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.

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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.

Coaching from My Four Year Old on Detachment from My New Car

I’ve been car shopping for months now. My reliable 2003 VW Jetta is tight to say the least when a family of four needs to jet around town. Sure, it’s manageable, but if we want to go out of town and enjoy the outdoors, we needed something a little bigger. That and the list of repairs well exceeded the value of the car.

So I fell in love with the Toyota Highlander Hybrid. The style and space of a large SUV but close enough to the economy of a Jetta that I validated the larger vehicle. After all, I strive to be conscious of our worlds natural resources. Plus I look cooler in this than a minivan.

The sticker price, and I’m shopping used here, was more than I had ever spent on a car in my life. But Consumer Reports voted this vehicle as the best used SUV car buy, and the space sure was something my family can utilize comfortably.

The day finally came and it looked like we were going to land this car before a spring break road trip to a northbound hotel, when the car had to go into the shop for break work. Just in the nick of time, with bags packed ready to head north, the car came out of the shop. We loaded it up and took it 2.5 hours north.

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Boy the ride was smooth. The sound system is unbelievable. Gas mileage lives up to expectations, and we were able to fill it comfortably with our bags and gear. How quick it does fill up. This car is so nice it barely feels like it should be mine, ‘er ours.

I must admit my pride was boosted a little, driving around in its midnight black paint job, leather seats, quiet electric motor and all. And a few comments from a neighbor and in-laws didn’t help either.

And then my son says, “It’s pretty much the same as your other car.” He points out that it still gets us on the road from here to there. I almost threw in a counter but, but, but argument pointing out the size and luxury. However, I decided to agree.

It says in the bible, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV.)

And then I was completely locked out of the car. In this case it was the computer and electronic components that destroyed. The rear hatch malfunctioned and locked all the doors with a continuous pulsing sound that drained the battery. I was pissed, frustrated and ready to return the car.

But with much reassurance from family and my son’s words in mind. I say to myself it’s just another car. Thank you, son, for reminding me of what matters most. It’ll come back from the shop with a new tail gate in a week and I’ll have a new outlook toward my sweet new family car.

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.

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.

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.

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.