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, Society

Our Obsession With ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’

IMG_0391You hear it wherever you go with small children: playgrounds, supermarkets, nurseries, playgroups – you name it. And it always follows the same structure. A child wants something – a certain food, a toy or even just the permission to go on a swing. You can actually often see and feel the vibrant excitement in that child awaiting the parent’s/adult’s response or approval. And then, the child is just bursting for impatience, the parent bends down, raises an eyebrow and shoots that one arrow straight into a child’s heart: ‘What DO YOU say?’ or even sometimes in decrypted adult language and with a cunning smile: ‘What’s the MAGIC word?’ Watch that child again. The excitement has gone. The bubble of curiosity has burst. One question can destroy so much.

Instead of looking forward to a nice food/drink, a toy or an activity, the child is caught in a guilt trap. Observe that child again. You see them thinking hard. One, two, three…. Damn, what is it Mum wants? What is the magic word again? Sometimes the child is near a crying breakdown or just emotionally blocked to say anything. Some adults then say ‘SAY Thank you’ or ‘SAY Please’ as a ‘reminder’.

Forget it. The adult knows the answer already, but he/she won’t give in until he/she gets her f***ing ‘PLEASE’ or ‘THANK YOU’. And you know what, they call it ‘teaching manners’ or ‘being polite’. I call it bribery, blackmailing, emotional manipulation or short: rubbish.

We don’t teach children anything by enforcing so-called manners or made-up rules by society. Yes, I want my children to be kind and polite people and I tell you what, they’re lovely, kind and caring boys. That’s without any pressure or blackmailing.

The secret (not sure if it is a secret, actually) lies in the way we role model. Children (especially the younger ones) WANT to copy us. The way we live, talk, respond is our children’s ‘classroom’. They watch us and will integrate our words and habits into their daily play and interactions. So, you want polite and well-mannered kids? Well, set the example yourself. Be friendly, don’t shout, be polite, say ‘Please’, say ‘Thank you’, don’t f***ing swear (never!). Easy, isn’t it?!

 

Recently I talked to a very experienced speech- and language therapist. She and various brain development researches confirm, that kids at the age of two or three (but I have actually seen parents who tried to train even their 18-months-old toddler) are not ready at all to understand or to follow our codex of manners. What they really want in that moment is that apple, toy or attention. ‘Teaching’ them by enforcing ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ can have an damaging impact onto their self- esteem and confidence (and speech development).

Children won’t learn gratitude and respect that way either. A ‘Please’ or ‘Thank you’ should come from their and our hearts, not in order to get praised or to please anyone. That’s why it is so important for parents and other key adults to be positive, friendly and polite. Let’s create that warm, nurturing environment and atmosphere for our kids. No bribery, no punishments, but unconditional love.

So, my wife and I never asked or forced our kids to say ‘Please’ or ‘Thank you’. But, in our home we are friendly and polite to each other. When we have dinner and I ask my wife or my kids for the butter, then I use ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’. Again, I role model. Maybe not all the time, but most. Guess what, it works! My eldest, now six, says very often the not so magic words. Because he’s seen it many, many times and has now understood, that it’s actually quite nice to be nice to each other. Awesome, isn’t it?! Sometimes, he forgets, but I’m not worried (and certainly won’t remind him), I trust that he does what feels right to him in our family (and outside) culture.

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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+.

Guest Posts, Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Relationships

How to be a Better Husband: Find Common Ground

I love reaching out to other fathers/parents. Very recently I discovered Derek Markham’s blog NaturalPapa.com
I find Derek’s blog very inspirational and I love his writing. He talks about attachment, natural parenting, co-sleeping, natural living and so much more. Please visit his site and enjoy reading his awesome stuff!

Check out what Derek says about himself:

I’m a husband, a father, and a carrier of things.

I think peanut butter on anything is great.

I love big mountains and little kids, ’cause they make me smile, and I drink a double americano almost every day.

I’m a nature boy, a tree-hugging dirt-worshiper. I try to live with reverence for our web of life.

I like big trees and large boulders, cold mountain streams and redrock desert, the smell of pinyon and sage. I’d rather be sitting in a canoe in the wilderness than the backseat of a Rolls Royce.

The post today comes from his blog and you can find the original post HERE. Now, enjoy reading it:

People grow apart. It’s as natural as people growing closer – they develop different interests, have different time or money demands, or they may begin cultivating new habits or dropping old habits. And in friendships, this may not ever be a concern, as we’re much more likely to still retain a friendship even if it’s only a fraction of the interest we once had. However, in a marriage, growing apart can be fatal to the relationship.

There exists a perfect couple somewhere in the universe, a couple whose marriage is always in a smooth strong upward swing. And then there are the rest of us… Our relationships swing wildly from hot to cold, from spending-every-minute-together to hoping-you-don’t-argue-today, from “true love” to divorce court.

One big factor in the strength of a relationship is the existence of some common ground and a shared dream between the people. It’s a no-brainer, really. We like and admire and love and want to be around people who share similar experiences and want to achieve similar goals.

As a new couple, we spend lots of time together – talking about the things we love and care about, attending events that we both enjoy, and participating in each other’s lives through mutual interests and friends. We may dream of a future together, and may look to build on each other’s strengths for a common dream.

But at some point, perhaps after the birth of your first child, or after one or both of your careers kick in, or you relocate and lose your social group, the common ground you once shared begins to be washed away, right out from beneath your feet. And if your shared dreams get neglected by one or both of you, you may find yourself in a relationship which has no magnetic attraction for you anymore.

Let’s face it, if:

  • You want to disappear into a book each night, and she prefers to watch romantic movies
  • You enjoy Farmville, and she wants a backyard farm
  • She’s working out three days a week and you’re polishing off all of the leftovers
  • Talking about your work bores her to tears, and talking about her day is something you try to avoid
  • Your version of cooking for her consists of picking up takeout, but she’d rather go to the farmers market

then chances are, you’re growing apart.

couple 1And if you both begin to always choose your favorite over theirs, then you’re not going to be growing closer anytime soon. You’ll be on autopilot, going through the motions in your relationship without any of the passion or excitement or shared experiences which add spice and flavor to a marriage.

The simplest place to look for common ground between you is in the past – what did you both really enjoy doing ‘back in the day’? Revisiting some of those things together might help rekindle something of interest between you. It may also simply trigger a nostalgic desire for ‘the good old days’, so looking to the past might not be very successful for you – especially since we want a better relationship right here and right now, between you in this moment and her in this moment. And that means accepting that she isn’t the same woman you married, and you aren’t the same man that she married.

You can build common ground again, though. It takes time, effort, and openness, but who ever said relationships are easy? In my experience, the effects of a stronger, closer marriage greatly outweigh the work involved to get there, and the following are a few ways which can help you begin.

  • Ask, listen, learn: Ask about her day and how she is, and then let her speak freely. Just listen and pay attention, asking questions if you want, but not trying to ‘fix’ her problems or minimize her issues. Make a habit of opening that dialog whenever it you can. You’ll learn a lot about what makes her tick, and with any luck, you’ll also find some common ground.
  • Ask her to share something with you: Make a point of trying to get her to share some of her interests with you regularly, to show you something new and interesting in her world. Be attentive and attempt to see how those things enrich her life, which in turn enriches your shared life.
  • Share something new with her: Be willing to take the time to let her experience some of your world, through you, by sharing something which excites or energizes you. Maybe she’s bored to tears with your interests because you expect her to understand how you feel about it. She probably doesn’t, so show her.
  • Do it together: Go with her to something she really enjoys, but which you avoid. Pretend you’re new around here, and approach it with an open mind. Leave the jokes and criticism at home, please, and instead look at how her face lights up when she’s talking about it. Next, invite her to something you enjoy and share your passion for it with her by explaining what appeals to you and how it affects you. Look for an aspect of it that you think she would appreciate.
  • Dream a little dream: Start setting aside regular times when you both can talk about and plan for the future. Where do you want to be in five years? In ten years? As individuals? As a couple? Start forging a plan which includes both of your dreams, and look for those pieces of it which complement each other – those are great places to start collaborating and doing things together. Don’t just write the dream out and then shelve it. You need a living dream, not some words on paper, so revise and refine and chip away at it as a shared project.

 

Wanna read more stuff by Derek? Check out his blog NaturalPapa.com, connect with him on facebook and follow him on twitter!


Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Relationships, Society

Why We Need to be Loved

When I was a two-month-old baby, my parents left me with a neighbour, while going on a holiday. A stranger took care of me 24/7, while I had no idea where my parents were, whether they are dead or alive (babies anticipate that their parents are “dead” when separated for a long time; we are still born with the same brain as a stone age baby was…and you know, there are hyenas out there!).

I don’t want to judge the decisions they made, just show you what impact this experience, along with other similar ones, had on my life since then. For years (and I still work on it) I had traumatic fears in my relationships that my partner would leave me. So, in order not to be the one who gets dumped, I often ended relationships first. Or I would anxiously seek signs and confirmation of still being loved. It’s not a nice feeling. My ability to trust was completely destroyed and only slowly am I overcoming those fears and anxieties.

When I became a parent myself I read all about John Bowlby’s attachment theory, it made complete sense to me and informed the way we treated our children and still parent.

equalChildren need to have positive attachment figures.  Someone they can rely on to meet their needs, as they have no means to survive without it. They flourish through affection, learn and grow in a secure and safe environment, where, whatever happens they will be loved and accepted as who they are. However, if their basic needs don’t get met, they’ll look for an attachment figure, even as an adult. Laura Markham explains that “our brain development, our emotional development, and even our later ability to control our tempers, delay gratification and have healthy romances, all depend on having our innate relationship needs met as infants.”

Only recently did I understand about how attachment theory works for adults. In many ways, we are still like children. We crave to be closely connected to the people we love. The way we are connected decides upon our emotional and physical well-being. When we meet our partner and in the years of being a happy couple, most of us manage to shower the other with appreciation, acceptance and love, those of us with insecure attachments have their needs met.

It only changes when we become parents. The sometimes years of waiting, the “tip of the iceberg” of our love, only too often turns into a time of stress on our, we thought, well-established love. Studies have found that most couples grow closer apart, at least in the beginning, once they have a baby and 42% of marriages (not all have children) end in divorce. What happens? First of all, most of us are not prepared for how our relationship is going to change, we prepare for the birth, organise baby’s clothes and equipment, but not really for how we, as a couple and individuals are changing.

Then, we are not prepared for seeing our loved one occupied and totally in love with somebody else. Yes, it’s our baby, but suddenly, and men struggle more with this, our partner has only eyes for the baby and we are struggling to get close – emotionally and physically. This can be a very difficult time, especially for those who feel their “buttons pressed”. Those men who have had an insecure attachment to their parents can feel this apparent rejection and abandonment as pain that feels very much like physical pain. The more Mum is giving to the baby, what we haven’t received, the harder it is.

Mum on the other side might also have attachment needs, but the closeness to the baby can make regulating those, easier.

Disappointments and weakening of the couple connection can then lead to addictive behaviours (workaholics, alcohol and food, sex etc.) and eventually many men leave their families emotionally and also physically, looking for somewhere else where they find their needs recognised and met.

Nobody is to blame for this. Many women just don’t see their partner’s suffering and don’t know or understand about his, very realistic, needs. For her it seems like ridiculous neediness when all she wants is to be with the baby or have some precious moments for herself.

confused dadThe problem is that this can lead to a downward spiral: Many men need time to feel themselves into the fathering role, they need time and reassurance (not all women find it easy to let go of control and let their partners share in the caregiving). If they don’t get a chance to grow their confidence, feel rejected by their partners, they retreat and therefore feel even less able to look after their baby (“she is the expert, anyway”) and then the divide widens (she is responsible for the childcare and home, he for bringing in the money). Feeling resentment by losing connection to his partner and not being able to build a bond with his baby leaves the father craving for connection. Many men get ill. Some get depressed, others start affairs, a few endure the situation and numb their feelings with addictive behaviours and others leave the situation all together and separate.

So, what can be done to stop this happening?

First of all, awareness of this situation helps both partners. Being able to know and voice your needs clearly helps and finding out whether there are others who can meet these needs if your partner isn’t able to at the moment.

Strengthening the connection is important, taking time for one another again – grow and nurture the relationship, just as we did when freshly in love. It is after all, the foundation of your family life together and your well-being benefits your child too.

My baby-self is still sometimes coming up, wanting to heal and be reassured. I take my time to make sure to give myself nurturing – doing things that make me happy – then, in those dark moments when I feel unable to calm him, I reach out to my wife and she holds me and I know I am safe.

 

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To read on about the topic, I can recommend:

Why Dads Leave by Meryn Callander

Hold me tight by Dr Sue Johnson

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