ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


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‘Sharenting’

I have, for some time now, been thinking about doing a post on whether it is fair on my children to blog. When I have discussed this with others the general consensus seems to be that in the long run they will appreciate it, although there may be a period where they find it utterly embarrassing.

Having, in previous posts, talked about how I now have nobody to ask about my childhood and how I must rely on my own memories and a handful of photographs, I see what I write as being something that the boys can draw on in years to come should they want to know more about me and how I saw their early lives. I would also hope that I write the blog in such a way as to not criticise the boys, but rather reflect on the challenges and joys of being a parent.

In doing this, and posting pictures to ‘Friends Only’ on Facebook, apparently makes me a ‘sharent’. This was a term that I had not come across before reading an article in The Guardian at the weekend. The term has apparently been around for about a year and, as you may guess, refers to those parents who blog, post, and otherwise share details of their children online.

Putting aside the fact that ‘sharenting’ is, per se, the sort of neologism that I really dislike (I wince every time I read or write it) the article itself encouraged me to think more about what I am doing here, giving examples of parent blogging which I certainly would not countenance and could quite see that could potentially lead to problems in parent/ child relationships and, more seriously, real issues for the children talked about in such blogs.

Those on the other side of the argument say that parent blogging can be a good way of sharing our joys and concerns in today’s fragmented society; and that it is inevitable that our children, as ‘digital natives’, will naturally develop an online profile anyway, and that ‘sharenting’ will merely be part of a bigger picture. Basically the world has changed and we should get over it.

As is often the case with such things, what was more instructive were the comments left on The Guardian website below the article. Here a number of ‘correspondents’ piled in to complain about how their Facebook feeds were awash with pictures of babies and endless comments on those babies’ every movement (in many senses of the word); and how weird they found it that people should chose to do such things. I was both sympathetic and concerned. Sympathetic in that I can understand how one person’s bundle of joy means relatively little to another person, but also concerned that I was stepping over some sort of boundary: both with my friends and, more particularly, with my children.

So where does this leave us, apart from disappearing in some sort of postmodern puff of self-reflection? Well I think that the sharing element is important here. Blogging helps me to be a better parent as it helps me to understand myself, and I am not sure that I would get the same feeling, or keep the same discipline, if I wrote these posts just for myself. It is somehow important to me that others read it. Saying something that no one can hear may be very Zen-like, but is it therapeutic?

In the final analysis I think that if I continue to be mindful of what I am writing then my blog will do more good than harm, and while the boys have no say in what I write about them it is my responsibility to introduce them to it at the right time in the right way.

As I have said before I think that Dads are less likely to share their ideas and talk about their issues than women. This blog helps me to do this, but I have also found that the coaching that I have done to be a good way to share in a more private manner. This is one of the reasons I am setting up the ChangingDad coaching business, to help Dads express themselves and become the best Dads they can be. There are many ways of sharing, but do we really have to be called ‘sharents’?

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Crafting

 

In my last post I was talking about doing some crafting with Jake at a school workshop. I agree that the scenario sounded quite idyllic, and I did really enjoy it. What has been bugging me ever since is that I feel that it might have also been rather misleading. This is because I actually do not really like crafting, not for myself and not really with the boys either. Indeed there have been more occasions than I care to think of that Jake and/ or Sam have come up to me with a potential project involving painting, cutting out, drawing or sculpting in some way or another, and I have done my upmost to try to dissuade them; or convince them that they can do it on their own.

As I write this it makes me feel very bad. Am I, in essence, stifling their creative development? Why am I so opposed to doing this sort of thing with them? Should I snap myself out it and just get on with it? Well that little voice inside me is saying yes to that last question, but I still do not like hearing it.

I think that one of the reasons why I just do not like it is that I am really not very good at it myself, and while I do have my creative side (which I hope shows through in my writing) I just do not seem to have the vision to create something beautiful (I would be happy with recognisable) through the manipulation of paper, glue, crayons and various other ephemera.

While writing this my mind had gone back to an incident when I was probably twelve. I had been taking woodwork classes at school (to be honest I preferred domestic science) and had been let loose on a lathe, the idea being for me to produce a potato masher. I whittled away at the wood until I produced what can only be described as a standard lamp for a dolls house. I remember presenting to my Mum who was very taken with the object, but also found it hilarious when she found out what it was supposed to be. I remember that she carried it about in her handbag for quite a while as an example of my handiwork. She was proud but also realistic about my skills.

What I now wonder is whether experiences such as this, and the (lack of) expectation that was placed on me, have given me the ambivalence to crafting that I have today. Yes, as I said last time, they have the effect of allowing me to shape my own destiny much more; but there is a part of me that thinks that a little more encouragement in this area may have improved my confidence in my own ability to make and fix things.

What I have learned from my new work as a coach is that it is important to understand where our attitudes come from; and writing this post has helped me to surface some of the reasons why I am not all that keen on crafting. It is, for me, a relatively small thing but it will add to my overall view of who I am, and what sort of a Father I can be.

What it will not do is abandon my policy of keeping the DIY to a minimum. I may be more aware but I still think I can knock hundreds of the value of a house with one blow of the hammer. Overcoming that will take much more work.


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Filling my shoes

For the last three Tuesday afternoons I have been going to Jake’s school to take part in a fathers and children ‘Story Sack Workshop’. This involves us sitting round on those little school chairs, the ones that you worry how you are going to get up from, and doing activities around a story you have read with your child during the previous week. The sack bit comes in because you get to take home a sack with books and activities in it and look a bit deeper into the story with your child. For instance, during the first week Jake chose Jack and the Beanstalk (currently his favourite story) and we were able to reenact the story using the puppets provided in the sack. It was a great way of telling the story together.

It is also good to meet more dads and grandads since, as I’ve written about before, men do not seem to be as sociable in parenting situations as much as women. So we get a coffee and do some crafting based on the story that we have been reading during the week. On the final week we did a lovely exercise whereby the children drew round our feet, and the dads/ grandads painted the children’s feet and made a footprint. We then cut out each others feet and stuck them, one on top of the other, on a piece of paper below the sentence “when I grow up I want to fill your shoes”. I found this to be incredibly moving, and that piece of paper is something that I will treasure for many years to come.

It did, however, get me thinking about that phrase “when I grow up I want to fill your shoes” because it struck me that it could have several meanings, which left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand it could mean Jake filling my shoes if I die or become infirm; it could be simply that one day his feet will be the same size as mine and will then be making his own way in the world; or it could be something along the lines of him fulfilling my expectations.

Each of these give me an emotional response as I think of future possibilities and outcomes, but it is the last one I would like to unpack a bit more here. Yesterday would have been my Father’s 82nd birthday, he died in 2011. For me the most marvellous thing that he bequeathed to me was something he said long before he died, and during a time of my life where I was unsure where my future lay. Hearing the words “whatever you decide to do with your life I will support you” provided me with a great release. It told me that he had the confidence to let me go and do what I wanted in the world, but also that he would also be there for me to fall back on. I felt set free.

This gave me great confidence, and is something that I am very grateful for, especially when I see others who, no matter how successful they are, continue to struggle under the burden of their fathers’ expectations, or their perceptions of those expectations. It is something that I think, as fathers, we need to continually guard against because are children may share many of our personality traits but they are their own people and deserve the freedom to explore their own way.

I hope that I can help and guide Jake and Sam in what they do and where they go, I would not be fulfilling my role as a father if I did not. But I also hope that I will have the confidence and humility to let Jake and Sam make their own way in the world, doing things that they want to do rather because they feel the need to fulfil any expectations that I might place on them. If they have happy and fulfilling lives in their own terms in this way then I will consider my shoes to be well and truly filled.