ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


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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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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.


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A change is as good as a rest

Well the Easter break is now over and we already seem to have dropped back into our routines again as if it never happened. It was a good break and Jake, in particular, had a much needed rest.

I do not remember school being so tiring when I was a child, but I guess that it must have been; I certainly do not think that I was awake for hours in the evening and I am pretty sure that I was always in bed and asleep well before 8. But it has certainly been clear to me that Jake finds school to be tiring, and was really struggling during the last week of last term as the weeks of learning built up. Even in reception class there is a great emphasis on children improving and developing their reading, writing and maths; and Jake has certainly learned an awful lot since he started in September. But this does take its toll on one so young.

This is not to say that he does not enjoy it, and he was so keen to go back on Monday morning that we were waiting for the gates to open at school. But because he finds it so tiring we are really mindful of how he can spend his time out of school, and try to find a balance between different sorts of activities. So while we do listen to him read, and help him to write and count; we also encourage him to play both inside and outside and we are quite happy to let him watch TV in, what we think, is moderation.

I would go further than that and say that allowing him to watch some TV is important because he clearly does find it relaxing and, provided it is the right sort of TV (BBC Cbeebies and good quality films), we also find that he learns while he watches too; he has certainly improved his vocabulary watching the likes of Ice Age, Madagascar and other films. This does not stop us having the discussion (argument) about him watching more as he always, of course, tries to push the boundaries of how much he can watch especially during the holidays when he has more potential watching time.

This is why we also try to get out and explore the area around us, either by going down to the local playgrounds/ parks, or visiting museums and places of interest. Of all these though the one that I most enjoyed during this break was taking the boys up into the Peak District National Park, which we are very fortunate to live close to. We had a great time exploring the woods, tramping through what was left of the snow (Sam even found a submerged stream and ended up to his waist in snow), and playing pooh sticks.

All in all it was a busy time with lots to do and see, but Jake looked great on it and I hope that he will remember his trips out with the sort of fondness that I do. It is great to get out, and I am looking forward to a summer of exploring new places and introducing the boys to the joys of being outside.

When we got to the car park at Longshaw Estate, where we were visiting, Jake asked me “where’s the playground Daddy?”. I thought for a moment and nearly said “there isn’t one”, then looking round it struck me and said “it’s here Jake, it’s all around you”. I was pleased that I thought to say that, and even more pleased that the boys embraced the concept, and now want to think of more ways to help make it just that for them.

There are plenty more holidays coming up so suggestions gratefully received.


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Why? Oh! Why?

There is a time bomb ticking in our house, and the more time that passes the more I realise just how huge it is going to be. It has gone off once before, but then we were in blissful ignorance about it so it was not any cause for concern. It is only a matter of time before it goes off again, and this time it is going to be massive because we are still dealing with the fall out from the last one. Actually the effects of the last one are getting more pronounced all the time. It is something that I should be pleased about, and on one level I am, but it is something that is draining and challenging. Something that requires the development of many new skills and knowledge.

Why, you ask?

Exactly!

Sam has progressed onto the ‘What’ questions (‘What’s that noise?’ being the most common example), so it is only a matter of time before he first utters that word now; before he says:

‘Why?’

First of all it will just be ‘why?’. Over and over again. Then gradually the questions will become more and more finessed, more and more complicated; and will require me to delve into issues requiring knowledge of such as philosophy, astronomy, quantum physics, religion, biology, history, economics and transport systems of the world (and that was just last weekend with Jake).

Do not get me wrong I think that it is absolutely brilliant that Jake is showing such an interest in the world around him, and the last thing I would want to do it blunt his desire to learn more, to know more, and to understand the world around him. But boy is it exhausting and the thought of two sources of this inquisitiveness is enough to make me break out in a cold sweat.

I am beginning to see what parents have told me in the past when they say that their children are sponges of knowledge, and I find it amazing that Jake and, very soon, Sam wants to know so much and is picking up so much in such a short time. I also feel a great responsibility to tell him the right things (although in some cases there is no right or wrong answer) in a clear and concise manner. I am also conscious that the things we say to our children at this age help shape their worldview in the future, so I want to tell him things that are defensible and sensible, while at the same time helping him to work things out for himself.

So this is yet another example of the huge responsibility that we have towards our children. To respect them and respond properly. In other words not to fob them off with any old rubbish, or be tempted to answer with such as ‘Why not?’, ‘Why do you think that?’, or ‘Because it is’.

I have to admit, though, to sometimes resorting to that last one in particular.

Why?

Because, frankly, I am really not wanting to engage into a conversation on the meaning of life when it is bedtime and all I can think of is an hour of quiet before collapsing into bed myself

I know that this is hardly being consistent, but can we please discuss that question on another day.


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Confidence

We have just come back from a week’s holiday. We deliberately chose a place where there would be lots to do inside should the weather not be so good. As it turned out it was unseasonably good weather for Northern England in February, but that did not stop us from taking the boys to the swimming pool every day.

We bought them arm bands, got them changed and headed for the water. I am not sure what I expected with this, but I was certainly surprised by what happened. This is perhaps because, since Sam was born, on the rare occasions we have taken the boys swimming we have tended to hold on to them and rather lead the activities.

This time, probably because it was a daily event for a whole week, we witnessed something of a transformation for both of the boys. Sam began by treating the whole thing with some trepidation, he was very wary of the water and, even with arm bands on, was reluctant to leave one or both of us even when in very shallow areas. Jake was a little more adventurous, but only wanted to go down the slides with one of us, and would not consider doing anything that was remotely out of his depth.

Switch to the end of the week and Sam was happy playing in the toddler pool by himself for ages; pretending to surf around on a float and having enormous fun going down the slide again and again and again and again. Jake was even more of a revelation and, by the end of the week, was swimming across the pool by himself and whizzing down the big slides on his own into the splash pool.

These things did not happy suddenly but over a week-long period, but the transformation from start to finish was remarkable, and it was an amazing thing to see their confidence build from day to day as time went on.

But I do not think that it was just their confidence that increased, but Karen and my confidence grew too. We were increasingly willing to let them go and let them get on with their own thing. We were less concerned with being directional, and that really paid off for us allowing one of us at a time to go off and do our own swimming programme; and spend more time in the hot tub (which was fantastically relaxing).

So it struck me, in the increasingly long time that I had to think for myself that week, that this week of swimming was probably something of a blue print for the future: how we can help the boys increase in their confidence to do things, and how their becoming more confident is inextricably linked to our capacity to let go. We need to help them, but we also need to give them space to develop and learn.

This is yet another balance that we need to find; this time between suffocating them and giving them space, between supporting them and letting them have their own independence, and in trusting them to the right degree. Last week we got that just about right and that was a lesson learned. But I have a feeling that it is a lesson that we will need to learn over and over again.


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Learning through doing

CRASH!

(Pause)

WWWWWAAAAAAADDDDAAAADDDDDDYYYYYY…..HURHURHUR…….

Something like this happens at least once a day, every day in our house. On this occasion I found the source of the noise in the lounge where Sam was standing with the TV lying upside down on his foot.

You might expect at this point that I recount how I felt so sorry for him that I took him up in my arms and gave him a big cuddle.

Er, no.

I said something along the lines of “for goodness sake Sam how many times have I told you not to push that television (always more formal language when telling children off)”.

This of course did not help and Sam only upped the volume (on himself, not the TV) and decided that his salvation lay with Karen and not me, hence:

WWWWWWAAAAAAAAAMMMMMUUUUUUMMMMMMMMYYYYYYY….HURHURHUR….

So off Sam toddled to Karen with me following behind feeling increasingly helpless and stupid for not being more calm in that situation. For not starting with the cuddle followed by the learning opportunity to reinforce the dangers of rocking appliances. He was soon fine again though, although he has not been so bold with the TV again.

It seems to me that the boys take some things that we say as being unequivocally true, will never question it, and will repeat it verbatim and ad infinitum. Other things we can tell them, literally, hundreds of times and they will not take it on board at all. The difference between these two broad categories seems, roughly, that the first group of things are out of their control to disprove and so they are willing to accept them. The second group, broadly those things they can, or think they can, control and therefore carry an element of risk, are the ones where they push the boundaries. So Sam knew that we did not want him to push the TV, but only knows why now. The TV pushed back.

This can be a rather stressful scenario if you think about it too much, and was played out all too clearly when Jake recently found out what happens if you grab the wrong part of a hot pan. In that situation I fortunately did go straight into cuddle mode, and Jake has learned something about hot pans that he did not know before. But clearly it is not an ideal pedagogy and he took all evening to recover from the shock.

So we will keep plugging away at the dangers of cars, hot things, water, strangers etc… and hope that something gets through and we mitigate the risk. This does not mean that we remove it altogether otherwise the boys would never get on a bike, climb on a playground, or cross a road. There is a balance between risk and coddling but I have no idea where that balance lies and so the boys will continue to learn as they go along through a mixture of our guidance and their own experience, and I am sure that it is not the last time that I say: “I told you so”.

The TV was fine by the way.


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So embarrassing!

Jake opened up a new front in the parent/ child relationship this week: he got embarrassed! He was talking about the Headmistress at his school and got her name wrong, but would not believe me when I told him he had. “Right”, I said, “The next time that Mrs Buxton is standing at the school gates we’ll ask her shall we?” The silence that ensued, followed by a strong “Nooooooo!” told me that, while Jake was not prepared to admit he was wrong, he also did not want me to ask Mrs Buxom (as he calls her) what her name actually is. But at this stage I had not realised that this was down to his embarrassment.

So off we went to school the next morning, and there was Mrs Buxton standing outside the school (a habit that I fully approve of having known so many head teachers who hardly emerge from their offices), so I offer to Jake that we go and settle our disagreement with her. Again the trademark silence followed by “no Daddy, it’s embarrassing”.

What a marvellous moment that was since it not only tells me that Jake is developing as a person, but it opens up a whole new aspect of how we interact. Clearly I was never going to ask “Mrs Buxom” about her name, but Jake did not know that because where would the embarrassment have lain then?

Embarrassment is something that parents have, consciously and unconsciously, been using with their children since time immemorial and I have to admit that part of me has been looking forward to this moment since Jake was born. After all it is part of the parental job description isn’t it? We can use it to build our relationships with our children, and also motivate them: one of my favourite ways to get Jake going is to threaten to start singing if he does not get a move on (I have a habit of narrating what is happening in song: Jake does not like this, especially in public). I had not put it down to his embarrassment before, but now that I have I might well be singing a lot more often.

Clearly there are limits to how we embarrass our children since it could also be cruel and manipulative if used in the wrong way. Used in the right way, though, it can be part of that continuing experience of bonding with our children. We know things about them that no one else does, and we care about and notice their little foibles like no one else does. It is hardly surprising, then, that we will want to share (or offer to share) this information with others and, as the boys get older, the level of embarrassment is surely only going to increase.

As a parent you can be embarrassing to your children simply by being who you are, by wearing what you wear, and through knowing what you know. It seems to be something natural and comes so easily that it would seem rude not to use it.

I wonder what Mrs Buxom thinks?


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Cycle of Life

As regular readers will know, there are many things about being a parent that have surprised me. The unexpected has become a part of daily life for me, and I never really know what is coming next. This is both challenging and exciting and can sometimes lead to me having mixed feelings about daily life with our boys.

On the other hand there are some events which I know will happen as the boys get older. These are events that I have pictured in my mind since I first knew Karen was pregnant, and perhaps even earlier. One of these was seeing a child of mine riding a bike unaided on their own. This is partly because I remember so vividly the moment when my Father pushed me off and I felt the rush of absolute freedom of riding along independently under my own power without the aid of stabilisers. It was an amazing moment for me and it opened up all sorts of new horizons of playing with the older children in the street and, in time, exploring the area where I lived and beyond.

Now it was Jake’s turn to try this out. We had been lucky enough to have been given a bike some time ago and Jake had been asking when he could have a try, the only thing holding us back being the fact that it needed a bit of maintenance – including taking off the stabilisers – something we finally got round to doing the other morning. So there were no more excuses, it was a lovely crisp sunny winter’s day, and we went off to a place where there is a flat and wide path.

Jake had been using his balance bike (one of those without pedals) for about two years, and he had grown ever more confident in riding it, so we were hopeful that he might pick bike riding up quickly. We were not really prepared for what came next as Karen gave him a push off and he absolutely flew away. He was a little wobbly at first but very quickly found his balance and it quickly seemed as if he had been cycling for years.

Jake was so happy and so proud of his achievement and I was pleased that I managed to capture that pride with some photos, a moment that I will never forget and I hope Jake remembers it for years to come.

Jake’s achievement, and his pride at doing something so radically new made me think that as we get older there are fewer ‘basic’ (I cannot think of a better word than that at the moment) things that are left to achieve. We learn to walk, read, write, count, and then drive; and while we keep learning all our lives there are fewer single things that give us such a life changing jolt. Having children is one of these moments, it leads to so many changes and new experiences; many are unexpected but some we dream about, hope for and look forward to. Jake riding his bike definitely fell into that latter category, and as the cycle of life continues, I can only wonder what comes next.


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Celebrations and revelations

Karen and me had a very different New Year’s Eve this time round. The previous five, since Jake was born, have involved getting children to bed and then hoping they stay asleep during the fireworks, which they always did. We then planned our summer holiday which helped us to look forward to the year ahead, and helped us to stay awake. We would then watch the London fireworks on the BBC, and be in bed by about 12.15. Not exactly the more extensive celebrations of previous years, but somehow representative of our new lives as parents.

This New Year’s Eve was different though. We stayed with friends who have children of a similar age to ours, and they invited round other people who also had children of a similar age. We had a great time and so did the children, with both Jake and Sam making it past midnight to watch the extensive fireworks provided for us by the good people of Germany. A time when the whole country seems to go crazy for about an hour. It was a great evening: the boys played nicely with the other children, we got to have good conversations, we danced with the boys, and at around half past midnight they went straight to sleep and slept in in the morning.

All in all we had an incredibly relaxing time, and it really encouraged me to have as one of my New Year’s resolution: “meeting more people”. This is a real change for me as I would be the first to admit that I have my misanthropic side. I like my own company, and I need my own space. This, of course, is not always possible with a family and New Year’s Eve made me realise that I often try to extend my need for space to the family level; thinking that doing something just the four of us is preferable to doing it in a bigger group.

Now I think about it it is pretty self evident that the boys are going to enjoy themselves more if they have people of their own age to play with and are going to require less looking after and entertaining less. Obvious isn’t it? Well now I think about it, er, yes it is; but it took me New Year’s experience to realise that that is often the case.

For me, and I suspect for many other parents, bringing up children is a constant source of these revelatory moments: times when we recognise the obvious and wish we had realised it days, months, or even years ago. What I am coming to realise is that I should not beat myself up about this lack of awareness but just be happy that I realised about things when I did, after all parenthood is a constant process of learning; that is one of the things that makes it so great and so scary at the same time. What I learned this New Year’s Eve is that Karen and I do not have to do it on our own, and that my being that bit more sociable may help that process along more than I realised.


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OK, so I was wrong

A few posts ago I described the difficult time that we were having getting Sam in particular to settle in the evening and go to sleep; and how it was affecting our chances of having some rare time together as a couple.

Well it is difficult to believe that that was only about six weeks ago as things have improved somewhat since then. As often seems to be the case it was time away from home that seemed to break the cycle we were in, and I do not just put that down to Sam, but Karen and me as well.

So what changed? Well to start with we took away the threat of the ‘baby bed’. What started as a good way to keep Sam in bed really backfired on us badly and ended up with Sam wanting to go in the cot again. This felt like a massive backwards step; and meant that instead of coming in to see us in the middle of the night he stood in his cot and shouted until one of us came, so we were actually getting less sleep as a result.

Next, after a 10 days away, we took away his bed frame thinking that one of the issues might have been that he was worried about sleeping higher up, we also re-arranged the room a bit and changed the direction the mattress was facing so the bedroom looked different.

This all seemed to have a positive effect, but the biggest change was the one that I was stubbornly refusing to do: sit in with the boys until they fall asleep. I really did not want to do this as it somehow felt like we had been defeated, and I also had memories of when we sat in with Jake at a similar age.

Jake was also having trouble settling and we decided to put a chair in his bedroom and sit in with him. The problem was that he would never let us leave. The slightest movement would lead him to either scream or wake up then scream until we were sat down again. We were stuck in the room for ages. We racked our brains as to how we could leave more quietly but nothing worked. Then one day I just took the chair out of the room and he never expected us to stay in there again. If only we had  known it was that simple.

So this is why I did not want to introduce this routine now. Well I have to admit that I was wrong and I’m glad that I decided to be pragmatic in the end. In fact I have rather enjoyed watching their settling routines, many of which have taken me back to when I was a boy and trying different strategies to settle myself. I have also been amazed at how quickly both boys can go from from being extremely boisterous to being asleep.

So as well as them liking one of us to be in the room with them, I have actually learned more about them and developed a further bond with them. Both Karen and I have also found that we enjoy that time of (eventual) quiet to calm down and reflect on the day too; something we often do not find time to do. What’s more the bedtime hour has become a maximum of half an hour (less and earlier if Sam does not sleep during the day), so everyone’s a winner – until the next time.