ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


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Post-holiday blues or the start of something big?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Being Selfless

In my last post I talked about our trip to the seaside, what I didn’t mention was that we went on a coach with a community group that Karen is involved with. We went because a member of the group had come into some money through a small inheritance, but instead of spending it on herself wanted everyone in the group to benefit, and so paid for the coach trip.

I found this to be incredibly humbling. Here was someone who has never really had much in her life wanting to do something for all her friends on the rare occasion that she did. To add to this she did it anonymously (we only know because of Karen’s position in the group). I feel that this is somehow at odds with how we often come to understand the world through a cynical lens.

It struck me that this gesture had a bigger effect than people having a terrific day out, and we certainly had that. It also inspired us to think what we would do when we were in a similar situation, and it also helped to bond the group together. When we share experiences and spend time together we more often than not become closer to people.

This is something we try to do as a family. We try to spend time together by eating together as much as possible, playing together, and going out on day trips together. It helps us to get to know each other better, and hopefully understand each other.

This, particularly for Karen and me, means that we have to try to be selfless; to put aside the 1001 things that we have to do or want to do in order to spend time together. I can’t deny that sometimes I resent this, and feel guilty for it. But I also know that when I do throw myself wholeheartedly into family time, then I really enjoy it; and when the reward is a closer bond with your wife and children then it seems like a no brainer.

The idea that relationships are only as good as the work you put into them is something that I’ve had very strongly reinforced for me since I became a father. In order to enjoy the cuddles and the affection of my children it’s not enough not just to be there, I really need to engage with them as well.

This isn’t always easy. Being a parent isn’t always easy. But when it goes right, there isn’t a better feeling in the world when your children reward you with their obvious love and a connection with you as a parent. Then selflessness actually doesn’t seem to be that selfless after all, because the benefits are amazing.

I’m sure that the person who paid for our trip to the seaside got an enormous amount of pleasure from seeing how much we enjoyed our day. It’s not why she did it, but she got her reward in the happy and tired faces as we slept on the coach on the way home.


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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.