ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


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Post-holiday blues or the start of something big?

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We have just come back from two weeks’ holiday and it is safe to say that we all had a great time. This was confirmed to me when the boys, and especially Jake, were acting very strangely on the way home. It took some time to find out why this was, but Jake eventually told us that he was sad that our holiday was over.

This made me both happy and sad at the same time. Happy because it showed that he had really enjoyed himself, but sad because it took me back to the great holidays I recall from my own childhood. This is because Jake’s reaction reminded me of my own, perhaps when I was a little older, response of being really upset in the car on the way back and having a little cry to myself when we got home. I had my own pang of sadness this week when I saw the familiar streets, buildings and buses around our home. It suddenly hit me that we were not away any more.

For me, and clearly Jake too, there is something very special about being away from home in an environment that is different from that we experience everyday; it somehow removes us from the stresses and strains of everyday life especially if, as I did (well most of the time), we switch of the data roaming and resist the temptation to go online. It marks a freedom from our normal daily lives.

That is perhaps why coming back home is so hard no matter how good our daily lives might be. Jake and me seem not to be alone in this as the BBC recently reported on the things we like least about coming back off holiday. We find that we somehow want to maintain the holiday spell and not see it disappear into the past.

This is perhaps particularly the case this year when the weather has been so good, and the summer has been more like those that we tend to remember from our own childhood. True I do remember sitting in a static caravan, rain pouring down the windows and playing board games to pass the time. More often, though, I remember days on the beach, swimming in the sea, walks through sunlit woods and bright promenades, melting ice cream and ‘helping’ with the harvest on my Uncle’s farm. I remember the sort of summer we had this year.

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Having time away also allows us to reflect about those things that we do and do not like about our lives. Can we make our daily lives more like those we spent on holiday, or at least carry something over from our break? Do we want to find a new job? Could we be spending more time with our families like we did over the summer? Or does that thought just fill us with dread? Did we not get a break yet really need one?

Whatever the answers to these questions, for me this is a more significant time for change and potential that in the New Year. Our children move on, whether it is to a new class, new school, on to University or into the employment market; and there is a sense of possibility and of making a new start. As parents this may mean some adjustments too, but perhaps it is also time to grasp the nettle and make more significant changes while our batteries are recharged and our resilience is higher.

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As for Jake, one week on he is already planning next year’s holiday by pouring over the map from the theme park we went to this summer, seeing what new vistas a growth spurt will open up; and he is now very excited about going back to school in Year 1. Sam too is looking forward a new year in the top class at nursery. For them change cannot come quickly enough.

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The End of the Beginning

Change is something you have to get used to as a Father. My boys, Jake and Sam, are 5 and 3 respectively and they seem to be forever saying new things, achieving more, and developing both mentally and physically at an alarming rate.

If I am anything to go by it is the new things that tend to get noticed and celebrated. I realised the other day, though, that much of the change revolved around not doing things. This is something that did not really feature when Jake was getting to the age Sam is now. Looking back Sam started doing things as Jake stopped doing them. Now, though we are reaching a definite end to things, since Sam is always going to be our youngest.

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Since the start of the year we have stopped pushing a pram or carrying Sam in a sling and stopped changing nappies. These things alone result in a significant change in the way we live our lives. We now have to badger Sam a bit to make sure he does not need a wee before we embark on some great voyage, such as to the supermarket; but on the other hand the car boot is not packed full of pram before we even try to get the shopping in.

When you add to this the many toys, books, puzzles and especially clothes that Sam has grown out of we get the feeling not so much of the ebb and flow of the tide of evolution, but the crashing of the wave of change over us; and if you are facing away from it you do not notice it until it hits you square in the back. Suddenly you are on the other side of the wave surveying the new landscape and, in many ways, starting over again as the things that you had built up to manage situations; to encourage and cajole, and to love and protect have all gone.

What is particularly scary is that once that wave has crashed you soon lose your memory of what actually happened before it came. You forget the little mannerisms, the wrongly spoken words and sentences; the vast majority of the great joys and frustrations that parenthood brings. You try to remember, and you do recall some things, but not as deeply as you felt them at the time; and they only fade more as the new takes over and demands your attention.

This is probably why we concentrate on the new in favour of mourning the old, because the new seems so much more positive, so much more amazing: it is the challenge in front of us.

Change in unavoidable in all walks of life but with parenthood, I would suggest, it is particularly marked because you get the usual bits of the new, coupled with a growing person who is changing at a much faster rate than the prevailing one. So once the wave has crashed, you are not given much chance to restore your balance before you are taken forward with the currents that come after it.

I like change for the most part, it keeps things fresh and exciting, and I am happy to be moving forward. It is a good job because, with Jake and Sam, I do not have much choice in the matter. Now were is that wet suit?


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London eyes

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Ever since he was very small Jake has always liked crowds. His first word was ‘Hiya’ and he used to say it again and again as we went through a city centre, or popular tourist places such as York. Most people found very endearing, including our fellow passangers on a flight to Abu Dhabi (well for the first 15 minutes anyway).

We are lucky enough to make frequent trips to see family in Berlin. Jake loves this, and has had a real hankering to visit other big cities such as New York and London, and it was because of this I thought it would be a great idea to go to London for a couple of days. We have been there before, but he was really too young to appreciate it then, but, at nearly six, I thought he could.

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But what to do there? I contemplated all sorts of trips to museums and plans to keep him entertained for two days, but in the end I asked him what he wanted to do (an idea so obvious I am amazed that I had not thought of it before). The answer was that he wanted to ride on as many different forms of transport as he could. Well, I thought, I can cope with that.

So that is what we did. We went on buses (old and new), trains (underground, overground, driverless and express), a taxi, and cable car. We had to give the river boat a miss because of the horrendous queues to get on at every stop, but Jake was fine with that. In the process we saw most of the sights that he wanted to see: Big Ben, the London Eye, and Buckingham Palace. The highlight for both of us was the new cable car that goes high over the river from North Greenwich giving you a completely new perspective on London.

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It was great to spend a few days with him and I enjoyed his enthusiasm for everything as well as his great thirst for knowledge which seemingly knows no bounds. He is at a stage now where he not only wants to know about something, but whether it is faster, higher, longer, or more powerful than anything else. A vicarious competitiveness for inanimate objects it seems.

Our trip was helped by the fact that, in my last job, I travelled to London on a regular basis, so we could find our way around relatively easily. What was really amazing, though, was how I got to see the familiar through Jake’s eyes and got to see London in a completely new light. For him it was like a big transport playground where he soaked up every little feature: wires in the middle of the track, cables on bridges, buttons on trains, and many many more. Yet another new perspective for me.

What I also realised was how much I had changed from the crazy London commuter always in a rush from one meeting to the next trying to save every vital second by catching that tube, even though there was another one in two minutes. Jake was not going to be rushed, and that suited me just fine: he thought the idea of people running up and down escalators was when they moved anyway was hilarious; and when you think about it…

So our two days in London was a very different experience for me, and in some ways quite a salutary one as well. They provided a benchmark for how different, and for me better, my life has become since I took redundancy; and they also provided a concentrated dose of seeing the world through a child’s eyes. I enjoyed the view!


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Powerless in Yorkshire I

 

The other weekend I had the boys to myself while Karen was away. This is a situation which happens often enough as not to phase me, but not often enough as to make it unremarkable; and this time it was four days, the longest that I have had them on my own.

I was not too worried about this because I had got plenty planned out and the sun shined everyday. By the Saturday evening we had had two brilliant days and we got home in the evening tired but happy. Sam was straight into bed and asleep, and Jake wanted to watch a programme before settling down. We had only been back 15 minutes, however, when the power went off. Checking that the houses around us were still lit, I then realised that our lights were still on too (doh!) but that all the sockets were off and, when investigating further, found that I could not get them back on again.

Jake was very understanding about his programme and toddled off to bed, leaving me to wonder what to do next, and what happened next was very unexpected:

I freaked out a bit.

I started to think of things that I could do to rectify the situation, but they all involved using a phone or the internet; both of which were unavailable (and my mobile had no charge). I was freaked because I could not do this research, and I was freaked because I could not at least send Karen a text to tell her what had happened. This was stupid, annoying and irrational; but real nonetheless.

So I decided to wait until morning to sort everything out telling myself that the worst case scenario was that the food in the freezer would spoil. This did not help and after several sleepless hours I remembered that we had a phone charger in the car, so I sneaked out, switched on the ignition and charged my phone – hoping that no one would come along and seize a golden opportunity to steal both car and phone thus rendering the situation immeasurably worse.

Despite the risk I have to say that I felt a lot better with a charged phone, and was then able to look for an electrician to ring in the morning, and could send Karen that text. I started to feel in control again as if somehow the power in my phone gave me power too.

Part of me feels rather embarrassed to admit this episode, but I thought it was worth sharing because it showed me just how used I had become to having technology at my fingertips, how much it gives me the illusion of being in control, and how fragile that can be. I am sure that I would not have been so freaked out if Karen had been around too, or if I did not feel the responsibility of looking after the boys, or if I had not been so focussed on getting home and just relaxing.

I think it is fair to say that I am not the sort of person who usually worries unduly about things, and tend to be quite sanguine about change; but this incident somehow disturbed my equilibrium in a way that many more potentially impactful things would not. I guess I was caught off guard and although balance was restored when the power fully was the next day it still troubles me that such things can happen so easily.

I am sure that everyone has these bizarre irrational moments when we lose perspective and, as in my case with charging the mobile, make potentially bad decisions by taking unnecessary risks. These can be quickly rectified, or they can persist and get worse, even multiply sending us further off balance. I was fortunate that I had the personal resources to regain my equilibrium quite quickly, but can remember times in my life when that would not have been the case and it is striking for me that it was the lack of communication that caused me to freak the most.

So for me the key lesson is the importance of sharing issues and concerns and work through issues with others whether they be friends, family, or professionals such as coaches. It helps us to understand our situation more, and with that awareness comes a greater ability to not only solve problems, but find the sort of balance in our lives that we want.


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Food glorious food

It has been a couple of weeks since my last post due to a busy half term holiday, the upshot of which is that I seem to have a backlog of things that I want to write about. The first thing stems from an article that was in The Guardian about 10 days ago. It was an interview with Michael Pollan, someone I had not come across before who advocates healthy eating, and particularly that families should eat home cooked food together.

Most controversially he argues that families began to eat in a more fragmented way when women started going out to work more. This has courted criticism from feminist groups, although he claims that his point is more that food companies jumped on this trend and started producing the sort of unhealthy processed convenience food that made it more easy for us to eat separately.

This aside we are certainly trying to follow many of the things that he espouses. We always try to eat together in the morning, and usually spend 10-15 minutes together around the breakfast table. We then also try to eat together in the evening, and probably manage this on average 5-6 times a week. We also try to cook food from scratch, giving the boys ready meals no more than once per fortnight, and are quite choosy about which ones they have.

Sitting around the kitchen table together is an important time which is often quite chaotic, especially in the morning when we also have an agenda to get the boys to school and nursery on time. It is certainly not the easy option, but it is something that the boys are now used to and I very much hope that we can continue this as they get older, and that it becomes an important part of sharing and growing as a family.

I am also very conscious that we are lucky to be able to do this. Before I took redundancy from my job at the end of 2011, I would regularly be going out to work before breakfast (in fact the boys often had breakfast a nursery) and was back again once the evening meal was over. This was not something that I enjoyed which was why it was absolutely the right decision for me to make a considerable change to my lifestyle to be able to accommodate a more family friendly environment for the boys.

Such decisions are never easy or even obvious and I was very much helped by a life coach who enabled me to develop my own options and see that my future had more options than I thought possible. The irony has not been lost on me that, in the end, I chose life coaching as job which could enable me to do something that I both enjoy, while letting me have the lifestyle that I wanted. It has also given me the motivation to help other Dads, hence my setting up ChangingDad, who are in the same seemingly impossible situation that I was. I wish to help Fathers find a way forward that can be transformational for both themselves and their family life.

I think that I often take for granted the fact that I am home for breakfast and evening meals nearly every day now, but when I think back to how things used to be I am so pleased that I made the changes that I did. I have a great opportunity to watch my boys grow up in ways I could have never imagined, maybe you can too.


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Other people’s children

Jake has now reached the age where he is starting to have friends round. This is nothing new, what is new is that these friends are now dropped off by their parents. So while I guess you could call them play dates, they are very different sorts of things than before.

Unlike previously where the parents would come round and have a coffee and a chat, and the offspring would largely play by themselves, interspersed with the odd bit of combat as the focus of both children alighted on one particular toy or book. Now Jake and his friends play very nicely together and, by and large, require very little supervision.

So while this does tend to be an altogether different experience, especially for us parents in that we can get on with something else, there is the small matter of being responsible for someone with whom you are not familiar, unlike your own child of whom you have come to know pretty much every foible, and in many ways rather take this for granted.

As well as ‘play dates’ I have also found myself taking Jake and a friend out to such as soft play centres. It provides them with a good opportunity to bond, and me with a good opportunity to do things like write this blog. But I am also aware that I do not know how these friends will react when they fall over and hurt themselves, or what they do and do not like. What are they usually allowed in terms of food and drink? Do I really want to set some sort of precedent for their own parents to follow? “Well Jake’s Daddy lets us have three ice creams”. That would make me very popular.

So you are responsible for this complete stranger who, from my experience so far, is far more polite and amenable than your own child, and who seems to play nicely without much problem at all, and tends to eat all his tea. I do not say this to denigrate the boys, because I expect that when they go elsewhere to play at their friends’, their parents have a similar experience with them.

This is probably because the friends’ parents are strangers as well, not people which whom you have spent the last few years pushing boundaries and finding out where you stand. So parents of friends are people to be a bit wary of, but on the other hand they are looking after you. So what happens if something goes wrong? Will they look after you?

Because of this we expect our children to exhibit a certain amount of trust in those strangers that are their friends’ parents, as we do ourselves as parents. We expect a certain minimum standard of care for our children and I am sure that there is some sort of vetting procedure going on, however (un)conscious, when we consider who will be looking after our children.

In the end I think that I have to trust that the boys will be fine when they go out with friends and their parents. It is the next stage of letting go, a process which, like it or not, will continue apace for years to come.

I might as well get used to it, but I cannot say it is comfortable.


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No going back

 

We had visitors staying with us during the Easter break, a family with two children including a six months old baby. I thought that the baby was very cute and I very much enjoyed interacting with her, and was surprised how relatively easy she was compared with our boys (I mean how they are now not how they were then). She slept a lot and did not really have many needs apart from feeding, being changed, and being taken out for a walk now and again. I often forgot she was there as she rolled around on the carpet, or gurgled quietly in the pram, ‘forget’ being something that you most definitely cannot do with the boys.

But, and I think that you probably knew there was a ‘but’ coming, it did not really make me pine for having another baby. I am not sure whether this is a gender thing but the thought of going through the whole first years again is not something I particularly crave for.

That is not to say that I did not enjoy our boys’ early years. Certainly with Jake, because everything was new and exciting, and I did not know what was coming next. It was also a great challenge because I was learning and changing all the time, surprising myself at what I could do; and was generally amazed by the whole concept of fatherhood. With Sam it was a mixture of fresh challenge, two was definitely more than one plus one; but I also found myself wishing Sam’s early years away as we went through those different phases: crawling, teething, weaning, walking, talking, sleeping through etc… It was special in its own way, and Sam was, and is, very different to Jake in many ways. But do I want to do it again. Er no not really.

The boys have both reached ages that are really interesting. Jake is taking all sorts of new interesting concepts on board, and it is fascinating to see him develop. Sam is developing too, now in a very different way and, most importantly is really developing his communication skills and I am loving being invited into his fantasy world; something that he is much more open with than Jake was.

So I guess for me the bottom line is that while I am sure another child would be rewarding in their own particular way the first two years would not be as exciting again, until he or she were to reach ‘the age of communication’, I am not sure that I would get as much out of the experience as before. I may, of course, be wrong but I am not sure that I want to try. If nothing else I am not sure that I could take it, I am tired enough at the end of each and everyday as it is.

So hats off to those with more than two. I really do not know how you do it.