ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


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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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The Royal Baby and stories of courage

While I would not class myself as a Republican I am not really a Royalist either, but since this is not 1649 I can sit on the fence quite happily. I do, however, get really irritated by what I see as the excessive coverage of royal events, especially when they usurp other stories that affect people’s lives much more. There are other births too that, in my opinion, are much more worthy of our attention given the courage and suffering that are involved.

Let me make it clear at this point that I wish the Royal Couple no ill will, and should add that it would not swap my life for theirs in any circumstance; the pressure that comes with the media spotlight must be immense. Nor do I want to underplay the pain of childbirth that Kate will have gone through which, having watched my wife Karen go through twice, I can only imagine. Nevertheless they have had the best of possible advice and care as they become parents for the first time.

But as I sat through what I saw as the interminable coverage waiting for some other news I could not help reflecting on children born into abusive relationships, into families where addiction is rife, or where the parents for whatever reason just cannot cope. I then thought about those many people who foster children from such situations and how heroic they are in taking children who are often quite troubled. I cannot imagine, as I struggle daily with Jake and Sam, how (or why) they do it. But thank goodness they do.

I then thought about the many people for whom having children is far from straightforward. Those who are unable to for whatever reason, and those for whom having children is a desperate round of medical consultation, IVF treatment, joyous hope and, often, crushing disappointment; then repeated. For parents, like friends of ours, who knew that if the pregnancy went to term they would have at most an hour with their child before it died, and how they made the courageous decision to do just that. But also their joy of conceiving again and having a healthy boy.

I thought of single parents who often seem to be so derided by our society yet must go through unbelievable strains and pressures to bring up their children. Mums and Dads who do not have anyone to share the load, the joys and the pains with. People who I imagine often must feel very isolated as they bring up their children alone. I cannot imagine parenting on my own and would be lost without Karen.

I thought of those in other parts of the world who do not have access to the sort of great medical care that we do here in the UK, and for all its faults the National Health Service is still an amazing thing. Places where child mortality rates are far higher and how we often forget that, behind the statistics, are grieving parents. I thought of those caught up in conflicts around the world, those very conflicts that lose our attention when not reported, and of the loss parents feel when their children are senselessly killed or taken away to fight in armies for causes that were long forgotten.

I guess what I am saying is that having a child is usually a time of joy, and by all means tell us about the birth of the royal baby; I am actually interested in it to the extent of knowing its sex, weight, name; and that mother and child are healthy. But that it is. For me there are far more interesting and inspiring stories of parents, carers, and those who never get to be parents showing courage in the face of unbelievable adversity. While I do not suggest that individuals be thrust into the public eye like William and Kate, I think there are many other stories of parenthood which deserve our attention that we never get to hear about.

So while I hope Kate and William will be able to experience as many of the joys and frustrations of parenthood that their situation allow, I would like to dedicate this post to the many parents and those who cannot be parents who have gone through unimaginable pain and grief and shown amazing courage in the face of such adversity. Let us remember them too.


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Powerless in Yorkshire II

So the problems with the electricity were soon fixed and I re-composed myself for the rest of my weekend with the boys. We had a relaxing day on the Sunday doing nothing in particular, and then I had a good day with Sam on Monday while Jake was at school.

By Monday evening, though, I was shattered and the events of the weekend were catching up on me, and I was starting to recognise the old signs of sleep deprivation and the general crankiness that goes with it. As a result bedtime did not go well.

I was desperate for the boys to go to bed because I needed both sleep and a little time to myself before achieving that. I think that it was because of this, I probably pushed bedtime earlier than I should have, I also think that the boys spotted my desperation and saw it as an opportunity to buy some time, and get some attention as well. They were all over the place, running round the house, opening the blinds, jumping in and on each other beds, and generally creating mayhem. It was the first time that I felt that a situation with them had gone completely out of control and I had no idea how to get it back, and no backup. I felt powerless and I really did not like it.

After what seemed like an age, and after an awful lot of shouting, things finally began to settle down; but I felt really bad. Bad because I had got so angry, bad because I had felt powerless, and bad because I was too tired to feel good. I also knew that this bedtime may have set a precedent for future evening, and I really needed some sort of strategy to, what I saw at the time, wrest control back.

Now, as regular readers will know, bedtime is something of a recurring theme here (see ‘Bedtime hour’ and ‘Ok, so I was wrong’); and is an issue for most parents at one time or another, often for the reasons I have described already. So once Karen came back I was able to think more coherently about how I coped with what did become a recurring theme of boisterous bedtimes.

The answer was something that was surprising to me, and taught me something about my need to control every situation. I got the boys to the point where they were ready to get into bed and…I did nothing. I just sat on the floor of their bedroom, head bowed (I eventually did this because Sam thought it would be a great wheeze to lick my nose and it made me laugh), and I just let the storm rage around me; and after a while it blew itself out and the boys declared themselves ready for bed.

I did the same thing the following night and, starved of the oxygen of attention, the boys quickly decided that that particular game was not fun anymore and quickly settled down. I have to say that I was elated. Completely surprised, but elated.

Since then bedtimes have settled down again, and if there are any shenanigans they are met with indifference from me.

Do not ask me why this works at bedtime and not any other time of the day (when it would be far less appropriate to ignore the boys), but I am just happy that, for now, it does.


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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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‘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.