Ninety Percent of My In-Person Time with My Kids is Happening Now

Raising young kids takes up time. Lots of time, as an understatement. So much time is spent feeding, changing, cleaning and playing with them that when I rented The Force Awakens from the library, the DVD was never even inserted before the week loan period expired.

Time. We are here for a short time. You hear it all the time. But recently a blog title Wait But Why popped up in front of me with an article titled The Tail End.

He uses visual charts to display how many months, days and weeks are given to a person who lives to be 90. The charts also display things like how many more times he will see The Red Socks play or how many more chances he will have to swim in the ocean or eat pizza.

The thing that stood out to me was his stat that by the time he left for college, he had used up the 93% of his in-person parent time.

This stat applies to me in the fact that I’m 37 and the majority of my in-person time with my parents has been used up. But applying this to the time with my own kids, this big picture perspective makes me want to spend more time with them.

Time with the kids

My wife and I do a good job putting the kids before dishes, reading to them every night and taking things slow on most weekends.

This idea that 90% of the time I’m going to have with my kids in-person is happening right now makes me want to shut off the phone more, drop what I’m doing when they ask for something, and play. Just follow them around and play. This precious time–as stressful and chaotic as it can be at times–is just that:  precious.

My son is five. My daughter is one. We are in the thick of raising two kids. In the thick of constantly running the dishwasher, tears being shed regularly, short nights of sleep. Sweeping the floor at least five times a day, wiping butts and the inability to have a grown-up conversation for more than a minute and a half.

But we’re also in the thick of the 90% of our time with them. God help me be present and content with our time together. And thanks Tim Urban for writing The Tail End.

The Art of Leaving Your Kid in the Car to Make Drop-Off Smoother

Your son or daughter probably never resists going to school or daycare, but if they do, this could help. At least, I found something that worked for me in this particular situation.

Cease the fighting. My initial reaction can be to say something to the effect of, “You better get your butt out of the car,” when my pre-schooler defies going into school (or insert destination here.)


So today, I let go. I went the opposite direction of my instinct. I said, “O.k., I’m going to go in to drop your sister off,” and I closed the door. I held my one-year old in an arm and we both waved at him, still sitting in his booster car seat.

It was at least five minutes of me going through the morning routine with my daughter’s daycare moms and watching the growing baby settle in to her happy home away from home before I returned to the car. The empty car.

Turns out he had decided to head into his preschool classroom on his own. With no one there to tell him what to do, he made his own decision. The right decision at that. 

One of my son’s friends had pulled up after us and while I was gone my son decided to join up with him into the school. I didn’t have to entice, cajole or even carry him in to the class.

Kind of reminds me of my initial reaction to “have to.” If anyone told me that I “had to” do anything when I was a teenager, my initial reaction was always to think, “I don’t have to do anything.” 

So rather than force my son into a situation, I find the art of getting him to do what needs to be done is to creatively present options, so that he feels like he had a role in making the decision.

It’s kind of like asking the toddler if they’d like to walk or be carried to bed. Either way they are going to bed, but at least they feel like they’ve had a choice in the matter.

The Power of Reverse Psychology

There is some innate force inside us that doesn’t want to listen to direction. Or maybe it is just me and my genes, but I like to find things out for myself. I’ve also noticed my four-year old going against what I ask in what seems out of spite.

I’m sure your kids always listen, so please send me your tips. If they sometimes don’t, well maybe you want to try a little reverse psychology to get things moving along a little easier for all.

Blame it on Adam and Eve. They didn’t listen either. Maybe its the serpent devil speaking to my son. Let’s face it. There is a bit of good in the worst of us and bit of bad in the best of us.

One thing I have noticed though is that as fathers (and mothers) we can use our kids’ desire to go against what we say to our advantage, at least while they’re young.

My son has this habit of whining and often screaming when rinsing his hair of shampoo in the bath. It’s unpleasant for all involved, and no matter how much I tell him it’s okay or to shhhhhhhh, he continues the stream of angst.

Father Through Me

Then just yesterday, I heard my wife speaking to him while rinsing his hair, and their wasn’t a sound coming from him.

She was making various voices, pretending to be an audience watching the hair rinsing. Members of the audience were hoping to hear and see my son scream. And there he sat resisting. Going against what “the crowd” wanted him to do.

“I want my money back,” shouted one of the onlookers in what sounded like an Irish accent. “He’s not screaming. I thought we’d get to hear him scream.” Against the will of the people, my son showed them that he wasn’t going to listen and give them what they want.

And I think my wife enjoyed the process just as much. (My wife does some great European accents.) I know I would have enjoyed the bath that much more since there wasn’t a screaming bloody murder contest going on.

So next time, try it. I’d say take advantage of it as long as you can. My kids are young, and I plan on milking it as long as I can. Soon, they’ll probably be reversing reverse psychology, and trying it out on me.

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.

referee

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.

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.

doggieforsale

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.

meditation-833863_960_720

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.

cellphone

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.

santa-claus-gnome

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.

Can Patience Be Taught?

I want what I want and I want it now. Thanks to the Internet I can instantly look up the answer to table topic questions. I want my burger well done and on my plate as soon as my mouth starts watering, and I lean toward going to the farmers market rather than grow my own vegetables.

My patience is short. Especially when it comes to my child’s behavior, it is hard for me to not react with a “I told you not to color on the floor without a piece of paper underneath your drawing,” instantly. So how can I teach patience?

This recently came up at a church gathering, and my pastor answered that you can’t. He says patience can’t be taught. Patience has to be modeled.

This challenged my whole notion of asking my pre-school son to wait for the chips at lunch until he finished his vegetables. Just one mention of serving chips with the sandwiches sent him into a frenzied tailspin of wanting the chips instantly and screaming for them.

The one area where I feel patience can be taught is in not responding immediately when my son struggles with something, say zipping up his jacket. I’ll often say, in a minute or an I believe you can do it for some support. Even my nine-month old infant doesn’t need to be picked up instantly when whining ensues.

patience

Scholastic Parent’s resources mentions several things that can help teach patience:  using reflective listing, keep expectations reasonable and even using a timer. However, the first bullet in their list of ways to teach patience is to model patience.

There is an old anti-drug PSA where the father holds out the paraphernalia and asks his teenage son where he learned to use this stuff. “I learned it by watching you,” the son shouts back.

And why is the old axiom of do as I say and not as I do ringing in my ears right now?

This question of whether patience can be taught is debatable, but the more I look at it, the more I think it must be modeled. I don’t instantly need to rush in at my son’s frustrating whines. The baby doesn’t instantly need soothing when fussy. And ignoring the tug at my shirt while talking to my wife is healthy, for both our marriage and modeling patience.