Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Society

Raising Boys To Become Gentle Men

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When I became a father I was full of excitement, joy and happiness. My wife and I felt well prepared as we had read dozens (it felt even more) of parenting books, we went to two antenatal courses, and we took every opportunity to sit on the sofa and chat about our baby. I hoped this would make me into one of those super-dads (because actually I was quite apprehensive about having a son and all that this might bring up, at first)!

From pre-baby time it was clear to us that we believe in attachment parenting, co-sleeping, feeding on demand and unconditional love. I always imagined me to be a gentle, relaxed and easy-going father. Today, seven years later, I can say that I have achieved some of that gentleness and peacefulness. But it was a long journey and I’m still on it.

When you believe mainstream media, it often seems harder for men to be a great parent. Too often dads are being pictured as the workaholic money machine with no or little interest in his offspring. Is that just a stereotype or a real problem?

When comparing figures, one can definitely see that more women care for their children full time or working in part time jobs to spend more time with their kids, than men. Not all fathers take time off work when their baby is born. There are various reasons for this I believe. One of the main reasons is the lack of positive male role models, taking on an active role within the family.

2014-07-09 16.16.44When I was a teenager I probably considered myself as a nice, friendly and gentle person. But, after a lot of reflecting, I now would say that I couldn’t communicate very well. I did hurt other people’s feelings and I sometimes was very mean as I couldn’t deal with my emotions and feelings. Why is that? I had never learnt to talk about them. Not to my father or another man. I had some very good female friends and it always seemed easier talking to them. I felt heard and listened to; they took me seriously. Still, something was missing.

The search for men who really can open up is not unusual for boys, young men and the older generations as well. I was lucky enough to meet one man (it’s always that one person who can change your life) who I met in my early twenties. He touched my soul and opened my heart. He let me cry and held me tight. For the first time I discovered some genuine, true closeness and real manhood. No games, no masks, no pretending. I could be myself.

From then on I could start my personal journey in becoming a better man, and yes, a better father. To me being better means more authentic, more empathic, more myself. To stop playing a role in order to find appreciation. To stop strengthening myself at the expenses of others. To be confident and clear, without upgrading my ego all the time.

Being masculine is all about hyper-competition, being super-hero-hard and strong. Men are labelled (and often it’s true) with exactly those attributes. And that’s the second key problem: our society. How can we expect gentle and empathic men when we already start treating boys as the stronger gender? Boys don’t cry, they are the emotionless super-heroes, they should “man up”, and certainly they should not play with girls (toys) or dollies. “Their” toys are action figures, fast cars, modern day heroes (fire fighters, police men), monsters, toy weapons and the like. The same stereotypes get applied to them when they turn into men: They are expected to have a lucrative and prestigious career. Men are strong leaders who will govern countries from behind their desks, go to war for our western ideologies, and they… well, they just save the planet. Right?

Yes, I know, in many ways things have changed. More and more men decide to put their families first, take longer paternity leave or even consider working part time to spend greater chunks of time with their families. (And obviously there are women now who are filling these traditional “male careers”). There is a shift in society, away from the ego-driven hard men to “new” men who believe in equality and mutual respect. But it’s still a very long way to go and a minority of men feel able to (or want to commit to) a more active role in family life.

happyWhen I stayed at home to look after our children for about two years, I painfully realised how alone I can feel. Don’t get me wrong. I made many female friends, mainly stay-at-home mums. I very much appreciated their company and I had a great time being at home with our kids. But I also longed for some other men and fathers; to share the experience and to see how they cope and feel. I also think it would do many men good to experience this role of full time carer (even if only for a few days a week); it certainly got me more connected to how I want to be and less focused on outside pressures.
Especially that time as a stay-at-home dad made me realise how important it is for me to give my sons a better start into the beauty and chaos of life. They don’t need a super-dad I pictured to be, but someone real, someone authentic, someone they can trust and talk to. A male person (or preferably a few) who loves them unconditionally – who has (lots of) time for them!

As a start I looked at the way I communicated with my sons: Am I really listening to them? Do I judge them? Are there any pre-conceived ideas I have about how they “ought” to be (because they are boys)? Will they feel respected and loved when I say x, y or z to them/are my actions communicating my love for them?

I also introduced an evening-check-in with my eldest son, who was 5 years old by then. When we are cuddled up in bed and have finished our night time story, we do a ‘check-in’. I normally start off by talking about my day, what I liked and disliked, things which made me happy or sad. I really try to name my feelings. Nothing needs to be covered. Equally important in our talks is being honest. Bloody honest. That includes to apologise. (That’s another thing many men struggle with. I can’t remember that my dad had ever apologised for anything.) I want my boys to see that I make mistakes. I mess up, I say things I don’t mean to say, I lose my patience, I’m unfair. That’s ok, as long as I do the aftermath: reconnecting and apologising. And, yes, kids are so great in forgiving.

The just-before-bedtime-talk is a win-win for my son and me. This way I learn about what’s going on inside him and he sees how I talk about emotions and feelings, that I take responsibility for them and reflect on my actions and words.

Start those talks asap. And carry on. Don’t stop when they turn teenagers. Especially then they need you and your open ear more than you might think.

world changer newI also notice how the culture we live in influences our sons. The other day on our walk through the local park, we watched a soccer match of 9-year-old boys. For many boys sport is an extremely important activity in their life (obviously same applies to girls). As we watched the game my boys and I observed those boys swear, shout, spit, push and make a fall look dramatically heroic (probably copying their professional counterparts). It left all three of us baffled by how much they seem to be putting on adult behaviour. It was difficult to explain why they were shouting so much and hurting each other, well it was nearly impossible. Equally, to make sense of parents on both sides shout and scream their heads off, in quite an aggressive manner. Sports are naturally good for physical health, but what about emotional health? What is it we are teaching boys here? What is competition, pressure, fear to fail doing to our children’s emotional development? One could argue it prepares them for the “hard” world out there, where being ambitious and competitive is valued highly. While I am all for having determination when you really want to achieve something, I believe getting to your aim without making others fail along the way, is preferable.

Don’t get me wrong, not all kinds of sports work like that, but definitely most competitive ones. The game, the joy, the fun and a good team spirit should guide our sons games. In fairness, whether they lose or win (does it always have to be one or the other?) I am confident there are teams out there, who are achieving this, we need more of them!

I want my sons to grow up to become gentle, empathic and kind men. Men who love and respect their partner and children. Men who treat other women, men and transgender with tolerance and kindness. Men who can listen and reflect before they speak. Men who are confident and strong without polishing their ego. Men who truly have something to give. As I am working on becoming one of those, I hope my children will copy and follow me into a more peaceful future.

Read further and get your copy of my book ‘The Empathic Father’

This article was originally published in The Natural Parent Magazine (June 2015)

Interested in more? Enjoy my Love-Letter video to my sons:
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Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Relationships, Society

Inspirational Blogs To Share With You

inspiring blogs

It’s been about two years since I started blogging and writing. In those two years I learnt a lot: not only how to improve my (English) writing skills (yes, it’s still a challenge from time to time not to write in my mother tongue), but also all those technical gibberish when creating a blog or website. Many long (too long) evenings or early mornings (combined with some swearing or moaning because the supposed to be easy-to-install plug-in wouldn’t just plug-in) passed in order to get things working.

But, besides all challenges and difficulties, something extraordinarily happened as well: I met many inspirational, creative, kind, supportive and like-minded people. Something I’m really thankful for. Those people influence my writing and thinking. Those people make me laugh, dream, think, curious, and yes, sometimes even cry.

Today I’d like to introduce you to them. Take a moment to dwell in their sites and blogs. Make yourself a nice cuppa of something warm and start reading. You’ll enjoy it – promised!

eric greeneLet’s start with Eric D. Greene aka 1 Awesome Dad. Last year I discovered his blog and it took me less than two minutes to get hooked. One of his focuses is a respectful relationship, especially when it comes to parenting our children. He says: “I believe it’s time to honor our children and treat them with love and respect, as equals among the human species, not as second class citizens to be ordered around, shouted down at, disrespected and abused.” Eric writes about unconditional parenting and on how to stay calm when things get tricky. If you like this stuff, I strongly recommend joining Eric’s facebook group Peaceful Parenting Community – a lot of like-minded people who share their stories, problems, hopes and dreams.

joanna stevensJoanna Steven’s site, The Nourished Village, is all about healthy nutrition, peaceful and gentle parenting, and a positive lifestyle. My family and I have tried many of her delicious recipes and I think her ebook “The Nourished Village Cookbook” will give you a lot of creative input when it comes to healthy, nutritious food. Yummy!
Joanna’s mission is to inspire mothers (and I believe fathers as well) and make their life easier so they feel nurtured, nourished, and better able to raise children in a peaceful way. Also, take some time to read her series about peaceful parenting.

peaceful papaMany of you probably know Josh K aka The Peaceful Papa. I came across his facebook site (very busy over there) first. Josh is a strong voice in the anti-spanking and anti-corporal punishment campaign in the US. – “There is no single effort more radical in its potential for saving the world than a transformation of the way we raise our children.”
His blog is full of practical tips, inside thoughts and his personal journey when it comes to peaceful and gentle parenting. I love his honesty!

katephotoJust very recently I linked up with Kate Orson. She is a Hand-in-Hand Parenting Instructor, living in Switzerland. What I appreciate about Hand-in-Hand Parenting is their clear, easy-to-follow advice backed-up with scientific evidence. Kate gives useful tips: whether it’s how to get your kids help cleaning, or how we parents can help our children with separation anxiety. I’m so excited about her new book, which will be out this autumn.

 

unschooling kidsLehla and Anthony Eldridge-Rogers live with their three children in Italy. On their family blog Unschooling the Kids the whole family talks about their daily adventures, challenges and surprises. As my children are being unschooled as well, I often smile and nod when reading Lehla and Anthony’s stories. Best bits? When their children show in videos and posts about what they enjoy – sometimes it’s those little (science) experiments you and I can do at home as well!

 

jl-morse-polaroidThe world of my friend JL Morse is colourful, surprising and exciting. JL is an author, publisher, thinker, mother… and so much more. Her latest project is called New Days Resolutions: “If new habits are truly meant to stick, they are meant to seamlessly integrate into, and improve upon, our every day lives. Every. Day.”
Her books ‘The Family Bed’ and ‘The World of Wickham Mossrite’ have one common theme: family, respect, peace. #Simplehappy

 
Those are my favourites. But, yes, there are countless other sites, blogs and projects I would love to mention in detail. Here is a (small list) of more sites I would recommend to you as well:

The Dad Effect, Inspired Dads, OhArt!, Natural Papa, Love Parenting, MamaCravings, Stephanie Parker Blog, LadsanDadsClub

What are your favourite blogs and sites? Let me know and write a comment.

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Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Society

My Son Wants A New Doll…

playing with dolls new

My son wants a new doll, he has given his other one’s to his younger siblings. Now, he would like a more “grown up” one. One that is a bit more like him.

I find an Internet store selling nice dolls and they even have a “eco-friendly” box you can tick to select one you like from that range. However, I am not quite clear what they mean by “eco-friendly” and decide to ring them. The conversation goes as follows:

Me: Oh hello, I would like to find out what the criteria for your “eco -friendly” dolls are? I assume they are all phthalate-free?

Shop-owner: Oh yes, they are all phthalate-free. The dolls in the eco-friendly section have all been made in Europe, but they are all made of the same materials, more or less.

Me: Ah, great. Good to know. Then we could choose one from that range…

Shop-owner (interrupts me… wanting to help me choose): How old is the girl you would like to buy a doll for?

Me: Ah, ehm, my son is seven.

Shop-owner: Oh. (Pause) That’s good you are buying a doll for your son.

Me: Eh… yes. He has outgrown his other one’s and would like a new one and I thought I try and buy one that’s as eco-friendly as possible.

Shop-owner: Yes, we have very nice boy dolls. Have you seen our pirate boy doll on the website?

Me: Yes, he doesn’t like that one. He doesn’t really like pirates and dolls with short hair.

Shop-owner: Oh, but that brand has other boy dolls, I could order some in for you.

Me: Hm… he would like the doll to sort of look similar to him and he has long hair and all the boy dolls have short hair.

Shop-owner: Oh. Well, you could also buy boy clothes…

Me: But, he likes their beautiful dresses. And seeing that he likes wearing dresses too…. and anyhow, I guess the dolls you are selling, well most of them, could really be boy or girl as they don’t have body parts anyway, have they?

Shop-owner: No, that’s true. Hm… you have quite a character there *laughs*

Me: Eh!? Yeah…

Then she proceeded to explain more about the different brands and that some of their dolls are made in China and how some are shipped from China to America, then to Europe and which one’s she liked best. Bla, bla, bla.

In the end it left me feeling a bit odd. My son had also listened to the conversation (being so excited about finally getting his doll…) and I felt sad he had to listen to his dad AGAIN having to explain to others that really boys can like dresses and long hair and dolls, too. Does he feel he is not normal, that his dad has to explain his choices to others? How different would the conversation have been had I said the doll is for my daughter?

IMG_3223Why don’t toy shops sell dolls? Just dolls. Rather than boy or girl dolls? Why have some dolls “make up” on, i.e. red painted lips and dark eyelashes, very rosy cheeks etc.? Yes, can you hear me Mattel? It’s not good enough to have a boy in your ads, the actual problem lies in the doll itself. Barbie doesn’t look very natural to me.

Apparently, children at the age of my son, want dolls as an identification figure. But the only dolls I can find that, sort of, look like him (meaning having long hair) are “girls”. Well, I try and pretend they aren’t but they all have a female name and many very gendered clothing.

However, maybe the more we speak to toy shop owners directly, the more they will think: it’s not just the odd one out. The one weird child… there must be others, like my son! Well, I don’t care if not, he is definitely wonderfully unique, and just right the way he is!

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Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Society

That’s Why We Don’t Have a TV

television
“How many ‘nas’ are in Batman?”, a 6-year-old girl asks my eldest son. His response: “???”
“Sixteen! Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na BATMAN!”, she laughs.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Who is Batman?”, his answer. She stops laughing. Not quite sure whether she should believe him or if it’s him making a joke now.

You see, my kids (and often my wife and I) get this a lot. We meet people in playgroups or on playgrounds and too quickly just one topic becomes the centre of the conversation (well, that is after grown-ups have exchanged their opinion about the weather): The Television. And everything related to it: programmes, films, news, sequels … From there most dialogues roll like this:
“Ah, have you watched this or that last night?… NO? Oh, you missed something good… I really wonder whether Charlie will marry Sue in the next episode?… Ah, the game show was quite boring this time, far too easy, I knew all the answers… Do you have the big Sky package? …No, Netflix, I see… Yes, cost a lot but it’s worth it …”

UK children watch an average of more than two and a half hours of television a day and spend an hour and 50 minutes online a day. In total more than four hours a day in front of a screen. Are we really surprised that our offspring struggles more and more with problems like hyperactivity, obesity, social interaction, problem solving and the like?

About twelve years ago, before we had children, my wife and I made a decision: let’s get rid of our TV watching habit. So when we moved in together we decided NOT to buy one in the first place. The good news is, we didn’t miss it at all. Life was busy and we spent our nights with seeing friends, going out, playing board games and making love.

When our first child was born life got even busier. With some sleep deprivation and the general chaos most new parents experience, we couldn’t care less about what’s on TV.
Life went on, the children got older, and we had more time in the evenings. Still, we never missed TV. Instead of digital boredom, we rediscovered board games, good books, chatting on the sofa or just going to bed early (yes, really does help with those early morning starts!)

children tvOur children survived seven years without TV so far. And I would say they do pretty well. Yes, they know what TV is and yes, they sometimes watch some (educational) stuff on YouTube & Co. But, and that’s the difference to me, they don’t hang around in front of a screen just to kill time or to get brainwashed with buy-everything-you-don’t-need ads. Their screen time is about 2 hours. A day? No, a month. On average. Nearly no screen over the summer but usually a bit more when it’s cold and dark in winter.

Yes, our children don’t know most super heroes or cartoon characters. That’s fine. I believe they haven’t missed anything. Instead of watching ever repetitive plots, they spend time climbing trees. They have no desire buying the latest merchandise “as seen on TV”, but use their pocket money for motors, solar cells and wires to build electric boats. Their games aren’t about the good or bad guy – stories unfold by imaginary play and wonder.

No, I’m not totally against screens or TV. That would be too easy. But I just remember my childhood and early teenage years. I watched TV. A lot. When I was seven or eight, we only had a few channels but that didn’t stop me from watching it. Even if it was boring or the tenth re-run of something, I had to see it. And I remember too well the moment when I had watched all night, feeling tired and a little empty and wondering where my evening had gone…

No plans for tonight? Leave the telly off. Get a good story book out and read to your kids. Or invite some friends and play a board game. Or just chilling on the sofa and listening to your children’s adventures? It’s up to you.

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Guest Posts, Society

Review: Working Dad’s Survival Guide

How can modern dads find a good and fulfilling balance in their work-and-family life? How do you negotiate with your boss working-from-home options or flexible hours? What are my priorities in life as a dad?

BOOK COVER! emailRecently I came across Scott Behson’s new book ‘The Working Dad’s Survival Guide’, and after chatting with him, we both exchanged and reviewed our books.

Behson has written a very practical guide for all (working) dads, who wish to be more in control of their job/work situation, but also at home. Each chapter is filled with inspirations and easy-to-do practices. The book can be of great help to find out what’s best for your personal work-and-family-life (and how to achieve it).

Here’s an interview with Scott Behson, PhD:

Torsten Klaus: For years men and fathers have been pressed and pushed into their classic roles: earning enough money to support the famil;, 24/7-workaholics who only see their children at weekends, if they’re lucky enough. From your experience and work, is there now a big shift in society?

FDU headshotScott Behson: Virtually every dad I know cares a lot about his career and earning enough for the family, WHILE ALSO being a hands-on, involved loving dad. Society, and especially the work world, still expects men to fulfil their breadwinner roles, and has not adequately supported men as involved fathers.

Despite these challenges, I see so many men stepping. But largely, we’ve been left to figure this out on our own. That’s why I wrote ‘The Working Dad’s Survival Guide’ – to provide advice and encouragement to my fellow working dads, showing them that they can have successful careers and still be the fathers they always wanted to be – and that our families need us to be. You are not alone. You can do it.

You’re a Professor of Management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, a professional expert on family issues and a hands-on dad. You got at least three demanding jobs. Was this your personal motivation to write a book about successful dads at home and work? 

My career as a business school professor and consultant is focused on researching work-family balance and helping both dads and employers find solutions. But, more importantly, I’m a busy working dad who aspires to both career success and being a highly involved, loving dad and husband. I have some insight from my professional life, and also know what it is like for my readers who wish to live a more balanced life- I face the same challenges.

I think the unique value of my book is this dual perspective. I have never seen a book that looks at work-family challenges from these two perspectives at once. I think many readers will find it relatable and useful.

In your work you talk about the importance of supportive workplaces. What is, from your point, a well supportive workplace (for dads) and what deficits do you see in most current workplaces?

 Here in the US, it seems to me that work-family concerns are now firmly on the radar for many companies – as an important business issue, and not just as a “nice to have” women’s concern. Most organizational leaders can see the costs of employee turnover, and how they may lose the “war for talent” to competitors if they don’t adapt. As a result, we’ve seen a proliferation of pro-dad policies such as generous paternity leave and increased work flexibility.

However, enacting policy is just step one. Where companies need to make up ground is in changing supervisory attitudes and corporate cultures to take a more long-term view on employee management. More decision-makers need to see that accommodating employees in the short-term with their family challenges actually benefits them in the long-term by helping them hold onto valuable employees and increasing engagement and loyalty. The message is slowly starting to get through.

I’m an optimist. We’re not having this conversation 10 years ago. We’re grappling with it now. I imagine things will get better 10 years from now.

What were, so far, the three most inspirational moments when talking with fathers? 

dad1I interviewed dozens of dads for my book, and I was amazed that, even though the particulars were different, we all shared the same central challenge- succeeding at work and trying to be great dads. It seemed as if each dad had an inspirational story to share.  

The dad that sticks in my mind the most was the father of one of my students, whom I met at an Honors event at my university. He is an uneducated immigrant who worked and sacrificed his whole life, and poured that life into his son. I was with him as he watched his soon-to-be-college-graduate son receive his Honors diploma in a fancy hotel ballroom. I could just see the pride in his eyes as he felt all his years of sacrifice pay off. He’s my inspiration, both as a dad and as a college professor. 

What do you enjoy about fatherhood?

What don’t I enjoy!!! But the best thing, to me, is to be able to experience the world through the eyes of my son, with all the wonder of new discovery. Being a dad is the joy and privilege of my life.

In your book, you give a lot of practical advice and share exercises for dads to try out. Often you also speak from your own experience which is very encouraging for other dads. From all your advice for working dads, what’s the best and most important tip to help dads finding a better work-family-balance? And how have you implemented that into your own life?

I think it all starts with really thinking through your priorities. What do you really want out of life, your career, your family, your one shot at your kids’ childhoods? Once you figure out your priorities, there are hundreds of ways you can consciously make decisions to align your life with your priorities. This way, you can achieve your definition of success at work and at home instead of drifting through life without a clear plan. My book provides self-assessment exercises to get you started, and lots of ideas on how to implement your plan. 

On a personal level, thanks to writing the book, I’ve gotten much better at managing my time. Instead of multi-tasking and running from thing to thing, I am better at scheduling in “time chunks” to really focus on work and keep that time separate from the time chunks I spend fully immersed with family. I schedule time chunks for my priorities- playing with my son, a bi-weekly lunch date with my wife, a full hour for exercise, what have you. A solid two-hour chunk with my family, followed by a few hours of writing is far better for everyone than trying to write all night and stealing 15 minutes of family time here and there. 

What do you wish for all working fathers? 

I am incredibly fortunate that I’ve been able to be fully present throughout my son’s childhood. I have a great job that gives me lots of control over my time, a supportive wife, and a great network of friends who can help. But even from my fortunate perch, I struggle with work and family pressures. We all have our challenges. We all could use some help. That’s why I wrote this book.  

It is my sincerest hope that all fathers can experience the joy of being fully present and involved through their kids’ childhoods. My wish for you and for all fathers is that you can succeed in your career, provide for your family, and spend vast quantities of high quality time with those you love.

Thank you so much, Scott, and good luck with your book!

book cover newScott Behson, PhD, is a professor of management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, a national expert in work and family issues, and was a featured speaker at the recent White House Summit on Working Families. He’s the author of the book, The Working Dad’s Survival Guide: How to Succeed at Work and at Home, the first book of its kind to provide advice and encouragement for working fathers, helping them to achieve success in their careers while also being the involved, loving dads they always wanted to be. Scott founded and runs the popular blog, “Fathers, Work, and Family,” dedicated to helping working fathers and encouraging more supportive workplaces. He writes regularly for the Harvard Business Review Online, Huffington Post and the Good Men Project, and has also been published in TIME and The Wall Street Journal.

Website: http://ScottBehson.com

Book: http://WorkingDadsSurvivalGuide.com, http://amzn.to/1PWQtky

Blog: http://FathersWorkandFamily.com

Professional Speaking: http://brightsightgroup.com/speakers/scott-behson/

 


 

Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Society

Why We Need Equal Support For Active Fathers

When I became a full time dad to my young sons, I felt very lucky. I was looking forward to doing this job, despite knowing how tired and exhausted my wife had often been when she was the main carer. I thrust myself into great outings, craft activities, even baking with my cake enthusiastic boys. I would say spending the last one and half years as a full time dad has been extremely rewarding and the changes I and others can see in me are only of a positive nature. However, there were times where I did ask myself whether I just had to live with the fact that my “colleagues” were now, almost exclusively women. Don’t get me wrong, I have made many wonderful female friends, but I also did miss male company here and there, especially being able to share my experiences with someone who was in the same boat.

file0001508134616Gideon Burrows, author of Men can do it too argues: “Today, to be a good dad should mean doing a fairer share of the baby work. Not just the high-profile nappy changes and the bedtime story reading, but an equal share of the slog and the career sacrifice mothers put up with.” The changes in UK paternity leave in 2011 were not met by a huge upheaval and change. Less than 1% of fathers take advantage of additional paternity leave of up to a total of 26 weeks. Reasons for this are complex. Some argue, they simply can’t afford to, others suggest they don’t want to opt out of the role of the man as the main breadwinner or because they are afraid their career might suffer, having lasting effects on their family’s financial situation. I know it is possible for many to reorganise their life to fit a family friendly career, although I do recognise this does require some support. New legislation provides that from April 2015 men and women can share parental leave in the first 12 months of their baby’s life, wanting to make it easier for new dads to take the time off.

I know there are other reasons fathers don’t take up the main care role. When talking to fathers as a coach or in my support workshops, I am confronted with fathers dismayed at how they feel treated by society as an at-home dad. We are doing ourselves a disservice – men, as well as women. The more men seen as full time carers, the more normal this would be and then fewer women would have to fight against the glass ceiling.

Our society is still very much expecting women to stay at home and regard men out and about with their children on a weekday as a novelty or worse as “cute”. Some just look at them with a mixture of pity and suspicion when dealing with the daily toddler struggles in a public domain or entering a playgroup. Yes, who would want this to happen to them? The more confident of men don’t blink an eyelid, while others just feel completely out of their comfort zone.

My wife struggled with suddenly being a mum; she went through a bout of postnatal depression and anxiety. However, there was support for her. She went to those lifesaving baby groups, where mums can sit and chat and by doing that offer the kind of counselling that is hard to come by – someone exactly in the same situation, struggling with the same issues, available regularly and at no cost. There is other support through the NHS, the La Leche League, the NCT etc. And this is brilliant, it’s a support cushion for a very demanding and extraordinary time in each woman’s life.

Equal parenting is the buzz word. No one would argue that the bond between father and child isn’t greatly enhanced by the father spending more time with his son or daughter. And by being more active around the house those household chores that seemed to have doubled since the birth, are more manageable when equally shared. But wait. What about the man’s new role? Is that just magically happening without any support necessary? It’s not exactly the same for men to go to these baby groups and feel the kind of support that women get. And yes, men suffer from postnatal depression too. However, professionals in this field are mostly women which is discomforting for some men.

Where is the emotional support in that big life changing time of a man? Suddenly it is not all so surprising that less men have the guts to commit themselves to caring for their children full time or at least equally share childcare. Where do men get the tools to become a brilliant father? Many men I talk to simply know they definitely don’t want to be like their own father. But how are they going to parent? Without a male role model to guide them, this isn’t such a comfortable place to be.

If we, as a whole society, want fathers to take an active role in raising their children, then we need to support them on their journey. Right now.

This article has been originally published by me in JUNO magazine, No 38, Winter issue 2014

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Guest Posts, Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Society

Here’s What A Dad Did After His Wife Was Asked Not To Breastfeed At A Public Pool

Over the coming weeks I’ll introduce you to more inspiring, creative, hands-on fathers who all live in different places on this planet. It’s always a great joy to meet, to communicate and to exchange ideas and thoughts with other fathers. I like hearing their stories and reflecting on their experiences. It gives me a lot!

Joe ValleyA lot of emotional input for me came from a guy called Joe Valley. He runs the website Empowered Papa and focuses in his work on how to empower and strengthen the role of men in childbirth. Wow! How awesome! Joe and his wife’s work is also aimed at birth professionals, for them to have a greater understanding on how to support dads in the way that dads need.

More about Joe at the end of this post.

Today, I would like to share Joe’s article on breastfeeding in public. Find out, what he, his wife and their baby experienced at a community swimming pool in Missouri:

Here’s what I did after my wife was asked not to breastfeed at the community center pool

Yesterday, I received a text from my wife, Andrea, stating, “Any chance you can get in the car and come down here. They are telling me I can’t bfeed at the pool.” I put on a nice shirt and pants [doing web design from home requires neither] and got in the car for the Gladstone Community Center.

James Ryan Valeii happened to call me about some collaborative work for HypnoBirthing we are doing, and I told him I was on my way to address an anti-breastfeeding scenario. “I want to be respectful while clarifying our position,” I told James. I also told him I was feeling nervous. James was the best person in the world to be calling me in that moment because of what he told me, “Ask to see their policy in writing.” James is no stranger to this scenario because he is married to Kathy Valeii who runs Birth Anarchy, a website devoted to standing up for the rights of women.

With the focused words of James in my mind, I marched into the community center and asked to see my wife, the one with the baby. Without skipping a beat, the guy at the front desk told me how to get to the indoor pool. Andrea was seated in a chair looking out to where Sacha and Grandma were splashing in the kids pool. Andrea had her baby bag next to her and baby Kai was asleep in her arms. She directed my attention to the teenage male life guard who had asked her to cover up. Here is what Andrea reports:

I was feeding my 8 month old son while my older son played in the pool with his Grandma. I had been doing this on and off the whole time we had been there. The lifeguard on duty came over to me and said “If you’re going to breastfeed, will you please move to the changing room,” and I said “No.” He then asked me if I had a towel I could use to cover up. I again said, “No.” I suggested at this time that he go get a manager to talk to me about it, he said it would be his manager’s call. I agreed to talk to the manager about it.

The manager came over to me and said ‘We do ask people to move to the changing room to breastfeed,” and I said, “I’m not moving. I’m not doing anything wrong sitting here feeding my baby.” He mentioned it being the policy. I said, “Has someone complained?” and he said, “No. But someone might walk in and get offended.” I said, “I’m not going to move, so you might want to go get someone else to talk to me about this.” He agreed and said that he would talk to someone else and that they would see, but probably they were going to get me to move. I did not move. I finished nursing my baby to sleep, and immediately messaged my husband asking him to come over to the center to speak to the manager. I also looked up the breastfeeding laws in Missouri to be sure that I was within my rights. 

I went back to the guy at the front desk, introduced myself, and then asked to see in writing their policy on breastfeeding. His name was Adam and he was nice about the exchange, and I could tell he didn’t want to cause a scene; he kept his voice low and remained seated for most of our conversation. He explained that their effort to ask Andrea to move/stop was because they did not want other people to become offended at the sight of a breastfeeding mother. I told him that I understand their awkward position in this circumstance and that they did not want to offend anyone. Adam appeared relieved to hear this. I also explained how Missouri law protects breastfeeding mothers and that he couldn’t find the pool’s written policy prohibiting breastfeeding because it would have been an illegal document. At some point during our conversation, Adam gave me the business card of the community center administrator, and said he would be able to help me better understand the Gladstone Community Center policy on breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding-Natural-ChoiceAfter this pleasant yet awkward exchange, I returned to my family at the pool. We packed up our bags to head out, and then the aquatics director arrived. His name is Jeremy and he was the guy notified by the lifeguard in Andrea’s story above. Jeremy said, “I apologize if I upset you,” and appeared to be going out of his way to act in a kind manner. I inquired about their breastfeeding policy, and Jeremy told me that they do not want to offend anyone, and so they ask breastfeeding mothers to remove themselves. I asked him for documentation of this policy, and that’s when Jeremy fumbled with an answer, stating he didn’t have anything to give me. Andrea told him that a twenty-second Google search revealed that Missouri has laws in place to protect breastfeeding mothers and that it is illegal to ask them to move/cover-up. Jeremy said he didn’t know what the laws were, but that the pool is a public place, so they have to do certain things not to offend their guests. That’s when I looked right at Jeremy, turned my head to the side and arched my left eyebrow. What did he just say?

There are three men in this story that each tried their best to act in a kind, unoffensive way. Here’s the problem; each of them were unknowingly sustaining the patriarchal stance that women are told what they can and can’t do. When Jeremy asked Andrea to move and she declined, he mentioned that he would talk to his manager, who would get her to move. No matter how much this manager was trying to act nice by using a soft tone, his actions were violent.

Hummm….violent seems like a strong word to describe this, right? After all, he wasn’t using brute force to move Andrea; no blood was spilled in this scenario. However, to take a stance that you control what a woman does with her body is an assumption that you have power over her. You are dictating what is appropriate behavior. You are trying to “get her” to do what you want. If she doesn’t comply, then you obtain assistance to “get her” to do so. Here’s the deal: every time you prevent a woman from choosing what she does with her body, you are acting in a violent manner. Do you see where I am coming from here?

You’ll never guess what the lifeguard had uncovered when he was telling Andrea to move. I’ll give you a hint. They are round. There are two of them. They are between his neck and his hips. Ok, it’s his nipples. Both of them were out and for all to see. Andrea had only one nipple out at the time she was feeding Kai. Why was she told her nipples had to be removed from the pool while the male lifeguard could have his out with no question?

Well, you might say that women’s breasts are sexualized in our culture, so we cover them up in the effort to remain decent. Yes, female nipples are sexualized in our Western culture. Here’s the rub; a woman decides when her nipples are sexualized, not a teenage male lifeguard, not a 30-something aquatics director, not any other person in the world.

Let’s look at it this way: if some man gets turned on by the low-hanging oak branches of the trees on the street, we don’t cover the branches because they are sexualized by that one guy. The oaks tickle his fancy, but they don’t tickle mine, so I go about my day, enjoying their summer shade rather than their erotic pleasure. The same is true for nipples, because there are times when they will be seen as a source of erotic pleasure and times when they will be seen as a source of baby food. One doesn’t negate the other.

I think the same is true for women everywhere. If they want their nipples to be sources of stimulating pleasure for others, then awesome. I love that. Thanks. You’re so kind. However, if a woman wants my attention to be focused elsewhere, say on her ideas about our culture, then me staring at her boobs is missing out on a good connection with her. It’s also rude, because it says, “Yeah sure, whatever. I don’t care about your ideas or what you care about, because I only care about you being a source of sexual stimulation for me.”

The same is true for breastfeeding. If a woman decides that her nipples are for her baby, and a guy says that her nipples are inappropriate and that she needs to cover them, then I see that guy as being violent. You might disagree with me here and say I am taking it too far. However, I am coming from the idea that violence is dictating what someone else can and can’t do with his or her own body. Violence is saying that you decide what is right for another person. Violence is negating someone else’s needs in order to serve your own. Violence is using power and force to obtain compliance. Violence is the end of communication and the beginning of war.

To tell a mother to cover up or to move while breastfeeding is to say that your needs are greater than hers. You are trumping her choice for her own body. You are missing out on the opportunity to have connection with her. This is sad, because mothers can be amazing, wonderful people that bring life into the world. Literally, mothers bring life into the world. It’s in everyone’s best interest as a species that we respect the mothers.

How do you respect mothers? How do you see your nipples? What do you think about our culture saying YES to man-nipples and NO to woman-nipples? Do you think that is fair? I remember once when Gena Kirby was staying at our house she brought this up. She said she was pissed that it is OK for a man to take his shirt off when it’s hot, but it’s not OK for a woman to do so. Crap. I felt embarrassed. I had never thought of it like that.

It comes down to this: a woman should have the freedom to decide to use her breasts for feeding a baby just like she can decide to use her breasts to stimulate the attention of a sexual partner. In either situation, it’s her decision. If a man finds the sight of a breastfeeding woman to be stimulating, then it doesn’t mean that he has the right to tell her to stop breastfeeding. It certainly does not mean that the breastfeeding mother is being inappropriate. Remember the low-hanging oak limbs? We don’t cover those up just because someone is turned on by them.

Let’s be honest; breastfeeding is titillating. The female nipple has been sexualized in Western culture in a most tremendous way and to such an extent that the vision of it is literally banned from television, so seeing one provides a thrill because of our cultural conditioning. The same is NOT true for an indigenous tribe in Papua New Guinea where the women leave their breasts out. The vision of a nipple to a boy or a man would be no more eye-catching than the vision of an elbow or an ear. What I am saying is that a heterosexual Western man will likely have a variety of emotions arising at the sight of a woman breastfeeding her baby. This is understandable. It does not mean he is bad or the woman should cover up.

If we are to march forward into the future with the health of our families in our best interest, then it behooves us to consider the nipple of a mother and what it means to us. We are mammals and all mammals feed their babies from the breast. Consider a world where the vision of a mother breastfeeding her baby is seen as wonderful and natural.

Hold Up: you’ll never guess who just called me. I am not kidding..as I am typing this post, my phone rang. It was Adam, the front desk guy from the community center stating that they are having building-wide training to address the situation yesterday, and to offer education on the Missouri breastfeeding law to all of their employees. Adam apologized for our experience yesterday and explained that they were in the wrong to ask Andrea to move. He explained that they were unaware of the law and also that they hire some young people whose first job may be to be a lifeguard at the pool. He apologized for the community center’s actions and hopes that we feel comfortable to return to the pool and enjoy our time there. I asked if he had my number from when I called yesterday to get his name. He told me that was true and that it took him a while to find my number in the phone records so he could call me back. Well done, Adam. I feel relieved that you took this seriously and made a strong effort to make the situation right.

Also, THREE CHEERS FOR ANDREA!!! Hip Hip Hooray! Hip Hip Hooray! Hip Hip Hooraaay! Andrea stood her ground by remaining seated when she was asked to remove herself for breastfeeding. She said NO to the men claiming that they decide what she does with her body.

Andrea-and-the-boys

This article has been originally published HERE.

What Joe says about himself:

Joe Valley is a feminist web designer working from home while supporting his young family. He and his wife, Andrea, have two boys born at home and an aging black cat who must be at least 20 years old by now. Joe came from the world of counseling where he worked with families finding relief from the rigors of life. Joe teaches counseling skills to birth professionals and also cheers for dads’ supportive role in birth at EmpoweredPapa.com.
Joe-and-Sacha
All the best Joe! For you and your family!