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Category Archives: being there

Why Every Man Should Have a Daughter

I was raised by a remarkable woman. In addition, I grew up with four equally brilliant older sisters. And yet. Despite that fact, I knew very little about women when I entered my marriage. I was a blithering idiot when it came to understanding the female of our species and made remarkable errors in1656173_10152167021502908_421350704_n judgement because of that fact. They are likely errors most men make when attempting to understand and react to a woman’s thoughts, actions or needs. Yet they were still made by a man who clearly had no clue when it came to fully appreciating what it meant to live with a woman despite having grown up with several of them.

Enter my daughters.

As I’ve witnessed my girls grow and mature I have gained remarkable insights that I otherwise probably would have never known. To see first hand the development of the female mind is something great documentaries and scientific studies are made of. I often watch in awe and bewilderment as they navigate through relationships, friendships, insecurities, school struggles, body development, understanding the world and finding their purpose.

One thing I did learn from my ex-wife, (or attempted to learn anyway), was to sometimes just shut up and listen. It is a skill I often use while having a late night tea with my daughters. It is during these moments that I sit there on the verge of breaking out into desperate cold sweats of anxiety as they divulge their view on the world around them. There are times I’m tempted to open my mouth, but find the strength to just sit and take it all in; blown away at the perspective I’m being offered and the information I’m being trusted with.

Through this process I have begun to view women very differently. Perhaps it’s because I know that I myself am still very much defined by the kid I was many moons ago. So I believe it’s fair to assume that most people, women included, continue to react to the world in the same way they did as children; all of this despite 1185934_10151773292737908_2109251665_nour experiences, knowledge and education. We have, in most cases, matured and learned how to handle things more “adult like.” However, the root of who we are continues to be and always will be based on the foundation we laid as children.

To witness first hand the building of that foundation and to see how the mind of a young child, in particular that of a young woman, processes information is without question the most life changing experience a man can have. It is, in my humble opinion, a blessing to be given this opportunity to take it all in. And I urge any man who has a daughter to pay very close attention. I also encourage you to stop, just when you’re about to open your mouth in judgement and distain, to just shut up and listen. Observe, watch and learn. You will be scared. You will be terrified by some of what you see and hear. You may very well be rocked to your very soul. You may be tempted to run or perhaps yell, “STOP! You can’t be serious!!!” But fight these urges and just listen. I mean, REALLY listen. For there are insights hidden within the murky waters that is their language. Unfortunately there is no “Rosetta Stone – Women” to teach you this language. So if your daughter is willing to open up to you … remember it is a gift. One to be treated as such. And I promise you, you will be a better man for it.

I still do not profess to understand women. Neh; quite the contrary. I make mistakes and continue to hear things wrong, react wrong and mis-read. But that’s the point. We’re not supposed to necessarily understand. Rather, if I’ve learned anything these past several years watching my children grow, it’s that our purpose is not to understand, but rather simply accept and support. For we will not change them. We will not turn them into what we want. We can only be there to help them become the best “them” they can be.

 

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Learning To Say Goodbye

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My brother-in-law Paul and me.

For the past several years I’ve worked hard to ensure that my children know my family. My sisters and parents all live 700 plus miles away, which has made it a challenge at times. So, we make the trip up north at least once and typically two or three times a year to play and visit. At one point my ex-wife and I even moved everyone up to Buffalo for six months to make sure a connection would be made. All told, the benefits have been enormous. The relationships my children have with their aunts and uncles are something they will carry with them the rest of their lives and their memories with them are too numerous to mention.

Today I find myself helping guide them through the first negative that comes with having a strong relationship with a relative; having to saying goodbye. The passing of my brother-in-law Paul has been nothing short of a strong blow to the gut and we are all feeling the impact. This is the first loss we’ve had within our immediate little circle and my sisters, parents and I are all in a state of shock. And as usual, my kids are watching. They’re watching me talk on the phone with my family. They’re watching me break down in front of the dairy section at Kroger. They’re watching me stare off into space as I try to make sense of it all. And they’re watching me do laundry and clean the kitchen as I deal with the day to day operations of our lives which simply don’t stop.

The children lost an uncle and I a big brother. He was the husband of my eldest sister and he influenced me in more ways than I care to mention. He was a teacher, a photographer, a carpenter and a business owner. He probably taught me as much about life as my own father did as he was a part of my world from the age of
three. He encouraged my sense of humor, taught me to play pool, helped me build my first bookshelf and helped me chop down my first Christmas tree. My kids of course are full of questions. And they have all requested to make the trip north with me to say goodbye and be there with the rest of my family.

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Paul playing Uno with the kids

And so, we will make this trip together. As much as I want to protect them from pain, there are life lessons that can’t be avoided no matter how much we try. This week they will no doubt cry and feel a pain that until now has
been foreign to them. They will see others, including their father, struggle to make sense of their uncle’s passing. But at some point in their life they will have to say goodbye to someone and if there is any comfort to be found in all of this, it is that they will do so within a supportive circle. A circle they’ve spent the past several years becoming a more integral part of with every visit. They will need hugs and need to hug. But along with their pain, they will know the value of being a part of a family they are now completely vested in.

As a man who has made an art out of keeping people at arm’s length (including my family at times); teaching my children to open themselves up to hurt by opening themselves up to love has proven to be a daunting task. But just knowing how much they have learned from knowing Paul and the rest of my family, knowing how much laughter and joy they have experienced from being around them throughout these past several years; I myself have reflected on how much can be gained from making ourselves vulnerable. Paul taught us all a great deal. And as one friend put it, even in passing, he’s managed to find a way to teach one final valuable lesson. How to say goodbye.

 

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If You Only Knew What Your Kids Think

I recently discovered a growing number of kids who are reading and sharing LAADD and I’ve gotta tell you, it’s mind blowing. In most cases they are children whose parents are divorced or split, and as I read their own blogs, at times, quite frankly, I’m brought to tears. Their stories, their perspectives, their lives are, in some cases, rocked to the core by what they are witnessing. Their views of their parents and how they perceive the reasoning behind the choices their parents have made are at times down right chilling.

As a divorced parent, you need to know your children are watching. EVERYTHING. And they understand more than you often give them credit for. At the same time, they see things through the eyes of someone who’s never dealt with the pain that you’ve encountered. All they see is selfishness on the part of their parents. Theyimages don’t know the hurt you or your ex are experiencing. Nor could they comprehend it. They’ve never been married. They’ve never experienced some of the things you or I have. They can only judge what they see by what they can relate to and because of that their views can be somewhat skewed. But it is still their perception and it is their reality. What I’ve gathered from reading their own blog entries is that in many cases, they’re not impressed. And more often than not, they are hurting.

Their hurt is deep and shaping the way they view the world and the people around them. Whether or not they see themselves as a reason for the divorce, they still feel abandoned and unimportant. They consider themselves an afterthought. They view themselves as very much on their own. My guess is that part of the reason for this perception is that as single parents we have to be everywhere at once and often turn them away when they are trying to connect. Part of it may be because they see us worried more about our own emotional needs than theirs. In being passed back and forth they likely feel like a hot potato. Even if it isn’t true, in their heads they likely interpret us as saying, “OK, it’s your turn to deal with them.” They feel less like part of the team and more like the ball being tossed back and forth. Regardless of the why, what I’m reading in many cases is an internal emptiness. A dark void that has surrounded them. This void has made them cynical, cold and lost.

I share this with you as a reminder that we need to constantly renew our focus on the emotional and psychological needs of our kids. They didn’t ask to be brought into this scenario. We thrust it upon them. Regardless of who walked out, cheated, abused or initiated the separation, on some level our own choices in life are now directly affecting them. Even if one or both parents are a huge positive, any negative is going to be taken personally. No matter how many times we tell them we love them or want them around, in many cases they see regret in our eyes and ask themselves if bigstock_depression_184004181part of that regret is having had them. They ask themselves if they are your baggage first and your kid second.

I am so thankful for what I have learned through this journey. Some of it has been gratifying and other parts difficult to swallow. All of it has shaken me to the core. There is so much hurt to go around. So much pain, much of which bubbles under the surface, hidden from public view. It’s all the more reason to do everything we can to stay focused on the positive. To balance the negative and hurt with compassion and understanding. To view ourselves as part of the solution not part of the problem. To put our egos aside and take the high road. To hold our tongues and be aware of the big picture. We choose every day how to react to those around us. Our ex’s, our friends, neighbors, family and yes, our kids. And we have the power to set the tone. It’s not always easy and there is always the potential for misinterpretation, misinformed assumptions, and overreactions. Just stop when you’re at your limit or feel yourself on the verge of completely losing it. Do yourself a favor and remind yourself every day that you are the foundation your kids so desperately need. Know that they need to have a strong sense of belonging to a family. You have so much power to establish the energy of the room and build a healthy, encouraging, environment for their fragile, still developing egos. They want you to be there for them regardless of what they may say. And if you’re not, they will find somewhere else to turn. And often that place can be dark and and incredibly destructive.

There is so much our kids don’t share with us. Perhaps sometimes we purposefully turn a blind eye to it simply because we don’t want to hear it. Maybe we prefer to live in ignorant bliss. But it’s important for us to be aware of their reality. Ignoring it is not the answer. Get it out and address it head on. Some of the conversations are going to be difficult. Some of the things you hear are going to hurt. But remember, you’re the adult. Teach your kid to face the negative head on by constantly being there for them. As a parent, by definition, you’re often the enforcer of rules and bearer of bad news. But let them know you can also provide them with an open forum free from judgement. There are things they’ll want to keep to themselves, but there are things they want to and need to share. But they’ll only do it if you’ll let them and they feel safe in doing it. Do your best to let them know that when needed they can come to you to discuss things. And above all let them know they are the single most important thing in the world to you. They need to know that fact down to their very core.

 

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Get It Right The Third Time!

Would you expect your nine-year-old to start playing a Chopin concerto perfectly on the piano the first time? How many hours of practicing would you expect him/her to need in order to get it right? And yet how often do we get upset with our kids when they don’t act correctly or follow directions the first time?

My recent push to have the kids do the dishes together after dinner made me stop and recognize how important it is to provide them with opportunities to practice not just what they do but how they do it and whoIT-simple-mistakes they do it with. Our first go around was rough. (Boy … was it rough). Each kid wanted to lead. Or should I say, didn’t want the others to lead. Perhaps their goal was for me to give up on the entire idea and just say, “fine, you guys go play and I’ll clean up.” But by the ninth or tenth time they started to get into a rhythm. They started to figure out that either way it was going to happen, so they may as well make it fun. And they did. They each made mistakes (I have a picture of a very soapy floor to prove it). But learned to help each other work through the mistakes rather than point fingers.

How many soccer games did your child play before they started to figure out how to pass rather than go after the ball with everyone else on the field?

I’m grooming my oldest for baby sitting the other two; giving her opportunities to watch them for five, ten, fifteen minutes at a time. The first few times it’s resulted in a revolt due to a lack of communication and lack of understanding of how everyone needs to work together. But what a tremendous learning experience for every single one of them, including me. After each instance we sit down and discuss what worked and what didn’t. Hopefully over time, they’ll each learn the best way to respond to each other to ensure an enjoyable experience.

Even something as simple as the morning routine, i.e. getting ready for school, getting dressed, fed, out the door on time; has taken a long time to nail down. Oh sure, you can try to get things together the night before. mistakesBut kids change their minds or forget socks. Or neglect to inform you of a form that needs to be filled out, waiting until you’re closing the door. Learning how to work together and pace yourself properly and work through the stress of the morning rush takes practice.

But how many times do we throw up our arms and give up when it doesn’t work the first time? “I knew this would happen!” “I knew this was a mistake!” “What were you thinking?!” “Why did I think I could trust you?!” “Obviously you’re not ready for this kind of thing!” So easy to just spew the negative and make our kids feel like incompetent idiots isn’t it?

I, like you, struggle with providing them emotional room to grow and learn. To build their confidence through the fine art of screwing up. How difficult it is to encourage our kids to make mistakes and teach them that being wrong is OK and simply part of the process. Especially when it directly affects our own routine or deadlines. But keep in mind that even Einstein knew the power of making mistakes. I believe he’s quoted as saying, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

Yes it typically means a lot of cleaning up, or buying a “new one.” But I believe there is a cost to progress, both financially and emotionally. I always tell my kids, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” I mean that in terms of both a project and the day itself. If we can lay our head on the pillow high-fiving each other, regardless of any arguments or lapses in judgement that took place, then it was a good day. If we can rest knowing we learned something from our mistakes and that we’re better prepared for the next time, then it was indeed a success.

Bottom line; the goal shouldn’t be to get it right the first time. The goal should be to learn how to do it differently until you get it right.

 

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No, No, No, No, NO! (maybe)

Between the three of them, my kids ask for something on average about every :17.4 seconds. Many times there are simultaneous requests made that have nothing to do with each other. There are just so MANY. “Dad I need this,” “Dad can I do that?,” “Dad, have you seen my goldfish?” To that point, the word “Dad” is verbalized no fewer than 48 times an hour or roughly 600 times a day. I’ve often said the three of them can be like needy little piranha. Because of this fact, as a dad (or mom for that matter), you know how easily the word “NO” flows from your mouth. To the point that sometimes it slips out before the question is even asked. “Dad can I … ” NO!

The problem is, that mixed within the ridiculous requests of, “Dad can I take the dog in the shower with me,” “Dad can I have a pet lobster?,” “Dad can I buy this $350 pair of disposable socks?” are legitimate requests yes-no-buttonsand / or desires that deserve some serious consideration. The trick is figuring out what the motivation of a request is and when to stop and mentally wrap your head around it.

For me, there are a couple of ways of accomplishing this.

1. When possible have them wait a week. This eliminates about 40-50 percent of the requests as they usually either forget about it, lose interest or recognize that the friend who instigated the “need” has gone another route and rendering it no longer cool and therefore a waste of time and energy for all parties. If after a week it’s still something they deem important, it probably deserves a second look.

2. Suggest they will need to clean up any mess made by what they’re asking to do before they get computer or TV time. This eliminates another 25 percent.

3. Logistics and reality will usually eliminate another 15-20 percent and require an actual flat out “no” which may create some drama. But you have to have some fun am I right?

As mentioned, lost in there are another 5-10 percent of requests that likely have some weight. And our first inclination is to take a look at history and devalue the request based on what we’ve seen in the past. And
there’s truth to that. How many times have you heard yourself say, “Do you remember the last time?” or “I’m ????????????????????????????????????????still paying for the last time.” or “Yeah, that’s not happening again.” Still, they’ll offer to do the dishes, clean toilets, mow the lawn, get off of their little brother, anything to have a chance to take part in this once in a lifetime opportunity that happens every Friday at 7 p.m.

So how do you know when something deserves the yes? Well. Maybe if they get themselves up and ready at 5:30 in the morning for an event that’s not shopping related. Or after two weeks it’s still something they’re interested in. Or maybe you just need to ask yourself if you’re saying no just out of habit. Or it’s a power struggle. “How many times have I told you, no, no, NO!” Are you digging in your heals to make a point about who’s in charge? Sometimes it’s worth putting ego and history aside and considering the benefits of saying yes.

The word “no.” Such an easy answer. Eliminates so much responsibility and time management. But at some point the no’s also eliminate opportunity to acknowledge your child’s self worth. And honestly, the word “No” can be nothing but a dead end that gets you nowhere with your child. Sometimes saying yes to something you completely don’t understand or consider a complete waste of energy, is actually an opportunity to bond with your child in a way you never dreamed. It’s a chance to teach them what can happen when you open your mind to the possibilities of what can happen when you say yes to the world and step outside of your comfort zone once in a while. Just letting them know, that sometimes you simply have their back is worth an occasional …

Yes.

 

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