3 Enemies To Parenting in the Moment

I have found that parenting is only truly difficult when I am trying to get my child to do something else. I enjoy the job of parent more often when I am focused on being in the moment. What does that mean, exactly? I started to understand it more when I thought about three main forces working against us:

  1. What the internet tells us we should be doing.
  2. Our own desire to be doing something else.
  3. The fact our government, employers, and culture don’t want us to spend time with our families.

The modern world of parenting self-help constantly pushes us to question what we are doing. Let’s take bedtime as an example. Is she up to late? Should I lay her on her side? What horrible patterns am I creating if I rock, sing, or snuggle him to sleep? Did you read enough to her? Other parents have their children in bed by this time! And they sleep all night! What am I doing wrong?

I can’t enjoy this time with my child when I am focused on a future state and not the moment I am in. I have been trying to forget about what I should be doing and simply be with my child. I find way less stress and frustration this way. Yet, that pressure to be in a future state can come from another place.

We often want to be doing something else. It sounds horrible but it is true and completely valid. Why do you want to rush bedtime and get it over with? Maybe you want to spend talk to your spouse. Maybe you are in an online class and have to be free at a certain point. Maybe you are tired from the day and want to watch Bones or some other bad TV with a glass of wine. Maybe you want to call your Mother. It turns out that parenting is a real chore when I am focused on getting it over with. This is another way we can build frustration into the experience. When I am not present, night time can go like this: “C’mon man! All I really wanted to do was read this last chapter and now you are awake. UGH. This is horrible.” Only once I let go of the future was I able to better enjoy the moment. I also found that I reached my goals even better. I remind myself out loud: “This is where I am. This is what I am doing. My child needs me. I will be there for him.” It is hard not to think about all of the other stuff we need to do as people outside of work and parenting. This brings us to the third enemy to parenting in the moment.

Our government, businesses, and culture doesn’t give us enough time to balance everything and be a fully present parent. It would be a lot easier to be present with your child if you had more available time. You could then be present with your child without thinking about all the other 100 things you have to do. There is always a sacrifice. If I spend more time with my child right now that is less time I have to pay bills, talk about life with my spouse, go to the local town council meeting, call a friend, workout, etc. So we parents sacrifice family or one of these other things. You know who doesn’t factor into this sacrifice? Your workplace or the system (for a lack of a better word).

The U.S. is the only one of 4 countries (if I remember correctly) that doesn’t have paid family leave. Here is an infographic from 2013 on paid family leave that has a nice visual comparison. Our country is telling us that time with our families is not important. This sets us up for bypassing being present with our kids because there is limited time to take on other pressing matters we have as adults. Sorry kids.

Most employers don’t offer paid family leave. But that is only scratching the surface. I think we all know that taking time off work for your kids is frowned upon. Even if it is allowed, there can be a nagging thought of what you missed out on or the company valuing the worker who chooses to be there more often. There are times you sacrifice your work and career to be present with your children. Remember, though, that is you sacrificing work time, not work sacrificing your time. Check this out: Americans wasted 658 million vacation days in 2015. Whoa. Talk about pressure to be at work and away from your family. Additionally, we are encouraged to shame the parents that make this choice. Hardly anyone shames the company who should value their leave policy enough to encourage if not require time off with job safety and security. End of soap box. The broader point is that we are set up to fail. We are set up to spend less time with our kids in the first place, let alone be fully present with them.

So what is one to do? I have a few things that work for me, that I don’t do all the time but I try!

  1. Name it. Know when you are focused on something outside of right now.
  2. Develop that mantra for you that will help you stay present. This is where I am. This is what I need to do. I don’t need to be anywhere else.
  3. There is more than enough out there on mindful parenting. Here is a Huffpo blog post on 5 main tenets of mindful parenting. I know there are better resources out there, but someone should be waking up from a nap any moment and this is what you get.
  4. Embrace being good enough and not sweating the internet of parenting. This also goes for not comparing yourself to other families. If you and your child are playing blocks, play blocks. Don’t think about how many he should be stacking at 15 months, or if she should be better able to tell colors at 2 years, etc. Just play. For bedtime, focus on right now and not the future.

 

 

WWZAMD? – What Would Zombie Apocalypse Me Do?

Sometimes when I feel like giving up on a challenging parenting task I stop and ask: “What would Zombie Apocalypse Me Do?” What would I do if there was no one around I could call for help?

tumblr_mff5ie9vas1qcwe13o1_500Yes, we are fans of The Walking Dead on Tinkerbell Road. In the story there is a baby whose mother is gone and the team of survivors in the zombie wasteland are left to keep her fed. Even the toughest dudes pull Daddy weight with the little one.

Last week, in the real world, I was giving our 1 month old a bottle while Mom was out. He wasn’t taking it. More appropriately, I wasn’t doing it right. We were both frustrated. In the back of my head I knew that I could call her. It would be so easy. But there I was with a child, a bottle of good breast milk, and nothing but time on my hands. As an At-Home Dad there are many times like this during the day. The fact Mom was on maternity leave and I could call in help was all too tempting.

Before I gave in I imagined a world where I was my child’s last resort, his only hope. The two of us alone in a zombie apocalypse. I knuckled down and did my job. (Apologies to my would be zombified wife in such a scenario.) A phone call to a relaxing mommy was not necessary.

I also recognize that there are many people in the world living their own apocalypse. Refugees, survivors of domestic violence, torture, and other horrific things. I could think of friends who at one time huddled with their child in the Sudanese brush, the jungles of Burma, or the rescue mission down the road. To think that I would cry UNCLE when a little trouble came my way? I can buck up and make it through.

The idea that people in our real world are faced with such adversity can be emotionally crippling and in some cases too close to home. In the South, we have a notion that if we think about bad things happening they may in fact come true. It’s best we don’t focus on a situation that could come true for us or anyone. So it’s safe to pick a scenario that’s fake. Imagining fictional people in a stressful reality that will never exist can be a safe way to imagine a scenario that inspires perseverance.

Dad and Two Kids

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is important for me now because next week Mom goes back to work and my caseload will grow from one to two. I will need to bolster my nerves for a whole new set of challenges.

Feel free to join me and use this the next time you are feeling like the baby won’t eat or sleep and the buck stops with you. If you are not into Zombies, think of your own alternate world where you are the only one left who can help your child. You can get the job done. You can pull through. (Even if you hear scratching and moaning at the door.)

10 Steps to Giving Instructions

When giving a child instructions, it is a good idea to repeat them multiple times and ask for confirmation of understanding. 

20150930_170321
Taking instructions on what to do when we see a car.

I teach English as a Second Language (ESL) at a local community college. Students will often say they understand instructions when they really did not. It is a normal thing a person does when operating in a new language. You need confirmation that they understand your instructions for the next activity or nothing will happen. The first step is to repeat requests three times. A person may only pick up on parts of the sentence the first time. The iterations provide a chance to put it all together. For example:

“Please take out a piece of paper and write your name at the top.” (Repeat)

Now ask the class: “What are you going to do?” Take out a piece of paper.

Follow up: “Yes. What will you do next?” Write my name at the top. 

Without taking this extra step to ask for confirmation you may have a class sitting quietly not knowing what to do. In my experience, this also works well with a toddler.

I have found success giving our child instructions with repetition and confirmation.

A great example of this is staying out of the street. I was digging weeds in the front yard and 2-year-old Boogie was walking in circles on a path. I could see that she wanted to go out in the street to make a loop over to where I was.

Here is an example of repetition and confirmation in 10 steps:

  1. Give the instruction using Stop, Look, Listen: “Stop. Look at daddy. Listen to me: stay in the yard.”
  2. Reinforce: “Boogie, stay in the yard. Stay out of the street.” (Repeat slowly 3 times)
  3. Ask open question: “What will you do?” Stay in yard (or some other form of confirmation.)
  4. Reinforce: “That’s right, stay in the yard.”
  5. Ask again: “What are you going to do?” Stay in yard. 
  6. Celebrate understanding: “Yes! High five.”
  7. You can add in an optional conditional: “If you go into the street, we are going inside.”
  8. Ask for confirmation: “If you go into the street, what will happen?” Go inside. 
  9. Reinforce: “That’s right, we will go inside.”
  10. Close with the full instruction: “Stay in the yard, honey. If you go in the street, we will go inside”.

Sometimes she makes a choice to test the boundaries, but it is not for a lack of understanding. When she doesn’t follow instructions I can calmly take her inside with the comfort that she knew what she was doing. This presents another time to practice repetition and confirmation, “Why are we going inside?” Me street. “What will you do next time?” Stay in yard.

Learning a language is so hard. Be sure to use step 6 as often as possible. Celebrate understanding every chance you get. This list may also look exhausting on paper. Trust me, though, once you get in the habit of this process it will not only work but also be fun.

 

“Fair Game” Playground Parenting

How you approach an unattended toy on the playground can say a lot about your parenting style. 

20150817_172143
At the park with our community toys.

You find toy on the playground that your child wants to play with that has no clear owner. What do you do?

  1. Allow your child to play with it.
  2. Look around. Find the owner and ask if you can play with it.
  3. Tell your child she can’t play with it because it is not hers.

If you read this blog you can probably guess that we at Tinkerbell Road believe in the first response. There are benefits to treating toys on the playground as fair game for both children and parents.

Quick Overview of “Fair Game”

Any toy brought to the park is fair game when unattended. If your child doesn’t want others to play with it, he or she shouldn’t bring it to the park. The owner of the toy can come back and request to play with it, but it is not cool for the owner to take it back but then go play with something else leaving the toy alone again. Toys parked off the playground are not fair game. This primarily applies to vehicles like scooters, trikes, and bikes used to get to the playground. If you brought a truck and stash it under a tree thinking it will be left alone you might be surprised at who will find it. Books are generally considered not fair game. In our experience, books require a level of permission that left-alone trucks or other small toys do not.

Here are three benefits to fair game toy use on the playground:

1. Children learn the concept of community. 

You can have the conversation ahead of time about what taking a toy to the park means. This is a rich topic that delves into concepts of possession, sharing, and ultimately what is personal and community space. Our culture has a strong bent towards possession and property rights. The playground can be a great place to practice the idea of community and the benefits from social capital, or the idea that we can find benefit from something that someone else has without needing to possess it ourselves. What we really want is for a child to get pleasure out of seeing someone else enjoy something he or she owns. This is the spirit of community that can be a foundation for a life of rewarding relationships.

2. Children can practice negotiating with others.

This philosophy of fair game allows for more interaction than answers 2 and 3 to the quiz above. If the toys stick with the owner we miss out on so many learning opportunities. The playground is a place where kids of all ages are open to play together. They are not in a grade or other similar age class. This creates some interesting dynamics when a five year old has to communicate and bargain with a two year old on the use of his toy. A good practice that comes out of this for the older kids is mentoring and leadership. As a rule, they have to give in because they are older and better understand what is going on. Your more eager leader can take on the role of managing turn taking for the group. For the younger ones, they can learn how to get what they want by being nice and patiently waiting for a turn. If all else fails the older children have a quick introduction to what community space means and the implications of bringing a toy into it.

3. Fair Game is the easiest way to manage toy use on the playground. 

I will agree that the approach of look around and ask is not bad. The problem here is that it is time consuming and confusing. I have seen many parents find the toy we leave for others to play with fighting off their kid asking “whose is this?” A person could spend hours asking around for the owner. We parents don’t have time for this. Let’s agree that toys are open and parents can relax (until we have to step in and help with negotiating use!)

If you choose number three and force your kid to stay away you will more than likely have a difficult tantrum on your hands. It is like taking a kid to a candy store and saying no to candy. It isn’t fair to bring a fun toy to the park where anyone can touch it and say that no one else can play with it. Keep that toy at home if you or your child don’t want to open it to the community.

Abiding by the third philosophy usually comes hand in hand with “don’t go up the slide” or “use the equipment only as it is intended” or “stay out of the puddles.” The point isn’t to judge but to simply state the facts: your child and my child will be raised with a different set of values. A community toy on the playground can be a good indicator, actually, to help parents know a bit about each other early on and find like minded parents.