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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.

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We Need A Cultural Change In The Way We Treat Children

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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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20 Things A Father Should Do This Year

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A new year is here. I’m always excited about a new beginning. So many new opportunities and so many things I can try to achieve. Personally, I don’t much believe in new-year-resolutions. I don’t want to pressurise myself and then feel depressed by the end of January when I need to confess that all resolutions actually don’t work. Again.

So, this year I came up with a list of things I just want to continue doing and working on. But also I added things which I think would be great to try out. And I want to invite you, fathers on this planet, to join me. Pick the things you like and go ahead creating your own list. Whatever you choose to do, I believe in your own creativity and fatherhood power. Be my guest:

1) Love your children unconditionally. Yes, there a plenty of moments where they gonna mess up; where they drive you insane, and where your only safe place is the locked bathroom to get at least five minutes peace. Tantrums, scream fits, broken things and even lies. It’s all part of the package. But, they are still the most magnificent and wonderful people on this planet. So, forgive, reconnect, give the love you would have hoped for when you were a kid and screwed up. Why did I put it here as Number 1? Because it’s my personal reminder and the most important thing to me when it comes to parenting and fatherhood.

2) Spend more time with your kids. Since I’m a father myself I can confirm this: Time flies. It’s such a precious time. And your children are only little once. Before you blink twice they’ve grown up and go their ways. You’ll still be part of their life (hopefully), but it’s nothing compared with the first years. So, get down onto the floor, or in the sandpit, or into the woods and play. When you join their games be present and follow your kids’ rules.

3) Take a step back: Watch your kids. Observe how they play and what they like. Try to see things through their eyes. Listen to them. Not only their words, but also intonation, face expression and body language. This way you’ll learn a lot about them and yourself. Promised.

4) Hug your kids. Yes, it’s always good to ask them first and get permission. But 9 out of 10 times, kids will say: Yes, I want a hug. Do it. Every day.

5) Surprise your children and partner with a new dish. Raid your cookery books, ask a friend or search online. Get the ingredients and ask your children to help cooking. Make it special. Put some candles or fresh flowers onto the table.

6) Learn an instrument. Gosh, did I really say that? Yep. It’s great to see for children that grown-ups have challenges too. How do you cope with struggles and something completely new (that is if you don’t play an instrument). Wanna make it easier? Get an ukulele. You’ll be surprised how simple it is. Even if you’ve never played an instrument before, with an ukulele you should be able to play a simple tune after some hours or so of practicing. And hey, your kids can join you. What about a little family concert after a couple of months playing?

7) Make up a story. No, not from a book, it all starts with your own imagination. Make yourself comfortable on the sofa and snuggle up together with your children. You start telling a story by introducing a couple of characters and a scene of action. (Keep it simple. It could start like this: One beautiful morning a farmer called Joe opened the door to his barn. In the barn lived a cow, a horse, and some pigs…) Then at a crucial point (well, it doesn’t matter so much if there’s a crucial point, but hey- ho let’s assume we need one: Joe opened the barn door and then he suddenly saw… Pause) ask one of your children to take over and to carry on with the story line. Depending on age and abilities, the story could be ‘passed on’ from one to another. This can go on for hours… or days. (Until Joe very exhausted and tired went to bed).

8) Apologise. Yes, we as parents can lose it too. That’s fine. We’re responsible for our short falls and mistakes. So, show your kids that you can take that responsibility and have the guts to say you were wrong. This way they see you as something beautiful: being authentic and real.

9) Respect and love your partner. If you want your kids to have healthy and good relationships in their lives, then set the example. Listen with empathy, reflect on your actions, and speak with love and gentleness.

10) When you have to clean the house, invite your kids to a cleaning party. Do you know the saying ‘You either have children OR a clean house’? Well, I totally agree. But sometimes it’s necessary to get a certain order into that chaos. Yes, you can choose to be either miserable and grumpy about it, or to turn the whole cleaning into a fun party. Turn the music up, have a dance with the vacuum cleaner and wear the kitchen apron on your head. In no time your offspring want to join in and help. Believe me. Yes, you look silly. But that’s part of the parenting, isn’t it? (Lower your expectations – no it won’t look like your pre-kids days – well at least not for very long…) You might remove the apron when leaving the house or opening the front door.

11) Connect with nature. Going to the park is a good start. But I’m talking about a real connection. Go wild. Off road. No phone signal (yes, that’s the hardest bit). Take a tent, a fire kettle and a few things to ‘survive’. You’ll discover how little you need. Collect wood, make a fire, respect all creatures and life out there. I always find that spending time with my kids in the woods awakes the most powerful feelings inside me. I slow down, I feel a strong bond to my children and I feel somehow home. And it doesn’t cost you anything.

12) Invite your neighbours. OK, if they’re bonkers or drug abusing idiots, you might not. Otherwise it’s a good way to find out who really lives next door and to see how you could help each other. Many children love to meet new people (young and old alike) and they might feel safer when they know they can trust people in their close environment.

13) Volunteer and take your kids with you. That’s on my list for a long time. I really want this to happen. I so believe we can teach gentleness and how to care for others by setting this great example: volunteering. It could be anything: your local care home where you help for an afternoon by talking to residents or reading stories; planting trees with an environmental charity or by cooking food for some people in your neighbourhood who are lonely or in need. It’s up to you.

14) Be a relaxed father. Yes, thank you very much, Torsten. Anything else? I know, I find it hard myself to stay relaxed. Gosh, our lives are extremely busy and demanding. Work, families, relationships, friends, community, and so on. And on top of that our children who easily pick up from our mood and mirror our feelings. And if that’s stress, yes, then they’re stressed too. So, let’s take it a gear down. When you feel stressed, tell them. That’s your kids included. Sometimes it’s just that small break you need to calm down. It’s not selfish to say “I’m off for 10 minutes. I need time to myself!”. Do it: find activities that relax you – be it meditating, visualisation, muscle relaxation, having a bath – what is it for you?

15) Write emails to your children. This isn’t from me. I read it somewhere. Unfortunately, I forgot where. So if you read this and you are the creator of this idea, please forgive me for not naming you. But I love this: Open an email-account in your child(ren)’s name and send photos, love letters and all kind of stuff (well, your stuff) to this account. As often as you like. Write about your emotions and be bloody honest. Then when they turn older (14 or 16 or 18 or 21 or whenever you think it’s right), give them the password. Joy!

16) Take time for yourself. You’ve heard right. TIME FOR YOURSELF! Take a day or a weekend (it helps when you talk and plan together with your partner) and just focus on your needs and wishes. I’m dreaming of a weekend where I just go for a long bike ride (cycling I mean). A tent, a sleeping bag and my bike. Then, in the evening, somewhere in the countryside, I will make a fire, roast some bread and veggies and have a beer… Sounds awesome to me. Then coming back to my family, feeling fully recharged and energised. Oh yes, we all need a break from time to time.

17) Say I LOVE YOU VERY MUCH to your kids and partner. Well, that sounds cheesy. Mean it, for god’s sake. And they will appreciate it.

18) Grow a beard. I just wanted to write something silly. But hey, I like the idea of growing a beard. It’s just that normally I look like a troll or evil dwarf when I haven’t shaved for about four or so weeks. But my kids (and wife) like it when I get fluffy soft in the face. So, what’s more important? Your kids and wife love you or you look like dwarf Gimli?

19) Help another dad. Often men find it hard to open up. For some it takes a few good talks to break the ice. If you know someone who struggles or find it hard to be a father and/or partner, talk to him. Offer him time and space to be himself. We need more gentle, empathic, down-to-earth fathers. By helping and supporting each other, we can come closer to this goal.

20) Enjoy. And how you enjoy it, that’s up to you.

I wish you all the best for this New Year. Be authentic, be empathic, be yourself. Real fathers for great children.

 

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Sorry Kids, I Messed Up! How to Apologise and Reconnect

Brent_and_DaddyThis is just a shitty day of parenting. You know what I mean. Whatever I do or the children do or whatever is happening today sucks. My eldest winches and complains about every- and anything: the food (too spicy), the weather (too wet), his toys (too boring), me (because I’m not reading the same book for the 25th time today). Simultaneously his younger brother takes a pair of scissors and cuts open toothpaste tubes (“No, it wasn’t me!”), sets the alarm clock for 2 in the morning (“No, it wasn’t me, really!”), and finally blocks our toilet with the lid of our coconut oil jar (“No, Papa, it wasn’t me. Told you”).

To say it in one sentence: I COULD SCREAM! The thing is you can replace ‘could’ with ‘did’. Yep, the same guy who tells you all the time how to be empathic, calm, relaxed and so on, loses the plot. Because I’m upset, I’m annoyed, I’m f*****g angry. Yes, there is so much someone can take and yes, parenting also means that we have bad days. And, yes, we’re just human beings.

I love my kids, obviously. In an instant I felt ashamed and bad. Why didn’t I respond with a nice smile and a phrase, like “Don’t worry about the toilet. Yeah, it’s just fifty quid for the plumber, but hey, it’s just money, isn’t it? The bigger problem might be, where we go until the loo works again?”

But, as I said before, I didn’t respond in that cool way. I messed it up. But, the good news about that, it’s OK. No, it’s not OK to shout and scream but it does happen. To all of us. More important than the kick-off itself is the aftermath. What do you do next? And that’s where the key lies for me.

When I look back at my childhood, I remember my parents being loud or shouting at me on occasions only. Like a short but intensive thunderstorm. Sometimes it was about nothing (at least from my point of view), and then the “deserved” ones. What I also remember is the fact that my parents never ever came to me or my sister to apologise. It just didn’t happen. Once the thunderstorm was over, life went on – more or less – as normal. Only my dad could be quite unforgiving for a long time (but that’s a different issue).

What I’m trying to say is, that they missed an enormous and important chance of reconnection. They left me with all my feelings of resentments, frustration and shame alone. Yes, I might did something I shouldn’t have. Yes, I screwed up. Nevertheless I deserved love, support and kindness, because that’s what all children need: unconditional love.

After their anger had vanished, they could have come to me and said something like “Hey, we were really cross with you and that’s why we got mad at you, but now we wanted to see how you feel. And we wanted to say ‘sorry’ for being so mad. Look, grown-ups make mistakes, too. It’s sometimes quite confusing and hard to understand, even for us. Anyway, we wanted you to know, that we still love you! You are not responsible for our anger, it happened out of our own fear, insecurity and helplessness”.

What a powerful message that would have been. In an instant I would have forgiven anything. I would have cried and laughed at the same time.

Kids want to be loved. Of course. And, yes, they’re not doing things to upset or annoy us. If we think it’s mischief it often is a little cry out saying “Hey, I’m here. Play with me. I need you now!”. But often they can’t say it (because they are either too young or they haven’t got the words yet).

Let’s go back to my shitty day. Yep, everything went wrong, and that includes my response. When the storm had passed and things settled down, I went to see my boys. I looked them in their eyes and apologised. The apology doesn’t have to be very long (hey, you speak with kids), but should show respect and empathy. I see the very moment of the apology also as a great example of authentic parenting. I’m authentic because my kids can see that I make mistakes. That’s fine. Because I take responsibility for them and show how to deal with them.

After that we hugged and cuddled and reconnected. Children forgive so quickly and easily. They truly love unconditionally.

The reconnection or healing process is always important to me. Often I try to do something I know they enjoy: like reading their favourite book or having a long cuddle on the sofa. Especially with my eldest I use the evenings, before he goes off to sleep, to talk about it again. He often needs more time to digest things, to reflect and to talk about his feelings. Having that good father-son-chat really helps him and me to find to each other again. No, I’m not afraid to apologise and I’ll always tell my children how much I love them, particularly after a shitty day.

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