times, in regards to our parenting and our children’s education. In his world there was little space for alternative routes.

The very last meeting with my dad wasn’t easy. We only had one hour. One hour where his medication didn’t fog his mind, one hour where I could talk to him about us. He wasn’t able to speak but pen and paper gave him a voice, for the last time. I didn’t use our precious minutes to blame him for our difficulties. Nor did I judge him. I held his weak, cold hands – and gave love. Under tears I told him about the beautiful things he did for me. Stories about grandchildren that he hardly ever saw, and memories from my childhood – like how we went to the woods to collect mushrooms every autumn – were my last present to him. We looked in each other’s eyes – silence, tears, hugs, unspoken words, connection and love. Then he wrote a few words onto a piece of paper. His last present to me. Those incredibly heartfelt words mean a lot to me, never before had he been so open and vulnerable towards me.

I had ignored my own body’s signals for too long. The anxiety, the worries, the good and bad memories.

CLOSING A CHAPTER

Three weeks later my father died. I went back to Germany to see my mother, my sister and to fulfil my mum’s wish to say a few words at the funeral. I did my best and comforted my mother whenever I could. At the same time I believed that with the funeral and the farewell to my father, I could also close another chapter from my past and childhood. I thought I had made peace with him. However, it wasn´t going to be that easy.

Months passed and family life got busy. New jobs, moving and some other challenges were added to our daily job of parenting. Processing my father’s death, my inner wounds had no space in my mind and soul. I could feel that something wasn’t quite right with me. I started to feel unwell, tired, irritated, impatient, snappy and I had back-pains which I remember from my early twenties. At night I was tossing around or waking up shaking and sweating. Still, I kept going. To the point where I collapsed. Two days after my dad’s birthday. He would have been seventy-three.

At the hospital they couldn’t find anything. I was healthy. However, I still felt the back-pains and dizziness, so I tried my luck with an osteopath. Meeting him changed everything. I thought he would do some bone-breaking moves to get them into their right place, so I would feel better. Instead he did something so much better for me. He listened. For an hour I was just talking – about my children, my job, the changes in my life, and my dad. Subconscious and unresolved emotions and feelings made their way up and reminded me that they were still present inside.

After the long talk he examined me. I kept talking and more and more stuff was brought to the light. Again, he was listening, asking questions and taking care of me. He concluded that my breakdown was a panic attack and that I mainly needed to deal with the emotional aftermath of my father’s death and the big changes in my life. He could see some problems with the liver and subscribed supplements.

I had ignored my own body’s signals for too long. The anxiety, the worries, the good and bad memories. And I’m not alone on this ride: according to several studies, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, “long-term effects of parental loss indicate that filial bereavement can impact both mental and physical health, with men being more likely to report physical health issues.” These studies show a rise in depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, especially when the person has not received enough support during their bereavement. Even though I’m not depressed and my wife had supported me well after my father had died, I still had taken too little time to grieve and take care of myself.

I decided that’s where I had to start now. I wanted to be that loving, patient, calm and empathic father again. Pushing problems aside didn’t help at all. My osteopath suggested to start writing an honest letter to my father, without caring about grammar or spelling, and knowing that nobody would ever read it. Every day. To speak about all unspoken things and to offload the heavy weightg I’ve been carrying. Then, when I think I’m done, I should forgive my father everything as I would forgive myself and finish the letter with a feeling of peace and love. Well, I’m still writing and I feel the burden getting smaller and lighter with each page I write.

For my physical health I started to do yoga and tai-chi. I love the movements and deep connection between body and mind. I feel more grounded, calm and strong again. I also keep going with sticking to a vegan diet, with the occasional treat.

Also I decided to get help from a psychotherapist. It took me a moment to get easy with that step, but I pledged to become healthy again – emotionally and physically. The wise words “if we want to take better care of our children, we have to take better care of ourselves” by Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt, became my mantra. I want to be the hands-on dad again who can listen with empathy and patience. This is the least I can do for my family. And, do you know what my father had written in his last few lines to me? “You have chosen your path wisely. Keep going!” Yes, dad, I will. Promise.

This article was originally published in The Green Parent.

Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Society

Believe Me: Our Parenting Will Bring The Change!

Some people turn to me and say with a serious face that times are dark and quite hopeless. Wherever you look on our globe, you see aggressive people ruling countries, old conflicts breaking out again, mass-shootings in schools and churches, men in politics, media, clerical institutions and – well basically everywhere – found guilty of sexual harassment and abuse. Being harsh, loud and careless is seen as a sign for self-confidence and prerequisites for economic success and peer recognition. The white man over 50 is still in power and barks his orders and commands via 280 characters into the world. 280 characters don’t allow much space for deep conversations, emotions or reflections. Whoever doesn’t fit this old-new picture is marginalised: gay, black, a cry-baby, a softy. Man-up. Don’t be such a girl. Yesterday’s old fashion is the new.

I don’t buy it.

“How much evil throughout history could have been avoided had people exercised their moral acuity with convictional courage and said to the powers that be ‘No, I will not. This is wrong, and I don’t care if you fire me, shoot me, pass me over for promotion, or call my mother, I will not participate in this unsavory activity.’ Wouldn’t world history be rewritten if just a few people had actually acted like individual free agents rather than mindless lemmings?”

Joel Salatin, an American farmer, lecturer and author, said this, not me.

I don’t expect you to get shot, to kill No. 45 or to start a world revolution. And, yes, we all need jobs to pay our bills. But, hey, you can choose your place of work and not sell yourself to evil Nestlé. And there are many other choices YOU can make: voting, telling the world what you think, buying/not buying, doing your own research, questioning authorities… the list could go on. You’re much bigger and more important than you think. Use this power.

The world seems darker than… well, since when actually? Are we really facing a new dark age or is it just Rupert Murdoch and his golfer friends who vomit their manufactured realities into our faces – 24/7 and worldwide?

I don’t think we’re doomed. Yes, there are countless challenges waiting for us to be solved through amazing solutions. I don’t have all the answers right now but there is plenty of hope that humankind will find its balance with nature and Mother Earth. I believe in a future of peace, equality and solidarity. We’re the generation of transition. Transition from the old world, the world of war, aggression and ego, into a new world of empathy, kindness and care.

You and I were probably not parented in the most peaceful way. That’s how it was. I imagine our parents tried their best, but they came from a generation with even more violence, bribes and punishments. And they had far less research and help available than nowadays. No blaming, no shaming from me – just reflecting and thinking how we can improve.

We – our generation – have the ultimate chance to get it right. We can change current moods  around, we can help our children to find the answers and solutions, to equip them with skills in becoming humans in the full meaning of that word . Yes, we have to work damn hard to get there, set-backs and disappointments included. Good parenting, I believe, is here and now the most important job to set a strong foundation for tomorrow’s life.

Gentle, peaceful parenting is the way: respecting our offspring from the moment they enter life. Whatever your children do, stay connected. Be the best role model you can possibly be – the way YOU treat your kids, your partner, friends, neighbours and other people will have a great impact on how your children will see their world and learn life and social skills. Speak with respect, listen without judging, see the possibilities and support their dreams – regardless of gender or age. Help, show kindness and care wherever you can. Switch off violent and negative news (or at least reduce your intake on news). Be authentic, be human. Apologise and hug. Love and cry. Plant trees, run through the woods, paint rainbows, buy some organic veggies from your local shop and dance salsa – do whatever brings happiness to you and your children. Open your heart and mind.

We have choices. We have skills. We have voices. We are not alone. Let’s start. Let’s unlock the chains. We hold the keys in our hands.

Parenting and Empathic Fathers

My Fighting Boys Needed This Help To Reconnect

Over the last few days my two sons, 9 and 6 years old, were fighting with each other – and I don’t mean the kind of normal arguments between siblings. Shouting, screaming, banging doors, accusing, teasing and also physical aggression between them became their way of communicating. My wife and I tried a lot: we spent more time than usual with them individually. We talked, negotiated, guided, listened and supported whenever possible. Nothing seemed to work. The fighting got worse – to the point that they would really physically hurt each other. You know how painful it is to watch that?

Yesterday morning I called for a family meeting to tackle the issues. We all sat down in a circle. I guess my boys expected from their parents a lecture about their behaviour. So they sat with little interest and the typical let’s-finish-this-quickly-facial-expression in front of us. But I didn’t meet their expectations.

Instead I started our meeting with opening my heart and saying words of appreciation to them: “I feel a lot of happiness when I see you caring for your brother and sister. There are so many beautiful things you did to help them!” – And to my other son: “You are always so happy and bring laughter and joy to our family. You show so much kindness and care when you see someone being sad or lonely. Thank you!”

After our words-of-appreciation warm-up we talked long and intensely about the events of the last days. We reflected, listened and connected. We brought some issues to the light, but it wasn’t easy at all and in between I felt that we’re not getting close to a solution. Well, not yet.

Before we finished the meeting I asked both my boys if they could think of three actions they would do in favour for their brother. Three kind actions a day, at least. It could be anything: kind words, an invitation to a game, reading a story to the other one… something to bring joy. My suggestion didn’t go down that easily, unfortunately. I didn’t want it to be a burden for them either. So, I left the topic unfinished. With a more or less heavy heart we carried on with our daily routine.

But what I noticed shortly after the meeting was a change. My sons spent their day together with a lot of playing, supporting each other (like in the old days) and laughing. Whenever I could I joined their fun and listened to their adventures. In the evening, on the sofa, I talked to my eldest again. He was asking about my suggestion from the morning. At first he seemed skeptical and discouraged. Why should he do three (!!!) things for his brother? That annoying, irritating brother! Hey, boy, your brother is awesome. You feel irritated or annoyed? Those are YOUR feelings, your thoughts and it got nothing to do with him. He tries his very best as you do. As we all do. “Really??” – can I read in his face. Really!

After a long talk about kindness, brotherhood and love, he turned to me and said: “Papa, tomorrow I’ll try that. I’ll see whether I can do one thing, or even more, for my brother!” What a great and warm promise. Even if you don’t get there my son, you are willing to try.

And you know what? Today I didn’t say anything. I just watched. I just listened. I was present. And they both took care of each other, and their little sister, that my heart melted. I saw kindness, I felt the bonding and I could hear the fire of excitement. So much love. So much connection. Thank you boys!

Guest Posts, Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Society

4 Things Dads Should Teach Their Daughters About Balancing Health & Beauty

4-things-dads-should-teach-their-daughters-about-balancing-health-beauty
A Guest Post by Tyler Jacobson

I was going through Pinterest one day, and I noticed something. The website, which is traditionally most popular with women, was full of photos depicting other women who fit the average supermodel physique. Glancing down at the titles of the pin boards they were placed in, I saw titles like ‘Thinspiration’, ‘Fitspo’, and ‘Goals <3<3’.

What first hit me hard was thinking of my wife. I wondered if on her Pinterest account, or perhaps any other, she might have similar boards. If she filled galleries with photomanipulated images of alleged perfection, pitting her own image against those of what we have been pushed to believe is the ideal. The very idea that she may have fallen victim to such thoughts, this beautiful, perfect woman I loved, broke my heart.

But then, a much darker thought occurred to me: little girls are seeing these same messages. Looking at a couple of the boards confirmed that at least some of them were no more than teenagers. And in the descriptions of each image were phrases like, “How I want to look by next summer”, or “I need to stop being so fat.”

What are we teaching our young girls? How many of our daughters are suffering under the same negative sense of self, and how many will grow up to be women facing the same self-hatred?

Being Proactive: Teaching Our Daughter’s Balance

The solution, I truly believe, begins at home. It is too easy as a father to take a backseat with daughters, leaving the majority of lessons to come from their mother. While not a conscious decision for many of us, it just feels more natural to split the parenting between genders. Who would know better what a young girl goes through than their mother?

But this is a view to be overcome. Fathers have just as much responsibility as mothers to help teach their children (all of their children) to love and respect themselves. On the topic of finding balance between health and beauty, that effort is all the more crucial.

Our girls are living in a time where everything from their phones to their computer screens are bombarding them with messages about what is normal, beautiful, and a goal to achieve. We have to be there to teach them the reality, and to foster a sense of acceptance and self-love based around who they are.

These are four lessons that I feel are our responsibility as fathers to help teach our daughters about health and beauty.

Lesson #1: The Media Lies

Looking through those images on Pinterest, it is plain to see that they are unrealistic. It isn’t a problem isolated to social media, either. Just typing ‘Photoshop in magazines’ into Google will show you the ridiculous ways the media will manipulate photos into fitting an ideal that no one is capable of reaching in real life.

That picture of Taylor Swift that your daughter is staring at, wishing she matched up? Everything from the clearness to her skin to the size of her thighs have been altered with software. And that is after all of the makeup, corsets, careful posing, and lights have been added to hide “imperfections” spotted by the photographer.

Lessons #2: There Is No One-Size-Fits-All Body Type

There is no “right size” for a human being. Some women are tall or short, heavy or slender, stocky or petite. The world is full of all types, and all types are beautiful in their own right. What it doesn’t show is what is inside that person, the things they are capable of doing, the strength or limits of their bodies.

We have to get away from this concept of an ideal. It is individuality that makes someone stand out, not conformity to a clothing size. If we teach our daughters that their worth isn’t related to their frame, and that they are worthy of respect no matter their type of build, we can steer the conversation to more productive avenues, such as their interests, talents, and achievements.

Lesson #3: Health Is a Holistic Process

Health isn’t all about weight. It isn’t even all about the body. Health is a holistic issue, which means it is the combination of all factors that make up a whole person.

You are truly healthy when your body is nourished and cared for, your mind is calm and strong, and your emotions and stable and happy. At least when they are those things most of the time…we all have bad days.

Lesson #4: Self Image Is The Most Important Image

It is impossible to ignore what people think of us all the time. But that doesn’t mean we can’t begin to show our girls that the real opinion that matters is their own. Sure, someone might say they are too fat, too skinny, not tall enough, not have clear enough skin. Who cares?

As long as they can look at themselves and see that they are healthy, happy people with their own skills, talents, personality and qualities (both good and bad), we have done well as parents. A measured and largely positive sense of self is one of the greatest gifts that they can carry with them throughout their lives.

Our Mission Is To Save Our Daughters

Girls face constant examination, ridicule, and an unfair standard that is hard to understand as men. We are rarely confronted with the same standards, and so it is easy to forget the stress being put on their self-esteem.

As fathers, it is our job to help put a buffer between our children and these false images of perfection. We have to teach them to be happy with themselves, and to see the beauty in their individuality. To show them that it is health that matters, not waist size, or how thick their eyelashes are.

If we can show our girls that they are smart, strong, fun, and healthy, we can change a culture that is designed to hurt them. That sees well worth the effort.

 

tyler-jacobson-large-squareTyler Jacobson is a father, husband, and freelancer, with experience in writing and outreach for organizations that help troubled teens and parents. Tyler has offered personal, humorous and research backed advice to readers on parenting tactics, problems in education, issues with social media, various disorders, addiction, and troublesome issues raising teenage boys.

Connect with Tyler on: Twitter | Linkedin
(Images provided by Shutterstock and Tyler Jacobson)

Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Society

We Are Ready: Parenting And Living Without Fear

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About ten years ago, we – the then childless couple – were thinking about how we would like to live our lives. We believe many couples and families have such evening-on-the-sofa-rituals. What is important to us? How do we want to raise our children? Where shall we live? What can we work or do to create an income? Which decisions do we need to make to succeed? To some questions we quite easily found the answers: we always wanted to spend as much time as possible with our children. Work as much as needed in order to pay the bills. Live within a community in which people look after and support each other. With lots of green, trees to climb, healthy local food to eat. A place where art and music are being celebrated, where people treat each other with respect and kindness, that’s respect for children too.

We were looking for a life where our family is the centre. To put our family in the centre to us means being able to make our own choices, rather than being dictated by society how we should live. We’re not buying into the current ideologies out there, which are meant to strengthen the patriarchal and capitalist systems. However, it  is shocking to think that every day we, who despise these systems, are strengthening them, just because through our upbringing, as well as everyday exposure to this lifestyle it is so ingrained in us that it takes effort to see through them.

In this article we’re going to expose some of the lifestyles and thoughts we have taken on, because they have been presented to us as being the “norm”. Mostly, we want to be normal…

Let’s take a look where it all starts: for most of us it’s in our childhood. From the early days in our parents’ home and in school we get trained and conditioned on so called values about how we should, even on how we must live our lives. A good, meaning valued, citizen is one who has a good job (to get there you must be good in school, so you must get good grades, ideally be better than others), who has a (small) family, a nice house (in a “good” neighbourhood), a rather expensive car, pays into a pension scheme, has an insurance for everything, and asks no stupid questions. Sounds familiar to you?

That spiral continues when working for a company. Your boss carries on telling you how to behave: A good citizen works hard for 45 or so years, does unpaid overtime (you really want that promotion, don’t you?!), lives a short life as a pensioner, then dies of cancer or any other disease.

When the ‘good citizen’ becomes a parent there are certain expectations to fulfil to fit into our society: send the child to nursery, then school while you continue working hard for your employer, see your family for an hour or two in the evening, pay taxes, do as you’re told. This mantra gets repeated in the media day after day. Media controlled and managed by big corporations (who don’t even pay taxes).

Why are we so susceptible to observing this ‘one size fits all’ ruling model? Is it really possible that so many of us, very individual people, all want the same thing? We believe that many are struggling to escape this life because of fear.

Fear As The Disabling Factor In Facilitating Change


This fear, where is it coming from and why do we feel it so extremely present? Fear is the anchor of our consumer society. Economy and politics go hand in hand to project fears on us. The cycle of work, earning money, spending money, needing more money, buying more (bigger) objects are all related to our fear of not being part of the game (you’re unhappy with your job? Buy something and you ‘feel better’).

Our fear lets us to believe we need others (like the government or military) to ‘protect’ us. Have you ever noticed that ALL news programmes are fully loaded with negative news? Stop becoming depressed by watching how horrible some of our fellow humans are. Again, your fear is being fed. Get rid of it. Look at what you can do to support those who struggle in your community, by helping them in practical ways but also by empowering them to know what they really need in their life.

Parenting In A Capitalist Society

Many people we know are getting more and more unhappy, even frustrated with the cycle of obedience, permanent competition and dependence. They’re simply fed up with being the hamster in the wheel, running every day mile after mile in order to just pay off bills, the house, the car… or to save a few bucks to get the next holiday. In this whole mess our parenting job is included.

The UK government throws a lot of money at so called back-to-work-programmes for parents . Parents are getting financially rewarded when they find a job/go back to their job as soon as possible. The baby/toddler goes off to nursery. The earlier the better. Early prevention, that’s what the government calls it. By doing this it throws all attachment theories out of the window at the same time. Well, who really needs a strong bond to his baby or child? Why on earth should you be around when your child does his first step or says her first word?

No, we’re all needed in our shiny offices, factories, schools, departments, supermarkets. For the common good – to produce more, to consume more, to make the rich even richer. No time or energy for fancy ideas of breaking out of this system. Once in it, once a slave to the system how can you break free? How can you live without earning money, we all need it, right?

How Can We Break Out Of This Cycle?

But, as said, people – or let’s stick to our good citizens – are getting fed up with that kind of life. They realise that money doesn’t buy you happiness. They know that the first five years in your child’s life are the most important ones. That your big corporation can go bankrupt tomorrow and suddenly you’re out of work (or that if you make demands/bring in your own thoughts, they’ll drop you, just like that). That two weeks summer holidays (at outrageous costs) doesn’t replace proper quality time and a good relationship with your children.

world changer newMany realise that. But then the same people look at us, shrug their shoulders and we see that uneasy feeling on their faces , saying: ‘Well, what can you do? That’s how life is, isn’t it?’. For years we would have sighed and said ‘yes, you’re right. Nothing we can do’. Bonkers.  Because our parents, our teachers, our bosses, our prime ministers, our neighbours, our friends have told us so? What is it that holds us back? Why don’t we say to our boss tomorrow ‘look, I’ve got family and I love them to pieces, I need to work less’? Why don’t we say to doctors ‘hey, thank you for your advice (on vaccinations or on your child’s development etc.) but I’m getting a second opinion/listen to my intuition before I decide what’s best for my child’? Why don’t we break out of our over-expensive, damp houses and change our world now? How can we overcome the fear that’s holding us back living our dreams, living life on our own terms?

Our family has made the first (and yes, maybe small) steps  – out of our comfort zone. We started with talking, reflecting, researching, dreaming. Then we went a little further. We let go ideas of big careers or 9-to-5 jobs. So, over the last years we always negotiated with our employers about working part time, in order to have enough time for our children. Yes, Torsten even left a job some years ago when he was denied the right of working part time. They pushed him as far as they could. His answer was still simple and straight forward: My family is more important than your business. If one parent or both, work long hours, the bond is compromised and one or both might not even see the benefit of working less and spending more time with your child. (Often women then compromise and backing their partner’s career aims, by working less and taking on the bigger part of childcare and domestic tasks…). And, yes, that’s doable to all of us, as Sweden demonstrates it with a 30-hour-working-week. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.

Digital nomads are finding a new way to escape the hour after hour spent in an office – working remotely, using their laptops only. Nowadays it’s possible for more types of jobs than you think – to talk (even face to face), hold conferences, work on the same documents etc. with modern technology. It’s time more companies think again and offer this style of working to their employees. Companies need to reshape and reorganise themselves. We don’t want hierarchical structures any more – they don’t work. Well, at least not if you like something else than the current systems. We aim for company bosses who are able to talk to their employees on the same level, rather than look down on them and play out their power. All people have the right to be treated respectfully and as individuals, as subjects. The result would be more efficient companies and happier and healthier people and families.

Raising Our Kids To Become Autonomous And Fearless

Before our eldest son was born we decided to unschool. Nearly eight years later all our children enjoy being unschooled. For us, this lifestyle choice is part of a life without fear for all of us. Our kids learn, thrive, explore, question and discover. They learn in their own way and at their pace with our support and respect for their innate development. We create opportunities for them to meet many different people, form relationships, get to know different places, try out a variety of activities and discover their passions so that they have time to develop their potential and be happy.

From baby onwards our children were allowed to be autonomous beings, they decide what they eat (from a range of healthy options), play, who to talk to and what to say. No pressure, no tests, no fears. Instead respect, kindness and unconditional love. This way we get to spend lots of time together as a family, we bond with the kids, siblings bond with each other, we as couple have more of time together. Most people whose children go to school fear the responsibility. Paying others to raise their children for a (often big) chunk of the day, they suddenly feel it’s others who know better what their kids need. They don’t think they can provide what their children require. We don’t blame them, it’s only natural to feel that way, it’s part of the ruling ideology. You are supposed to feel like that. But who decides what’s important for your child to learn? How do they know what your child will need to know in life, in their life? (We can’t even predict where modern advancements will lead us in five, ten, twenty years’ time).

School is a very recent social experiment. For most of human history children would learn from their parents and their wider community. Children used to live and learn in their community what’s important to know to survive within their social structure. Schools can only provide one style of education, it is impossible to individualise the curriculum, which means that it will suit some, by chance, but others it won’t. But, we’re not here to blame teachers. They’re facing the impossible task to nurture and support at least thirty individual children with thirty individual needs in one class.

On the other hand we appreciate and support ideas and practical ways to restructure school. Exciting projects like ‘democratic schools’ are popping up all over the globe.

Another fear factor we eliminated: TV. We haven’t owned a TV for more than 12 years. Because we don’t want our children to get brainwashed by big money making corporations telling us what to buy and what to believe. We don’t want our children to see ads, movies and programmes where gender stereotypes are reinforced.

Our Kids Know They Can Achieve Anything – Regardless Of Their Sex

Gender roles and stereotypes (like in toys, advertisement, consumer products from beauty articles to clothes, sports…) are constantly reinforced within our society. That’s the easiest way to keep the male dominated world of business and politics going.

We raise our children gender-neutrally. Why do kids choose to wear certain clothes? It’s the fear to be different. Gender equality can only be achieved if we let our children choose out of their preference not their sex. They understand they can do/be what and who they want to be. We don’t tell our children that there are clothes and colours for boys and those for girls (who gets to decide that anyway?), we let them choose their toys, whether it’s a dolly or car. We want our sons and daughter to grow up knowing they are just perfect as they are, instead of buying into society’s beauty images. We parent our children equally, responding to them based on their personalities not their gender.

So, yes, our 7-year-old son has long hair, his favourite toy is a doll called Anne, and he wears dresses most days. He loves them. He knows many other boys and men (like his friends) don’t wear them. That’s fine for him, or as he told us: ‘everybody should just wear what they like’. Whenever other adults (it’s mostly them and not other kids) make assumptions on our children’s preferences according to their sex, we challenge them. How else can we change the current inequalities in the workplace (in terms of pay, career paths and progressions)? We, families, need to start demanding for change and be the change ourselves. That means take equal responsibility for childcare and domestic tasks. Women are being held small by how they are portrayed in media, society and treated by our ruling bodies and men are pushed into roles they don’t wish to fulfil.

Fear is one of society’s biggest issue. Fear disables us to try out challenging things and to go for what we really want – regardless of other’s opinions. Fear takes away all the countless possibilities we have. Fear is the heavy chain with a padlock around our neck. But we hold the keys in our hands.
Our fears are not disappearing overnight. Your fears might be very different from ours. You might enjoy  life as it is and want to tackle completely different issues. That’s fine. Make it so.
The big steps are not always easy to be made. We know that. If we want a different kind of society, it’s us parents who can change things, by how we live and how we raise our kids. We started small. And we’re not there where we want to be. Not yet. But we’re on our way.

They can grow up, shaping their personalities without the deliberating factor of having to fulfil the artificial gender roles – as much as possible. At least within our family and among our friends. This will, hopefully, prepare them in standing up for themselves in a gendered society.

Nedua and Torsten

Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Society

We Need A Cultural Change In The Way We Treat Children

2 kids

Whether it’s shaming, shouting, bribing, ignoring, threatening, over-powering, punishing, hitting, or spanking. The list of disrespectful behaviour towards our children is long and miserable. Easily parents and other adults find a good reason why a child deserves a little smack, some time-out on the naughty step to get him thinking, or the taking-away of treats and rights. Because the child misbehaved, didn’t co-operate or just didn’t listen – to cut it short: ‘the child was naughty’.

As a parent of three young children I can relate to stressful situations. This afternoon we wanted to go to a playgroup, the car was in the garage and we had to take the bus, which only goes every hour. My children took ages to find their shoes, coats, a favourite cuddly toy, a snack, and so on. For twenty minutes I had been running around, calling and reminding them. With rolling eyes, increased pulse rate and mumbling under my breath, I tried to help them. Then, finally, when I thought we really could make a move the youngest shouted ‘I need a wee’. In less than a minute we solved that problem (yes, we skipped washing hands due to time shortage), ran to the bus stop, arrived with our tongues hanging out, just to see the red rear lights of our bus driving off. The knock-on effect felt big: we missed the bus, the playgroup, seeing our friends and, of course, the post office, where a parcel is waiting for us, would be closed later on.

My children wailed, complained and moaned. To make my situation worse it started raining. I could  feel that big wave of annoyance and irritation rising inside me. Just an eye blink and I could explode. A tirade of shouting and swearing was about to be poured onto my kids: “Because you didn’t hurry up when I told you. Because you couldn’t find your shoes (and didn’t put them by the door in the first place after you used them last time). Because you needed a wee. Because… because, damn, it’s just your fault. That’s why we missed the bus, the playgroup, seeing our friends, the post office. And, on top of that, we’re dripping wet. I’m not taking you on the bus again. When we get home you can go to your bedroom and stay there for the rest of the day. Serves you right!” People passing by and seeing the scene would probably turn away feeling embarrassed or nod their heads in agreement with me.

I did say, I could explode. And here’s my choice: I, the parent, can choose to control myself and respond differently than just described. Or I can blow.

You see, situations like those do happen every day thousands of times – in our family homes, on playgrounds, in public places, yes, even in schools, kindergartens or playgroups. Adults’ overreactions towards children is a culturally accepted concept. Unfortunately. Would I shout, threaten or hit my neighbour, colleague or partner, I could end up – rightly – in court for assault. Doing the same stuff to my kid would come under the term ‘disciplining’. I’m showing him what’s right and wrong, I’m setting boundaries, I’m teaching her a lesson. Right? Bonkers.

love meI’m not teaching, I’m not setting a boundary, I’m not changing any behaviour. Instead I’m threatening, over-powering, shaming and punishing. The lesson my child will learn here? Not to trust me. To be afraid of me and my responses. He will learn to supress certain feelings and try to manipulate himself and situations to avoid my hurting reactions. He will feel disconnected, unloved, unworthy, a bad person. Next time my child might shout back at me or (if that’s yet too scary) let it out on his sibling or a younger, equally helpless child.

What we need to understand is the simple fact that our children are not naughty. Their plan is not to annoy or irritate us. They are doing the best they can, with their current ability. We need to understand that we are their models. They will copy us and our behaviour. If we show disrespect towards them, then we shouldn’t be surprised at all if this disrespect comes back like a boomerang. But if we choose to show understanding, empathy and unconditional love, then we will see co-operation, reassurance and trust. Not in every situation, but overall.

The most important thing one can hope for in parenting is to establish a loving relationship with one’s child – this goes above everything else. In every moment of the day ask yourself: is this actually connecting us further or disconnecting us? If you think, e.g. table manners is a must, then ask yourself: at what price am I trying to force my ideas on my child here? (Doesn’t mean that your ideas are wrong, just that your way of achieving your goal might not be right at this moment in time).

Deeply rooted in our culture and society is an understanding that we can treat our children as we wish. Often this behaviour is just a response from our own upbringing. If we were hit or otherwise mistreated by our parents, then – even if we made that promise to try better  than our parents – we are likely to repeat similar patterns. Because that’s what we’ve learned and copied many times. So, you misbehaved as a kid and your Mum took your ice cream away? There is a good chance that you punish your own child for not tidying his bedroom with a similar threat. We are repeating our stories, past wounds are still hurting our inner child. Often we watch ourselves act helplessly wondering why on earth we are behaving as we never wanted to.

Pretty grim eh? The good news is you can change that. It is hard, as it is so ingrained in us, often we unconsciously choose to repeat this learned behaviour. Be patient and kind to yourself while in the process of ‘re-programing’ yourself. Take time to reflect on your thoughts and actions and rather than beating yourself up for failing to change your behaviour today, think about what will help you to avoid that stressful situation (in which you might overreact) next time.  Any behaviour can be learned and un-learned.

The second major problem of today’s society is TIME. Most of us feel under permanent pressure: family, work, children, household, money, bills, friends – and in between, dozens of digital gadgets to distract us. Our lives have become like a 24/7 non-stop show. Being ‘on call’ all the time shift priorities from the really important things – like our children and how we treat them – to less important gossip, comments or feedback on social media and the like.

Take a look around you and observe parents and their children. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the playground, the bus stop or in a café: the grown-ups are glued to their screens while the kids entertain themselves.

We need to change our life styles. We need to change the way we treat our children. We need to show respect, empathy and love. Now.

Let’s go back to my example where the kids and I run to catch the bus. What could I, the parent, have done differently to avoid the whole situation in its first place? To put it simply, it’s all about time again. I could have started preparing for the outing earlier. I know my children need longer putting their shoes and clothes on. They can’t find their stuff? Well, I can help. My 8-year-old normally does his shoe laces by himself but he has days where he wants me to do it. Not because he’s lazy, because he’s looking for connection. It doesn’t hurt me to do it for him once in a while. OK, but even though we could still have missed the bus, right? Yes. And the news is, it has happened to me. Not only once. Still, I can decide whether to lose the plot and shout and blame – or to pause, breathe in and out, reflect and to offer a plan B. Missed the bus? I wonder what else we can do today as we won’t be able to meet with our friends? Shall we call some other friends and invite them to us for games? And, yes, the parcel at the post office can wait until tomorrow. It’s not the end of the world. – I appreciate that this needs training and practise. For me as well.

And now, let’s go further. Saying that we need a cultural change is good and easy. But we need to make the right steps. All of us – you and I. To challenge mainstream patterns, we need some ideas to help us changing the current climate of disrespect:

  1. Awareness starts with myself. I need to reflect on my own childhood and find out how my parents treated me. I’m not doing this to judge them. I’m doing this to learn and to see whether my responses are similar. I can write down my emotions and thoughts and discuss them with my partner, a friend or a specialist to overcome past issues.
  2. How do I talk to children? Am I polite? Do I sound threatening or too loud? Would I choose the same language with my partner, friends, colleagues, a stranger in the street? My kids deserve the same respect I am expecting from everyone else.
  3. I feel helpless, confused and angry in a tense moment. I acknowledge my feelings, take some deep breaths, if possible I leave the situation for a moment, or I communicate to my children that I need a short break. I take that time to reflect what other options are available.
  4. I sit down with my partner or a good friend and talk about my parenting and the challenges I face. I don’t expect anyone to fix my problems but someone who can listen to me and reflect with me.
  5. I am taking time for my children without any distractions. Phones, laptops and gadgets are turned off or not in the same room when I spend time with them.
  6. I apologise to my and other children. Yes, I make mistakes and I acknowledge that. Apologies are a good way to reconnect and to show authenticity.
  7. When I plan for an activity, outing, holiday etc. I’ll include my children’s thoughts. I’ll invite them so they can voice their needs and wishes.
  8. When I set a boundary, I’ll explain to my child why. E.g. to your 3-year-old: I need to hold your hand right now because it’s a busy road and we can’t run around.
  9. I can always make a quick assessment in my head: how much harm would be done if I ask x, y or z? E.g. the room is untidy but my child is absorbed by playing. Do I really need a tidy room now or could it wait for the moment?
  10. No bribes, threats, punishments, violence, shaming, ignoring – ever!

Finally, I’m asking for one big thing. This one sounds very easy to be done but I know we as society have still a long way to go. We need to start treating children with equal respect and empathy as all other human beings. Let’s start today.

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