November marks the birthday month of my glorious Dad who would be 103 if he were still on the earth. It is amazing to me how “living” he is and how his strengths seem still available to use as nourishment for myself. Parents are powerful influences and today I will be talking mostly about the Dads I have met as class parents over the years and the Parent-Child Dads. I can think of one child, who is in the grades now, whose father has passed (her adoptive Father – her Granddad) and I always pray that she is feeling his support. I will never forget seeing her Dad hoist her up onto his shoulders and hear her shrieking with joy. I am sure many of these moments are cherished.
My Father really liked me and I knew it. I remember when his friends would come over he would always ask me to come out and meet them. My Dad was a big-time dancer and he would always show his friends what a good dancer I was. I remember stepping on his toes, so I don’t think my dancing was that great, but he was proud of me, and I knew that. I have my share of insecurities, but looking back, I think this “knowing” transferred to finding partners in life who cherished me as well. My daughters always say that their Dad and Brother have set high standards for the men they might want to partner with someday. I am glad.
This article can apply also to same-sex parents. In these circumstances children are exposed to parents who can offer them two different perspectives as well. I have read a lot of articles about exposing children to same-sex role models if this is not met in a parent, and I am honestly not sure it is necessary as the articles often seem biased to me. But practically speaking, same sex role models can often easily be found within one’s close circle of family and friends, so it is probably a rare child that does not have this. One of my children, being Korean, was exposed to other Korean people and culture. While not a direct comparison, I think I would be inclined to expose my children as well as I could to experiences they are lacking, in this case to people of both sexes.
How about if you are reading this and have to admit to yourself that maybe one of your parents was not a particularly good one. This is so hard and we actually have to re-parent ourselves by reading, contemplating and sometimes getting therapy to help us know how to parent if it is not inherent in us. Even though it is hard, after arming ourselves with information, we can confidently commit ourselves to doing our best for our children. Perhaps our spouse or our friends had more reliable parents, and we can ask them questions about how things can be done. Human beings are not perfect and we are all wounded to some degree. If you feel that your parenting was not at all sufficient, get some help to figure out the way.
I had one dear Dad, about to join our Parent-Child group, who was worried that he might be on the periphery of the group. “Do you think I will be accepted?” he asked and I answered truthfully, “I truly believe that you will.” He was totally embraced by the group even though most of the parents involved were Moms. There was one equalizer in our groups and that was that we were all parents. This Dad was very open about his feelings, telling me that he felt he was not creative and that he and his daughter mostly went about doing the daily tasks of living. “What a wonderful start!” I thought. And also how wonderful that he could be open about his and his daughter’s needs, and by coming to our little group, be exposed to singing, baking and crafts as a way to broaden their repertoire, and also expose them to other children and parents. I will never forget the look of love on another Dad’s face while he was holding his newborn baby in his arms. He just sat for a veeeerrrry long time staring at his little boy while his little daughter was dancing around. Now that his wife was going back to work, and they only had one car, he was sad to say he would not be re-upping with our group for the next class. Such a sweet Dad was greatly missed.
Many of the Dads in the Parent/Child group were the “at-home” parent or co-parent and they all seemed to be enjoying this role. One of the families came to me because Mom’s feeling were hurt because the little girl got so used to the way she and Dad went about their mornings, that when Mom was home, the child only wanted Daddy to feed, her, change her, etc. We talked about certain things that only Mommy would do so that the child could look forward to those special times. The child wasn’t really saying, “I like Dad better than Mom” but was reliant upon their routine. It felt that way to Mom though, so the couple had to work together to make the mornings that Mom was home run more smoothly. The school children do that to teachers too. “I only want Ms. Cyndi to push me (on the swing)!” they might say. I would answer, “Yes, Ms. Cyndi swings you very high, but right now you have me.” Teachers are not as attached so these remarks don’t smart as much as they do to Mom and Dad.
Some children are very attached to Mom for several years. Two of my three children thought that I was definitely in the know about most things and it drove my husband crazy sometimes. Our third child, perhaps as a smart decision to get a lot of attention or a karmic connection, chose her Dad as favorite companion. We just have to know as parents that the children need both of us and to try not to let their comments get in the way of our parenting. My adopted daughter attached only to me at first, wanting only me at bedtime, and I am sure my husband felt like a second fiddle at times. In spite of that he has developed separate and valuable relationships with all three of the children. There were times when the pack of them were doing something together without me, and I would think, “Sayonara!” Things were definitely more old school back then, but still today, most families need a little more Dad and a little less Mom. Most of the Parent-Child classes had on average 7-8 Moms, 2 Dads, One Grandpa and an occasional Nanny. Most of the other Dads visited when they could. I can be a workaholic, and I know how pressing business can be, but when one Dad had to check his messages a bit (ok) and another was on his phone for most of his visit, I had to wonder about their ability to balance their lives. Hopefully they were not doing that the whole time they were at home!
One of the Moms in Parent-Child was surprised to find out how well her child fared while she was on a business trip. She had never left her child for long before this and her child was very clingy with her, needing to nurse often, and being demanding, etc. Well, voila, child (at 2-1/2) and Dad had a marvelous time alone together. Sometimes children make you “pay” for it when you return home, but if children are with Mom or Dad (a Dad this loving and present with his child) they are fine.
I have a lot of stories about the “Class Dads” as I adored them, just as much as the “Class Moms” I have had over the years. It is fun to see the family dynamics as the parent brings the little child into the classroom. Because of the symbiotic relationship that mothers have with their babies, sometimes fathers can do the drop-off for preschool with fewer emotional outbursts. But some of my Dads, I am thinking of one in particular, that was so attached, that he himself had a hard time letting go, and his little boy was always in an uproar at his departure. We called him our “Softy Dad” (behind his back – we do that sometimes) because when Mom came it was all business and there was no fussing. So just as a reminder, the more you prepare yourself to be as matter of fact as possible, the more your child will feel that calmness and be better able to part with you. I still use this tactic with my daughter in grad school. When she complains, I say, “Sorry it is so much work, honey” in a very matter of fact voice. Imagine if I reflected back the panic she was feeling in that moment. Your child needs to know that you are confident in them and their abilities. It is the same with the children ready for preschool. “We all go to school,” is the motto. There may be some crying (normal) but it should be short lived.
There has been a lot of research done about how rough play with Dads (or Moms) serves to build the child’s brain and also makes the child more resilient. As we know, movement helps those brain synapses connect. So becoming your child’s jungle gym or tumbling partner is a very good thing beyond building relationship and having fun. Siblings can also provide this good play for each other. I had a Mom say that her husband doesn’t wrestle, but she does. Great! I actually did some wrestling with the children in preschool. We only did it at certain times, when a certain quilt was brought out, and we had a lot of rules. But if was very fun, so if your child says they wrestled with Greeny or Ms. Cyndi, or a classmate at school, they very well may have. My husband use to wrestle with all three children at the same time and I had to leave the room. Someone almost always cried (usually the youngest). But I knew they would work it out and all learn from it. In fact, being physical, getting hurt, getting over it and coming back into play is what helps the resiliency of children. So thanks to those of you who throw your children around a bit!
Babies are sheltered by their mother’s body when they are growing, and when they arrive on earth, Mom’s continued shelter of love is important. Father, as well, needs to surround the baby with love, devotion, and both physical and spiritual protection. It is not hard to adore your own baby, and they need to experience this love their whole lives, along with learning from you how to be in the world. Most of what we teach our children does not have to be verbalized. They know who you are. Most importantly, we need to be working on ourselves on a daily basis, to bring our “best” selves forward to raise this child. At the same time, we can’t be paralyzed that we aren’t good enough. You are who they have to teach them. Your connection makes you the perfect teacher. Share with them, yourself, every day. They need you.
In order to bring yourself in an energetic way, Dads, as well as Moms, need to find some time for your own spiritual practice or hobbies – be it meditation or reading, or golf! It is hard to find time to fulfill oneself in this way. I remember after our first child when my husband would go golfing for what seemed like forever! He changed his golfing to 9-holes, or during stressful times to “hitting a few balls”. If you work together, partners can find niches of time where they can pursue some “me time”. In a pinch, just stay in the shower a long time! Couple time too, is imperative, and the parents that I have had in classes who were pretty regular about “dating” really benefitted from it. Some of them did babysitting exchanges with families who had compatible children. Do you want to blow your partners mind? Plan a date and hire a babysitter. You should be feeling lucky on those nights for sure. Have a set time each day (when children are in bed, the a.m.?) when you have alone time with your partner so you can communicate and experience closeness reserved only for the two of you.
One practical thing comes to mind that you might consider pursuing because over the years, Moms keep bringing it up. At the very least, talk this over with your spouse as this type of communication can bring closeness. When we join with a partner, we come from two different backgrounds. Even if they seem similar on the surface – my husband and I are both Irish and raised Catholic – there are many subtleties that can create conflict, i.e. gift giving, holidays, nutrition, etc. When a couple joins together, this is the primary union. While we love our parents, siblings and friends, we have created a new family union where all of the things we want for ourselves, and our children, are in the forefront. After discussing these important issues, each partner should address their own family of origin to make sure that your family’s desires are known to them. Two things that I have heard from Moms over the years are: 1) Dads often don’t want to do this, and 2) It would make it so much easier on them if Dad did clarify things with his own family. I think families are grateful to have this information, even if they seem defensive about it at first, because how else will the larger family develop closeness? I have never had a Dad come to me and tell me that their wife needs to talk to her family, but maybe they are just not talking about it. If wives need to clarify their family’s belief systems to their family of origin, I hope they do this as well. Your wishes as parents need to be respected. Also important though – Don’t sweat the small stuff. Talk together and clarify what those boundaries are and let some small stuff go as no one wants to feel completely controlled. Take into consideration the needs of your relatives as well while making decisions.
Dads – you don’t have to be like Moms! Be yourself and your child will have sweet memories of those things – the scruffy beard, your voice, going in your car, your little routines…….they just want to be with you, be cherished and to have your listening ear. There are no male or female jobs, so jump in and do whatever suits you and the family. The old school model of Mom as nurturer and Dad as discipline(er), is a drag. You will cheat yourself if you rely too much on Mom to find out how your children’s lives are going. You and Mom need to work together to agree on discipline and back each other up on the decisions that you make. Juggling work and home for both partners is an art with a young family. When you are with your child, show them your enjoyment in what you do – dishes, bath-time, bed-time – they can all be fun. When the time is right, share your professional and personal interests. The way you meet your endeavors will teach your child a great deal about how to meet life.
Do your best to communicate daily with your partner as this will serve you both, and the family, well. Give your partner 100% of yourself. This will not be lost on the children but serve them to know how to treat their partners and have successful families. I had one Dad in Parent-Child whose wife was suffering from depression. The way they handled this together, by going to counseling, not judging it, working with their child, etc., taught me SO much and I am so grateful to see such an example about the right way to handle a situation. I am sure that both of them get frustrated with this health issue, but by working together, they were teaching their child some valuable lessons.
Thank you, Dads, for being such wonderful parents to work with. You have given me great hope for the futures of the children with your goodness, kindness, and humor. The hard work of parents is deeply appreciated by teachers.