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.

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.

Apple’s FaceTime Exploit – You won’t learn from this one either.

Alright everyone, pull up a chair, get a hot cocoa and buckle up, we need to talk about the latest privacy exploit you’re going to ignore. Parents, you especially need to sit down a moment. I do IT by trade, I have some confessions to make, and you need to hear them.

I’ll admit, it’s been a while since I was in the hardware repair sector of the IT world, but I was there long enough, and things haven’t changed much aside from the hoops companies are jumping through to kill right-to-repair. This month it’s Apple’s FaceTime app giving everyone some all too temporary jitters about what exactly all those sensors on their phones are doing. First, let’s set up everyone reading this into their 2 necessary camps. Camp 1, you guys seriously don’t care if naked pictures or your sex tape ends up on the internet for some reason, who’d recognize you anyway? Camp 2, everyone else, maybe you have some pictures you’d rather the world didn’t see, or you’d be concerned if you thought your phone microphone was listening to you when you thought it shouldn’t be. Camp 1, we solid, you guys know the score and you can stop reading here.

Camp 2, take a sip of that cocoa. You need to stop getting shocked about these sorts of things. You need a new axiom. That dude that puts the sticky note over the webcam on his laptop, he’s got the right idea. Dell and HP certainly seem to think so, they’ve been installing physical ‘off switches’ for their webcams when they’re built into their computers for years. They’re just plastic sliders that go over the lens. Consider your cameras on, and your microphones open, all the time. Not to scare you, but to keep you conscious about what you’re putting on your devices. Camp 1 has the right idea, they know everything that goes on their devices can end up on the internet and they’re at peace with that.

Here’s another thing that hasn’t changed much in the repair industry; technicians that comb your computer over for porn and other compromising pictures. I’ve worked for a couple really strict and ethical shops, one, a national chain at the time, went under. Other shops aren’t so mindful about that sorta thing. I remember one shop that ran an off-grid file server to store images of unsuspecting co-ed customers. Apparently MacBook owners were the most likely to have home movies of themselves. Technicians at that shop also collected pictures of illicit drug use and anything else they considered salacious from customers that thought they were getting a better shake. It seemed to me more laptops had this content on them than didn’t, all told, by the time I got out of that sector of the industry. Dad’s I have some bad news for you. More girls have pictures and movies of themselves stored on their devices than guys have pictures of them, or at least if they do the guys are smart enough to erase them before sending their device in for repair. Surprised? I was too, but maybe we can chalk that up to the availability of that content from anonymous women through pornography.

We’ve seen a lot of high profile data breaches over the last couple years. Facebook had a few breaches by itself. Is it any wonder revenge porn is the problem it is when people just can’t come to grips with the idea that the internet is forever. Well, that’s only halfway there. Uploads are forever, your camera is always on, your mic is always hot. Accept it. If it bothers you, change your habits, if not, congrats you’re Camp 1 now, but stop getting surprised every time this happens and then fret about what might have made it out into the wide web.

Apologies for the tone of this article, but this is a decade long frustration at this point, and y’all need a wake up call bad. I’d love to hear from other technicians or former technicians on this. Drop some truth in the comments if the mood strikes you.

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