Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Relationships

A Lesson in Loss

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

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

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

MEETING RESPONSIBILITY

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

THE LAST TIME

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

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

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

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

CLOSING A CHAPTER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was originally published in The Green Parent.

Environment, Guest Posts, Society

Why We All Need To Stop Worrying About Climate Change (And What To Do Instead)

I’m writing this from my little desk in my children’s ‘reading room’ (where we also keep the Xbox). I’m surrounded by their books, piled up on shelves, scattered on the floor. ‘Brave Bitsy and the Bear’ gawps at me as I tap at the keyboard and, if I glance out of the window, I can see a picture perfect view of spring in rural Cornwall.

And this morning I read about the collapse of the insect population, decimation of soil productivity and saw — for the fifth (or is it sixth?) time — someone share that post by academic Marc Doll about how woefully positive the narrative on climate change is that we’ve been given by the IPCC.

And in the room next door, my four-year-old (who wants to be a dog) and seven-year-old (who wants to be a marine biologist or live in Minecraft, I can’t be sure which) are fast asleep.


Personally speaking, it’s hard not to feel worried and stressed about climate change.

For most of the summer last year I carried round this edgy feeling, a sense I was already living in a dystopian nightmare.

Somewhere inside me I think I’d already given up. Resigned myself to the collapse of civil society and eradication of so much of life on earth.

Along with this, a sense that I’d been deeply irresponsible bringing my children into such a world.

Given that you’ve chosen to read this, I wouldn’t be surprised you have experienced or are going through something similar.

The reason I’m writing is that I feel that I’ve come to a different place with it all, and I want people to know that the narratives we’re sharing and behaviours we’re encouraging in each other are potentially working against us.

What I want to tell you might be difficult to read. It might be triggering. And if it is, that’s probably a good thing.

What I want to tell you is that the anxiety we’re producing for ourselves — while it feels very much justified — could be a symptom of everything we’ve been doing ‘wrong’ and is making things worse.

And the alternative isn’t inaction but instead wiser action.

Hear me out.

Stressing ourselves into consumption

Like me today, many of us are being constantly bombarded by facts, figures and narratives that tell us our days on earth are numbered, that it’s our fault and that it’s also largely out of our control.

This is impossible for any human being to process and still remain calm. Things that present a threat trigger us into a stressed state. When we feel helpless in the face of that threat, everything gets much worse for us.

In this stressed state we change physiologically — we become more problem-focused and look for other people or things to blame.

This is a function of our evolutionary development. In more precarious times it’s been critical in keeping us alive but in this instance it’s not helping.

When we enter this state we are incapable of thinking creatively or compassionately. We look for quick fixes, easy solutions and bad guys.

We also want to consume more. We crave salt, sugar, fat, simple carbs. We’re not hungry it’s just that our bodies are gearing up for the fight or the flight.

And as a result of these changes, in this state none of us are fit to act wisely. We haven’t got a hope of addressing complex problems or creating a future fit for everyone.

The difficulty is that in this state we feel utterly compelled to act. The function of the state is to deal with the perceived problem — to flood our bodies with stress hormones so that we can do whatever it takes to make it go away.

The sneaky thing is that we might not even realise that this is going on, because we’ve got so used to it.

It’s not just the obvious, adrenaline-infused headspins I’m talking about, triggered by a stranger shouting abuse or being chased by a dog.

What I’m seeing all around me is people operating at a low level of stress and anxiety, triggered by perpetual busyness and information overload.

It’s almost like our lives are being engineered this way. Cuts to benefits, dismantling of free healthcare, Government openly allowing the majority of wealth to be passed on to those who are already most wealthy.

And we seem to be ‘happily’ participating in making life more stressful — busying ourselves into the ground, glorying in our busyness and our achievements from it. Actively choosing to consume news that makes us angry and fearful.

This news now includes a constant feed of existential threats, taking many of us to an extreme level of baseline stress.

Given the challenge we’re facing — one that’s complex, systemic and long-term, if we carry on acting from this place we’re going to really screw it up.

Not because we’re stupid or bad, we’re just on the wrong setting.

How we got here in the first place

Climate change and the destruction of our ecosystems seem to be the result of persistent, rampant over-consumption.

This is because our modern society is a consumer society. It’s based on one simple idea: that consuming will meet your needs.

We’re educated to work, so we can earn money, so we can pay for things things so that we create jobs, so people can work… and so on.

To keep this going we’re told that if we don’t consume the products and services offered to us then life will be more uncertain and we’ll be less than we need to be — loveable, sexy, successful.

Once upon a time religion and spirituality would have played a more active role in our lives and, at its best it would have reassured us that ‘you are enough, you are loved, have faith’.

Conveniently religion has been made the enemy of rationality and the domain of nutjobs, so consumerism has helpfully stepped in to take its place and shore us all up against our insecurities.

Its message is instead: you are not enough, you are not loved, there is no reason to have faith but — lucky for you —here are some things you can buy to make you feel better.

Some of them we know are bad for us: smoking, alcohol, fatty, processed foods.

Others we think are harmless but still serve to numb us: Netflix boxsets, gym subscriptions, smartphones.

And some masquerade as the answer but are really just part of the same system — insurance policies, private healthcare and the multi-billion dollar ‘wellness’ industry.

None of these things can or will ever meet our unmet needs for love, connection or trust in the world so we continue consuming, throwing more things into the bottomless pit inside.

We try and do it consciously. New industries pop up to give us what we want without the guilt — sustainably sourced, vegan, fairtrade — but even aside from the minefield that is working out whether it’s really ‘sustainable’, it’s still built on the same system.

A system built on a disconnection from your needs, that can never leave you satisfied with who you are and the world around you.

The future is not a zero sum game

We’re being led to believe that the society we’ve built has to ‘collapse’ if we’re to save the world.

The message is that all the things you rely on to keep you safe: jobs, booze, Netflix, specialty coffee, vegan sausage rolls (etc) are no longer part of a viable future fit for everyone.

The sense is that when these things disappear, life will be unbearable. That we’re going to turn on each other.

We’re presented with a binary choice — save the planet and live a miserable existence, or accept that some populations (plant, animal, human) will have to act as collateral damage to ensure a quality of life that vaguely resembles our current one.

I believed this until a good friend of mine, Charles Davies, said:

And I thought: Dammit, he’s right.

We’re being fed — and feeding each other— a lie.

The lie is not that we won’t have to radically change the way we live, or that many people (some of the most vulnerable) will experience severe economic hardship and loss.

The lie is that the future *has* to be worse than the present from the perspective of human experience.

The lie is that letting go of our current way of living is a bad thing.

How about we dismantle that lie?

In my experience we seem to be more unhappy than ever before. More physically and mentally ill. More divided than ever. More stressed about our impact on the world.

And yet we are told that taking apart the trappings of the world that create these outcomes is a bad thing.

We tell each other almost gleefully: you need to be scared! This way of life we have can’t go on!

Be scared? Who on earth wants this way of life to go on??

Our current model of relating and cooperating is built on a model of disconnection.

Educated and co-erced into disconnecting from our needs in order to be good participants in a consumer society.

And (as I was reminded in a conversation Brendan Montague, Editor of the Ecologist website) that it’s this disconnection from ourselves that leads to the disconnection from each other that in turn leads to disconnection from our environment — which is the only thing that has enabled us to create the extractive, destructive system we have in place.

Disconnected from your needs. Seeing others as threats or problems to be dealt with. Walking around with a tightness in your chest because you feel the world our kids are growing up in is being trashed.

Numbing ourselves with dopamine hits from glass screens between consuming things we don’t need to make ourselves feel semi-satisfied for five minutes.

No. What meets our needs is connection.

Connection to ourselves, to others and the world around us.

Feeling at home in our own skin, having meaningful relationships and being friendly with our neighbours. Creating things that feel like they matter, with like-minded people. Being in natural environments, caring for living things.

These are what help us sleep at night, that make us feel whole.

They are also the enemy of consumer society, which is why it’s evolved to reduce their prevalence in our lives.

When we get these needs met we stop throwing endless consumer products, services and experiences into the void that can’t be filled.

And when we stop doing that, we start creating a different kind of world together.

I’m not saying that we don’t also need to make clear and difficult choices about the lives we live.

Personally I turned down two jobs last year because they were with companies that were involved in promoting consumerism in an active way.

I’m self-employed and so is my partner. I earn nearly half of what I did a few years ago working in take-every-job-that-comes-along-regardless-of-what-they-do-because-I-am-a-freelancer mode.

We don’t always meet our overheads. It can seem pretty precarious (financially speaking) at times.

But two things make this a choice that I can stand firm with.

Firstly, this way of life has put me firmly back in the role of active parent and community member. I’m more available for my kids, I’m more involved in their lives. I volunteer at the local school and I help to run wilderness sessions for Dads and kids some weekends.

Nothing money could buy will give me what this gives me.

Secondly, I have found that in order to do anything different requires me to disconnect from my needs again. It takes a kind of energy that I’m no longer willing to spend. My kids and my neighbours can have that instead.

I’m not for a second judging anyone else’s choices. We’re all doing the best we can to get our needs met. There are reasons I’m able to do this and others might not, and there are many (many) things about my life which I know are very unsound, ecologically speaking.

Away from stress, towards connection

Given all this, ‘conscious consumerism’ and ‘green new deals’ will never offer the solution we need if they are built on the fundamental idea of citizen is as consumer, working to earn, earning to spend, spending to consume etc.

I think the fundamental answer lies instead in rebuilding our lives around connection.

And this has to start with coming down from our persistent, stressed state.

If we are facing complex, systemic challenges we need to be able to bring our full capacity and creativity.

We need to be able to see and hold multiple perspectives, cross divides and have healthy conflict.

None of this is possible if we continue to stoke the fires of stress and anxiety in ourselves and each other.

My invitation is to recognise that any time you’re looking for quick solutions, or people to blame that you’ve lost your way.

To see that looking after your mental health, staying calm, being open-hearted is the most subversive act of our time.

Recognise that if you would love other people to live in a certain way or see the world from a different perspective, this is only going to happen if they sense you’re not judging them to be wrong.

Know that the thing that’s most firmly under your control is how you show up for your children, your neighbours and your wider community.

This rules nothing out — from this place we can still protest, dismantle, subvert.

You might still feel this is far too measured: “There’s a fight on our hands — a fight for our children’s future! How can you be so irresponsible?”

As a martial artist, ex-doorman and someone who’s been in a few violent confrontations I can tell you with certainty that if there is a fight, it’s not the angry, anxious person who wins.

It’s the person who is very, very calm. Who is totally present and has no sense of wanting to hurt you. They are very comfortable using whatever means necessary but without malice or pleasure, simply because it gets everyone to a better place.

It’s already happening

I can already see a growing recognition that connection, inclusion, creativity and celebration are the keys to a genuinely better future.

You can see it in the best of the climate protests — garden bridges, calm nonviolent protest , dancing police officers.

And in the growing popularity of secular spiritualism and spaces for new ways of relating (like circling and real relating).

People are slowly but steadily finding that their real needs are met more consistently in self-awareness and relationship than they are in quick fix consumption.

We can’t all join a five-day protest and we’re not all ready to sit in a circle and talk about our feelings but that’s not what’s being asked of us.

The invitation is to start building the new society from inside each of us.

Resisting the urge of distraction and consumption, rejecting the voices (inside and out) calling for us to divide ourselves, not taking in any more information that will stress us out.

Instead showing up to each conversation with family, neighbours and community with genuine willingness to engage in something different, knowing that it’s one of the most likely paths to a better future.

To be a calm, loving human, raising calm, loving kids (if you have them) and fostering a calm, loving society.

Even if that means dismantling a load of stuff in the process.


My name is 
Max. I show people how to listen to their needs, realise their ideas and deal with all the conflict that shows up in their lives with skill and ease. I do this from my smallholding in the rural Southwest of the UK.

About Max St John:

Showing people the way home by connecting to what’s there and working with what is. Get clear, fight well, move naturally. www.maxstjohn.com


This article was originally posted here

Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Society

We Are Ready: Parenting And Living Without Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear As The Disabling Factor In Facilitating Change


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

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

Parenting In A Capitalist Society

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

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

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

How Can We Break Out Of This Cycle?

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

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

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

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

Raising Our Kids To Become Autonomous And Fearless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nedua and Torsten

Relationships

In-Between Worlds – Connecting With My Dying Father

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It’s a long corridor, cold fluorescent light, constant beep-noises from invisible machines, and that smell. A strong disinfectant, like a heavy layer on everything and everywhere: on my hands, on my clothes, on people – even the water I drink tastes of it. In the distance two nurses and a doctor exchange encrypted messages – fast, emotionless, I had forgotten how harsh the German language can sound.

I sit in a small visitor area at the Berlin-Buch hospital. Intensive care unit. My father is here. My father, who I haven’t seen in 4 ½ years.

…48 hours earlier I had received a short email from my sister, who I hadn’t seen in 4 ½ years either. She had written that our father had major bleedings and had been taken to hospital for an emergency operation. Could I come? Of course, I can. I did. In less than six hours I had booked a flight, emailed my employer, packed a bag. A friend picked me up in the middle of the night to drive me to the airport. On my journey to Berlin a huge wave of anxiety, fear, tiredness and confusion flooded my body. What should I expect to see when I’m there? What can or should I say? Will he be alive? What will happen?

With sweaty but cold hands I boarded the plane. A beautiful purple-orange sunrise at take-off did let me forget everything for a moment. I just wondered who else might witness this little piece of magic and peace? Would my Dad see it? Or my children? No, they were probably still asleep. At 6am they didn’t know yet that their Dad left for Berlin to see Grandad. I left a note for them on the table.

In the early afternoon my mother, sister and I arrived at the hospital. With heavy steps we climbed up to the first floor. I held my mother and felt her shaking hand. The room seemed small. Behind a white curtain I saw the silhouette of a human body. Screens, tubes, cables, more tubes, beeps, noises. His face white and bloated. His eyes colourless and empty. I hardly recognised him…

When the Borders between Life and Death become Blurred

Now I’m sitting here. I try to figure out what’s going on. What am I doing here? What am I supposed to do? The doctors say it doesn’t look good for him. He’s got cancer. For months he had been receiving therapy and for a while he had been recovering quite well. Then this sudden bleeding. In only seconds he loses so much blood that life is fading away. The paramedics save him by minutes only. But after two days of artificial coma he’s coming around. Still, the doctor’s advice to me is to say good bye. How the fuck do I say good bye to my dying Dad? We haven’t spoken much in the last years. Short emails for birthdays and Christmas. Once in a while meaningless conversations over the phone: ‘Yes, it’s still rainy here. How’s the weather in Berlin?’ – you know, that kind of chat.

I have not the slightest idea what is going to happen. I feel helpless, speechless, alone. The only way to deal with this devastating situation is to follow my very own instinct and heart. Yes, in the back of my mind I remember so many moments where he and I were light years apart. His life and mine have little in common. Disappointment, frustration and even anger have been the ingredients for our relationship over the last years. He knows that. I know that. But I’m not here to judge him. This is not about forgiving, understanding or questioning. This is about being present and authentic. I listen to my heart and I feel my love for him. Love he needs to know about.

I go inside his room again. He is awake and his tired eyes look at me. I don’t know whether he is wondering what I’m thinking right now. He tries to smile. I take his hand, look into his eyes and kiss him. Tears run down his cheeks. Everything is still. Just him and I. We hold each other. A perfect moment between father and son. We are close, we are connected.
I don’t care about the past. I care about the present, about him, about now. I hold his hand and whisper that I love him. Tears block my throat. With a shaking hand he picks up pen and paper. He writes: ‘Torsten, I’m happy that you came’. I cry.

A New Closeness to My Family

He sleeps and I’m talking to a doctor again. He’s very clear and doesn’t hold back. His question drills a hole in my heart: ‘How far shall we go to keep him alive?’ What the hell does that mean? Of course they should and must try everything they can. Even if only machines keep him alive? You see, life is not always life. Am I here to make such a decision? No. As long as my father has clear moments it is entirely up to him.

My sister and I agree on that. My mother, understandably, wants to answer for him. Confusion follows. The doctors receive different messages, some get even lost with shift hand overs. It gets blurry and misty. Does this happen to all families where a relative might die? The chaos needs sorting. My sister and I sit together and talk. It feels good as we didn’t speak much with each other for years. We push our own issues with one another beside and focus on our father. I feel closer to her. I know her pain and she knows mine.

Together and somehow united we talk to the doctors again. And to our father. Gently I tell him what the doctors can do if he starts bleeding again. Frankly, it’s not much. I hold his hand again and under tears my sister and I talk about our mother; that he doesn’t need to worry about her, we’ll take care of her. No pressure on him, from no one. We ask him to use all his strength for himself, to make up his own mind. And whatever he decides about the hours and days to come, we will be there for him.

It’s quiet again. My Dad looks at my sister, then at me. He writes just one sentence on the white board I bought for him: ‘I want to go in peace’. We hug and kiss him. He smiles at us. I try to smile back. But tears run over my face and my body shivers. I feel incredibly sad and my heart could break any moment. But I also feel peace and truth. We are close to him and I am glad that we experience this moment together.

I don’t know how much time he has left. No one knows. What’s important for me is that in all this sorrow my father and I feel connected again. Something I have been longing for, for years. He knows that his son loves him, something all fathers want to know sooner or later. His note ‘I’m happy that you came’ is inside my pocket when I board the plane home.


 

Parenting and Empathic Fathers

Raising Confident Children Through Trust

person-1037607_1280“Sharp knives don’t belong into children’s hands”, “That’s not safe, let me do it”, “A kitchen is no place for kids” – sounds familiar to you? Well, that’s some stuff I had to cope with when growing up myself, and – bad enough that’s still the mantra for many parents or adults working with kids nowadays.

I just recall some playgroup situations: the parents’ response when their two-year-old picks up a plastic knife (yes, the good ones for butchering play dough) to murder a cucumber at snack time. Eyes wide open, panic mode, shrill voice: “Ah sweetie, Mummy will hold that dangerous knife for you, don’t you think?”. A millisecond later – the object of mass destruction is safe in Mummy’s hand. All other parents exhale a sigh of relief.

playground-408658_1280Another example comes from the next-best playground of your choice. Little Joe tries to balance over the climbing frame. He concentrates hard enough and works his way up. Before he reaches the top little Joe hears his Dad shouting “Oh Buddy, that’s quite high. Just watch out. Hold tight. No, not left, go right. Easy man. Not quite sure if that’s a good idea”. Smiles nervously. Dad that is. “Hang on. Let me guide you. Stop. Stop I said!” Joe loses his balance and falls off the climbing frame. “Told you to stop!”

Clever omniscient grown-ups have created a fluffy, pink, bullet-proof world of health-and-safety where we all wear safety goggles to watch the wind and face masks to breathe nature. Because…, just in case…, because we’re rather safe than sorry…, because to make sure… because. Well, just take a moment and stop breathing – just to be safe!

What has gone wrong here? Have we lost the very basic connection and trust in our children? Or, was there ever a time when we trusted them? Hmm… Let’s see. Just back in the 19th century children would have lots of responsibilities: cleaning, cooking, looking after their siblings, helping on the farm… and, yes, brutal hard labour in dark factories, ten or twelve hours a day… good that we left those times behind us (well, over here in the rich part of the world…). And, yes, many of those household chores were done by children because of living in large families or parents having to work twelve and more hours a day as well.

When World War II was over, still many children played important roles in helping their families with household chores. You could argue that this happened because out of necessity or desperation. Indeed, that’s one reason. Another one was simply called trust.

Trust and a strong bond between parents and their children. Only from the 1950’s onwards, something strangely has been happening in our society. Families started to spend less time together. The so-called classic family model, where dad leaves in the morning for his desk in an office while his wife stays home to look after house and kids, took over.

That quite artificial construction became a bit of a relationship killer. While in the past fathers and their sons, as an example, would often work and spent time together (on the field, in their business…), now children missed their father for most of the time under the week. Mums got busy in their brand new kitchen with all the latest inventions and gadgets. Kids? Go to school or your bedroom.

You see what else went on here? Skills. Not only relationships suffered, there’s a whole generation of lost skills. Cooking, working with tools, fixing and mending – you name it. Fixing something, why? Buy it new, it’s easier. Cooking? Get a ready meal. I still remember my parents’ pride when they bought the latest of modern cooking inventions in the mid 1990’s: a shiny, adorable, handsome, easy-to-use microwave! Plus 200 packs of ready-to-microwave food. Yuck! I can still sense the aftertaste. They probably spend two or three weekends in deciding which microwave to buy… I wished they had taken one afternoon to teach me the basics of cooking.

You know, I’m not the least surprised that today three-quarters of children in the UK have no idea how to boil an egg, or that 30% have never chopped veggies. I probably was 18 or so when I found out that kitchen knives have more purposes than just hanging on the magnetic knife holder. And another five or so years to get serious about cooking.

Starting to trust our children is the very foundation of a well-connected relationship. Children (and, indeed us adults too) learn by trying. They give it a go. They might fail, they might succeed. It doesn’t matter, as long as we provide a bit of a safety net in the background so that they won’t ever get seriously hurt. If they feel excited and stimulated, they will try again… and again.

cookingMy eldest, who is nearly 8 now, showed a great interest in preparing meals and cooking lunch and dinner. He’s been watching my wife and me since babyhood. When he was about three, he used a sharp knife (not one you are able to cut your fingers off with, but one that’s just sharp enough for cutting with – a bland one would be safest, sure, but equally useless and only frustrating) for cutting up an apple. Yes, he cut himself a few times, but that’s how he learnt, and nothing happened apart from some quickly dried tears and a cool plaster on a tiny wound. With four he cooked himself porridge on the hob for the first time. Yes, his first cooking session was guided and supervised by me, but I didn’t interfere. I just watched. Today his cooking repertoire includes pasta and tomato sauce, scrambled egg, various cakes and biscuits, and – hold your breath – sushi (ok, the sushi rolls can’t compete with a sushi bar, but it’s just a question of perspective and expectations. Expect a perfectly cooked and awesome looking meal? Do it yourself).

It’s a great learning curve for us parents to lower expectations and to be more prepared for a giving-it-a-go mantra. And, yes, sometimes we get pushed out of our comfort zone as well. In our family it’s a bit of a tradition to make pancakes for Sunday breakfast. Often – I admit my sins – they go with chocolate spread. This morning we had run out of the sweet treat and no-one seemed to be willing to go down to the local shop (2-minute walk) to get more. Only my nearly 5-year-old volunteered. I hesitated as I wasn’t sure whether he would manage. I trusted him with finding his way to the shop and paying for the item, but I feared the road he would have to cross.

My wife’s response was more clear. Yes, he’ll be fine. And off he went. But, I threw over my invisible cloak and sneaked after him to watch his adventure. He didn’t see me and I had a great time hiding behind bushes and trees. My main fear – the road – was quiet, he stopped, checked, checked again, and crossed. No problems. A woman stopped him (she was probably a little anxious… as me), but he carried on.

At the shop I peeped through the window (gosh, if someone had observed me they must have thought I’m a little… well, crazy) to make sure he’s alright and the shopkeeper is not calling the police or social care. She didn’t. With a great smile she scanned his jar and gave him receipt and change. I stood there – watching and with tears in my eyes. My little son, so great and independent. He skipped all the way home. Just fifty metres behind him, I – his dad, full of love, joy and trust. At home we both hugged for a long time. And, of course, we enjoyed our chocolate pancakes!

The confidence and self-esteem he gained from his independent venture was giving him a glowing buzz all day – he knows his parents trust his abilities.

Next time your little one is climbing up high on the climbing frame or tree, just position yourself, discreetly, so that if they fall, you could catch them, and just observe. Neither encouraging nor anxious, just observing and trusting (your facial expression and body language can communicate that, too!) that when they are able to climb something unassisted they’ll know how to get down again by themselves. Soon enough, they have learnt to use their body well, trust themselves and know where their limits are.

Trust your children and you’ll be amazed by what they are able to do by themselves and how their self-esteem grows each day!

PS: A few days after I published and shared this post on facebook, I had this reply:
Untitled…just awesome! 🙂

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Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Society

Am I a Good Parent? Feeling Judged by Others

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I love my children. But sometimes I seem to stop loving them so unconditionally or looking at them through this (rightly!) blurred vision of a parent when there are other people around.

I notice myself thinking: “Oh why is he doing this/behaving that way?”. Whenever there are other people around, my children seem to become these total strangers that I suddenly feel ashamed of. What’s going on?

First of all, they are so easily excitable by visitors and then act in a way that I often find so hard to tolerate. I hear myself saying “oh they are very excited” to excuse them (and let’s be honest: try and convince my guests that really it’s not my fault they are like that!). The other day our landlady came around and my four year old was hiding behind me (which he REALLY! never does), the seven year old was whizzing around as if he hadn’t had been outside for days and was on a sugar high (REALLY not true!). Immediately, I felt judged “she will think my kids are not social/behaving oddly/need more parental input/stimulation/less sugar. AND, maybe worst of all: “he is not ‘up to it’ as a dad).

I think as a parent we often feel that we are judged as people by how our children look or act. So, we try and make them do things we wouldn’t ever do at home or even think are stupid to ask of them anyway. To my six month old baby I hear myself saying “be gentle” and anxiously wonder whether she will be an aggressive child because she is playing with another baby in a way a six month old baby does (poking at eyes, pulling feet, scratching…). Later I can laugh about how my own thinking is influenced by the fact another parent is watching. Of course, she will learn that we are gentle with each other, simply because she sees us being that way with one another. And, of course, I should not judge her for being the way she is: just a normal six month old baby.

I remember with shame those days I tried to get my two year old son to share. Just because it made me feel better in front of the other parents present. Even though I knew he wasn’t able to understand that concept yet at all. His needs suddenly became less important than other children’s needs. Putting other people’s needs first (and sometimes up to an unhealthy degree) is what we adults can do, but we cannot expect that of a small child. Even though I knew that at the time the need to fit in and be accepted as a father by other parents was so great, that I wouldn’t stop myself and just say “sorry, I think my child isn’t ready to share this yet” and stand up for him.

Secondly, they just adapt to other people, like I do. I need to accept they will take on a different persona when they are with certain people. One of my sons will sometimes just not answer people. So, if he is asked a question, he often stays quiet. I used to feel very ashamed that I still had to talk for him, way past the toddler years. Now, I mostly try and stay calm inside and accept it. He is old enough for us to talk about that and I tell him the impression that his behaviour might have on other people but ultimately I feel it’s his decision. I cannot make him do things, that would also go totally against our parenting philosophy. So, I will have to accept that side of him and free myself from making judgments. Tirelessly I will reject labels such as “oh he is shy/ introvert” because I don’t think they are true. He is perceived like that in this situation, but it is not a true description of his character. At home or with a different set of people he will talk non-stop and wouldn’t dream of not answering.

And when I think about it I know that I am the same. It is mostly hidden though, because I am an adult and have learnt to act differently to how I feel, but it still comes through. There are several “personas” in me for different people. I will feel more relaxed with my family and that means act and talk in a different way.

Our children are the best they can be in any situation. If they behave in a way we would like to change, then they are actually diverting our attention to a need of theirs that needs addressing by us! Not because they are “naughty”. So, if they act ‘impolite’, they might feel insecure or simply don’t know what to say. We can help them out, it’s ok, whatever their age.

I am working hard at being proud of who they are despite of how they are. I also, as my children get older, understand that they are not me, and are walking their own paths that have, in some respect, nothing to do with me. I am guiding them, but I don’t have control over their every step and they will make decisions that I might consider wrong, it’s not always to do with me.

I am working hard at being a better parent – yes, I’m talking about the best person I am possibly capable of becoming. That also means in becoming immune to other people’s judgments. This goes along with my own seeking not to judge others and becoming more compassionate. Towards myself and others. There is always a reason we and others behave the way we do and by loving my kids unconditionally I show them that it really doesn’t matter if they take up roles sometimes (as long as they do it intentionally and happily) or act out their emotions (which I sometimes, secretly, wish they would hide) and hopefully they will grow up self-confident and compassionate towards others and themselves, instead of worrying what other people think.

So, am I a good parent? The only people I will grant judgement of that are my children. The older they get, the more I have to face their irritated looks when I, again, have chosen the wrong tone ‘Daddy, you really don’t need to shout’ or come up with a stupid ‘rule’ and their reply is ‘Daddy, I can do that, it’s ok, really’.

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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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