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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Shopping with Girls

Whenever feasible, my ex-wife and I try to arrange it so that the kids can get some one on one time with each of us. Saturdays are usually time for my oldest and I since she has horseback riding lessons and that’s kind of become our thing. We then grab lunch afterward and sometimes, as was the case this past Saturday, go shopping.

On the agenda this particular Target trip was a new pair of jeans. Now, I’d been shopping with my wife as well as ex-girlfriends before. As is the case for many husbands and boyfriends, shopping isn’t necessarily at the top of our bucket list. But as we were going back and forth between the floor and the dressing rooms something hit me like a bolt of lightening. It dawned on me that one day, it will be HER boyfriend shopping with her. I was immediately flooded by an overwhelming flurry of thoughts and revelations about my previous relationships including my marriage.

Before I continue, I would like to point out that I am indeed a guy. And as a guy, there are many things that completely pass over my head. In many cases it may be years before what may appear obvious to others, becomes a lightbulb in my own brain. Please keep that in mind as you read on.

It dawned on me while I was shopping with my daughter that I had an opportunity to set an example. By that I simply mean, make it a great experience for her and make it all about her and be as patient as possible. That way, when some young lad is a jerk to her perhaps she’ll look back and realize that’s not acceptable. Maybe on some level, as her first true male relationship, I have a chance to set a precedent and a way for her to gauge how boys treat her later in life. It may seem like a “duh” moment, especially to women, but I don’t think it ever really hit me just how grand an opportunity I have as her dad to be what I feel she deserves to have later in life.

But it didn’t stop there. The pain from the first demolition ball hadn’t quite dissipated before, ugh, I was stopped dead in my tracks and was almost knocked unconcience by a second revelation that seriously rocked me to the core. As I considered my daughter’s future boyfriends waltzing around Target with her, I began to look back at the number of times I neglected to treat my own wife the way I would want a young man to treat my little girl. On just how many occasions had I been an ass and made a simple experience like shopping for jeans a miserable experience. I realize it’s apples and oranges on some levels, but in many ways it’s more like comparing Granny Smith and Macintosh. What a smack to the gut it was to recognize that there had been so many circumstances in our relationship when I acted in a manner that, if I were watching a boy act the same way to my daughter, I’d be none too pleased.

Now, I’m not talking about anything physical or extreme. And maybe on some level a father’s expectation is unrealistic. But I think as a husband, and then ultimately as a father, we don’t even realize when we may be condescending or less than chivalrous. As the father of little girls, perhaps the greatest thing we can do as dads is to consider that how we’re acting toward them today will likely affect the way they look at young suiters tomorrow. Will we be a gauge for what they feel they deserve in terms of respect and consideration. How much will the way we approach a simple action like shopping for clothes dictate how they expect their boyfriend or husband to handle the same situation or even something on a deeper emotional level? My wife tried to point this out to me on some level more than once and it just didn’t register for one reason or another. I mean, it did to a point, but not to the extent that the revelations hit me during this latest trip to the circle and the dot.

So the way I see it, I have a choice and an opportunity to be something to my daughters that perhaps I wasn’t always a good example of as a husband. I want them to see what they should expect their partner to be later on in life. It’s a chance for me to take another good hard look in the mirror and become a better father and at the same time, perhaps a better partner for someone in the future.

And it doesn’t stop there. I can only imagine how the way I react to my daughters will affect the way my son reacts to women as HE gets older as well. All three of them are sponges which begs the question, what sort of spills are we leaving for them to soak up?

So, after trying on eight or ten pair she found two that were a perfect fit. And I, in turn, walked away with some invaluable insights that hopefully will stop me when I start to turn into someone I don’t want my daughter going out with 10 (or 20) years from now. Honestly, it was one of my favorite shopping experiences of all time. If I have any regret, it’s that I hadn’t utilized more of those opportunities to bond with my ex-wife as much as I did my daughter. Not that it necessarily would have saved my marriage. But maybe it would have been a step in the right direction. A direction I hope to maintain as my relationship with my daughters continues to grow.

 

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The Dreaded Comfort Zone!

Throughout my own childhood, my parents rarely forced me to follow through on anything that I resisted with enough gusto. Whether it was piano lessons, swimming lessons or cleaning my room, if I displayed enough resistance, I could pretty much count on getting out of it. That’s not to say I wasn’t encouraged. But things generally came easy for me and if it was something I enjoyed, of course I did my best. But the minute something became difficult or was outside my comfort zone, I would typically resist it with great fervor. My parents, subsequently, never pushed me very hard and I could usually find a way to get out of following through. It’s a truth I look back on and resent in some form or fashion. And I often wonder if they were wrong to let me get my way? Could I have benefited from being pushed a little harder. Could they have been stricter? Or would that have created an entirely different set of issues later on?

These questions race through my head as I see my middle child progressing. She’s the one who goes kicking and screaming to things. But then typically, in most instances she is the one I have the most trouble getting to leave once we get there. She has a definitive comfort zone. Wants to be a fashion designer and study in Paris. (She’s currently 7, but this has been a truth for the past 3 to 4 years). She is not very open to experiencing things that require putting herself out there. But usually, once she does she excels. Ice skating is a perfect example. Didn’t want to do it. Didn’t want to do it. Fought through the first four lessons. Then BAM! She loved it!

So it took me by surprise when we decided to go roller skating and she said no. She fought the idea in typical fashion. But rather than let her have us all sitting at home, I forced the issue, assured she would warm up once we got there. So we piled in the car and headed to the skate center. And even after we got in and my skates were secure, she resisted despite my best efforts. I tried every maneuver I know. Encouragement, bribery, guilt, you name it. But her will was strong and she was miserable. So, after watching her look dejected as her brother, sister and I made our way around the rink three or four times, I ditched the skates and dropped another twenty on the claw machine while her sister got her laps in.

So what’s a parent to do? When do you push? When do you give? I think it’s important to expose your kids to as many different experiences and activities as you can and push them to see it through to a point where you know they’ve at least given it a shot. One lesson doesn’t count. They have to work through some difficulty to truly appreciate whether or not this is something they’ll carry with them. But at what point is it pushing too hard? This little one is a feisty, stubborn, stomp her foot kind of gal. She’s as determined as any child I’ve ever met. From the time she could walk, it was obvious she would require much more encouragement and prodding than her older sister. But how much is too much? When do you let her be who she is and when do you force her outside her comfort zone?

That’s when it dawned on me. What about OUR comfort zones. What about the other two kids and myself. Seems like we’re always trying to get the middle one to go our way. So, my mission for this week is to find an activity that is all about her that we can do together. Rather than push her outside her own comfort zone, I’m going to first push myself outside mine. Then I’ll push the other two along with us. For the next two weeks I think I’m going to encourage and “push” the rest of us to walk a mile in the middle child’s shoes. And also encourage her to push us a bit. Maybe if she sees us willing to go the extra mile, she’ll be a little more open to trying new things herself. Teach by example maybe?

Stay tuned for updates as this ought to be an interesting two weeks.

And suggestions are welcome!

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Have a great week.

 

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Parental Dilemma #1

This will be the first in a series of posts focused on parental dilemmas that I encounter from time to time. In each instance the behavior of my kids will have both a negative overtone and a positive one and I’ll be trying, with your help, to determine which is the lessor of two evils.

In today’s installment, I came downstairs after family movie night to find the kids cleaning the kitchen.

Once I came to, I realized that it was well past their bed time.

So the dilemma: Reprimand them for being up past their bedtime or praise them for cleaning. Now, I knew and they knew, that their motivation was money. The eldest wanted a new e-book and had just created a chore list and a corresponding rate sheet per chore.

Regardless of the motivation, I took the stance of … “CLEANING?!!! You missed a spot!”

What would YOU do?

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Cleaning House!

Sitting here on a Saturday cleaning. The kids are with their mom and I have a rare pocket of time where I can actually focus on reclaiming the house. When I started this morning, I honestly couldn’t remember if my daughter had hardwoods or carpet. It’s carpet.

Rediscovering the power of the purge as well. It’s liberating to just throw stuff out that hasn’t been touched in months. Each toss into the can is like five pounds off my mental shoulders. Simplify my friends … simplify. It’s also fun to see if the kids notice anything missing when they come home. And just so that you don’t judge me to quickly, I only throw out the stuff they haven’t played with in 9-10 months. (He said only half convincingly)

Doing some mental cleaning as well. Tuesday will be my first Valentine’s day as a single in 14 years. Not really sure how I feel about that to be honest with you. I spent 31 years on my own before getting married. You get used to thinking for yourself after that much time and having now rediscovered the joy of that truth, I find myself struggling with the concept of dating again. I enjoyed being married but many things were missing from our relationship including that sense of just loving being around each other. I don’t think my ex-wife would argue too much with that statement. It was something we both wanted terribly, but just didn’t feel.

A camp counselor once told me, “make sure you’re in-love with the person not idea of being in-love.” True that. So as much as I would like to be with my soul mate, having been through a marriage and a divorce there are still many walls protecting this heart and soul. Walls that I put a lot of time and effort into building. And while I recognize that they’re going to need to come down at some point, much like my house, I think I need to do some purging first. There’s a lot of clutter I need to sort through and find the courage to just ‘toss’ in order to make room for new emotions. I think once I accomplish that I’ll find it easier to knock out a few bricks and let some sunshine in.

 

 

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Oh Grow up!

I often catch myself having to remind myself that my children are not 25 year old adults. They don’t possess the life experiences nor the mental or emotional capacity to handle certain truths about life. Though many times they emulate the actions of someone far beyond their years, in my heart I know that they’re still under ten making the parental approach a difficult tight rope to walk at times. I’m sure, more often than not, they get mixed signals from both their mother and me. “You’re old enough to know better,” “you’re too young to understand,” “as the oldest, you should set an example,” “you’re not the mom.” Kind of hard to blame them for not always knowing how they’re supposed to act.

It’s enough to drive a parent crazy. And yet are they really all that much different than we are? I understand there are developmental stages. A seven-year-old’s world revolves around them. Again, are they all that much different than some adults? At least at seven, there’s hope that their parents will demonstrate that they’re only a small planet in their universe.

My sister once told me about a day she got into an argument with her then 5 year old son. And damn if he didn’t convince her through his own reasoning that he was right. All too often we look down on our kids thinking “you’re six what can you know?” And yet I’m continually floored at just how much they comprehend. It doesn’t always mean that they understand how to approach the situation, but I think they have the ability to grasp more than we sometimes give them credit for.

Walking that fine line between teaching them respect and encouraging them to be independent isn’t always an easy task. Lately I’ve been catching myself jumping to conclusions and not letting my oldest daughter explain herself, convinced I already know what she’s going to say. My ex-wife used to tell me I did it all the time. Now I see it. That doesn’t make it any easier to stop, but I think sometimes (and I’ve mentioned this in previous posts) they just want to be heard. They want to feel like their opinion and their insights matter. They want an opportunity to test their theories to see if they’re ‘getting it.’ Sometimes it’s as easy as just holding our tongue
and giving them those few precious seconds to explain what they’re thinking and then do our best to validate their thoughts.

So much easier said than done and I’m by no means preaching. I’m the worst when it comes to listening, especially when I’m in a hurry. The word condescending was used once to me in describing how a dad can come across to his daughters. I don’t think it’s intentional. But the very act of cutting off a child in mid-sentence and telling them they’re wrong before they’ve had a chance to explain their reasoning can be
considered nothing less than demeaning and belittling. I know I hate it when people do it to me and I’m 45. Yet it’s such an easy trap to fall into.

I’ve noticed on some occasions, at the end of the day when her younger sister and brother are in bed, my oldest will start to talk to me. Not like a little kid, but like a young adult. And on one of those occasions, I stopped myself and just listened. I watched her and took it all in. Took note of the intensity of her expressions as she explained a situation at school and how she approached it. It was all I could do not to jump in and offer advice, but somehow I managed to hold it in and I realized that her insights were remarkable. The discussion we had was more adult like than I’ve had with some so called adults. And all I had to do was listen.

Lately I haven’t been doing a very good job of that. I’ve gotten too wrapped up in my own world of chaos, angst and problem solving, leaving little if any room for the thoughts of others especially my kids. Such an easy trap to fall into. We get so lost in our own heads we don’t even notice the world passing by. A world that could easily help us answer some of our own questions if we could stop long enough to just … listen.

So tomorrow I’m going to try to do a better job of doing just that. To the 7 year old and the 47 year old. If I can be a little less childish, maybe it’ll give those around me a chance to be a little more grown up. Hell, perhaps my children will notice and make an attempt to listen to me a little better as well. I think it’s at least worth a shot.

 

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