ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


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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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Cage fighting

We have bought a trampoline. So our back garden, like many others in Britain now screams out to passers by “we have got kids”. And screams are indeed now what regularly come out of our garden. Not only the screams of the boys, but also of Karen and I as we try to encourage some orderly bouncing.

Most of this is, of course, in vain and as I looked out of our kitchen window, from where we get an excellent view of the carnage being wrought as the boys ‘play’ in the garden, it struck me that with its fully enclosed high sides and many health and safety related features it was how I imagine a cage fight being, albeit one involving a lot of bouncing (which I am not sure that cage fighting generally does).

It usually starts quite quietly with the boys bouncing up and down and gradually warms up as they get more confident. Then as they start moving around more wildly they inevitably start bumping into each other amidst much pushing, falling over, and hysterical laughter. They enjoy it so much as it must seem like a safe environment as the netting will catch them if they fall. At the end of each phase of rolling around on the actual springy bit they then get up again and start bouncing, like a couple of prize fighters sizing each other up, and then smack back into it again. It is 90% sheer unadulterated pleasure for them and ends up with the other 10% which is, frankly, a little bit full on.

The key issue for me seems to be when to intervene. If I go too early I spoil their obvious pleasure, too late and there is an increased risk that one of them will get hurt. So why let them go on at all? Well I think it is a pretty safe environment in there, even though the weighty tome that is the instruction book seems to have been written with the sole purpose of the manufacturers avoiding any lawsuits from irate parents who, shockingly, think that it is ok to let more than one child on at a time. Actually if you followed the instructions to the letter you would never use the thing, so you can only accept the risks and get on with it.

This issue of intervention is one that I think increasingly about. The trampoline is not the only place where strife breaks out between the boys and whenever it does part of me wants to wade in straight away, and part of me wants to let them sort it out for themselves. The experience of the trampoline so far is that they manage to sort it out more than half the time, and continue as if nothing happened; but there are occasions where things do escalate. Learning the art of compromise and negotiation cannot be a bad thing, can it?

So I guess, as with many things to do with children, it is all about finding boundaries; not just for the boys by for me as well and I am conscious that I have different sense of risk than they do. When it comes to what they want they try and get it without, in that moment, worrying too much about the consequences. But while that my mean that they have realised that a certain action may result in something negative, the other side of that coin is that the can enjoy themselves without worrying too much either.

So when it comes to the trampoline I certainly do not want to stop them having the pure unadulterated pleasure that it brings. But I will still be keeping an eye on them.


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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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Bedtime hour

After their bath the boys are allowed a ‘bedtime hour’, which is actually 10 – 20 minutes of watching a DVD or clips from Youtube. There is often a bit of opposition to switching the tv or computer off, but this soon disappears when the offer to race upstairs on our backs is made. The boys fairly quickly brush their teeth, but then the real bedtime hour begins. This is the hour that it often takes us to get Sam settled.

Jake is usually asleep within 15 minutes of the light going out but Sam tries everything to stay up longer, and we seem to have tried everything to get him to settle.
It all started when we moved house and Sam went into a ‘big boy’s bed’ rather than the cot he had previously slept in. He seemed to settle quite well at first, but then seemed to get more and more bold in coming downstairs with a big grin on his face.
We have become more and more frustrated by this, and we are losing more and more of what we see as valuable time together once the boys have gone to bed. We rarely go out as a couple at the moment, but we enjoy having a meal together, sitting chatting, or watching one of our favourite TV series (currently Homeland and Downton Abbey); and the two hours from 9.30pm to 11.30pm go by all too quickly (especially if I fall asleep while watching, though not usually while eating or talking)).
We have tried a number of strategies including:
  • We got the travel cot out and told Sam he would have to go in there if he did not settle. This worked until Sam got wise and called our bluff, saying he wanted to go in ‘the baby bed’. Of course, we did not really want him to go in there because, a) it was a backwards step; and b) if he woke up in the night he could not just toddle through but wake the whole house up.
  • I have tried sitting at the top of the stairs, showing him that I was there but not communicating with him. This works to a certain extent but I feel terrible because he just shouts and shouts, and although he finally does then realise that he is not going to get anywhere; it is usually sometime afterwards – still a bedtime hour; and it is not getting better.
We have looked at all sorts of different things but nothing seems to work. It is particularly frustrating because this is the first thing that we feel really stuck on. We have usually found a way through before, but not this time.
I realise that this is probably not a massive issue in the grand scheme of things, but at the moment it feels like one. It is a change that we feel we have not managed very well, and we really miss having more time just for ourselves; and we really feel that Sam needs a longer sleep than he is getting.
So it would be great to hear what others have done to reduce the bedtime hour.
What are your top tips for getting children settled?
Or are we lucky that it is only an hour?
Thank you.


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Withdrawal symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms.

It’s been over two weeks since my last blog post, and I’ve really missed writing it. So why have I passed on this pleasure? Well Karen and I came straight off our Berlin holiday and after only about 12 hours at home the movers arrived. Since then it has been a hectic schedule of getting our new house in order (more of which at a later date) and it feels like normal life has been suspended for the last couple of weeks while we settle down.

The greatest change to our normal life, however, was that we left the boys with their grandparents (Fritz and Frieda) in Germany for four days. This was something that was very hard for us, not because we didn’t think the boys would have a good time (they did), but that it was the longest that we had both been apart from them since they were born. We worried where they’d settle and whether and how Sam in particular would manage without his constants (he did). We worried too about what we would do if “anything happened” (it didn’t). We also fretted over whether we should Skype with them so that they wouldn’t fret about whether or not we were still ‘there’ (we didn’t and they didn’t), or whether Fritz and Frieda could cope with two very boisterous boys (they did).

In the end the boys did lots of very exciting things in Berlin (mainly involving different forms of transport) and also got to know their grandparents and cousins much better. In other words Jake and Sam were pretty oblivious to their parent’s worries and just got on with it and, if anything, thrived. I’m sure (I hope) that if there is a next time we will be much calmer about it.

Worrying comes as part and parcel of being a parent, I worry every day about whether what the boys are doing will bring them to harm, and whether we are leading them down the right road. But, if those few days taught me anything, it was that there is not just one right road: there are many. We can help our children pick the right sort of road, but the journey is ultimately theirs.

This probably won’t completely stop me from wanting to be in control of their lives completely, but it might help me to begin to loosen the virtual reigns once in a while. I’m sure that this will lead to withdrawal symptoms and will often be hard, but they are my withdrawal symptoms. In the end when I do ease off I often find it’s at that moment that the boys do amazing things and if I can find it in myself to do it I’ll have done a pretty amazing thing, too.


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The Sea

The weather has finally improved, just in time for a long-planned day trip to the seaside. One of the great things about living on an island is that you’re never far from the sea, and I always get a special feeling when I look out at that great expanse of water. It can be calming, but it can also be ferocious and/ or exciting.

The boys, of course, loved being on the beach. They buried each other, buried me, and buried Karen. We built sandcastles and dug holes together. They enjoyed paddling in the sea, playing with diggers and dumper trucks, and having ice cream on the promenade. We returned home very tired from all the activity and the sea air, but very happy.

The sea was very calm when we were there. But whatever the mood of the sea, it is to me always a reminder that we cannot control everything. The sea, like the weather (certainly in Britain) is unpredictable, and what was a fantastic day on the beach could have easily have been a complete washout, as has happened to a number of events over the last few weeks.

We like to be in control of things and we like certainty. It makes us feel secure, and if, as is inevitable, things change we like to be able to mediate that change. This must be the case for our children too. We try to provide them with a safe and secure environment in which they can grow, but inevitably they also want some degree of control and independence; and this, inevitably leads to conflict.

This was the case with Jake at the weekend when he really reminded me of my younger self on the beach. He toddled off down to the sea on his own and while he was never out of my sight, he was also on his own and enjoying his own little bit of independence.

I had a lot of independence when I was young, I remember going off on long bike rides on my own from the age of about ten, and I loved that sense of freedom. I’m not sure that I would be prepared to let the boys have the same sort of freedom at that age though. Not because I think the world has changed, or that I wouldn’t trust them; rather that their well-being would be out of my control and I imagine that this would be difficult for me.

I think that it must be both exciting and really difficult for the boys as they experience constant and rapid change and development; as they learn so much about themselves and the world around them. I think that we sometimes forget about this and think that everything is as constant for them as it is for us.

Because of this I guess that there are lessons ahead for all of us as the boys realize that they need their parents less, and we realize that they no longer have to be in our protection 24 hours a day. I’m sure that this will be difficult for us all in different ways.

Despite this I hope that I can help the boys to grow and develop in ways that they enjoy and help them in future life, but I’m sure that there will be times when we just don’t get along: and family life will be all at sea.