Raising a Bold Daughter

“I don’t see a third leg,” I recall the ultrasound technician saying. The little pang of hope that wanted another boy evaporated in that fleeting moment.

There are four years between my son and daughter, so my wife and I were pretty used to boy clothes, toys and ways. It’s difficult for me to pinpoint exactly why I wanted a boy. Partially, because I can relate to being a boy. Partially, because I know how rude the world can be to women. I joined a fraternity in college for God sakes.

The world is full of examples on how parents treat their sons and daughters differently. Pink clothes for girls. Blue for boys. Boys get trucks and cars. Girls get dolls. Boys get sports gear. Girls get arts and crafts.

As a father, I can’t imagine not having my daughter. I fell head over heels in love with her the minute she was set into my arms. 

I can’t even bring myself to think about how boys and men can be. My almost-one-year old girl stands up to her brother, tells us how she sees it (in her own crying way) and shares her joy with the world with 100’s of smiles every day.


I make sure to evenly distribute wrestling. She has already taken a liking to grass and dirt (much quicker than her older brother ever did). And I can honestly say that we haven’t filled her room with the color pink or dolls.

Are those steps in equality? I think so. Treating offspring differently is the beginning of a separation between men and women. But there is something to be said of the fact that men and women think differently. We have different energies and leadership styles, which according to this Business Insider article are better, women are better at.

International Women’s Day has been celebrated since the 1900’s. Crowd counting experts estimate that three times as many people turned out for the Women’s March, January 21-22 than President Trump’s inauguration.

The ratio of the human population is about one to one. The world depends on the collaboration of men and women, not only to procreate and continue human life, but to advance the big issues of our time.

So I can only hope that my daughter is brought up to be bold, say what she means, and live honestly to help our communities.

God willing, I’ll do my best to raise her that way, along with the help of my wife of course.

Tour Campus Help Campus Selection–for Kindergarten

I used to sell book to educators at various districts in my surrounding metro. I pulled up to one school in particular, and I will never forget the banner they had hanging from the exterior brick. “Your Pathway to College.”

This is an elementary school. Reading, writing and arithmetic. I am no expert in public education, but there is something inside of me that recoiled from the pressure of being in elementary school and having to think about what college I will be attending someday.

And fatherhood has now brought me to the point to usher in a kindergarten student this fall. Between my wife and I, we have attended four different school information sessions and that wasn’t even everything available.

I’m grateful we have such options. Magnet schools focusing on arts, science, technology, math, language immersion or a charter school, focusing on Core Knowledge curriculum. And then there is the “home” public school. There are five elementary schools in our area, and that doesn’t even count the private schools.

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The pressure is again felt on my shoulders. Although, this time it is as a father questions what school is best for his son.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the magnet and charter school are lottery based, so the immediate decision isn’t up to me. I’m forced to hand that piece over. The lottery is coming up this week, but I’ll be handing over the final decision then, too.

I’m reassured by this top 10 how-to list of helping your child in elementary school. If you’d like me to sum it up for you, be involved in your child’s education. Everything from knowing the school layout to what was played at recess to parent/teacher conferences, be an involved parent is the driving force behind success or failure in school.

That being said, I can’t discredit the support and environment an elementary school does provide. If the teachers are focusing more on keeping order and meeting test scores, what does that do to the environment?

The “home” public school has 69% if its students on the free and reduced lunch program. I love the diverse community in which we live. I want to raise my kids in an environment where they get to learn about the worlds’ spectrum of colors and cultures.

But I do want the best for my son, and there are rumors that this “home” elementary school has some challenging students. Neighbors who sent their kindergartner to the school moved out three years ago because of the school, so they could be in a different district.

So, I have choices. I have the ability to take it one day at a time. And I can let go of my fears and trust God. Life has a funny way of coming into focus as you look back, and I trust that when I look back on the route my son takes to elementary school that it will be the route he was supposed to take.

An Eye for An Eye vs. Turning the Other Cheek

There are many things I didn’t prepare myself for when I became a father. Among these is the great wonder of what I did with all of my free time prior to children.

I also didn’t prepare myself for the fact that children can bring the worst out of you. But the idea that I am focusing on is that I can stop certain behaviors from moving down generations.

There are certain things that I know I said I would never do that my dad did. Now, my dad is a very good man in many ways, but we all have flaws. Whenever I would be upset at a friend, my dad would say don’t get mad get even.

This “tooth-for-a-tooth mentality” built up many resentments within me over the years. I never really sought revenge but rather wished ill will towards people who I felt had done me wrong. What kind of good does that do?

And just yesterday, I’m in church hearing that I should love my enemies, especially my enemies. For everyone loves their friends and family, but how many people can say they love their enemies. Simple basic Christian stuff, right? Sure, but far from easy.

A recent example of this that comes to mind is the representatives from Charleston who forgave the assassin after the Charleston Church shooting in June of 2015. Here are church members who lost loved ones in an act of pure hatred, and they are forgiving the shooter.

I can only hope to model such behavior some day. I know I am no where near capable of this at this time, but I can sense the concept that forgiving others is relief to ourselves. There is something about freeing up my headspace from those negative thoughts.

We are currently experience a strong test against listening in our household, both with our pre-schooler and the almost one-year old. And when I’m in the throws of such defiance, I am one to hold threats like, “please do not talk to me like that or you will need to go to your room.”

This came up just the other day when my pre-schooler was in my face and antagonizing the baby. I had asked for space and he continued.

Drawing the line, I carried him upstairs after numerous threats. I’m pretty sure he wanted to see if I would in fact follow through. (History shows that I can be a pushover a times.) So I did. I set a timer for three minutes, and he took time in his room to think about listening.

I made sure to provide a loving boundary rather than a stomping foot of judgement to make my point. He is obviously not my enemy but there are definitely times where fatherhood can feel like a battle. And in those times, be sure to love your enemy.

 

When to Referee, When to Coach and When to Sit the Bench

My son and daughter are four years apart, so I haven’t experience fighting exactly. I have experienced the my four-year-old becoming jealous and/or hogging toys, utilizing his physical power over the situation. The conflicts I experience have a lot to do with obtaining parental attention and blockading the crawling 10-month-old away from small toys.

But I have noticed something with various disagreements, especially pertaining to “new” toys that managed to evolve from the depths of storage. My son is more interested in the baby toys than my daughter.

The older one will instantly get his hands on it, even and especially if it is presented to the infant first. The baby usually gets frustrated (of course) and screams and cries in complaint, hoping the toy is returned.

My inclination as a father and as a fixer is wanting to jump in and advocate for the one who is just learning to use her voice. And I do. I’ve gotten quite firm with the pre-schooler explaining the importance of sharing, that he is seen as the teacher and that when the younger is older, she will do the same things to him.

These far ranging concepts are close to impossible to understand by someone who is in the moment and wants a toy when he wants a toy. This would be my coaching approach. Teach, encourage and work to direct positive behavior.

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There is also the referee approach. A foul is called and penalty ensues. Usually, the penalty involves me taking the toy back from the older one to give to the baby. Sometimes, I’ll try to mimic the experience he is putting the baby through, with a tackling type hug.

The referee approach gets my point across, but I also feel that this provokes additional hostility, usually toward me (similar effect of snapping as mentioned in this previous post.)

And then there are times where I just need to sit out, ride the bench and let the two of them navigate their new and evolving relationship. I’ve observed interactions when physical play turns into a little more than the baby can handle, and she’ll reach out to grab the pre-schoolers face.

The grabbing often involves a scratch (as those baby fingernails grow like weeds), and I was surprised at the reaction of the four-year-old as if we need to rush him to the emergency room. Referee then called off the play.

After all, he is learning that even though the baby is small, she can still defend herself.

The art lies in balancing the three methods and deciding when to coach, referee or ride the bench. And when I’m lucky, I’m graced with a moment of a deep breath or a light pause that allows me to decide the response, rather than a quick reaction. The end result is ultimately out of my hands.

There are always those inevitable moments where the game is on and it’s necessary to coach and referee simultaneously of course.

That’s Nice. My Pre-schooler Has a Powerdrill! Put It Down. And Now He Hates Me.

My four-and-a-half year old son is as independent as it gets, unless we’re visiting extended relatives that are new to him every time we visit, every couple of years.

So he’s rummaging downstairs in our unfinished basement. This place is full of treasures to a boy his age and full of junk waiting to be thrown or organized by me.

There’s nothing too toxic down there, so I hadn’t thought much about it. And there is a designated office space where he can drive Matchbox cars. But then he turned the corner and my wife could see (and hear) from the top of the stairs that he is playing with my power drill.

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The battery was charged and he was revving it full bore with the Phillips-head screw driver spinning on the end, and my wife kindly asked him to put it down. And then I reacted with a shout, “What is he doing! Hey, put that down!”

Yes, it was abrupt of me, but I’m trying to keep his safety. (Maybe I could do that by putting my tools away.) So I wanted to get my point across, and I snapped a little at him to do just that.

He came up sniffling, with tears in his eyes. A mix of remorse, shame and probably anger fueled the protective surrender. I’ve been there. I’m in trouble, so I’m going play I’m sorry. But the truth is in hindsight, there is a more impactful way of handing the situation.

As my intelligent wife points out, you can get the same result through a loving, caring conversation, too.

So why do I yell? When I really think about it, I want him to feel bad and not pickup the drill next time for fear of more yelling.

This particular study by the Journal of Marriage and Family says 90% of Americans utilize “psychological aggression” in disciplining their kids. And these are parents with kids under the age of two that have used at least one episode within the last 12 months.

The article goes on to focus on the effect in adolescence, causing the young teenager to feel rejected or that their parents don’t like them.

Now, relating such feelings toward God, I can tell you that I gave up on that relationship quickly when I thought he didn’t like me. I have to ask myself, would I want my young adult child (who I can’t even imagine as a teenager at this time) to turn away from me as I turned away from God.

I can tell you my life didn’t go very well when I tried to run it on my own, so I now work to keep a relationship with God.

Mirroring this to the relationships I hope to have with my kids, I hope they see me as someone who does care. So maybe next time, instead of snapping at the use of a power drill I could walk down the basement and explain, in a caring a loving way, what the tool is and why it is a grownup tool. God willing.

 

 

How Much is That Doggie in The Window Correction

My nine-month-old daughter received a mechanical plush puppy that plays the Pattie Page classic “How Much is That Doggie in The Window” when you push a button on the side of its right paw.

It’s funny watching her older brother as she gets gifts, because he doesn’t waste any time jumping in and getting his hands on playing with her toys.

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In this case, he quickly memorized the song to a point of exhaustion. It wasn’t long before I had the song stuck in my head. On one particular cleanup kitchen interlude I sang the lyric, “I am so glad that he is for sale.”

However, my four year old was quick to correct me. “Dad, it’s I do hope that doggie’s for sale, not I’m so glad that he is for sale.”

Deep inside my reactive brain I thought my four-year-old is pretty brave for correcting an adult. How dare he? But then the other side of me said aloud, “Thank you for correcting me. I’m reading through the proverbs lately, one chapter per day, and just this morning I read, “Reprove an arrogant man, lest he hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you” (New American Bible, Prov. 9:8).

As a father I’ve learned you teach most by example, so I can only hope by repressing my reaction toward a how-dare-you-correct-me reaction, I can teach a generous thankful response for when my son is corrected.

I do correct quite a bit as a father after all. Sometimes it’s for safety, other times it’s for simple sanity. In example, please stop driving that large Tonka truck over the wood floor, because I can’t hear myself think.

So I can only expect my son and daughter to be open to correction if I am. Times like this reinforce to me that my son is as much of a teacher to me as I am to him.

The Weight and Responsibility of Defining Your Child’s Self

Be you.

Discover your dreams and chase them.

Don’t let anyone hold you back.

All of these inspiring and motivating sentences are great, and I’m a big proponent of dream chasing and self improvement. But how do I figure out who I am to chase my dreams? Or better yet, as a father, how do I help my children grow with a solid foundation about themselves and their self worth?

I recently dove into Making Sense of God by Timothy Keller, and in a chapter dedicated to hashing out the problems of self he makes an interesting point.

You cannot get your identity through introspection. You must learn about who you are through other people.

He says, “Only if we are approved and loved by someone whom we esteem can we achieve any self-esteem.” My fatherly prospective felt the weight of this, and I was brought to do something I rarely do. I made a note in the margin of the page.

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There are two pieces to this that I feel are striking. One, in order to support my kids with any self-esteem, I must approve and love them. Not only when they are “being good,” but also when they are throwing a fit in the isle of the grocery store.

The other piece is that I must carry myself so that they must respect and admire me. This brings me to, “the base in me–he must not see..” in the anonymous Little Chap Who Follows Me poem.

I can be fearful, resentful, jealous and angry. I don’t want my son or daughter to see this. Granted, we’re family. There has been and will be occasions where they will unfortunately experience me in these states. Hopefully, these instances are minor and are overshadowed by admiration worthy examples.

The love part comes pretty easy for me. Yes, there are always those time when a low blood sugar morning erupts out of my son before breakfast is served, when I wonder why he has to express himself in this way. But if I approach the situation with understanding, I can approach the situation with love.

I can only hope to be carried along in this journey as someone my son and daughter look up to and can really believe my words when I give them supporting “you can do it” compliments.

Have you ever received a supporting word from someone you don’t admire? Maybe I have. I can’t recall. Because chances are, I didn’t hear them even if they were spoken. I was too busy closing off this person from my head.

 

Fatherhood Stripped of Technology, for at Least One Night

The nightmare was real. I had pulled up to my house after ending the work day naked. Not without clothes naked but without technology naked. Stripped of Facebook announcements,  text messages and the ability to check my email five times per minute.

I’m ashamed to admit there was anxiety about missing some important phone call or message, but I didn’t want to make the drive back. So I jumped into the turbulence that is the family of four work to dinner home transition.

Now, I don’t consider myself a technology addict needing to untangle my life. But just the other day, my son asked me in a bold tone over the breakfast bowl, “What are you doing on your phone?” I was surfing news while replying to my brothers invitation to hang out, but still. It hit me a certain way.

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There is such noise in our high speed world that it impacts brain development. This particular occupational therapist for the Huffington Post makes the argument that the effect of technology on children can lead to depression, behavioral disorders and an unsustainable life.

This slippery slope argument doesn’t sit with me very well, but I have seen reactions from my pre-schooler that are extremely irrational when the TV is shut off or the You Tube video ends. I place trust in healthy support networks and interventions long before the negative affects she threatens.

Technology gives us things like video chat, picture sharing and learning apps that can help support learning and the support of our children’s village. We utilize technology in my house, and my four-year-old has his own Leap Frog tablet. But we don’t give free reign.

So my evening without my 5.5 inch smartphone screen went buy with some withdrawal. I reached for it several times when I wanted to check the weather or take a phone and even thought I heard my ringtone this morning.

But you know what, I found myself reading an extra book to my nine-month-old and even sang to her while my wife was bathing our son. I’d like to think that would have happened anyway with my phone within arms reach (so I could capture it on video of course), but I wonder.

There was this freedom I felt with the inability to check messages and instantly get sucked into an internet search.

And the cherry on top:  two text messages and one Facebook notification when I returned in the morning.

 

I Should Be Grateful You’re Irritating Me

Starting off the New Years weekend with an extra day off today, but there were several times where I felt a little stifled from the family time. Maybe it’s the overabundance of family time during the holidays. Maybe it was just a mood of mine.

Either way, I found myself getting irritated with my son and daughter. She’s crawling and growing in awareness where she understand what we are communicating but quickly enters frustration with a full on flexed and arched back when she can’t communicate herself.

I’ve grown to the point where I understand this irritation about others is actually in me, however I couldn’t quite pinpoint where my restlessness was coming from. And then God reminded me to count my blessings.

I received an email about a friend who miscarried her first baby. My wife and I are close enough to her that we cried when we read the email.

The perspective to be grateful for my two children, no matter how much they fuss or beg for candy or push the boundaries, is so elusive. If any of you hold a constant state of gratitude, I’m all ears to hear how you do it.

I must say from my perspective, I’m grateful more often than not, but this evening I think about how blessed I am to hold my pudgy nine month-old daughter. Her giggle when I nuzzle into her baby soft neck is priceless. I think about how blessed I am to have my four year-old son beg to build a Duplo castle.

There have been countless books about suffering, and the question of why evil exists in the world has been contemplated since the garden of Eden.  When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner has been a best seller for years. C.S. Lewis tackles the subject in The Problem of Pain

If there is one area that can insert doubt into my faith, it’s watching good people suffer or die for no reason. Why does a perfectly healthy woman suffer a miscarriage? Why do people die when a seemly perfectly stable bridge collapses? Insert any number of questions here about bad things happen to good people.

The only thing I can come back to is that God has a plan. I don’t know what it is, so I can’t really say what is good and what is bad. There is a plan for our friend. There is a plan for my healthy kids. There is a plan for me.

Maybe the irritation I feel with my family is God’s way of making me grow? Maybe our friend is losing her baby to make her stronger or alleviate worse pain that would have existed if the baby would have lived?

All I know is that through all the struggles of parenthood, that I need to remember it is a gift, as long as I am willing to accept it as a gift. It really comes down to perspective.

Oh No, Santa Couldn’t Bring Everything

I naturally default to filling the provider shoes in the family (even though role is a joint venture.) Maybe it’s a guy think, part of fatherhood, but I enjoy being able to provide groceries, emotional support and shop for friends and family during Christmas.

So my immediate reaction to my four year-old son’s letter to Santa, was to envision Santa stuffing all of this into his budget, ‘er sleigh and down our chimney. His letter included a basketball, soccer ball, red tape (for crafts), a car that he could drive, a play bow and arrow that shoots darts and a real bow and arrow. There was also the all encompassing mention of “a toy  that’s really cool,” added at the end of his list.

My son is a good boy. I know what you’re thinking. That I am his dad and of course I am going to write this on my blog. But really, he is a good kid. We are lucky to have him. All arguments aside I felt Santa should bring him everything from the list, even the car he could drive (that I despise from an environmental and consumer point of view).

I’m not going to list what exactly Santa brought and didn’t bring but let’s just say that his sack could only fit about half of my son’s list.

Even up until Christmas Eve, I was concerned that Santa wouldn’t be able bring all of the gifts. I felt as if my son would focus on the gifts that he didn’t get (or really wanted most on the list) that the ones he didn’t receive.

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This is when my wife points out to me that Santa’s inability to bring everything on the list teaches him that he doesn’t get everything he wants. After all, have I gotten everything I wanted or asked for? Definitely not. God seems to provide to me what exactly I need right as I need it.

Such as it is with things. Even if God provided me with all the things that I asked for, I would still find things that I wish I could have. Maybe it’s me and the disease of more or maybe it’s just human nature, but my appetite for new things can be insatiable at times. And for me, it’s really only those times where I completely trust Him to give me what I need that I am content.

And when Christmas morning came and Santa had dropped off his deliveries, his presents were wrapped, all except the soccer ball. My son picked up the soccer ball, gave it a little boy hug and said, “He brought me what I wanted.”

So much for my son focusing on what he didn’t get. Maybe it’s me that needs to focus on what I can provide rather than what I can’t.