Is the Quantity of Toys in My House Hampering Imagination?

I love giving my kids presents and watching them receive presents. They get pumped up, eyes wide and explore the wonder of the new object. Whether it is a car that pulls back and races on its own or a fresh plush animal, it brings me joy to be able to give them things. Let the shopping season begin.

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However, I was sent a recent article exploring the idea that my kids are not benefiting from a plethora of toys. So many toys that bins of them need to be stored in the basement and rotated to keep the toy room cleaner. (Why yes my four-season sun room is a toy room.)

The recent article by Emily Wade explains benefits from fewer toys, besides the increased chance of not piercing the underside of my bare foot in the living room.

She says kids use their imagination more when they have less toys. Kids maintain focus with less toys (and this may explain my overwhelm when I clear a spot to kneel and assist in picking up this previously mentioned sun room.)

My default mode is bigger, faster, stronger. More. But what if I could teach my kids to be happy with what they have? Have you ever heard, “a place for everything, and everything in its place.”

I’ve encountered moments of trying to put toys away where I don’t even know where to put it. How am I supposed to place an expectation on a five and one year old to put their toys away if I can’t even handle the job?

Look around at the things you have, wherever you may be reading this. All of that stuff stays here on earth. I’m writing this to remind myself what true gifts are.

“‘For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either.’ (NAS, Timothy 6:7)

Christmas is a time for giving and receiving. But the most valuable thing you can give your children or grandchildren, or anyone in your life, is the intangible.

Gifts like patience, imagination, joy, laughter and peace are more valuable than any toy I can give. Hand over perseverance any day, but you can bet that my kids’ will be receiving some gifts from their wishlist, too.

 

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All Kids Are Home Schooled

My kids aren’t home schooled as you may think of the traditional parent-become-teacher home school program. But according to Seth Godin, we are all home schooled.

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Think about it. There are 186 hours in a seven day week. My kindergarten son sleeps an average of nine hours a night, so eliminate those off the bat. That leaves us with 105 hours of vertical wake time.

I work a solid 40 hour work week, and my son and daughter are in school or after-school care at that time.  That leaves 65 waking hours together as a family.

Hours in the week = 168

Hours spent working/in traditional school = 40 (23.8%)

Hours spent sleeping = 63 (37.5%)

Hours remaining together = 65 (38.7%)

Cleaning, playing, shopping and living together. There are endless chances to teach here. More time during the week being a family than being away from each other at work and school.

How are you spending those hours? What distractions are you using to get away from the kids? Or what problems are you involving them in? What are your kids watching you do? What other circles of friends and family are you exposing them to?

You don’t have to be separated from their mother to be a “Disney Dad,” always wanting your time to be pure fun with the kids. You could be married but avoid house-work and only spend time with the kids when you’re taking them to ice-cream, fun parks, etc.

Teachers make a huge impact. There is no doubt about that. But if home life is creating a larger negative impact, the teachers are fighting a losing battle.

The Foundation for An Easy Child

One of my favorite parenting books is Your Baby Your Child by Penelope Leach. She does an amazing job presenting a psychological approach to parenting, really digging into the why she suggest things should be done a certain way.

My son is strong willed (and a friend questioned me the other day….”I wonder where he got that from?) So I thought I’d bring up her suggestion for keeping an easy child. My son is past the point of being a toddler, but maybe theses tips could be applied to my 18-month-old daughter.

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The example, in the section one year to two and a half years of age, is getting your toddler to help pickup blocks. She uses gentle suggestions and the analogy of a competition, saying “I bet I can pick up these books before you pickup those blocks.” In the end, the toddler doesn’t put the blocks away because dad said so, they put them away because they wanted to.

Self direction is big, whether you are analyzing education, corporate culture or personal life. We all perform our best when we decide upon the next action to take, rather than someone demanding we do something.

Leach also looks at the opposite effects. Have you ever demanded your son or daughter do something? Who hasn’t? What happened? If they are a typical toddler or strong willed, you’ll get a similar oil and water effect that I received with my kids. They do the opposite of what you are demanding.

As fathers, we must get creative in presenting our demands. Rather than presenting demands, competitions as the above example work well. Games, rewards and and making something as fun as possible can have the same effect.

She goes on to say that if your son or daughter reaches the next state of growing up feeling that you are on his or her side that he will behave as you wish. But if he or she sees you as overpowering, incomprehensible and basically against him, your son or daughter will see you as unpleasurable and throw trying to please out the window.

That can sound like a lot of pressure, but I interpret that in the form of a question to myself. Am I battling with my kids or are we working together? No matter where life takes them, they are going to need to learn to work with people, so it is our role as dads to help them learn these skills.

 

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.

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.

Boys, Knives, Rules & School

At drop off this morning, my son and I debated about bringing a wooden souvenir knife to school. I said it was against the rules, and he said he’d keep in in his backpack where no one would see it.

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The debate ended in sadness and a couple of tears as he placed the knife back into the car, and I felt a ping of regret wondering if I should have looked the other way to let him find out on his own.

How often have the rules been explained to you and wondered how to get around them?And when should a father just let his son push the rules to find out the consequences on his own? I’m with him, not against him. And by forcing him to put this toy knife back in the car, does he see me as protecting him from getting in trouble or as the enforcer of the rules?

I don’t recall a weapons policy in the the parent packet sent home with my kindergartner, but I’m guessing toy guns and knives aren’t allowed. Basic knowledge, right? Especially, “in today’s world.”

It’s disappointing to me that my five-year-old son comes home within the first month of school and has had two “lock-down drills.” I’m glad the muscle memory prep is there should such a horrid situation occur, but I’m sickened that this is even something they have to think about and prepare for.

The drill involves hiding behind the teacher’s desk, and if all of the students don’t fit behind the desk, they need to hide where they can’t see the window in the door. That way “the intruder can’t see anyone,” my son explains.

In a world of hiding from intruders, the logic of bringing a toy knife to school doesn’t seem very bad. Seems logical. Boys will be boys as they say. Take the toy weapons away, and they will find things to make “weapons” out of, whether that’s sticks, paper or their fingers.

This would be a good foray into a, “back in the day” story. A co-worker of mine made a Facebook comment recalling gun-safety training training that was given right at school. And guns were kept in lockers until classes were out.

He needs to make his own mistakes, especially if they are going to sink in and really be life lessons, but fathers are here to guide. I chose to guide him in the responsible direction and be the enforcer, rather than leave it up to school administration. Better than than having a suspension on his kindergarten record. And if that’s not enough for you, here are six other stories of students being suspended over toy guns (and even one incident is the act of shaping their hand into a gun.)

My opinion is that toy guns and knives are harmless when provided with guidance. “No shooting Nerf darts at people,” for starters. Focusing on respect, love and understanding overrides the natural impulse to “win” and shoot people. Start with conflict resolution, emotional awareness and forgiveness.

The muscle needed forgive those who trespass against us needs to be exercised and modeled. And trust me, your kids are watching.

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.