Boys Don’t Cry and Girls Really Shouldn’t Either

I’ve said it. And even it you haven’t said it to your son, he’s probably picking up on it. Boys and men are not supposed to cry.

Granted, when I’ve said it, it’s usually over something like an extra scoop of ice cream or a bonked head that he’s crying, so I rationalize my words, saying “don’t cry.” But no matter what it’s over, I do find myself cringing a little when he does. And deep down if I take a hard look, I don’t want him to be weak.

I recently ran across the blog Remaking Manhood, and the author, Mark Greene says in his video, “It is through our expressions of emotions that we connect in relationship to others. In fact, emotions are born in those relational spaces between people. So if we tell our children, don’t express emotions, what we are basically doing is limiting their capacity to form relationships. ”

Humans are social creatures. We need our tribe to survive, and we need relationships to feel value and connection. So am I basically making him weak by limiting his capacity to form relationships? Isolation can be deadly.

Remaking Manhood goes on to say that American men over the age of 45 are chronically lonely. Male suicides also outnumber women three to one, and they say it is because men don’t have a robust network of authentic relationships.

Researchers and even mainstream media understand the importance of emotional intelligence and being vulnerable. Brene Brown’s 2010 TED Talk The Power of Vulnerability has just under 31.5 million views as of this posting. Disney Pixar’s Inside Out made 857.6 million at the box office alone.

A person who is authentic, someone who can stand up strong and face difficult situations one day, but then next day, he or she can be sympathetic, understanding and vulnerable is someone who can lead and make an impact.

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There Goes The Neighborhood:  Come on Over

A half-dozen liquor bottles were in view on their three-season porch, cigarette smoke wafted and the f-bomb was was dropped at shouting volume while I played in the backyard with my five and one-year old. There goes the neighborhood.

The next-door neighbor of mine for the past nine years sold his house. Then the rental sign went up, and the new neighbors just moved in.

My son wanted to “see” where the noise was coming from. Rather than peer over our fence, we introduced ourselves. Only the grandpa came to greet us, and he appeared genuinely warm through red eyes. He even has a grandson on the weekends who is the same age as my son.

The grandson was encouraged to come out, and he hit it off right away with my son. I’m a pretty understanding guy, and I understand the drive to indulge. I also understand the insanity that can proceed rounds of drinking. There are also certain behaviors I’d rather not expose my kids to at this age, but I said yes when my son asked if the grandson could come over and play. You could also bet that they were within my view the entire time.

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” says Jesus in Mark 12:31. But these aren’t the neighbors that I want to love I think to myself in response. I was hoping for a quieter family, with two kids the same ages as mine, maybe even going to the same school. Heck, throw in a dad that I can relate with and invite over for BBQ.

He wants to teach me something else. Sure, these neighbors act differently that I choose to in my life now. They even look different than my family. So in order to help me find what He may want me to learn with this change, I think of what I’d like my son to learn.

Learn to respect people. Learn boundaries. Learn that underneath various shapes, sizes and colors, we are all really after the same thing. Learn to hand over the fear. We can love our neighbors without being close friends.

The thing with fear is that it is learned. My son wasn’t afraid of the f-bombs, the smoke or the drinking. Kids aren’t born afraid of people who look different than them. Even when you think your son or daughter isn’t watching, that’s probably when they are watching the most.

Honestly, I didn’t really want to go outside of my privacy fence to introduce myself. But I hope I my kids learned something from the action. I know I did.

Are You Enjoying Being A Dad?

It was picture day. My son even asked for, “hair stuff.” His mom picked out his best school shirt, pants and he even seemed excited. We were walking down the hall on the way to the morning club before school when he asked for a belt. Or maybe it was more of a whine.

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His pants were a little too large, and he wanted me to go all the way back home to get the belt. I’d be frustrated and want to whine about such a thing, too. Fortunately, the pant designers placed these elastic belt-like straps into the waist, so that they can be tightened with a matter of buttons.

I remember thinking he looked good as I knelt down to adjust the elastic around his waist. There was a certain humble pride (if that is a thing) coming off of him. I sure was proud of him. There was no elementary embarrassment–thankfully, we haven’t gotten there yet–about fiddling around with the belt-line of his pants.

Content and geared up for picture day, we were now on our way. Drop off was smoothly executed, and I picked up pace down the hall. That is when a teacher asked me, “Are you enjoying being a dad?” The question caught me off guard, but I answered with a yes that came out with a surprise, almost saying why yes, yes I am thank you.

“Good,” she answered. “I saw you with your son there, and it just looked so cute. I hope you are enjoying it.”

What a reminder. Life is busy. Work days involve being with the kids a matter of about two to four waking hours, depending on the day. What a simple, crucial reminder to enjoy life.

Happy fathers raise happy kids. Happy fathers and mothers for that matter. And happiness sometimes grows after pushing through the monotonous, daily activities like getting the kids dressed, picking up toys or reading books. These are the moments that make up lifetime memories.

Sure, we remember the big vacations and the milestones, too. And it’s easy to be happy when you take your picture with a graduating pre-schooler (or fill in the blank with whatever grade they are graduating from.) But it’s the daily “grind” that builds character. It’s the daily grind that lays the foundation for your kids.

Are you rushing around barking orders, keeping order? Are you frustrated that you have to deal with the kids? That’s normal. Just remember to take moments to enjoy the teaching, the building of relationships and the foundation for your kids to handle life. Hopefully the latter outweighs the former.

If the Problem Isn’t the Problem Then What is?

Screaming about not wanting me around at the breakfast table, and then continuing to say Daddy help me over and over as we were approaching t-minus ten minutes before departure to morning drop-off.

Antagonizing his one-year-old sister with mussing her hair and picking her up until she screams with frustration.

Lost keys. Missing shoes. Arms wrapped tight unwilling to let go at daycare drop off. A hand digging in her own diaper early in the morning when it desperately needed changing. And by desperately, I mean poop-filled.

All of these problems are enough to make me want to scream at times. And I have to admit I have. I can be one of those brute force you-better-stop-it-right-now kind of dads. Sometimes. Sometimes I can playfully laugh off the innocence of kids expressing their independence or exploring the world.

Sitting in church, the idea was presented that the problem is not the problem, but it’s how you approach the problem. Meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out the problem of how to stop my five-year-old son and one-year-old daughter from fighting over snack. (Each had a different dried cereal and each wanted to dig their hands into each others.)

I can’t say I handled the above snack situation real well, so I decided to try handling a different problem not as how I wanted to react, but rather by responding in a manner that turned the “problem” into something else.

Every Monday night, I have a 7:30 meeting, and my wife puts our two kids to bed. On this particular evening, my son and I were wrapping up an impromptu sorting of his approximately 200+ marble collection when it was time for me to head out.

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He then proceeded to turn it into a flick-the-marbles-down-the-hall game as I hugged him good-bye. Marbles began flying everywhere across the hall and into the guestroom and bouncing off walls. My problem alarm started sounding inside my head.

But rather than say, “don’t” or “that’s not how marbles are supposed to be played,” I used a string to make a circle across the hall and turn it into a game. He didn’t really buy the game idea, but he continued to enjoy flicking the smooth pieces of glass everywhere.

I calmly walked away thinking to myself, “He’s having fun, and they’re just marbles. Let him have a good time entertaining himself with them.” (You could say I didn’t lose my marbles.) “We can pick them up together later, or I’ll just do it.”

I let it go and really didn’t even think about it again, until my wife mentioned the marbles when I got home. And guess what? My son picked up the marbles.  Without even being asked. Without. Even. Being. Asked.

What I perceived as a problem didn’t even become a problem. Our problems are of our own making, and I chose to not make this one a problem at all.

Kindergarten: Sending My Boy Off into the World

My son hasn’t exactly had a sheltered stay-at-home upbringing. He’s been in full-time daycare since his 13th week of life. He’s been given two working parents that enjoy their jobs, and I also believe the foundation of the Bible-based pre-school has been beneficial to all of us.

But when I walked him to his kindergarten classroom door, I couldn’t help having that feeling of wishing I could have stayed home with him more. He is now entering more of his own world, a world that he may or may not always choose to share with me.

The photo I snapped outside of his decorated classroom door show him with one hand in his pocked, a fresh new Spiderman backpack over one shoulder, being held with the hand outside of his pocket, across his chest. My God, he looked like he should be “the cool kid” in a high-school stance or something.

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On one hand I had the feeling of shouldas, wouldas and maybe couldas, but on the other, I was proud. Here was this boy going from a small pre-school room to a large elementary school. He gets to experience more and learn more.

His world is opening up, and I get to see him grow. I get to see how this first five years of love, nurture and discipline have suited him for kindergarten. My wife and I have worked hard to give both out children a foundation to be strong, loving and independent. To trust but also ask questions.

I can only hope that we have provided a solid beginning that Proverbs 22:6 refers to. Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. 

There’s a lot of pressure on parents to aim for perfection, but there is also a lot of pressure on kids, too. How do I know that I’m providing the beginning that is best for him? From the school we chose to two working parents to the amount of play dates and extracurricular activities he is enrolled in.

There are two things that help comfort me with these questions:

  1. He is being schooled 6-8 hours a day (if you count the before & after school activity club.) But at home, he is still being home schooled. He is still learning his primary perspective on life from my wife and I.
  2. Speaking and networking with other parents helps a lot. Asking how they are doing it? What did they do (if their kids are already in high school or out of the house)? Form friendships with parents that we cross paths with from his pre-school and kindergarten.

And one of the most important things to remember is that a parent who cares and spends time with their kids is going to raise kids that are more prepared for life than the ones who are raised the opposite.

The Ultimate Test of Spiritual Fitness: Family Tent Camping for Five Nights

We emerged from the seven day family road trip that involved five nights of camping in the Blackhills of SD, and the only person with clean clothes remaining was my wife.

An hour on the road with a five and one year old can seem like a half-day. Snacks are crucial, but can give way to jealousy and screaming in the seat.


I would be lying if I said there wasn’t moments when the music needed to be turned up over the crying. Or moments where I used the, “I’ll pull this car over” bit.

Or there was the moment when I looked up at the Milky Way at 2:30 a.m. begging for some sleep after my two year-old daughter woke up with inconsolable night terrors for the second night in a row. Did I mention we tent camped?

And while I’m at it, I’ll mention the seafood boil dinner that brought consistent visits by bees and flies. 

All of these moments were trying but not necessarily bad. Tough? Definitely, and there were times of frustration, but I found myself thinking about the Shakespeare quote, ” nothing is really good or bad in itself—it’s all what a person thinks about it.” So let’s focus on the good times. 

There were the moments of majestic views from Needles Highway, a buffalo herd so thick over the road we sat and waited for almost 20 minutes. I will remember catching wild rainbow trout shortly after sunrise with my daughter.

So we have the attitude string to play. What happens is neither good or bad. It simply is. Don’t sweat the small stuff and all that jazz. Am I going to choose to let this moment affect me or am I going to stay spiritually fit.

There was laughter. There were tears. The family vacation was the way it went, and the memories I have will last a lifetime.  And the fact is is that I got to do it. Many people wish for such opportunities. 

May you remain in the get to attitude. 

Taking Time to Take A Nap

The day was a Saturday prior to an business trip. There was packing, prepping and organizing to do, not to mention family time that I wanted to soak up prior to departing.

But I decided to nap instead. My 16 month old daughter seems to be a little anti-nap when it comes to Saturday. She’s still at an age where she needs them, but she sits up and cries when we put her into the crib. So I held her while we slept.

This moment brought me back to a time when she’d sleep on my chest as a newborn infant, but my mind kept trying to pull me back to to-do lists and other things I should be doing.

But then I thought what option is more important than helping this toddling daughter of mine feel comforted and catch up on some sleep myself. The world slipped away and that hour-and-a-half felt like a day within a day. I drifted in and out, reclined in our Lay-Z-Boy and felt the weight and peace of my growing daughter.

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Every so often, I’m able to step outside myself and experience thorough gratitude, and this moment was just that. It would be five days away on business from my wife and kids, and I enjoyed the silence and warmth of her body in my arms.

We live in a face paced world, and I’ve always had the mindset that getting more done is better. Or that I need to do something just to do something. Add to the list, cross things off, get it done. It’s so easy to be sucked into such a mindset and such a pace that can continually make me feel like I’m on a treadmill while losing position.

It’s like muscle memory. If I don’t run for weeks or haven’t picked up the guitar in longer, my muscles forget what it takes to perform. Relaxing is a muscle. If I don’t keep it strong and remember to just be okay with sitting (or napping) for even just 30 minutes, life can get exhausting.

God wants us to rest. All major religions have a day of prayer or a day of rest, such as a Sabbath.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn fro me, for I am gentle and humble in your heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 28-29 NIV)

 

It’s almost embarrassing that I have to consciously apply myself to take a rest at times, but just like hard work, hard rest pays off.

Additional Reminders to Trust My Kids

My now-walking one-year old went for the cupboards under the kitchen sink. Soaps, garbage and a specific no play zone, I put my foot it front of the doors and said no, explaining that she can’t play in there.

The defiance stage has kicked in, so a mild tantrum ensued. And then of course, as I stepped away to prep something around the kitchen, she went back.

She’s quick, too. I watched as she opened the door and unveiled a fruit pouch top to throw away in the garbage. She nelt up and set it in the garbage, and then made her high pitched ooooha noise in approval as she looked up at me, as if to say, I just had to throw away some garbage.


The surprise and awe could have brought the palm of my hand to my forehead. I didn’t even think she knew the garbage is stored under the sink.

My wife and I work hard to model good healthy behaviors, but I still find myself doubting my kids’ decisions or motives. More often than not though, my kids surprise me with their actions taken.

This morning my wife and I were getting ready to meet friends for a play date. My five year old son was playing in his upstairs bedroom with his sister. And with her being one, I’m hesitant to leave the two of them together alone for very long.

This particular moment was maybe approaching 15 minutes, when I heard screaming from her.

The urge to shout at my son and ask what is going on up there surged, but I held back. I did skip steps as I went upstairs. Working to act casually, I strolled into his room and asked what are you guys up to.

She was still crying a little at this point but it had downgraded from the scream. Turns out my five year old son had only taken a small choking hazard of a toy away from her, and she was of course not very happy with him.

This moment served again to remind me that my kids can be entrusted to make good choices. He was only protecting her with the training I had preached since bringing a sleeping newborn home. And she was just helping to throw away garbage as she had probably seen us do hundreds of times.

God willing shall I continue to trust them, remembering these moments as they grow.

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.