Incomplete Thoughts About Raising a Daughter

Incomplete Thoughts About Raising a Daughter

I’ve been meaning to write this post for forever, and it occurred to me that I’d probably be refactoring and making adjustments to my approach on raising my daughter from now until she’s well and truly independent. I figured that waiting until I’d figured that all out wasn’t worth the 15 year plus delay. So I’ll just put these ideas down as I have them now, as I’ve already shared them with a few other fretting dads with daughters, on edge about their girls coming of age in 7 or so years and wondering how to deal with suitors and other dad fears. I’ll present this as I worked it out in my head.

First was addressing the visceral fears, and accepting them. No, I really don’t want my daughter to grow up and to meet boys and god forbid have sex with them. At least, that’s the self-centered emotional state. To be more accurate, I don’t want to deal with the emotions that will come from those phases of her life, which make me dread the events themselves, but you’d never hear me saying I don’t want her to grow up and live her own fulfilling life. I put my entire life on hold for my children, I took a different path. Rather than work our asses off into our thirties and then have children in the house until we were collecting social security, we decided to have kids sooner and then tear into our careers after they left. So I’m as motivated as any parent for the children to grow up and leave. Yet, even with the internal inconsistency, the universal dread of fathers remains, and it has to be dealt with in a healthy way. I thought about the options, I tried to pin down the components of that fear. After all, I wasn’t fearful about ruining Emily’s life when I pursued her. Conversely, all of my daughter’s pursuers, as imaginary as they are right now, are imagined with contempt and suspicion. Perhaps that’s because I know that there’s only one motive I can count on from those suitors, no matter which other motives they may have, good or bad. That’s when it hit me. That’s what I’m dreading. What if she makes bad choices? There’s no way I’m going to let her wither on the vine if she does you know?

So the internal conversation shifts. How do I maximize my daughter’s chances of making good choices? I started considering the common options, and discarding the bad ones. I certainly knew some things that just don’t work. Sheltering is a big no-no. Wrap your kids in bubble wrap and they never grow up. This is the method of people who, having their dread of the future, simply and futilely try to prevent it. When your teenager hits their rebellious phase, what exactly is it they’re going to be rebelling against? Something to keep in mind. Sheltered girls seem to get into trouble, for two reasons that conspire together to form tragedy. The first is ignorance. Ignorance of sexuality, sexual health, anatomy, and the consequences of sex. These are the girls that fall for ‘just the tip’ and the pullout method for birth control. They’re naive and that’s bad enough on their own, but it’s made worse by the fact that naivety attracts the very people predisposed to take advantage of it. Ignorance also leaves a person ill equipped to resist peer pressure. Secondly, the shelter method can and often does produce an impulse to go taste forbidden fruit, usually indiscriminately, and that indiscretion is specifically what we’re trying to avoid when it comes right down to it. These two combine, the eagerness to seek the forbidden thing, and the ignorance of its dangers, to make for a really sad ending.

I briefly considered the other extreme, very early education. It’s something I’d seen talked about in passing, but the more I thought about it the less it made sense to me personally. At this age, kids are just absolutely curious about everything, and they don’t make good decisions. First of all, I’m a firm believer in letting your children enjoy their time as children for as long as is healthy. Second, simply knowing about it could be a motivator for premature and ill-considered exploration. Three yearolds aren’t exactly good at things like delayed gratification, curiosity deferment, or taking into account the consequences of actions. So all the curiosity would penetrate, but none of the warnings would, is what I considered a very likely outcome.

So what other methods are available? How do we encourage our daughters to grow without throwing them to the wolves? I watched my three yearold. I took in her personality, which I was always familiar with, but I really sat down and watched it, and I noticed a few things. Aside from being utterly adorable, smart, and especially precocious, she’s quite picky. Heh, now there’s an idea, what if she was as picky with her boys as she was with her food? That’d be nice. She’s also somewhat athletic. She loves climbing and shamed her much older brother into going up a faux rock wall because she was going to do it first. I got this image in my head of a strong athletic woman that didn’t take crap. That’s when it hit me. Confidence.

I figured the best thing I could do for my daughter was build up her sense of self-worth. Spend time with her, be a father figure, be a role model. No really think about those words, role model. I am her model not just for what a father should be but also for what a husband should be, right now I’m the only one she knows. I’m pretty sure Emily would tell you that while I’m not perfect, because who is, I’m already a pretty darn good role model as a husband. But my daughter doesn’t really see even half of those moments, I didn’t think osmosis was good enough. So I started setting aside a little time once in a while to take her on little dates. That reminds me, we’re a bit over due. I already do this with my son, that is, I make one on one time for him away from his mother and his siblings to just spend a bit of time together and learn how I tic. That relationship comes a little more natural, it’s not a conscious thing. All I have to do around my son is do dad stuff, it’s a direct relationship, I’m a man and that’s what he’s wanting to grow up to be, simple, intuitive. What I didn’t realize was it was just as simple with my daughter, I just hadn’t considered my status as a role model. Simple, just less intuitive.

So I took her on a date, and what a nice time that was. We went for ice cream and I took her to the new age store to pick out a pretty rock to display in her room. She set her eyes on a nice gypsum sphere and she admires it regularly. We’ve been on a few more since, and she’s been increasingly sweet on me, which, that’s just kryptonite, it’s something I can’t explain to anyone without a daughter. There’s a few things going on here that I think are going to be very positive for her long term. One, I’m setting a positive relationship as our base state, which helps counterbalance the hard-to-do but absolutely necessary regimen of my role as a disciplinary figure, this is going to help me convince her to confide in me later, so I know when she gets into trouble before that spirals out of control into worse trouble. Second, it’s helping her sense of self-worth to get dedicated one on one time. Third, I’m teaching her the standards by which she should expect to be treated by men through my behavior. Fourth, I’m decoupling the idea of having a good time on a date with a sexual payoff, and I think you’d be surprised how entwined those concepts have become—consider what tinder has done to the expectation of dates.

I’ve been enjoying employing this method, which I’m hoping accomplishes my goals in raising my daughter, but only time will tell. To make that more clear, here’s what I’m hoping I’ll accomplish in the long run. I’d like to foster her sense of self worth, which will hopefully allow me to explain the consequences of sex without seeming adversarial or sex negative—this is a sex positive household after all. It’s not the idea of sex I want my daughter to devalue, it’s that I want her to value herself highly enough to be in charge of her sexuality rather than carried by it. I’d like her to be able to be mature enough to acknowledge her desires as healthy so that she can process them in a way that allows her to make good decisions about who she shares that with, and I want her to feel like she can confide in me and her mother without fearing the consequences more than continuing down a bad path, because ultimately it is her decision making skills I’m going to have to trust and rely on later on. I can’t do it for her. On that note, it’s also important to make sure to pass on skills that increase her independence; from how to get and hold down a job, cooking, financial skills, and employable skills, one of the easiest ways to end up in a bad situation is to be dependent on someone else for your care and contribute to a sense of inability to walk away, and that goes for sons and daughters alike. The ability to walk away is the strongest position of negotiation. Competence and confidence surely is the best defense, therefore.

I’ve shared these thoughts with other concerned fathers, and though they experience the same apprehension and dread as I do about witnessing the future, they like the idea of my method. After all, they all know too, from experience, how inadequate alternate methods were when they were doing the chasing. They also remember how scary and intimidating the collected and confident girls were. Ultimately, it’s not me I want potential suitors to fear for disrespecting my daughter, it’s her. There, yeah, I think that’s the point of this method summed in a sentence. As I said before, these thoughts don’t really feel complete yet, and perhaps they’ll change over time, but until then, that’s my current thinking. ‘Til next time.

Home Economics – Spring Cleaning Edition

Home Economics – Spring Cleaning Edition

I was having an interaction earlier today with some online strangers, like ya do. Sometimes I forget that while I’m hardly ever the oldest person in the room, I’m getting up there when it comes to hanging out in online spaces, especially those focused around gaming. Home ec. was on its way out when I was a kid. We still had it, I still had to take it, but everyone knew the days for that course were numbered. At the time that just seemed like progress? I dunno, the conventional wisdom seemed to be it had little to teach people. STEM STEM STEM. We didn’t call it that back then but the trend was already started. Remove all real life courses from primary and secondary school because really, what is school for except to prepare every single child for college regardless of the likelihood they will ever step foot in one? So I make a reference to home ec. in this online space and suddenly I’m flooded with questions about what the heck that is. This was after a young adult, and I do mean above 18 years old adult, openly asked what it was you were supposed to put in a dishwasher if not dawn liquid dish soap?

Parents, are you teaching basic life skills to your children? I know it’s irritating sometimes and I know that they slow you down a lot when they’re “helping”, but do you really want your kid to be the one that’s somehow made it into the adult world without knowing how to operate a washing machine? I don’t mean to pick on the dude, it’s far from the most stunningly how-do-you-not-know-that question about house life ever thrown my way, but it is spring cleaning time and it reminded me of the seemingly epidemic lack of basic home skills in today’s young adults. Don’t need to know how to operate a dish washer if you don’t know how to cook the food that soils dishes.

Remind yourself this spring season to teach your kids something about basic home skills, even if it’s just a few at a time. Remember, you have a few years to go over this stuff. I’m not asking you to teach your 8 year old how to do your gutters for you, but you should at least be introducing them to the basic ideas. I think it’s striking in this burgeoning creators economy that adding home ec. back to schools isn’t a more urgent conversation. Production is getting more and more decentralized as 3d printers and kitchen shelf sized cnc mills fill more homes. Platforms like Etsy allow the things made from home production to be sold easily to wherever you feel like shipping to, and yet we are teaching our kids, at least in the context of schools, fewer and fewer skills related to home production and even finance. Now, I could hem and haw about how that’s always ultimately been a parents responsibility, but I can’t deny that without those classes this up and coming generation seems especially clueless about how basic operations of living work. Is that a bad coincidence? I don’t really know, and I’m not going to pretend to know, placing blame is beyond the scope of this blog, but this job can’t be expected to be outsourced anymore folks, you are solely responsible for ensuring your kid doesn’t burn their apartment down in a week after moving out. Oh, by the way, the average move out age is over 24 now, so you have plenty of time to correct this if your Jr. year high-schooler still doesn’t know ;).

Perhaps you feel barely competent in areas like cooking and cleaning, that’s okay. You’d be amazed what you can learn online. YouTube hasn’t been for just cat videos in a long long time, and there are awesome DIY subreddits for just about anything. Really young youngsters can start with the super basics, like how things in the cleaning cabinet will make them very sick if they drink them, or the fact that yes, eventually the base boards do get cleaned. A really great activity that’s fun if you let go of the sense of urgency is when a room needs repainting. Enjoy this time with your children and if it takes a week to do a 20×20 it takes a week to do a 20×20. In the mean time, break down how much it cost to buy that paint, the canvas spill guard, let them in on the whole process, take them to the hardware store—don’t pretend you aren’t looking at things you don’t need while you’re there either, verbalize all the home improvement fantasies you’re having while you’re there.

Older children can help you with stuff like drywall repair. Don’t know the first thing about drywall repair? Learn with them! It’s time for that know-it-all mask to come off with the older kids. Make mistakes together. Show them that being an adult is as full of mistakes as any other point in their lives and that they’ll never reach the point of knowing everything that you’ve been projecting at them since they were two. Instant obedience at a young age is a safety issue—they don’t need to get introspective when you’re telling them to freeze because they’re about to charge the wrong way in a parking lot—but eventually they have to understand that heading into unknown territory is something adults have to do regularly, or they won’t grow up. Rebellious teenagers might be interested in the idea of making their light switch different from the rest of the decor, the trade off is they have to do it. On that note it might be a good idea to teach them what a breaker/fuse box is for.

It’s time to get that oven deep cleaned, and to teach oven safety, and also how to make that killer cookie recipe they like when you’re done (you have one of those right?). A lot of these can be applied whether you own or rent but we can also cross into home owner territory like lawn care. Do they have a favorite spring flower for the flower bed? Would they like to pick one? What’s that mulch for anyway? What is mulch? Time to cut that grass, but also learn how to properly care for a 2-stroke engine, or properly store a lithium ion battery pack, maybe you have both. Our chainsaw is gas powered for instance, because it’s the thing we’re most likely to need when the power is out in hurricane alley, everything else is electric because it’s a luxury when the power is out. Oh hey, that’s a good one, teach them the thought process for decisions like that and how local weather affects them.

I could go on about specific examples butt the main point here is that while you’re in the middle of the season where you’ll be getting down deep and dirty with your home the most, don’t forget to include the kids in the experience in ways that will help them grow into functioning adults later on in life. It can be hard to convince yourself that you are allowed to slow down that much, but it will pay off in the long run.

Activities for Bored Children

Activities for Bored Children

photo by: Ricardo Gomez Angel

I feel like I should have gotten to this one before snow season came to a close, but to be honest it would have slipped my mind completely were it not for the suggestion of a reader—also it doesn’t really snow here ever. That’s alright, we get our turn soon. We’ve got a veritable monsoon season coming up and that’s going to make it hard to get outdoors; stuck inside moments happen year round anyway, bonus points if the power is out. You’ll be bored, the kids will be trapped indoors, and you may be thinking about all the stuff you could be getting away with doing if they weren’t busy bouncing off the walls and getting into everything. So what do you do to avoid going crazy in these situations?

First, I suggest making sure your situation isn’t self-inflicted. I’ve caught myself plenty of times lamenting the fact that I was stuck in the house with the kids when it was sunny outside. Sure it was hotter than I wanted it to be, but it was about as safe to leave the house as it could ever get. This wasn’t a tornado warning or being flooded in or snowed in. I was just so bored I was making myself even more bored. Check yourself first for situations you are in control of. That being said let’s move on to our boredom toolbox.

If you are genuinely stuck inside, the particulars of your situation are going to affect whether or not a certain suggestion applies to you. For instance, we’re going to talk about baking a little bit and those of you with gas stoves can do this when the lights are out. Electric stove owners cannot, at least, unless you’re on some sort of heavy duty back-up power. See what I mean? The small details matter, I will be doing my best to cover a lot of bases but I can’t possibly cover them all.

So we’ll start with the classic inclement weather scenario. It’s raining or snowing or freezing, and it’s not an immediate danger to the family but getting out onto the road would probably be a less than ideal scenario. In situations like these there are many things to fall back on, and we’ll get to a few, but my favorite by far is passing down skill sets to the little ones in fun ways. Perhaps the easiest example of this, and one perhaps most of us can identify with, is baking cookies. Who’s not interested in cookies?! Depending on their age, you may have to limit their involvement, but even our three year-old is game for standing on a foot stool to watch us mix the batter and is definitely a good helper when it comes time to licking the cookie dough off of utensils prior to their disposal. It’s also a great way to just get them used to the idea of cooking, teaching oven safety, and if they get interested in actually making a batch themselves later on they’ll already be familiar with the process enough that you’ll be able to focus on the fun bits. Do you have a hobby that can be done indoors? Do you find yourself wishing you had the time to share that with your children but can’t seem to find it? Think about it the next time the weather keeps you cooped up.

Staying on the inclement weather kick, sometimes you really do just need a good Netflix marathon. I like to use this in situations where the weather seems scarier than it is—lots of lightning or above average winds for instance. Meet noise with noise. When I was growing up this wasn’t always a reliable option, and many are still in that boat. We had broadcast television and lightning storms tended to knock that out. We did however have a stereo that worked, and when the lights managed to stay on putting on a classic vinyl or two suited just fine. Be flexible, suggesting a Netflix marathon doesn’t mean you can’t go to your DVD or Blu-Ray library if you have one—just make some noise to lessen that thunderclap or that wind howl.

For those of us with an open air porch or similar structure I also find it’s nice to just arrange some chairs—maybe get some rockers for this—and just sit and enjoy the sounds for a few minutes. Strike up a conversation. It’s a good way to make up for lost time at the dinner table too. Some quiet face-to-face time may just be something you’re behind on.

Board(bored) games come in two distinct varieties in my experience. The first type has you interacting primarily with the people playing the game. The second type generally has you interacting with the board itself, avoid those. That’ll be games like some classic dominos, Trouble, Candy Land and Mankala. The first type is preferable, as it engages entertaining interactions. That’ll be stuff like Scrabble, Apples to Apples, Jenga, or Pictionairy. There are some type 1 games I’d avoid though, as they easily turn into drudgery, like Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit. Curate your board games carefully to fit your family or they will never leave the shelf, especially when they need to, like say in a power outage. On that note, simulate power outages and remove electronics from the family routine now and then. You should have some semi-regular periods where there’s no TV, Phone, Internet, etc, otherwise you’ll never sit down to a table top game and you won’t even know if you like what you have.

Sometimes the mandatory indoors period is going to drag on for a while. In these cases your entertainment options may not help at all because the restlessness is being caused by a lack of physical exertion. Get your kids in the habit of exercising indoors so they’ll be able to burn that energy off when they can’t go outside. Children need to physically move around and exert themselves regularly or they become restless and can act out. I find yoga actually tends to keep kids entertained. The type of exercise matters, hardcore workouts can intimidate them and are typically low on fun quotient.

These are just a few of the basic tools we keep around for when we can’t leave the house, but they cover some basic scenarios and needs. Think about the things you like to do indoors but never seem to have time for, think about how prepared you are to entertain yourselves during a power outage too. Oh, and one last tip, do not neglect to get out of the house the moment you are able. It’s really good to reset the clock on cabin fever as soon as possible.

Do you have strategies for staving off cabin fever or passing the time on rainy days that I didn’t cover? Let us know in the comments!

Card Night

Card Night

photo by: Sophie Elvis

Ah card night, we’re both still recovering from it. Once every few weekends or so we invite a couple of our friends over for adult fun and drinks. Usually the evening gets started early, the children are awake, and we start with something innocent like talking about bread baking, sculpting clay, various other hobbies, work, life in general. Sometimes we even perform these hobbies rather than talk about them—the most popular of which being the baking and the macarons in particular. After the kids shuffle to bed our friends break out their massive, complete, Cards Against Humanity collection, drinks are made, and we get down to it. This time we bit off more than we could chew, both celebrating St. Patrick’s day a little too hard and a little too early. But hey, it’s on a Sunday and I don’t get hangovers off, especially this upcoming week. It is crunch time.

So what’s the point of bringing all this up, why am I telling you all this? Well, for many of you this may be a familiar scene and for others not so much. The real point here is to highlight one of the ways we squeeze in some much needed adult time for a stay-at-home mother of three, who doesn’t get any days off unless I take some PTO. Today we’re switch hitting as we wait for the medicine to take the edge off our severe headaches and try to help each other stave off being overwhelmed by the boundless energy of our children. Emily doesn’t get a whole lot of time to have honest adult conversations with other adults. Her world is children, talking to children, teaching children, changing diapers, all that stuff. It’s such a relief and release for her to talk about something other than Mario, Mega Man, Legos, My Little Pony, family-portraits-as-spiders, mud cakes, an on it goes. Some of these things are genuinely cute, like the aforementioned way that our daughter draws us as a family of spiders, but engaging adult conversation they are not.

Emily likes talking about investment, property, dreams of a blueberry apiary, the coffee shop she’d like to start in the future, her quilting, her baking, her massive fantasy sex toy collection, all the things that help remind her that she exists beyond the identity of her motherhood. It’s not a situation that comes every day, as much as we’d like that to be the case. There’s other adult things that come first like the bills, scheduling contractors for that hurricane Michael damage that still isn’t quite done being fixed, tax returns, keeping tabs on the school, a bath, and those other random little adult emergencies that just never seem to stop. Staying on top of things.

That’s not to say I don’t get my fair share of the hectic household but I have this little trick see. I get to go to work. I get my fill of adults and adulting five days a week for between nine and ten hours. I help around the house whenever I can and with whatever I can—actually if I do it too much Emily gets a bit annoyed with me—but it doesn’t really bring Emily the adult interactions and the friend time she craves.

Card night is how we get a big dose of that adult time. Emily gets to stretch her legs and go beyond her motherhood. She gets to talk dirty, win at things, give me what’s coming to me, give as much as she gets, and just let loose for a little bit. During our normal day-to-day, Emily will sometimes exclaim, “I need an adult!”. On card night Emily gets to say, “I am an adult.”

Do you have a spouse that is starved for adult time? Are you that spouse? What is it that you do to get your time with friends and get time away from child duty?

Wakfu – The Best Children’s Show You’ve Probably Not Seen

Wakfu – The Best Children’s Show You’ve Probably Not Seen

A good children’s program is a more important part of household dynamic than you might think. Children can cause enough discord without you also hating the things they watch. Unfortunately children’s programming frequently ranks as the cheapest, ill thought out, cash-in garbage there is. It’s funny how we use our children as a precious resource to justify giving in to any demands made by teachers unions but accept as a matter of course that modern programming would do well to live up to the standards of Thomas and Friends, you know back before they were CGI animated. A children’s show that is not just tolerable, but that the parents enjoy watching with their children is rarer than it ought to be.

That takes us to an entertainment company in France called Ankama. They’re known for an MMORPG called Dofus and Wakfu is an animated program based on it. Typically, this is the last sort of situation you’d expect anything worth watching to come out of. So just how enjoyable is Wakfu anyway? Well, let’s put it this way, the show being quite old was shown to me by my at-the-time 24 yearold roommate because he enjoyed it thoroughly. You see he was a fan of Japanese anime and Wakfu managed to penetrate that fandom to a certain extent. Fan-made subtitles were done to translate it out of French, and in the last couple of years it’s received an official English translation on Netflix. It got there through a kickstarter fundraiser to fund the translation. Yeah, this show was good enough that a kickstarter campaign actually worked and a product came out of it.

I’ve watched Wakfu’s first season with my children at least six times now (I really recommend leaving it to the first season and we’ll get to that later). It’s that enjoyable. The main villian is convincing and genuinely dangerous. Encounters with him go badly, often in ways that last most of or the whole way through the ending of the first season, his motivations are relatable, and his goals are clear. Silver screen villains rarely get the formula as correct as this. Character flaws of the protagonists often result in permanent consequences for the group and they become such trouble that they have to overcome those flaws and grow to proceed. One of the main characters literally starts the show unable to control his demons, that remains a serious issue for most of the first season. The show can get very serious, but it doesn’t stay that way long enough to be detrimental, nor does it stick to the innocuous for too long. Wakfu gets extra points from me for being brave with consequences for bad decisions. This isn’t one of those shows where the reset button gets hit at the end of every episode. There are a lot of shows for adults that can’t seem to get over that trap. It takes most of the first season for the narrative arc to really find its footing, and prior to that the pacing can seem a bit off, but once it hits that stride mid season it just does not let up for a moment and the experience is immensely enjoyable.

The voice acting by the French cast is competent, energetic, and expressive. The English cast, not so much. Depending on the age of your kids you may have to bear with it, but I used it as a motivator to get them reading faster. That’s something you’ll have to feel out but use the original audio if at all possible. Though not as strong a recommendation, I also don’t recommend going past season one, not just because season one is the strongest season but because season two ruins one of the best endings in any children’s show ever. Season one, on it’s own, is simply a better story. I’d say, as a target, the optimal age group for this show is 9-14, most of the cast is dealing with the troubles of early adolescence. Between finding your nerve, liking who you see in the mirror, dropping your facade, learning how to take risks, and of course love, the show deals with many issues in that age group without using kid gloves, and I absolutely love the lack of coddling. I don’t know if this show represents French television well, but if it does they are worlds ahead of the United States in figuring out that treating your children like infants will cause them to stay that way.

If you can’t tell by now, or by the title, I really do adore this show, and you should do yourself a favor and stop suffering through dreadful children’s television and watch Wakfu instead. It’s just that good, you may end up enjoying it as much as they do.

Parental Bonds

I don’t always manage to stay on topic here. Most of the content is supposed to be about relationships, specifically marriages, from the point of engagement onward. I also would like to focus on things you’re not typically hearing or prepared for. Today I’m going to deviate from that just slightly, and on purpose. We’re going to talk about something you’re probably sick of hearing about, but you’re simply not prepared for, at least if it hasn’t happened yet.

Your first child.

I’m sure you’ve heard it from your parents. I’m sure, long before you decided to get married, you’ve played out the scene where one or both of your parents throws their hands up in exasperation and exclaims some permutation of the following: “When you have kids you’ll understand.”

Well, they’re right, it’s one of the many things your parents were right about. We all go through those face-palm light bulb moments. My parents didn’t spend so many words on it, perhaps they thought an explanation would be wasted, or impossible. Impossible, probably, but not wasted. I’m going to attempt, I’m going to do the best I can to convey just how powerful that love can be. I’m sure, like many before me, I’ll fail to exhaust all the words necessary to convey the meaning. I’m sure the words sufficient to do so do not quite exist. I’m just going to do my best.

When I decided to marry Emily we had the strongest romantic bond I had ever felt in my life. I had a separate bond with my parents and siblings that felt on par, but it sure wasn’t romantic and Emily came slightly ahead anyway. I didn’t think there was a situation that was likely to happen where I would choose say, my parents, over Emily, but I could imagine them if I tried hard enough. When Emily became pregnant with our first child, that immediately changed. Emily was now unequivocally first, above and beyond the bonds of siblings or parents, not even on the same playing field. If we were in some impossible SAW movie scenario and it was push my mom into a wood chipper or lose Emily it would be the wood chipper no problem. It would suck, as understated as using that word there is, but it wouldn’t be a difficult decision. Hell, mom would probably ask me to push her into the wood chipper, but she would have had the advantage of knowing the love of a child already. It’s a little graphic, and you might think I’m spending a little too much time on that already, but there’s a point to it. On other fronts, my aggression increased. My eyes were wide open and everyone was a potential threat. That hardly ever manifested itself anywhere but my heart rate, but even the act of Emily driving herself to work became nerve racking. I wanted, selfishly, to ensure that if anything happened to her that it was either unpreventable or my fault. I anticipated each day the grief that would befall me if something happened to Emily that I could have prevented had I been there.

Sound a bit obsessive? Good, because that’s what was going on. Her safety became an obsession of Don Quixote proportions that took an extraordinary amount of will power to prevent from manifesting into daily actions. Oddly enough this obsession started self-soothing as time went on and the baby bump was getting bigger. Not until the “any day now” phase did that feeling rear its head again.

Then it happened. I watched our first child come into the world. I’ll clarify this right now. I can only write this from a father’s perspective. I can’t under any circumstances imagine that Emily doesn’t experience these feelings on a more powerful level, it’s impossible to compare however, so I won’t. I swear with everything I have I could feel my brain chemistry changing on the spot. I was never the same again. I started noticing changes in my behavior and mood almost immediately.

I noticed that sad news stories involving children and particularly murders hit me like a ton of bricks rather than the just-another-bit-of-info that they were before. I thought parents whom’s children died of neglect were unbelievably incompetent before. I abjectly hated them now, I actively wished for their deaths. Prior to this, I’d go to the seedy underbelly of the internet on occasion and take some morbid satisfaction in some gore threads. I don’t enjoy those anymore—I can’t even stomach them. I don’t know if something was just fundamentally broken with my empathy back then, but it was fully armed and operational now.

I recall, not long after the event, Emily and I were up late watching a very old episode of Deadliest Catch. It was during the two or so weeks I had off after the birth—I’m lucky to work for a place that affords me such luxuries. An episode like this wouldn’t have bothered me before, despite being the eldest of four and the youngest indeed being a little sister, but one of the fishermen got news that his little sister had cancer, or had succumbed to it, I forget which, it doesn’t much matter, I bawled. It came from absolutely nowhere, I was just fine and then I wasn’t.

During the first several months I would wake up in the middle of the night, not because of crying or anything, but because I was afraid my child had stopped breathing and I felt the urge to check. That remained constant with each subsequent child. I was a tosser and turner prior to my first born. Emily decided she wanted to co-sleep. I instantly and immediately stopped tossing and turning in my sleep, I lay mostly still now. Did I mention the terror of SIDS and the need to make sure my child was still alive in the middle of the night, and didn’t die for literally no understood reason?

I know a mother whom’s child did die in the middle of the night, inexplicably. You hold your children tighter when you get that news. I think the absolute worst thing was when a friend of mine passed away suddenly as a result of a seizure. I have to impress this, I have to make this absolutely crystal. Losing my friend was not as painful as imagining, and witnessing, the grief of a father that’s outlived his son. I get emotional just typing that out. Losing an infant is immensely terrible, but I have to be honest, I think losing a young man or woman in their prime is that much worse. You know SIDS is a thing, you know that’s a possibility, a terrible and tragic possibility, you are hyper aware of their frailty in that stage of life, but losing someone in their mid-twenties to a seizure, it just doesn’t compute.

Realizing that the love of your life, isn’t. That was an eye opener. Here you have this beautiful, loving wife worthy of all your adoration and you think that nothing will ever top that. You’re wrong. My wife had become above my parents, now she was the second banana. Between her and any one of my children, Emily gets the wood chipper. She feels the same way about me, and neither of us feel a hint of guilt about it. If you’re married now, but don’t have children, I really want you to take a second and try to imagine loving someone else enough that condemning your spouse to death is even an option.

That aggression I mentioned before when Emily was pregnant? Multiply that a few times. I had never before seen Emily get short or aggressive with anyone. Beware parents with young children, they’re not to be messed with, you just don’t understand what that chemical cocktail can do until it happens to you. There’s a reason society frowns on messing with other parents kids. You’d be surprised just how much spine and rage you can find within yourself when you feel they’ve been mistreated, or even that they’re about to be. Maybe you’ve encountered some really meek parents before, granted. Don’t press your luck, you’re going to run into something entirely different someday if you do. I can’t express that enough. Playing that game is dangerous, physically dangerous. Socializing your kids isn’t just about them getting along with other children, the parents of the other children are threats too. Seeing your child overtly physically mistreated, especially by a significantly larger kid, is enough to make you forget that you aren’t supposed to come at children with the intention of seriously hurting them. Do not let your kid turn into that if you value their safety. Ignore that if you want, think that extreme if you want, it kinda is, but it’s also the truth, you don’t know rage like that until you do. Don’t let it surprise you.

How could it be any other way? Who else would you endure that many sleepless nights for? Not your spouse I can tell you that much. Your children are utterly dependent on you. They’re not just dependent on you for their nutrition or their physical safety, neither of which do they make easy, they’re dependent on you for emotional support too. Lack of love and touch can literally be fatal to an infant. So not only do you need to change every diaper, never miss a meal, deprive yourself of sleep, you’ve got to do it while totally in love with them. Willingly and lovingly exploited. That’s the bond with a child. I hope I even got a tenth as far with that as I needed to.

Modern Education – A Few Major Gripes

Modern Education – A Few Major Gripes

I’ve been involved in the education industry for a fair portion of my life, and no, I don’t mean as a student. I think about the only thing I haven’t done in the field of education is educate, ironically enough. My mother was an educator for the entirety of my K-12 experience, and due to living out of county and the transportation issues that entails I ended up putting a lot of volunteer work in her classroom. I got into the field of IT primarily because I was de facto tech support for the classroom computer, which as a concept was newfangled on its own at the time. But I also dealt with a lot of the drudgery. Lemme tell ya if you wanna piss off an educator make them move classrooms every. single. year. Moving into our second home involved less packing.

Anyway, fast forward a few dead end jobs and my early steps into the IT field and I ended up in a support role for classroom technology at a major public university. Man, I miss that job. It simply didn’t pay enough or provide the necessary upward mobility to stay. We didn’t just fix computers there, we actively worked on improving pedagogical experiences for the instructors and through that the experience for the students. I’m still proud of some of the systems I implemented in my time there and if the pay were right I’d go back tomorrow. I’ve saved individual classes, made entire semesters better, and made things possible for instructors that they hadn’t been able to do before, and those are their words. I got to chat with a lot of really top notch folks about what was and what wasn’t working in their classrooms, and one of my colleagues had an advanced degree in instructional design and I loved picking his brain too. Now I’m tech support for our distance learning unit and there’s definitely some nice, and scary, things going on there as well.

So when my son started K-12 there were some things I knew going in. One, that putting a projector in every classroom was superfluous tickbox checking for the people selling the school, whether that’s county administrators or whoever is vested in things appearing better than they are. You know what else that does? It blows the AAP recommendations for screen time out of the water, which we’ve touched on before in this blog. Would you be mad if you learned your kid was getting 4x his recommended daily sodium intake just from his school lunch (they might be you should check)? Well that’s what the tech classrooms do with screen time, roughly. They also let instructors abdicate their responsibilities as teachers. I find it’s rare to give an educator the ability to splatter YouTube on the screen and have them not take it. More importantly, the pedagogical efficacy of such implementations is weakly supported at best. If you were told that your student was spending most his days watching YouTube you might insist that you just do that at home, but this is what’s happening in K-12 schools all across the country, hell it’s being promoted!

We’re also lowering physical activity requirements, even eliminating them. This goes for both structured and unstructured play and exercise. This is harmful to all children but is particularly harmful to young boys. Obesity is a major, maybe the, health epidemic of our time. We’re quick to shame anti-vaxxers and to turn our schools into glorified prisons to stave the threat of school shootings but it seems hardly anyone bats an eye at the road to obesity our public schools are putting our children on. It’s even worse for the boys, and girls of certain temperament. They get fidgety from being pent up so we put them on amphetamines to calm them down.

After we’re done zapping our childrens brains with too much screen time, enforcing a sedentary lifestyle on them, and pumping them up with amphetamines to hide the short term side effects of our school day we also tell them that vocational jobs are for the poor underclass and that it’s college or bust in a world of climbing unforgivable student loans, diploma mills full of trap degrees that will never pay for themselves, and a tradesmen shortage where electricians, plumbers, and welders, just to name a few, can climb to six figure jobs.

Our choices as parents to deal with these phenomenon are limited, but many are choosing to homeschool as they are met with administrators and school boards that are seemingly immune to reason. However, I do encourage you to try that route if you can, talking to administrators I mean. Get involved with instructors, support staff, school administrators, and county officials. Your kid is going to be in that system for at least 13 years, let administrators know in no uncertain terms they can look forward to a peaceful, or tumultuous decade of their lives with you on these matters, and that’s if you only have one child. If you have more remind them that they may be seeing you around for oh, 20 years, and they might wanna do something to make that relationship a peaceful one. If you decide to homeshcool instead, remember that the time commitment is no joke. The curriculum isn’t actually the hard part of homeschooling, the logistics are. Do your research, make a plan, weigh your options.

Have a comment or a question? Is there a topic you’d like discussed? Let me know through my contact page.

Sleep Training

You’ll find all sorts of resources out there on how to sleep train your baby. Everyone seems to have some sort of method but a few seem to rise to the top. We chose the cry it out method. I’m going to tell you now why we think this was the best choice for us and what you might expect.

I think this is by far the hardest method to do initially. It’s always hard to hear your baby cry. We spend most our waking moments as parents trying to avoid the crying. Hearing your child cry just penetrates on levels that I don’t think non-parents can truly ever understand.

But understand too that you are also suffering. Without sleep training your baby robs you of the rest you need to take care of the baby itself, and of your spouse and any other children you have, robs you of the sleep you need to maintain your career. In order to truly take care of your baby, and yourself, you need to get them sleep trained. Your baby needs to be in bed at regular hours, up out of bed at regular hours, without needing soothing from you so that you can do the same.

Your home life will improve. Your health will Improve. Your sex life will improve. You will take your life back in ways you weren’t even aware it was missing. But there will be some pain first, about a whole week of it on average.

Your baby is going to cry, especially on the first night. They’re going to flood with negative emotions and holler and scream-cry. You know the one I’m talking about, the crying that hurts extra. You may have to check them periodically (no sooner than every 30 minutes or so) for their diaper, as often they’ll angry poop, which makes them more uncomfortable and makes them cry harder. In time you’ll learn how much crying you should let them do before checking in on them, but start with a hard clock. Do not waiver on this clock. Easier said than done, I think that’s the most difficult and agonizing part of this entire process.

You will soon be rewarded however. By night 3 or 4 you should notice drastic increases in your baby’s ability to self soothe and you’ll start to feel control return to your life. After a week, you should start feeling in control of bed time again. Yes, this means even you co-sleepers, we were co-sleeping before we crib trained. Don’t feel bad if you have auditory hallucinations of crying every once in a while, that’s normal. You’ll start noticing, especially if you’re a stay at home mother, more time to actually work on chores, sleep, and even have sex, and your baby will even have a better mood and disposition when they’re awake because before your sleep train their rest isn’t so good either!

You should wait for between months 4-6 at the earliest to start sleep training, you will also have a more difficult time if you wait as long as we did (over a year), but trust us, it’s worth it. Take your life back, take your marriage back, get control back in your house, sleep train your baby.

Have a comment or a question? Is there a topic you’d like discussed? Let me know through my contact page.

Our Last Child – How We Knew

How many children is enough children? Now that’s a question that can cause a disagreement or two. When Emily and I met I wanted a very large family, she wanted just two children. Life has a funny way of flipping the script. After her second delivery—a painful ordeal that seemed so much worse than the first—I decided I didn’t want her to go through with that again. Emily decided she was hungry for another, go figure. I was happy to oblige of course, it was her body after all and who better than Emily to say what she could and couldn’t do again. So along came number three. Delivery was actually pretty easy as far as deliveries go and we were both feeling pretty good about that. It went so well in fact I recall Emily joking about how she could do a few more.

It didn’t take long however for the differences in raising our third child to assert themselves. Given our target audience, I feel the need to go into this next bit in some detail, a little “Explain it like I’m five”. If you deliver vaginally and everything goes great and perfect your doctor is going to put you on six weeks of no penetration. It only goes up from there. We were blessed with all three deliveries and we never got more than six weeks probation, but the third six weeks was by far the longest one for both of us. What seemed simple the first two times around required new rituals and assuring words the third time. We wanted each other terribly, it was agonizing. The first two weeks weren’t so bad, Emily didn’t even want to think about sex at that point, but even though she was hardly healed and was still having to wear pads for everyday bleeding, week three had started a marathon of unfulfilled longing. We worked on ways to express ourselves physically knowing that no release would come, and we still use those techniques today when we just can’t catch a moment. The days nevertheless drug on. This was just the earliest and first difference in a string of moments and realizations that would have us saying “Yes, this is enough”.

We hadn’t picked up on that first sign at this point in our story. In fact, Emily was already talking about having a fourth, this time seriously instead of hospital bed joking, and I was all about it too. We were still in the period where number three was sleeping most the time and feeding for the rest. As we talked through the requirements for number four though, I started to realize the numbers weren’t adding up. We’d need at least one vehicle upgraded to a larger size, and depending on the sex of the child we’d have to re-arrange the entire house and convert some living area into another bedroom or upgrade the house as well. We didn’t have the financial bandwidth for that. Emily still very wanted and fourth, but I was starting to think it wasn’t such a great idea, still, I was committed to providing her what she wanted.

The next phase is what rang both our alarm bells hard enough to change our minds. Number 3 started going through sleep regression, which happens at about the 4-6 month period, and our daughter, three at the time, started regressing in her potty training over the attention the new baby was getting. By the time our new infant was one year old I was saying things like “I want our bed back, I want my wife back”. For contrast, our firstborn had nursed and co-slept for eighteen months, and everyone was comfortable with it. We started openly discussing being done with children, and how we had our lives on pause for too long. Emily wanted to rejoin the work force, I wanted time to dedicate to progressing in my career. We’d taken so long getting to #3 that I was already violating one of the rules we’d agreed to about the number of children we’d have, or more importantly, when we’d have them. I didn’t want to be over 50 by the time all our children graduated high school, number three already put me over that age, albeit just, but that line had been crossed.

Now you may be thinking something along the lines of “Wow you guys were really ignoring the signs that you needed to be done”. You’d be correct. That’s why I’m writing this. We had indeed been ignoring not only the signs that we weren’t ready for another yet, but that we weren’t ready for another at all and I’m hoping, maybe naively, that we can spare another couple that experience. We actually continued a bit further stubbornly holding onto the idea that we could deal with another plus one, but after we’d started weening and sleep training earlier than we had any of the other children, we realized how dedicated we were to this being over, we realized how deeply we missed simple things like drinking together, or cuddling each other to sleep. The sleep training part of that ordeal is probably worth its own post. Actually, yeah, expect that later this week. The short of it is, we were able to reclaim our bed, and it felt amazing. That simple change brought us a significant amount of emotional energy that we’d been lacking. The crib is still in our bedroom, the baby still sleeps there, but just having that space to ourselves to hold each other, to cuddle, and not being kicked in the face or having to watch where my arms are going has been liberating in ways neither of us needed for the prior two children.

This phase of our lives just feels over, much the same way it began. All of our carefully thought out plans for starting our family blew by the wayside to the emotional feeling of simply being ready, and all our plans for having more were cancelled by emotional needs too. So if you’re looking to start a family, or you’re simply curious about what that phase of marriage looks like and how those decisions get made I hope sharing a little snippet of our story helps, even if that just means you know a few more questions to ask and some things to watch out for. Really, just trust your instincts, even if they change suddenly. There’s a reason there aren’t many guides out about this topic. Sure, you may know what to expect when you’re expecting, but there doesn’t seem to be any sort of manual to make the decision to start trying to expect or to stop, there’s just too many variables. So keep your ear to the ground, feel it out, and remember no one has done this in the exact same way that you have.

If you’ve already been through these decisions, or have more specific questions, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section. Until next time.

Screen Time for You and Your Kids

Screen Time for You and Your Kids

Photo by sandra dubosq on Unsplash

As our modern world hurtles headlong into the automation of everything, it is becoming increasingly difficult for us to take our heads out of our screens. As professionals we may spend our time in screens as part of, or the main focus of, our job. We could be editing video, making Photoshop magic, keeping the internet working, interfacing with a car’s on-board computer, or writing a blog or book. When we need downtime, screens offer escape in the form of movies and video games, they offer to distract and babysit our children, and our phones keep us in constant contact with friends, relatives, and supervisors. As a result we spend over 8 hours a day on average in front of some sort of screen, and so do our children.

Many parents I know seem to have an inherent sense of the dangers of excessive screen time, however few seem to be on top of it. They can tell you how a child threw a tantrum after being pulled off a video game or a TV show but can’t seem to tell you how much screen time their kids are getting on a typical day. Just like we know how eating too many calories will make us gain weight but few of us actually count them properly, many parents also aren’t counting their screen time hours for themselves or their children. Children in particular are vulnerable to harm from screens. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends strict guidelines for all children under the age of six, with the guidelines becoming more stringent as age goes down. Excessive screen time can harm your children, and especially young children, in several ways: being linked with high rates of obesity—screen time is often sit time—behavioral disorders, and stunted learning.

I myself am a recovered video game addict, and I’ve experienced these things first hand. I spent the bulk of my 5th through 12th grade years addicted to video games. My grades suffered, I didn’t get enough sleep, my social life never got a chance to begin, and I even threw away a shot at post-secondary education. It wasn’t until life asserted itself to the point of eviction that I finally started a nearly decade long road to recovery.

I didn’t grow up with smart phones, they didn’t really enter the picture until after I graduated high school. The iPod was a new fascination in those days, and the iPhone wouldn’t hit until years later. I’m not sure where I’d be if I had access to things like smartphones back then. Many people are as absorbed in social media as I was to my games. You see them every day, ignoring their surroundings, stumbling into traffic, weaving on sidewalks, bumping shopping carts into bystanders, running their cars off the road. Social media and the constant ability to access it has dangers in store for adults and children alike in the form of sexual exploitation through revenge porn, cyber bullying, and pornographic exploitation of minors.

I could go on about the dangers of getting absorbed into video games, social media, TV, and other screen based time wasters. Here’s the thing, you probably could too. You might already be thinking about the stuff I missed in the last few paragraphs. As I said before, many of us know the risks, we just aren’t aware we’ve fallen into them or how to manage them. It’s easy to get frustrated at the very idea of managing this stuff for you or your kids. Social media seems nearly required of us, and for school children it’s sometimes actually required for assignments. Classrooms are getting ‘smart’ and your child may be sat in front of a screen for hours on end before they ever make it back home. The internet of things is upon us, and now our refrigerators, washing machines, and dryers are having full featured touchscreens built into them that you can even watch Netflix on. In a world such as this how could we even think to manage screen time for us or our children?

Fortunately, there are remedies. I gave a little hint at the beginning of this post. The context surrounding screen time matters. The current AAP guidelines for children I linked above are much different than the ‘no screens for children under 2’ blanket ban just a few years ago. Researchers have found that not only what’s on the screen matters, but what your environment is as well. Your work use of screens (for work purposes) isn’t a problem as long as you’re keeping it to work hours. Most of us inherently feel a difference between screen time spent for business or pleasure. Children also seem to know the difference, and as long as an adult is in the room co-watching and guiding consumption of the content, very young children can actually benefit from screen time. The exception seems to be children 18 months and younger, which the AAP recommends only being exposed to screens in the context of a video chat with another human being. Apart from the 18 month age group, high quality programming co-watched with an adult seems to be okay. Here are a few things you can do to help keep screens from becoming a problem.

Monitor your screen time–

Actually clock it. Treat it like watching calories. Record your patterns for a while, and the patterns for your children, and see how the numbers stack up. Make notes on whether the programming was work related or otherwise educational, or whether it was recreational.

Reduce very low quality content–

Video Games, pornography, and other forms of instant self-gratification content—Instagram anyone?—release large amounts of dopamine in your system that you can easily become dependent on. People heavily addicted to games like I was, or addicted to porn, can take up to 90 days to reset their dopamine levels back to normal. This shouldn’t be construed to be anti-games or anti-porn, there are many activities that can do this to you, but these two are shoved into our faces almost as hard as the screens themselves. In fact, Emily and I still regularly participate in these activities together, now that my addiction is under control, in an interactive manner I’d label as fulfilling. Closely monitor consumption of these types of entertainment if you allow them at all.

Co-watch–

Watching entertainment as a group, and turning it into an interactive and potentially even educational experience, can take otherwise low quality content and make it beneficial. Interact with the evening news—my grandfather and father preferred heckling for those—make fun of shot composition, keep a Michael Bay explosion counter in his films, and other activities that promote interaction between the people watching the content. Avoid just vegging out.

Engage Educators–

Talk to your child’s educators and make sure they are aware of the dangers of excessive screen time. Make sure they understand that even high-quality screen time is linked to health issues like obesity. Have them go over the electronic curriculum with you and object to low quality content when you see it. Make sure the educator, especially elementary level educators, aren’t using screen time as a pacification, and make sure your child has sufficient opportunities for physical activity at school. If your child’s educator is using screen time in ways you find unacceptable go over their head to the principal, contact other parents, and get the school board involved if you have to. If your school board is responsive that’s great, if they aren’t—as seems too common—make them listen with a ballot initiative if you have to.

Detox and Recover–

I know I know, that word is abused to death, but in this case it could be taken literally if you consider constantly elevated dopamine levels toxic—after my experiences I sure do. Pay a visit here and read some of the stories of people just like me that were awfully addicted to dopamine simulators. If you or your child are addicted to these mediums, don’t give up, get educated, and learn how to support them. Ripping the bandage off will be the hardest part, like the cry-it-out sleep training method, but there is light at the end of that tunnel for you and your kids.


Hopefully, managing screen time for you and your children won’t turn in to the struggle that it did for me. I hope you’ve found some useful information here if you do. As always, this blog is no substitute for professional help. If you need serious help, or can’t seem to get a handle on it, enlist the services of a qualified professional.

Have a comment or a question? Is there a topic you’d like discussed? Let me know through my contact page.