ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


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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 I never want to be a celebrity

 

It is day three of rant week on ChangingDad. I have found seven things that rather annoy me since becoming a parent and have decided to spent the week getting them off my chest.

Today’s theme is something that first came to my attention just before Jake was born. Karen and I went on holiday for a week knowing that it would be the last opportunity to do so, at least just the two of us, for a number of years to come (and so it has proved). Given that I was about to become a father I was suddenly awoken to the fact that there were actually rather a lot of toddlers and babies around the place. What I had not realised is that many people treat little ones as if they are public property to be prodded, stroked and commented on. I remember one instance on that particular trip as clear as day when a woman reached into a pram of a baby she did not know and proceeded to do all the “coochie coo” stuff. I was outraged by this behaviour but took from the mother’s reaction that this was far from an isolated incident.

When I told Karen about this she was also unsurprised and told me of instances when people had regarded our in utero baby as being public property too, believing it to be quite ok to give Karen’s tummy a rub: a pre-natal celebrity. Why is this deemed acceptable by some people, most of whom, I am sure do not mean anything by it but who are also completely oblivious to the line that it crosses or the offence that it can cause.

Since the boys were born I have lost count of the number of times that their actions have been commented on as if they were X-Factor contestants, ripe for public comment. I half expect to see Jake or Sam on the front page of a tabloid paper under the headline “My cafe hell: parents made me EAT green things”, or some such. As already mentioned it also seems to have been deemed ok for some complete stranger to give a baby or toddler some sort of pat, often from people who have heavy colds and/ or coughs. Well thanks, it is nice to share but I am quite happy if you keep some things to yourself: your hands for instance.

But it is not only the children that are often regarded as public property, we parents, by association, also seem to be in the spotlight. So our valiant efforts at getting through the day without any major mishap, meltdown or embarrassment can be brought to nought by some stranger who chooses to take the child’s side and that vital moment when it seems that I have reached a delicate consensus with the boys. It really is not against the UN Convention on Human Rights to restrict the number of sweets our children eat in a public place, but by the way some people react you would think I was selling them into slavery.

What is more if you do make any protestation about such activities you are met by a reaction which questions how you could be so sensitive, how could you possibly complain about your children receiving such complimentary attention.

So far so clear you may think. Well indeed, but here is the rub. I am also proud of my boys most of the time. They are boisterous, tend to fight with each other quite a bit, and are often rather loud. But they are also sweet, cute, kind and thoughtful; and I rather like it when people notice that with a rye smile or a knowing look; and I am aware that I sometimes do that with other parents.

So am I being unfair to criticise people who take a more intense interest in the boys? I do not think so and think that there are lines that should not be crossed; for me there is a chasm between interference and acknowledgement.

I have not invited any celebrity by becoming a parent, and I am not comfortable to be in such a position; if I was I would be on some reality TV show like a shot.

I await the first series of ‘I’m a parent get me out of here’.


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Boredom

It seems to be one of those issues that nearly all parents that I know struggle with. How much TV do we let our children watch and, for parents of older children, how much time are children allowed to spend playing video games etc…? TV watching is certainly something that is a consistent live issue in our house, and is likely to be for many years to come; and it is not something that is new. I remember that many of my school friends were not allowed to watch commercial TV at a time when children’s programming was on for only a couple of hours a day, something that seems very tame against today’s media choices for children.

Over the years there have been many reports and (oh the irony) TV programmes about how much children should or should not stare at a screen, whether it be a TV or computer (and the differentiation is becoming less all the time); and the internet has brought what seems to be yet another layer of worry to the already fraught lives of parents.

The alternative to this often seems to be that we must entertain our children if we are not going to allow them their electronic fix, which is where I found a story on the BBC website to be of great interest. It reported on work by Dr Teresa Belton of University of East Anglia’s School of Education and Lifelong Learning, who argues that boredom is not the negative issue that it is often made out to be because out of boredom can come our most creative moments.

I can see much sense in this argument since I have certainly found inspiration during times of inactivity, most notably when I spent six months in bed after a back operation in 1986; and in the months between my redundancy and the beginning of my coaching course last year. In both cases a complete change of direction in my life occurred and I regard them as very creative times in my life.

Now I am not suggesting that we submit our children to anything like that level of inactivity, but that we should sometimes resist the temptation to see the alternatives as being either ‘watching’ or doing something with Mummy or Daddy. Yes it may be boring: but boring can lead somewhere.

As I am thinking about this I realise that we saw something of that last Sunday afternoon. We had just come back from being outside in the freezing weather, we were all very cold, and I for one was certainly not wanting to entertain any further trips outdoors. All I wanted at that moment was to defrost with a hot drink. The boys were hankering after some TV and did not seem to be in the mood for anything else, when up popped the suggestion to get the Play-Doh (other malleable putties are available) out. An hour later the boys were still playing, occasionally involving us in their game and serving us Play-Doh food (Jake, apparently, was the Sous Chef). They played nicely together and were very creative.

Only time will tell whether reading about Belton’s research will change the way I parent, and there will always be times when it is easier to switch on the TV than any of the apparent alternatives. Nevertheless, thinking about it will make me less afraid of the ‘b’ word, and I will try to get the boys to embrace their boredom in the future who knows what they may create as a result.


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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.