Parenting and Empathic Fathers

Pre-Birth Tensions

birthing poolIt’s so important: the time prior to a birth. Families and couples prepare themselves for the big moment. Ideally everything should be in place and ready for the moment when the baby decides it’s time to enter this world.

Ideally, indeed that’s a good word. We’re expecting our third child. Basically at any time now. Due date was yesterday. And, so far I had the feeling everything is fine, and with the experience of two lovely home births in the past I felt somehow prepared and relaxed.

A few weeks ago we started with first preparations. My boys and I inflated the birthing pool for the first time, our lovely midwife came around to talk things through, my wife and I have been listening to birth relaxation CDs, and we created a backup plan for the whereabouts of our kids when birth takes place. We even raided the kitchen cupboard and made some very delicious energy balls for the time of birth and after.

So, all good then?! Well, I must admit things have turned slightly against us and I get that panicky feeling of being stressed. Today my wife followed her nest-building-instinct: we started clearing and cleaning the house to make it more cosy. Since then everything went downhill:

The boys – running around full of tension, anger and temper. The birthing pool – decided to have a hole. The idea of peace and quiet – gone.

I could scream. Honestly, I was so looking forward to this special pre-birth time, when things quiet down and tensions fall off. The exact opposite is happening here. For about an hour I tried to repair the birthing pool with a combination of blu tac, a bike repair patch, sellor tape and swearing. At the same time my heavily pregnant wife chased after our youngest, who was on a mission to either destroy things or leaving messes in corners we just had tidied. Both results, repairing the pool and calming down the little one, were less than successful.

I could scream again. Well, no, I just decide to take a short break. Really, it doesn’t help now to get worked up about things I can’t change or control. Yes, the boys are tense, no wonder. For weeks and months they have been waiting quite patiently for this time. It must have been like an endless journey for them. So, all their anxieties, joy and excitement is bubbling up now. The pool, well, it’s not ideal but it will be alright. Stop worrying, Torsten!

I tell you what I do now. I’ll go down and make a cake. A nice almond-coconut cake. The boys can help me and things will be alright. After we had the cake we can carry on in building our nest. Not long to go until our little one will be here. Let’s take a deep breath and carry on. I see you on the other side… in a few days… or hours…

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Parenting and Empathic Fathers

The Third Child: Yes, I’m Ready to Go

31 Wochen (4)‘When is the baby coming? Today? Now? I want the baby to come now!’ – These words are being said by my nearly 4-year-old every day. Every day for the last three months. You see, there is a little pressure and some expectations on us – the parents – or, to be more precise, on my wife. Come on, bring the baby on!

We’re expecting our third child this May. If everything goes by plan, birth should take place at home again, as with the other two. I feel ready for it. More or less.

Looking back I realise how little time we took to get prepared for this birth and the arrival of our baby. I remember the long evenings prior to our first birth. We sat on the sofa and chatted about everything baby related: how life will change, how to fold cloth nappies and we even practised the baby sling with a dolly inside (well, that was actually for me who needed a bit of help there… yes, I did manage dolly in the sling after twenty or so minutes). Everything we did or said was with the focus on baby or birth.

Things shifted slightly three years later when our second child came along. Yes, we were more exhausted and the evenings often ended with us going to bed the same time as our toddler, just to catch up. Still, we had great moments where my wife and I could sit down, reflect, relax, think, talk, laugh, cry and enjoy ourselves. With that kind of confidence the second birth went very smoothly and peacefully.

But life geared up again. Both our boys are wonderful and curious explorers. Most of the time anyway. Our days start normally around 6.30-ish in the morning and the eldest should be in bed around 8.30pm – but, hey ho, life is not like that and quite often the evening routine gets delayed. After we re-established a certain order and tidiness throughout the house we fall into bed as well. And in between I just finished writing my first book.
So, all fine by me. But, and here comes my point, we just noticed how little time there is for us. Not only time as a couple but also time to get prepared again.

Well, we already went through two home births, babymoon, sleepless nights, toddler tantrums & co., why should we need more preparation? Good question. For me it’s about celebrating that very special, beautiful and unique moment when a child enters the world. It doesn’t matter how often I’ve seen or experienced it before. This new life deserves the same attention and care I’ve given to my other two.

And, it’s about my wife. She, who went through the last 34 weeks, struggling with sickness, fatigue, heartburn and the general exhaustion pregnancy brings. She, who gets up every morning to be with our very active boys, seems to have quite endless energy and patience to deal with all the difficulties and joys parenting can bring.

So, taking that time to get ready again is also an important way to say ‘Thank you’ to her. To show respect and empathy. Yes, there is less time available now, but I believe in these small but important moments of kindness. For me to get up a little earlier in the morning to prepare her some breakfast and tea in bed; to let her nap in the afternoon while the boys and I are somewhere outdoors, or to give her a nice and relaxing belly massage (even when I’m terribly tired) before we go to sleep – I know it’s no big deal but it does help her.

Belly MassageWe also try to involve our children in the whole pre-birth celebrations. They love to use the natural belly massage oil (the more the better) and when the younger one can’t wait for his turn to massage, he then has a go at my belly (bliss). Or the other day they both helped me by inflating the birthing pool. Of course the hosepipe had to be tested and this way they found out that they can use it as a mega cool telephone…

Yes, time is tight. But it’s really up to us to make the best of it. Tonight we have planned something very special. It all happened quite spontaneously with the support of friends: My wife and I go out!! The eldest will stay with friends and the youngest with our adopted Granny. So, from around 5pm till tomorrow morning we’ll have time to ourselves!

The only plan we made is to go out for dinner – and then… let’s see. No plans, no pressure, no hurry. Just us. What a treat! Yes, we will talk about birth and the baby – of course! But we will also just enjoy ourselves – the couple, the lovers, the two of us. Recharging our emotional batteries for the weeks to come. I can’t wait. For both.

31 Wochen (1)


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Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Relationships

She Doesn’t Really Love Me!?! Or Check Out Your Attachment Style

 

hand holdingRecently I came across the book “Attached” by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller, as well as articles about the topic of how attachment styles influence our relationships. Having been interested in Attachment Theory since my first baby was born, I was intrigued about how my wife and I can use attachment theories wisdoms on our couple relationship.

Attachment theory was first developed by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby, who observed children’s reactions to being separated from their parents during WW2 in England. He realised that how children related to others was directly influenced by their experiences with their primary caregivers.

birdiesI wrote before about how essential our first bonding experiences to our caregivers are and that when our needs are not met at all or not all the time, we can end up longing for this sense of security and feeling of being loved unconditionally as adults . And this often influences how we are relating to our partners. In other words, the fears and needs of our childhood travel with us into adulthood and we re-enact certain situations and struggle with connecting to our partner out of fear of abandonment or rejection.

If we can’t be sure of being loved for who we are (and even if our actions aren’t always perfect), we might decide to hide our true emotions, close our heart and use communication to hide the truth of the matter.

Several researchers have looked into how our attachment styles influence our relationships. There are four styles. In their research, Dr. Phillip Shaver and Dr. Cindy Hazan found that about 60 percent of people have a secure attachment, while 20 percent have an avoidant attachment, and 20 percent have an anxious attachment.

  • SECURE people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving
  • ANXIOUS people are often preoccupied with their relationships and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back
  • AVOIDANT people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness.
  • FEARFUL/ AVOIDANT people live in an ambivalent state, in which they are afraid of being both too close to or too distant from others. They attempt to keep their feelings at bay but are unable to.

By being aware of your own attachment style (and that of your partner) you will be able to “see through” your own thought patterns (“he always does X that means he doesn’t really love me” or “she goes on and on about my flaws, I just can’t take it anymore”) and begin to address your emotions differently, by relating them back to your attachment style. What you have taken as “reality” or “truth” might suddenly be turned around.

So, for example if you have an avoidant attachment style, you might repress emotions, be distant, withdraw in conflicts and find it difficult to tolerate true closeness. The way to get your needs met is to act like you don’t have any. You might communicate in a way that frequently pushes your partner away from you in order to regain your sense of distance. Now, it might be that your partner has an anxious attachment style their buttons will be pressed painfully by your behaviour. They will want you to respond to their communication and can’t deal with your withdrawal. Lisa Firestone writes that your partner wants to be with you lots to feel reassured of your love as well as have their needs met.

Knowing your own and your partner’s attachment style can help with exposing the Disconnection Cycle that you might find yourselves in and moving towards healing past experiences and forming a secure bond.

It is interesting when we consider that research has also shown that we often choose partners based on the same character traits as our parents (or one of our parents). In their book, Levine and Heller write that “attachment styles actually complement one another in a way. Each reaffirms the other’s beliefs about themselves and about relationships. The avoidants’ defensive self-perception that they are strong and independent is confirmed, as is the belief that others want to pull them into more closeness than they are comfortable with. The anxious types find that their perception of wanting more intimacy than their partner can provide is confirmed, as is their anticipation of ultimately being let down by significant others. So, in a way, each style is drawn to reenact a familiar script over and over again.”

I believe, and have experienced, that it is possible to start being more secure in your relationships. It takes a lot of reflection and putting old thought patterns on the head, but it’s so worth it! My wife and I are doing everything to ensure our children are securely attached to us, we feel that in order to achieve that we had to look at our own attachment styles, our childhoods and what kind of thought patterns we had about each other. It’s funny to think that really all our partner wants is to be held in that secure bubble that we hold our children in.

If you haven’t already recognised yourself/your attachment style, here is a test to find out!

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Guest Posts, Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Relationships

Discovering Yourself as a Father of Twins

Every time when my wife and I found out that we’re pregnant, I thought about hundreds of different things. Things like: Are we gonna be alright? Am I ready for it? How will the older child respond to the news? How will life change? And so on. But to be quite honest, I never thought about the possibility, that actually two little babies could come into our life. I personally know very few families with twins and somehow it didn’t occur to me that twins could happen to us.

That’s why I find it very fascinating to shed more light on parents, and especially fathers, of twins. I’m glad to introduce you to Joe Rawlinson, who is a father of twins, an author and he also runs the website dadsguidetotwins.com (with awesome podcasts!).

So, sit back and enjoy reading Joe’s story:

Discovering Yourself as a Father of Twins

joe 1It was supposed to be just a normal visit to the doctor. We had found out that my wife was pregnant. This would be our third child.

As was protocol after a positive pregnancy test, my wife scheduled a visit with her doctor. I had gone with her before to these visits for each of our previous pregnancies.

This time is was Christmas Eve and we had two very active toddler boys. I offered to watch the boys while my wife went to her doctor visit.

I drove around in the van with our sons while my wife met with the doctor.

She called me when she was done to let me know the appointment went well. She shared the good news that they had actually done an ultrasound and saw healthy heartbeats.

I was excited that the visit went well but then paused and asked: “Did you say heartbeats? Plural?”

“Yes, we’re having twins!” was her immediate reply.

The news hit me like a ton of bricks. I was shocked. I was in disbelief. I couldn’t process this information. It was so unexpected that I couldn’t fathom it in the realm of possibilities.

I told her I was on my way and hung up the phone.

That night I had a hard time sleeping. My wife did too. The news of twins isn’t something that is conducive to a good night’s rest.

It took a while for the shock to wear off. The mental shock also lead to physical ailments like insomnia, and loss of appetite.

To help recover from the shock and actually do something about our pending twin arrival, my wife and I focused on what we could control.

We started making preparations around the home. We started recruiting others to come and help once the twins arrived.

Little by little we got ready. It is amazing how much comfort you can take in being prepared.

As an Eagle Scout I clearly remember the Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared. And so it was with us. We got as much ready as we could.

The twin pregnancy was more challenging than that of our two previous deliveries. My wife was on modified bed rest towards the later stages of the pregnancy. This required that we get creative with our daily schedules.

I adjusted my work schedule. We recruited a babysitter to come help with our two boys so Mom could rest.

Little did I know that the challenges of the end of the pregnancy were really practice for the work that was ahead of us.

Frankly, each of our boy’s infant months and required care were relatively easy on me as the Dad.

Yes, I helped the best I could during the day and night. However, since my wife was breastfeeding, my ability to help during the night was limited.

That pattern of parenting all changed with the birth of our identical twin girls. With twins, it is all hands on deck. No one rests. Everyone (at least all the adults) turn into sleep-deprived zombies.

As most twins do, our girls arrived early. 40 weeks is full term for a singleton baby but twins rarely go that far. At 36 weeks our baby girls arrived via a c-section.

We were blessed that our girls were born healthy and didn’t require any time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). This meant that Mom and our babies came home from the hospital and we were off on our twin journey.

The first year with twins can only be compared to a foggy hazy blur. Sleep deprivation hung over us like a persistent cloudy day.

I took joy in the little moments with my girls. Often these were one on one during the nighttime feedings.

However, the physical and mental burden of caring for infant twins and still working a day job combined to wear me down.

Good friends of our told us that the first year was crazy. They told us it would be harder than we could imagine.

They were right.

joe 2Despite the intensity of the first several months, we made progress with each passing week with our twins.

They sleep for longer stretches during the night. We figured out their quirks. We learned what worked and abandoned what didn’t.

By the end of the first year, we were in a pretty good pattern.

Looking back on our experience, I realized that there just wasn’t a lot of good information out there for fathers of twins.

So I started to chronicle what I had learned on dadsguidetotwins.com and ultimately wrote a book, the “Dad’s Guide to Twins”, for dads to help them survive the twin pregnancy and prepare for their twins.

Our girls are 6 now and we have moved past the mere survival mode of infant twins. Now, we really have to do our best as parents. Instead of just worrying about feedings, diapers, and sleep, we really have to focus on raising good kids.

As our twins get older, the challenges are different. But there is still great joy in the journey of being a father of twins. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

 

About Joe Rawlinson:

Joe Rawlinson is the author of the “Dad’s Guide to Twins” and shares tips and tricks for having and raising twins via his dadsguidetotwins.com site and podcast. He also recently founded the Twin T-Shirt Company.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Relationships

Equal Parenting = Happy Parenting

familyI think to achieve a harmonious home life both partners need to be involved and active in parenting. But the truth is, that in most families either both parents work full time or one does while the other stays at home with the kids. I believe this is not a healthy situation in the long term. Even though both might love what they do, they get too much of one world and not enough of the other.

Yes, it’s a privilege and wonderful being able to spend the days with the kids as well as going out to work (as long as you like what you’re doing). But I find humans are not made for JUST one or the other. There are so many passions, wishes, dreams inside us. So many different things we can and want to do, that just choosing one path makes most of us dissatisfied.

When I am at home with the kids I love playing with them, have the freedom of spending my day as I wish, and they wish, do crafty, outdoorsy things together and have fun. BUT as soon as I do it for the third day in a row I catch myself wishing I had some more time for myself, pursuing things that are difficult to do with the kids in tow. Or just having some space for myself (hey, go to the toilet without being disrupted)!

But equally, when I spend days at work, I love being able to get things done uninterrupted, to be challenged intellectually and spend time with adults. BUT after a few days I miss being with the kids.

It’s a lose-lose situation for both partners. I think many parents want to escape these static roles and realise that we just don’t fit in only one role.

So how can you organise life in a way that you get the good of both worlds without having to move into a caravan and live in the woods? (Although that might actually be a great adventure!)

I think first of all it’s good to reflect on what you need and want. You only have this one life (yes, really! Well, reincarnation might exist, but who knows you might be an ant in your next life…). So, what is it that you need to do, that you have to do? What did you love to do when you were 9 years old?

Once, you have an idea, make sure you include that in your life! Make time, work less, share responsibilities equally. There are many different models out there, finding the right one is not easy, but definitely do-able. It takes courage and it’s scary to go for change, but it’s worth it, always. Only when you are happy in yourself and content with your life, can you also fully be present with your partner and your children, and this is the most important “thing”, don’t you think?

Tell me what you think and whether you have come up with ideas of how to parent more equally!

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Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Relationships

Being Close to Your Partner through Active Listening

loving coupleHow often do you argue with your partner and you feel misunderstood? How many times do you respond with anger, defending yourself or becoming cross when she or he doesn’t get you? Close connection comes through really seeing our partner, understanding who he or she is. Essential for that are active listening and empathy.

What is Active Listening?

“Seek first to understand, and then be understood” (Stephen R Covey)

• We are used to listen to ourselves in response to what the other person is saying. That means we ‘listen’ to our reactions of what the other has said, judging, commenting it in our mind and formulating a response, waiting only for our turn to speak

• We jump in, give opinions and possible solutions, before the other person has really finished

Active listening, however, is when we stop focusing on our own agenda and thoughts and focus fully on our partner’s words, intonation, body language and facial expression.

When we truly want to understand we need to listen actively, that means:

• Give our full attention, this can be shown by moving our body towards the speaker, nodding our mirroring their body language

• We can repeat and summarise key words and phrases. Be careful to use their words, so that you don’t change the meaning of what they said.

You show that you are really listening when you do that and it reaffirms the speaker, that you understood.

• Reflect back the emotion that you hear them express. Like: ‘You sound very sad…’ However, if in doubt, leave the emotion. You don’t want to make the speaker believe he/she is sad, for example, if they are not.

• By paraphrasing what the other has said you encourage him/her to carry on and when you feel you have come to a point in the conversation where it would be helpful for you to interpret what has been said, this can be useful for the speaker, as it clarifies his/her thinking.

The aim of active listening is that you are able to truly understand and therefore feel yourself into his/her position and are able to respond with empathy and compassion.

To practice active listening, arrange a special evening, order or cook some special food and have a candlelight dinner or anything that you know your partner will find romantic or will appreciate your efforts for.

Have a “listening” evening. Each person has time to talk without being interrupted for five, ten (you decide what feels best) minutes. The other listens. Make sure you really listen and don’t let your thoughts drift off (if they do, make sure you come back to listening actively). Take what you hear as feelings and thoughts of your partner, rather than “the truth”. This means you won’t get into justification mode (“she always accuses me of this”, “I never said that…”). Active listening means you look each other in the eyes, you can nod, you might want to clarify points (but not question what the other has said!).

Start your sentences with “I”, if that helps you talk about yourself, rather than accuse your partner of something.

Get closer. Listen to your partner. Become (re)connected. Enjoy!

(Based on Stephen R. Covey’s work* and other researchers, I have summarised in this post how their work can support your communication with your child(ren) and partner.

*Steven R. Covey: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Schuster Ltd., 2004

 

 

P.S. I still run my campaign AWESOME WORKSHOPS for AWESOME DADS at Indiegogo. I raise funds in order to offer workshops for fathers (on a low or no income) in my community. Wanna help me? Awesome. Click HERE.

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Guest Posts, Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Relationships, Society

Family Circle: Family First (Guest Post)

Today I would like to introduce Paul Wandason to you. He is a father, blogger and author. In this post Paul is reflecting about his relationships with the immediate family, relatives, friends and all the other people who play important and sometimes less important roles… You’ll find a short bio and links to Paul’s blog and social media sites at the end of his post. And please, feel free to discuss and comment this post… It’s always great to hear what you think!

Family priority

I recently read an interesting and insightful post on voiceboks. In that post the point was made that it doesn’t matter if your family members do something wrong…because they’re family. And you still go to visit family even if you know beforehand there are going to be problems of some sort…because they’re family.

Family first

As long as I can remember (and probably beyond…) it’s always been crystal clear: it’s always family first.
My wife laughs at me because I seem to have a system of “circles” when it comes to family, friends and trust.
Is it right to have a system? Actually, system sounds very structured and mechanical. But I didn’t sit down and think it up…it’s just that I was brought up in a very loving family with a very strong sense of family. It’s always been family first within my family, and I strive to keep that the same today.

My wife is different. The family she was raised up in, by comparison, is very weak. But I must say that they have a larger share of close friends – a bigger merging between family and friend (or my “inner and outer circles”).
Should we keep our family separate and special from the outside world? Or should family love be extended and shared out, implicitly trusting ‘outsiders’ and welcoming them into our family circle more easily?

I suppose I prefer the first option – I was raised in a strong, tight family environment. It seems natural. I feel special and loved within my family. And secure. On the flip side, my wife’s family have a large network of people / contact they can call on for help.
So welcome to my world…what do you think of my family circle system! 😉

Inner circle (inner)

Unconditional love for: My immediate family (wife and children) and the family I grew up in (Mum, Dad and my brothers).
Members of the inner circle can get away with anything. I would die for them, no questions. Family first!

Inner circle (slightly outer)

Slightly further out from the inner circle is the immediate family of my brothers (nieces, nephews, wives). I love them unconditionally and would do anything for them too, although ‘first allegiance’ is to my own family (e.g. I’d give a kidney to my daughter before my niece, to my brother before his wife, etc..)
Love is love. I don’t love more or less. I love each differently. I love my wife in a different way than I love my daughters, but I love them all infinitely. Same with all members of the inner circle. It’s all very fuzzy!

heart lawn

Middle circle (inner)

The middle circle is for other family members (e.g. by (diluted) blood or legal proceedings). Aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws and their families.
Family members here are…family (duh!) so generally I trust them over non-family members.
For example, I trust that a family member has the best interests of my children closer to their heart than someone from daycare. I don’t always agree with my in-laws’ child ‘care’ methods…but I do know that they have a genuine love for my children.
Daycare on the other hand are more in line with my ideas about caring for children (and listen to me when I talk about preferences etc.), but at the same time they wouldn’t jump in front of a car to protect my girls, as I’m sure my in-laws would. I trust the motivations from my in-laws (love), but not those from daycare (money).
It’s the spirit of the law, not the letter.

I guess that’s what makes a hero – someone who does jump in front of a car for non-family members. And close trusted friends. They’re in the middle circle too; I know they’d do the same.
There is also a degree of fuzziness in the middle circle as it has both close family and friends. But where “blood is thicker than water” for the inner circle, there’s room for some thin blood and some thick water in the middle circle!

Middle circle (outer)

Friends.

Outer circle

Everyone else. This isn’t personal exclusion, it’s just that I don’t know these people yet, and I’d hope that one day I’ll be friends with them and they’ll drift into my middle circle.
Actually, when I say “everyone else”, what I really mean is “everyone else except those who are…

Beyond the circle

People in this ‘cloud’ are out of orbit and off the chart and get here through an eviction process. This is the region of anti-circle where instead of not having trust, there is extreme distrust. I try to keep these cretins out of my life completely, and certainly out of the lives of my inner circle.
There’s an expression about keeping your friends close, and your enemies closer. Rubbish. I don’t want my enemies anywhere near!

Clash of the circles

So there it is, my circle system which has somehow come into an empirical formation. But…I’m also a scientist and need to be objective. Does the circle system always work? I don’t think so – here’s a funny conversation I had a couple of days ago which shows why:
The setting
My friend had been sick for a few days, so I sent her an email asking if she was feeling better.

Friend: “I’m feeling a bit better now, but I’m staying at home today just to make sure. My daughter’s at the play group so I’ve got the house to myself.”

Me :”Good idea – if it’s nice and quiet you can relax and recuperate.”

Friend: “Well, actually I’m really worried because now my daughter is sick, so I hope she’ll be OK at the playgroup.”

Me :”Yikes! That means my own girls will get sick too then.”

Friend: “Come on Paul…it’s only a cold.”

And yes…I admit that I followed up with:

Me :”Well if it’s only a cold…stop complaining!”

She saw the humour in that, but equally it’s clear that as parents focused on the well-being of our own children in our own inner circles, we have warped view of the global picture of reality! 😉
From a Daddy, Paul

 

About the Author:

Paul Wandason is a father of 2, husband of one and master of none. He lives his life wrapped around 2 little fingers and under 1 thumb…and loves it! His Daddy blog is FromaDaddy where he writes his thoughts and experiences as a Dad, and sometimes, a few practical hints and tips. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.