My husband and I both have disabilities. We’ve always wanted children and knew that because of our disabilities, becoming parents – and parenthood in general – would require extra planning and preparation.
From the get-go, we started saving for IVF treatments and making modifications to our home that would make us, and our future children, safer. Along the way, we’ve picked up a lot of great resources on planning and preparing for parenthood as parents with disabilities, and we’ve learned some valuable lessons, too.
Today, my husband and I have two amazing kids, and every day we feel blessed.
Being a parent may not come with a one-size-fits-all guidebook, but if you’re among the 4.1 million parents in the U.S. with a disability – and comparable per capita statistics elsewhere in the world – there are guidelines that can assist you through this beautiful, yet challenging phase of life.
1. Make Home Preparations
It can be difficult to find resources for a disabled individual that cater specifically to preparing to bring a child into their home, versus an elderly person in need of additional assistance. While many of the changes you make to your home environment will be similar, there’s the daily – even hourly – activities that come with parenting.
Aside from typical home renovations such as wheelchair ramps, stair lifts and specialty doorknobs and handles, it’s important to add extra precautions when bringing a child into your living space. Non-slip rugs, grab bars to assist with bathing and changing, and textured tape or Braille (if applicable) to aid with meal preparation are just a few of the ways you can prepare your home. Regardless of having a child, removing clutter that can translate into potential hazard – like tripping – is a must for anyone with a disability.
If cost is an issue, look into funding sources such as specialized loan and grant programs, tax breaks and public assistance.
2. Get Ready For Baby
Choose proper equipment: From strollers designed for wheelchair users to appropriate nursing equipment to side-opening cribs and accessible bathtubs, there are many daily items designed to support a parent with a disability. Ask your health care provider if you’re having problems resourcing a particular item to suit your needs.
Night care: A baby requires constant care, so depending on your disability, it may be beneficial to keep your baby’s bed in the same room as you — even next to your bed — to make nightly diaper changes and feedings more convenient.
Bathing: This is a process that’s terrifying for many new parents regardless of disability, so consider support from a trusted source like a spouse, friend or caretaker if you are apprehensive about bathing your child. If this is not an option, adhere to the first rule regarding proper equipment for a disabled parent.
3. Manage Stress and Mental Health
Take advantage of what you can do: Focus on the strengths you still have regardless of a disability. Embrace the fact that you have access to prosthetics, canes and wheelchairs, and copious adaptive technologies and tools to help you succeed each and every day.
Establish realistic goals: Patience is a virtue for anyone with a disability, so setting realistic goals is key if you want to avoid setbacks and feelings of discouragement.
Make an effort to maintain interests: It’s important that you try to maintain some semblance of your past in order to maintain your present and future. Keep dates with friends and family, and consider joining support groups with like-minded people.
4. Prepare For Times When You’ll Need Help
Note that accepting help doesn’t make you weak, but instead, it can make you stronger. Refusing assistance will only delay or worsen your progress on a physical and/or emotional level as you incorporate a child into your life. Take advantage of the numerous resources for disabled people that are designed to provide support.
Being a parent is a rewarding and stressful situation regardless of your health. Remember you’re not fighting a losing battle. Making preparations ahead of time will ensure that you’re ready for the mental and physical changes that you’ll endure as a mom or dad.
Ashley Taylor is a mother of two and founder of disabledparents.org.
I was a single mum; he was a co-parent to two boys birthed from two different women. Pretty early on we met each other’s kids. I was uncomfortable telling people I was seeing someone with kids and I’d say he only had one child, and if I did tell others he had two I’d make it seem they were from one mother.
There are a lot of preconceptions about men with kids in the black community that I wasn’t ready to deal with or defend. Just in case you are curious, the top two would have been that he sleeps around, getting women pregnant and then leaving; the next would be that he is still sleeping with his “Baby Mutha”. I just wasn’t ready to deal.
However, I want to share what was my absolute naivety when venturing into this form of motherhood. I really did think I’d meet these woman at some point, and that even if we weren’t friends we would be mature enough to at least talk logistics. What an absolute myth! The deeper I got the sooner it occurred to me that I wasn’t a welcome addition to what was already a broken family. My husband didn’t have the best relationship with the biological mums so only God knows why I thought it would be different.
Let me say on the kids’ front it was all piece of cake, really: the children met and played and apart from the normal falling out that kids have it was all good in the hood. My relationship with the kids was pretty smooth too; they were nice to me and didn’t give me any grief at all. I thank God for that because some women have it hard.
I can’t support my husband when he needs help with the boys because it will become a big issue.
Anyway, I pressed on and got married when I was 27 and became an official Stepmum. I decided that I would ignore the fact I was ignored and treated like a non-factor in the boys’ lives. It doesn’t much matter that I mothered them on weekends and holidays; no wait, it does, and the sheer disrespect is what is hard to take. My biggest struggle, really, is that I’m not allowed to do certain things; like pick my stepsons up from school or drop them off to their mother’s house. I can’t support my husband when he needs help with the boys because it will become a big issue. For the sake of peace, we have let many disrespectful things slide.
Even more upsetting is that the biological mums both treat me the same – neither have taken the time to get to know me – yet don’t even speak to each other.
I set up a support community called ‘The Stepmums Club’, which aims to challenge the “wicked stepmother” narrative and rally against the stigma that comes with the role. I have discovered so many other women across the globe struggling in different ways but all for the same reason – because we are “the Stepmothers”.
My dad looks like an extra off The Sopranos: he seems like the stereotypical Italian from New Jersey. Any time my sister or I had a boyfriend over, especially for the first time, the guy would stand cowering in front of my dad, shaking like a leaf.
Dad was the Vice President of Research and Development at Campbell’s Soup for years and his employees would act the same. They would drop whatever they were doing and run to do whatever he asked; I saw this first-hand during ‘Take your Child to Work day’.
You would think this would mean he’s a prickly or unapproachable person, but he is far from it; in fact, he’s one of the most gentle, kindest people I know. People just judged him for his appearance, just like with so many others.
Every day when he came home from work, I would basically run at him and hug him as hard as I possibly could. He always hugged me right back. Every time he left for the day, he would tell me and my mum and my sister that he loved us. He plays with his toddler grandchildren with abandon, laughter, and grace. He loves and respects every person in his life almost to a fault, and I know not only because that’s his personality but because I see that love and respect given right back to him.
This love extends to the animal world, too. When I was 12 I found a sticky note left for my mum that said ‘went to rescue turtle’, as he found an injured one on the side of the road. When we decided to rescue a greyhound, my dad picked the largest dog there because he knew no one else would adopt him.
Last year when my mum found an injured mouse in the house, she sent me a photo of my dad feeding it almond milk with a paintbrush. And there are no animals he loves more in this world than his cats, Luna and Ava. I always smile when I see such a tall, large man cuddle such a small, fluffy creature.
My dad is fiercely loyal, fiercely protective, and one of the many definitions of masculinity. He’s smart, strong, and self-made. But the strongest thing about him is that he loves and supports his family unconditionally. He’ll never abandon us. He shows me every day how much he cares for me.
And he taught me that it’s OK to be soft and trusting, even when the world tells you that you shouldn’t be.
He is unapologetically himself, and I am so very thankful he’s passed that trait down to me.
OK. So you’re looking to lose the belly. Improve your energy and your body confidence. And you’re tired of reading conflicting information on the internet.
I’m here to set the record straight.
I remember back in early 2016 when I was struggling to lose the belly and had lost all motivation to change. I knew what I “should” be doing but wasn’t taking action. Too many excuses, too little time.
Little did I know that the three keys to success would form the foundation of my life-changing 12-week transformation.
So without further ado, this is what you’ll need to implement to really see progress each and every week.
1. Ditch The Boring Cardio
As we get older, we naturally produce less testosterone and lose muscle mass: this could be looked at as the ‘natural ageing process’.
But yet so many training approaches and diets reduce testosterone and muscle mass, which doesn’t make sense!
The main culprit is mainly endurance-based training such as cardio due to the excess cortisol it produces; this creates fat storage and the wastage of muscle mass which is essential for a healthy metabolic rate.
A good metabolism is going to outperform regular physical activity because it accounts for most of the energy you’ll expend daily over the 10 per cent you’ll burn from training.
Did you know that in one study, thousands of runners and walkers were monitored over six years, and the study showed that the runners and walkers experienced similar benefits?
So why spend all that time on the treadmill? It’s in the name: cardio is for your heart and lungs.
Switching over to bodyweight HIT or even resistance-based circuit training will focus on fat loss and produce a much better body composition.
2. Focus On Habits, Not Diets
You may think “but I need to lose weight fast” but if you’ve tried these types of diets, if it comes off fast it comes back faster!
Eating less processed food, pre-packaged food and convenience food is going to automatically improve your health without any FADS or starvation.
But it’s not just about the calories or the approach you take, it’s more about the regular actions you take on a day-to-day basis that are going to produce a long-term, sustainable result.
There is no point restricting yourself like crazy in the week only to self-sabotage on the weekend; it’s a pointless exercise, wouldn’t you agree?
But what if you ate just a little healthier seven days a week? Over a few weeks or a month you would have lost weight and actually feel good, without too much restriction and going hungry.
Habits over calories, good choices over quick fixes, long-term thinking over instant gratification.
That is the real key to your success; of course, once you have a good baseline to work from then you can start to look at more advanced strategies such as macronutrient cycling and fasting.
There is no point restricting yourself like crazy in the week only to self-sabotage on the weekend…
3. Change Your Mind
I spoke to a client the other day and he felt so bad about his weight and appearance that he ate more: this is commonly known as comfort eating.
Look at the actions you take, maybe you self-sabotage or eat late at night – is that the actions of someone who is lean and confident?
Ask yourself: what attitudes or ideas do you need to adopt to be where you want to be?
What does someone who looks like you want to look like think on a daily basis?
Answer these questions and create statements such as “I am willing to do whatever it takes to be successful” or “I enjoy eating healthy food and it makes me feel good” and repeat them daily with passion, to keep your mind focused on the daily actions.
Whatever you focus on grows, so instead of focusing on “I am fat” or “I can’t lose weight”, start thinking more positive thoughts using statements and recondition that mind for success.
It’s eight weeks to go until our first child is due. Eight weeks, 56 days, 1,344 hours, 80,640 minutes or 4,838,400 seconds-ish.
Not that we’re counting.
As you can imagine, or may well know yourself, it’s a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions. First finding out was a weird mix of being crazily happy that we’re having a little human and a relief that everything worked down there. We’d only been trying for a couple of months but I guess there’s always that worry.
My fiance told me when we were just lying in bed one evening. She’s since told me she wanted to plan an elaborate reveal for me but she just couldn’t keep it in. Her parents were staying with us for the weekend. Obviously, we couldn’t tell them, everything still needed to be confirmed but I was so happy. That’s probably the best way to describe it, ridiculously happy. They must have known something was up in the morning when we both came down the morning after… either that or her dad thought we’d had a night of fun that he definitely doesn’t need to think about his daughter doing.
Since then it’s been excitement, nervousness, shitting it, happiness, anxiety, depression and sometimes a weird sense of calmness. In all honesty, my fiancé has been nothing other than a delight. No, really, she has. Considering the fact she’s had a little human growing in her and her body has been constantly changing since day dot, she has been amazing.
Going by the experiences of some of our friends and family, we’ve been what I would say is lucky. My partner didn’t really suffer any morning sickness, all has gone well in all the prodding, testing and scanning the midwife and the rest of the brilliant staff do at the hospital (fingers crossed I’ve not jinxed that!) and we’ve both really enjoyed the process of getting the house ready for the little one.
If I’m being honest, the most stressful part of it was telling parents and family. We had to juggle the whole “well, we can’t tell them until they know” thing. Putting a Facebook ban on the news worked well too, although do you need to be quite blunt with people on that.
A piece of advice for those of you with more conservative grandparents, one thing not to do is tell your Gran by giving her a picture of a baby scan and not explaining what is it. Her being confused because she’s never seen one before doesn’t help if she’s already not happy that you’re pregnant and not married.
Are we ready? We’re on track. We still have a few things to buy and there are a couple of things to do to get the house ready but we’ve got ante-natal classes to come and each thing off the Baby To-Do List that gets done makes it all feel a bit more real. But real in a good way.
Am I ready? I think so. I don’t have the little fella wriggling around inside of me so at the minute I’m just trying to do all I can to make my other half – and soon-to-be mother of my child – as comfortable as possible.
Mark Cassidy is a dad-to-be (his fiance’s due date is March 18). He tweets at Attempting to Dad.
In the past six years, an interesting phenomenon has begun to appear – at least to my unprofessional, unscientific eyes.
It’s not hard to see if you look.
Nearly seven years ago, you see, I unexpectedly became a single parent. My wife, Andrea, passed away, leaving me to care for four kids: two teenage girls (16 and 12, respectively) and twin boys who were almost eight.
Even at that time, less than a decade ago, there were trends. I would go to the park with my kids on the odd day off and be the only dad there. Weekends, of course, were one thing. Then there were two parents playing with their kids. Come a random Tuesday, though, like when I worked an odd schedule that gave me a weekday off, it was different.
There were a couple things that would happen. Occasionally I’d get the thought I was the male nanny, taking care of someone else’s kids. Most the time was just the bizarre look and the thought I’d adopted the kids or something. On the oddest days, when I still wore my wedding ring I’d get hit on, which I still don’t quite understand. School meetings would be held in the most inconvenient hours, which were easy for at-home parents to attend – say 3:30 in the afternoon – but impossible for someone like me who worked far from my suburban home.
Now that we’re a number of years into this whole thing a kind of shift has begun. I can go to a park on a Wednesday and there are more dads there. I can pick up my kids from school and there are other dads picking them up.
Single dads are stepping up, in other words.
I checked the numbers. The latest US census figures show that there’s an increase in the number of single dads. A nearly five per cent increase, while the number of single mums has gone down by the same amount. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still more single mums, but there are more single dads wanting to be part of their kids’ lives.
In Australia, the numbers aren’t dissimilar. One in four Australians live in a single parent household; 18 per cent of those are men.
In this era, when more and more celebrity and political figures are being shown to have terrible scandals, harassing and accosting women this is a bit of a shining beacon for us to see. Instead of looking to movie or TV stars or even politicians the everyday people who should inspire and encourage us are those same people. Women who work all day and take care of their kids – be they widows or divorcees – are amazing people. Men who are widowers or divorced are stepping up.
In a world that has starting to set the blowtorch on tired thoughts and actions that degrade and belittle women – actions that should have died out years and years ago – it’s encouraging to see that women are emerging into the world from households where mums and dads are showing that not only can one parent step up and take care of them, they’re actually wanting to, and are thriving while doing it.
It’s a great thing that in countries across the globe we’re seeing enlightenment in thoughts about age, sexual preference, and heads of household are slowly becoming less like an anomaly and more like just an everyday occurrence.
What can you take from this? It’s pretty simple, really. In my opinion, it would be far better to raise my children with two parents. Having those differing opinions and thoughts and attitudes gives more character and broader brush to paint the canvas of life for your children.
When that’s not possible, though, it’s reassuring that men and women are both stepping up to do their best at that the most important job of their lives – giving kids the tools to go out and start their own lives.
Today, I sit in my living room watching that same monster – now turned into a cherub of a one-year-old – walk, babble and play with trucks, blocks and noisy toys. No matter how wise a person is before they have kids, a parent is bound to learn a lot in the first year. I certainly did, anyway.
Here are a dozen things I learned in my first 12 months of parenthood.
1. What a Boppy is.
My vocabulary has grown immensely since becoming a dad. Too bad it’s with words like Boppy, Binky, Rock n Play, Doula and Butt Paste. It’s amazing how many contraptions, remedies, and robots parents are told are essential if they plan to raise a child successfully. I can’t help but think of the mothers in Sub-Saharan Africa with only a hip and a nipple compared to the Walmarts of resources available to Western parents. Most devices are truly a blessing while others make some loser money, and it feels like a horrendous injustice. Still, an English-to-Parenthood dictionary would have been a useful tool to come out after the placenta!
2. What a placenta is and why I won’t eat it.
Other than a lasagna layer, I didn’t know what a placenta was until after I saw one. It’s basically the Mother High Cafeteria where unborn babies get nutrients slopped on a five-compartment tray from a greasy old lady. OK, it’s actually pretty incredible. But I would never eat a cafeteria, and I certainly wouldn’t want to eat a two to six-pound organ from a uterus. Apparently, however, parents eat it to guard against postpartum depression, and I’ve done a lot weirder stuff when I’ve been depressed, so no judgment here if you’re currently chowing on a placenta.
3. Babies are people, too.
To be honest, I didn’t much like my son during the first few months. He was little more than an inconvenience. Eventually, I realized he wasn’t always going to be a crying, pooping monster; he was bound to grow up, get wiser, and someday, I’d be the inconvenience to him. Who knew “Cats In The Cradle” was more than just an awful song? Grasping onto this perspective dramatically changed my approach to parenthood and glugged my patience tank to the brim.
4. It does get easier.
When my son turned three months old, it was a major turning point. Then he turned six months, and parenting got easier. At nine months, parenthood felt normalized, and actually, it was pretty fun. Now he’s in his second year and I’ve never loved him more. There have been challenges, of course, but for the most part, everything gets noticeably easier in three-month increments. So, if you’re wide-eyed and awkwardly cradling a fresh specimen of new life, know that it will get easier. Just take it three months at a time.
5. There are good, better and bad baby books.
Just because it’s a baby book doesn’t mean it’s good. Trust me. There are shelves (and shelves) of mediocre books for kids. Just as many are bad. However, there are loads of high-quality books for kids. The storylines, morals, and illustrations are superb. Create an exciting story for your kid, and make reading a thrilling adventure as it is meant to be.
6. A baby doesn’t have to completely change your life, but it will.
My greatest concern with entering into the world of parenthood was losing touch with the outside world like a hermit, troll or worst of all, a Dugger. I anticipated the couple that was once able to stay up late, explore breweries, go out to eat, hang with friends, and travel would be replaced by denim-jumper dweebs with boarded up windows and a strict homeschool schedule.
We decided to be intentional with welcoming our son into our lives instead of stopping our lives for him. Don’t get me wrong, we’d drop everything for him if the situation called for it, but for now, we can get away with taking him out, lugging him along (appropriately), and continue spending time with close friends. Often, there’s little need to sacrifice everything on the altar of a newborn. You’re still you. Show them your world.
Having a baby inevitably changes your life, and the reality is you might not be able to do everything you once did. But it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. The changes that will happen are for the better, and they are totally worth it as you focus on more long lasting and fulfilling priorities.
Everything gets noticeably easier in three-month increments…
7. Trying is more important than failing.
Down the hall from the Mother High Cafeteria must be the library because this kid came out with insane instincts. I remember when he was born, he latched onto my wife with an understanding of how breastfeeding works I still don’t have. As he got older, I became more impressed with his knack for trying new things. No one taught him to roll over, crawl, walk, or pick his nose, but he did. He started trying, and when he fell, he tried again. Watching him develop new abilities taught me that trying is inherent; it is a pivotal part of human nature. And failing is merely a piece of that.
Having learned from my son, I know that as a father I will fail, but the act of getting up and trying again matters much more than any shortcoming. With 24 million children, one out of three are living without a biological father in the home; showing up and trying is half the battle. You will fail, but you will succeed. Do what you were meant to do and simply keep trying.
8. I am helping him write his story.
Long before he could even crawl, he was soaking it all in. He literally is a sponge, and soon enough he’ll be squeezed by the pressures of this world. What I pour into him will come seeping out. It is vital I set a positive example. I am helping him write his story – the story he will have the rest of his life – and I am a main character, but I’m not the hero.
9. The importance of Community.
There were times early on when my son would not stop crying, and I called a friend or family member just to calm down. Having people to call is important, and actually calling them when you need to call is even more important. Perspective, emotional support, and a couple more hands for poopy diapers are precious aids when a new parent needs it most. It really does take a village to raise a kid.
10. Mr. Mums are good dads.
A lot of dads stay at home with their kids while wives bring home the bacon. But it’s not a new-age, hipster, millennial phenomenon. As I have stepped up to the home plate (pun intended), I’ve met many older guys who have done the same when their kids were young. Mr Mums are no anomaly, but we should ditch the term Mr Mum. Dads who stay home and love on their kids 24-7 are just good dads.
11. What a breast pump feels like.
Yep. Feels weird. And I don’t even have man-boobs.
12. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it (not the breast pump).
As my wife grew a human for nine months in her beautiful womb, I grew a comparably sized dough ball of anxiety in my gut. In fact, I had so much anxiety, I actually twitched incessantly. I thought, surely, fatherhood would be the end of me.
It’s not that bad, though. I survived a year, and so can you. If you’re a new dad, soon-to-be dad or someday dad, just take it moment by moment. Whatever hesitations you might have about bearing children, you’ll figure out as parenting instincts click in and lessons are learned. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it. Parenthood is a wonderful thing.
Last year I wrote an article for The Dad Website, which covered my story as a father of two boys – Will, nine and Tom, 21 – and how my approach to fathering had changed.
There was one point that needed further interrogation.
I pointed out that I changed the time when I decided to treat my sons as a little people rather than children; for Tom it was 12 but for Will it was four-and-a-half. As I pointed out to Tom when I drafted the article, I was incapable of recognising I should have altered by approach for him much sooner.
I think he’s forgiven me, but more on that later.
It’s amazing what you learn when you raise this topic in conversation. I must say it’s the women who appear to be right across this stuff but maybe every article on The Dad Website is really ‘101’ for most women – is that too harsh on us blokes?
Anyway, one of the words that keeps coming up is ‘respect’ in terms of the difference in how we treat children, but ‘equality’ may be more applicable here. This doesn’t mean you are equal but, like a manager or coach, it helps to build rapport with employees or players based on a premise of equity.
“More than 60 years ago, (Magda) Gerber and her mentor, paediatrician Emmi Pikler… dismissed the notion of babies as “cute blobs” years ago, understood them as whole people deserving of our respect.”
Now, different people will have different parenting approaches and I don’t want to confuse the topic by including discipline, rule-setting or having fun as I feel these are separate, albeit related, matters; I just want to focus on how you, as a dad (or mum), makes the change from treating your offspring as a child to treating them as a little person.
As part of my research, I asked Will when he thinks is a good time to make the change and he said “about four years old” because “before then you really don’t know what’s right and wrong, whereas once you’re four you definitely know!”
So if I stick with my changeover time for Will at about four-and-a-half years, I reckon I’m pretty close. That doesn’t mean there is lower respect given before then but I think there’s less chance to have a relationship based on equity and mutual respect when they’re a toddler.
Looking back on it now, I was pretty horrible at times with Tom because I didn’t respect his opinions enough and so our relationship was more hierarchical than equitable.
Of course, Will and I still have our arguments but I now need to provide a valid, consistent, fair, logical response to a request or suggestion from Will – and not just “no because I said so”.
I believe that little people start their lives under our parent wings just after they’ve graduated as a toddler and about to hit school. At this point, and over the next couple of years, we have a fantastic opportunity to fill them with self-confidence by simply answering their questions thoughtfully and asking their opinion, just as we would to a teenager or adult.
To quote Aristotle: “Give me a child at seven and I’ll give you the man.” There’s a reason why this age wasn’t four and I reckon it’s because they’ve just become a little person at that age and they still need to spend a few years with their parents to set their life course; during this time, a dad’s role is therefore critical.
Fortunately, Tom’s turned out to be a fantastic human being: super smart, gifted in many ways and surrounded by many good friends. That said, I reckon my substandard performance as a dad from 2000 (when he was four) until 2003 (when he was seven) has meant that Tom is missing something – time will tell what that is and whether he’s found a workaround to compensate for me.
I started a business in 2001 and commenced a significant volunteering role, which went on for many years. Were they the best actions to undertake as a dad when Tom had just become a little person? Probably not.
Of course, you don’t stop your life when your child becomes a little person, but I recommend you take stock of your relationship with them and be aware that it may be about to change. I also think you should consider this key stage of their life when thinking about work/family decisions that could either help or hinder their development up until the age of seven.
A wanky layout trick I know, but necessary to focus your attention on that, terribly easy-to-skim-through, word. Stepping back when you’re in the trenches of the first few years, or the frantic rush of the years that follow is bloody hard. But it’s so important parents do, as one granddad I interviewed said.
There’s a last time they will hold your hand.
A last time they will sit on your lap.
If we don’t consciously pay attention to the time we spend with our little ones, there’s a big danger we’ll miss it.
We’re all shit-busy, and have bigger eyes than our bellies when it comes to our achievements in life. Some of us live or work away from our families, seeing them once a week or month. Some of us are there all the time but also have the mountain of chores and life admin to do. Some of us work bloody hard and rush home to arrive sweaty in the hope of spending a few minutes with them for fear of becoming weekend mums and dads. Or we’re a little bit of all three. How much time we can create depends on your situation, but what you do with that time is where it counts. Quality, not quantity if you will.
The irony is though, it’s often us that gets in the way of spending quality time with our kids. When I think about the quality of time I spend, there are three things that keep getting in the way for me.
Putting that flipping phone away
Sometimes I catch myself looking at it without consciously thinking I want to. When I engage my brain I can only find the odd rare occasion where there’s a real need to prioritise the damn thing over my darling little ones. There’s such observant little creatures, children. With attention being a signal of importance, checking a phone when you’re with them just says ‘this little device and the things on it are more important than you’. Or if I’m being really harsh on myself it’s more like ‘you’re dependent on me for the love, attention, knowledge, food etc you need to grow into an adult. But I’m dependent on the attention of other people to make me feel good, and I take priority’. That last one normally buts a very firm lid on the phone for a while.
One dad I interviewed, who saw his kids a few times a month for two years, while he built his business (all pre-agreed with his wife, and a decision he says he will never know if it was the right one or not) took them swimming then, because you can’t check your phone at the pool.
Putting that phone away is something I’m working on every day.
Not as much needless nagging and shouting
Every now and then I ask my kids what I could do more and less of to be a better dad. Stop nagging has been number one for a while. It’s the perennial thorn in my side because I am impatient and have high expectations of myself. That thorn in my side has made me one in theirs at times. I transfer my impatience and high expectations onto them because in the moment I just don’t think.
How can I expect a five-year-old to get dressed as fast as someone who’s had seven lifetimes’ more practice? It took me two decades to figure out that when I’m hungry I get hangry. In a few short years, they’ve learnt how to walk, talk, read, write, draw, climb, run, negotiate. How can I expect them to have cracked hanger too?
Oh, the shouting. I hate myself when I do it. Sometimes it’s necessary, but most of the time it’s not.
Most of the time it’s the thoughtless way to get their attention because I’m too tired, frustrated or rushed to approach getting their attention any other way. But I know that when I shout, I’m just teaching them to raise their voices when they get frustrated. I don’t want them to be that kind of adult who has to learn self-control later in life. I want them to learn that young, and I know that starts with how I behave.
This one’s a lifelong battle, but it’s one I’m facing up to every day.
How can I expect a five-year-old to get dressed as fast as someone who’s had seven lifetimes’ more practice?
Choosing to play
Of all the joys of parenting, playing is right up there. Top three for me, alongside watching them achieve something you didn’t know they could do, and moments of loving connection that you only get with your children.
So if it’s top three, why do so few parents do it? At the park, the playground, the softplay, all these sedentary adults sitting around on their screens or chatting. I know screens are a gateway to work and other connections, and making friends with parents is important, but always putting them ahead of play isn’t.
It’s in play that the magic happens, where the best connections happen and, to be honest, where most of their time is spent, the lucky buggers. Putting aside the tiredness, partaking in monotonously repetitive play with a smile on your face, is hard. It takes the energy out of you. But that’s a lowly price to pay for experiences that give you both so much if you choose to notice them.
The building of the relationship, the flights of fantasy, the windows into their personality and the creaking open of old parts of yours.
All so valuable, but all demand we try a little harder.
We are kinda old-school at our house. We don’t spank our kids. We are tough on them but loving and very dependable. When I say “tough,” I mean it; our punishments are not negotiated. Ruined clothing is not replaced from our bank accounts – our children can pay for new clothes to replace those they have lost or ruined; rude or disrespectful children are removed from their activities. Natural consequences are felt by our children, not buffered by us. If a child forgets to bring his homework to school, we do not bring it to him. The same goes for lunches, athletic equipment, and whatever else our children should be managing for themselves.
When I say we are dependable, I mean it. If Wiggy (my daughter) asks me to sew a button on her doll’s clothing, I do it. I may not get to it right away, but I make sure I get it done, with her sitting by my side, helping me. If Ian asks for one of us to quiz him for an exam, we ask what time and we are there. If Teddy asks for us to attend his school mass with him, we do our best to make it happen. If Harvey wants to go to a school event and our schedule doesn’t allow for it, I help him find a school family to take him.
On that same note, if our children ask us not to attend a soccer game, school meeting, friend’s birthday party, or something that does not require a parent, we respect their wishes. I want our children to know they can depend on us and trust that we will be there or not. We will not be here forever for our kids; I want to give them the biggest springboard I can for them to launch into their own lives.
And we want those lives to be the best they can be.
They cannot launch into their own lives if I am doing everything for them.
They cannot do that if I am going to pick up the messy pieces. I cannot step in front of my children’s hurt feelings so they don’t feel any pain. That’s not the life I grew up in. I had some hard times in life. I don’t want our kids to go through some of the tough times I did, but I do want them to go through life experiencing both good and bad. I didn’t become a commodities trader (with a nutrition degree) or own a $100,000-a-year jewellery business or become the number one skier for my high school because my parents paved the road for me. No, I busted my ass to get to those places. And I smile a little bit every time I think of any of my accomplishments. I am one proud lady, and I should be. I want my children to be able to give themselves those same opportunities. I want our kids to have grit.
And every single parenting move we do is creating it.
Everywhere we go, we are told how well-behaved and happy our children are. It makes me proud, but I know there is still a lot of living I have to let them do, and I am excited (and scared) to let them do it.
Let your children fail, let your children succeed, let your children cry, let your children get hurt (safely hurt). It will all be very hard to watch, but your children will be stronger, better, more confident, and happier people the more you sit back and watch.