Fathers, enjoy the now

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on Oct. 17, 2008, but offers a wonderful perspective from an Attachment Parenting father that can truly stand the test of time.

footprints-1053161-mOne of the greatest gifts that a father can give to his children is to be present: to be here now, to be actively engaged in their lives.

Your presence as a father, as a man, is something completely different than what they experience from the mother as a woman, so make it special. Be present.

To be present, you have to mentally let go of all of the loose ends in your life. You have to let go of all of the things happening this afternoon, next week, this winter, 5 years from now. You have to let go of the past. Let go of everything from yesterday, from your work, from when you were a kid…

Sounds easy. It’s not.

Our minds are like monkeys, jumping from one thought to the next: I’m hungry. Wow, look at that sweet bike. I need some new socks. What time is the show? I sure could use some cash. Where’s that book I was reading? All of our wants and needs and disappointments and triumphs and losses and opinions are competing for space in our head.

Observe yourself. Get to know yourself. Maintain an awareness of the source of your thoughts and judgments. When you speak, ask yourself why you are speaking. When you eat, ask yourself where your food came from and why you are eating it. When making a choice, ask yourself why you decided the way that you did.

Chances are, you’ll learn an awful lot about yourself in a short time. Then you can begin to make different choices, consciously. Like the choice to be present with your child.

You can start by actively looking them in the eye when they are speaking to you, and by asking them what they think about things. Let them teach you about themselves by being an engaged listener and giving them your full attention. If you get down on their level with the Legos and let them lead, you’ll find that they are present. They are here now.

Makes you wish maybe you could be a kid again.

The next time they ask for something they don’t usually get, say “yes,” and enthusiastically involve yourself with them.

The Attachment Parenting father understands that most rules for kids are silly. So many times, “no” is the answer simply because it’s the usual answer, the regular answer, not because there is a valid reason for it. Kinda like “Because I said so.”

So surprise them. Surprise yourself. Be impulsive and irrational because you can, because it doesn’t matter what you did in the past.

This is now.

Go for it.

It’s all you’ve got.

“In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.”
-from the Tao Te Ching, Stephen Mitchell translation

It’s not called permissive parenting

The Leader
The Leader

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on Sept. 23, 2008, but it serves to remind parents how Attachment Parenting differs from permissive parenting.

The world is full of followers, but you’re not one of them. ~J.L. Glass

I recently attended a seminar taught by motivational speaker J.L. Glass — a very funny, charismatic speaker at that — and he mentioned that he tells his kids that. It got me to thinking about all of the messages we give our children, both verbally and through our actions, and how much of our parenting, good and bad, we inherited from our parents.

Growing up, we may have thought that we would do things way different than our parents. By the time we become parents ourselves, we realize that our parents had reasons for the way that they did things.

And now we raise our own children in our own home with our values and morals, and then they go out into the world and we hope for the best. They are exposed to many things outside of the home that we would not necessarily choose for them: maybe it’s popular music, or fashion, or junk food, or the desire for more consumer goods, or whatever.

Part of parenting is letting go and trusting them to make decisions for themselves.

So how do you get to that point of trust?

Well, to generalize, there seem to be two main parenting styles:

  1. Controlling everything, and
  2. Letting the child control everything.

Some parents decide everything for their child, from their food choices to their friends and activities. I grew up with some of that, and I resented not being able to choose.

But I’ve also seen some parents that let their kids choose anything, and the parents get run all over by them. In my humble opinion, giving a child free rein doesn’t seem to be very effective in the long run.

I think there’s a middle ground that is respectful to the parents and the child, and that effectively teaches the skills for family living and future involvement with the rest of society. And this is where Attachment Parenting fits.

Some of the parenting guidelines that have worked for my family include:

  • Our actions must be in line with our words — If we tell a child one thing and then do another, what do they learn from that? I got called on this by my daughter recently, and I learned something from her. Imitation is how children learn almost everything, and their sense of integrity comes from our own.
  • Our children must know that they are loved — Distinguishing between your child and your child’s action is super important. A child is never bad. They may misbehave or make mistakes, but they are still our beloved child, doing the best they can. And they need to hear that they are loved, often.
  • Our children must have some choices — They do need to be able to control a tiny part of the universe, even if it’s only choosing which plate to eat from. Being able to make compromises so that everyone’s needs are met is a cornerstone of a strong family.
  • We must openly communicate about our expectations — If they don’t know what is not acceptable, children can’t be held accountable for their actions. We are the parents. It’s up to us to teach them.
  • No bribery — We don’t bribe our kids or offer them rewards for promising “good” behavior.
  • Setting clear boundaries is also freedom — It’s kind of like baby-proofing a room. When children know their boundaries, they are free to explore in a safe environment. We also have time limits for things like movies or internet access, so they get some of what they want, while we get some of what we want, like no couch potatoes.
  • We must stand behind our words — If we have clear expectations for behavior, and clear consequences for misbehavior, then we need to be firm in administering them. No free passes… One of the consequences in our family for disrespectful behavior is doing extra chores. Our reasoning is, if we want to be able to enjoy all of the good things as a family, we all have to play our part and help out. If we have a child throwing a tantrum about not getting their way, then our whole family is affected by it. Pitching in to help with the not-so-fun stuff works for us. Usually they calm down about halfway through the chores, and they realize that they actually have it pretty darn good most of the time.
  • Speak positive words and give kudos for good behavior — Just acknowledging the tiny bits of growth that happen everyday is uplifting to kids. A kind word is a powerful thing. We internalize the messages we get, so let’s help by spreading more love and less criticism. Praising the positive and encouraging it in our children ultimately takes way less energy than focusing on the negative behavior.

All you need is love…well, and some positive discipline.


Image: Hamed Saber at Flickr under Creative Commons

This Father is Not a Mother

When my wife and I had our first child, I remember thinking that I wished that we could have twins, so I could hold one sometimes (I have since withdrawn that wish…). I thought to myself that attachment parenting really meant attached-to-the-mama parenting.

It seemed to me that when our baby wasn’t nursing on mama, she was sleeping. I got to be a champion burper though, because I kept volunteering to do it so I could get more time holding her. Every time our daughter cried I would try to be the comforter, but when you have no milkies, it’s a lot tougher.
Continue reading This Father is Not a Mother

Be Selfish: Finding Balance in Your Life

For busy families, fitting one more thing into your day might seem impossible, but adding something extra every day will actually revitalize and refresh you.

After fighting his way home through traffic, an exhausted dad arrives at home ready to put his feet up. At the door, he meets the also exhausted mom holding a crying toddler, ready to hand over the kids and have her body back for a little while. They both need a break. They have both spent the day meeting the needs of others.

Modern life is fast-paced and heavily scheduled. There are jobs to report to, meals to prepare, soccer carpools to drive, groceries to buy, bills to pay, gardens to care for, and lawns to mow. There’s diapers to wash and toilets to scrub, crayon on the wall, and fourteen dirty baby outfits to launder each day. It’s stressful. It takes a lot of mental energy to cope with all of the demands of our jobs and families, let alone our friends and relatives.

Strive for a healthy balance in your life.

We have to take time for ourselves. When we get stressed, we can’t fully nurture our loved ones or connect with them on a deep level. On the airplane, the flight attendant teaches us that in an emergency, we should first put our own oxygen mask on, and then we put the mask on our child. If we pass out first, we will be of no help to our child. We can’t take care of others if we aren’t first taking care of ourselves. The classic mom (or dad) burn-out is someone who takes care of everyone else’s needs first, trying to be everything to everybody, putting herself last, and then being stressed out both physically and emotionally because of it.

If we can add one more thing to our daily schedule, we can come to our relationships and obligations with a fresh attitude and a renewed sense of purpose. Exactly what that one thing is, only you can know. It’s different for everybody.

We are not just parents and partners.

We are artists and writers, cyclists and runners, quilters and woodcarvers. We have passions and interests that extend beyond the family, but we may be out of touch with that side of ourselves if we’ve spent all of our time meeting the needs of others and putting ourself last.

Think about the activities and interests that you enjoyed as a kid. Do any of these still pull you? Why not start again? It really does all come back to you.

If you’re stumped, maybe you need to start the process by just being physically active every day. Get that bike out of the garage and go for a ride. Pick up a jump rope and start spinning. Go to the pool and do some laps. I always find that when I get my heart pumping, my brain gets quiet. This lets me listen a little deeper to what’s going on inside me. I can see clearly which things in my life I need to change, and when I’m “back to the world”, I can use those intuitions to guide me in my daily life.

Some days, the easiest way to get my personal time is by riding my bike to work, and then taking a longish detour on the way home. I ride until all of my job-related stress melts away, and by the time that I get home, I’m ready to take over the kid department while my wife gets a workout in, or a sewing project finished, or goes for a bike ride for herself. We’re both taken care of: I’ve got my ya-yas out, my partner gets to focus on herself for awhile, and the kids (and our marriage) benefit.

Take some personal time every day, even if it’s only 15 minutes. Set aside work and family and social obligations to follow your heart. Sit and meditate. Work on your yoga practice. Do a puzzle. Go for a run. Start a blog. Nurturing yourself plays a huge part in finding and maintaining a healthy balance in your life.

Take time for you.

Your spouse and kids will appreciate it.

(Image Credit: cpt.spock on Flickr.)

Derek blogs about fatherhood, life with toddlers, green living, and other random goodness at Natural Father.

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