Savvy universities annually send their professors cheat sheets to educate and prepare them for their incoming new students. These cheat sheets are chockfull of factoids about the world to which these new students, most born in the late 90s, can relate.
Seinfeld examples are lost on these bright-eyed kids; kids who have never seen a mixed cassette tape (or CD) or ever rung up late fees at a video rental store, opened an encyclopedia, or blown on a game cartridge.
All this nostalgic pining got me thinking about the world my children are growing up in right now; the beliefs they hold, and what is normal for them.
We have open and honest communications that lead to many interesting discussions. From the dinner table last night,
“. . . it’s cool that the USA has the first black president now, and by this time next year they might have the first female president! Is that amazing?”
All four of my children, including our toddler, stared at me with this incredible look of shame, mild fascination, and pity.
It wasn’t ‘amazing’. It was normal. Black or white, male or female, both a NON-ISSUE to them. Of course a president could be black, and of course she could be woman.
My children are growing up, happily missing most of the stereotypes I grew up with.
Men and women work.
Skin colour is nothing to my children.
No one is better than another.
People are people and everyone deserves equal respect and treatment. This is a simple credo that we preach and live by. Men being equal to women in everything is normal to my children.
We both work, parent, do dishes, hang laundry, and vacuum. That is their reality and the lifetime movie they watch every day. There are no male/female defined roles.
“You are right son, there are women drivers in race cars, not sure why men and women don’t compete against each other in curling and darts.”
However, there are daily chinks in the armour of Pleasantville. News items, YouTube clips, and other viral toxins challenge the ideals my children hold.
“Well, what that man is saying is that the state of Texas doesn’t want to let gay people marry each other.”
“That is so stupid, Dad, I hate Texas. People can marry whoever they love, whoever their special person is, right Dad?”
Being gay is normal to my children, as we have gay people close to us. My children have no idea how far the LGBT movement has come in my lifetime. As far as they know, it’s always been perfect to love who you choose to love.
Let’s be brutally honest. My head is not in the clouds or stuck in the ground. I know the ugly world of racism, discrimination, and despicable injustices, are just a few clicks and years away. I do realize that over time, my children will discover the various struggles different groups have endured, and will continue to endure, but for right now, in the pure innocent minds of my children, this wonderful world is an equal playing field for all.
And we will ride that wave as long as we can.
How do your children see the world? Are they tied to old stereotypes, or are they living in this new age?
Until next time. . . .
I’m going to take the morning off and relive the early 80s: After I crank-call my parents, I’ll watch Knight Rider reruns as I wait to tape my favourite song off the radio. I’ll do all of that as soon as I finish reading this shampoo bottle in the bathroom (what else could you read on the toilet back in the 80s?).
Father’s Day is my favourite day of the year. Period.
Father’s Day has not been a national holiday as long as Mother’s Day (1972 vs. 1910), but today’s more involved dads don’t care about history – we love our kids. I treasure the hand crafted gifts my children make for me at school and feel incredibly privileged to be a father.
On Father’s Day, I reflect on not only how lucky I am, but how unlucky other men are; the guys that are unable to become fathers through the cruelness and tribulations of the human reproductive system or relationships. However, some of those men do become dads when they meet a single mom with children.
“Dad” is an awesome title, but it should not be reserved for only the biological dad. “Dad” can be perfect for any man playing a significant role in the life of a child; uncles, grandpas, and perhaps most importantly, step-dads. Today, I want to focus and salute all the step-dads behaving "dadly".
Frederick Buechner declared that when a child is born, a father is also born. As a father, you love your children instantly and unconditionally. But when you become a step-parent, you CHOOSE to love someone else’s child as your own. You choose to develop a relationship with that child and invest time.
Ray Johnson said it best, “It takes a strong man to accept somebody else’s children and step up to the plate another man left on the table...”
In many blended families this weekend, Sunday will be spent with biological dad. He gets top billing, and perhaps rightly so, but let’s not forget the other dad that plays a big role in many kids lives.
Being a step-dad doesn’t come with nine months of prep time. You usually parachute into a family unit with children at various stages of development. Like skipping the puppy years with a new dog, some step-dads may love missing out on the diaper years, while others wish they had more time during the critical years to develop a relationship with their new step-child. As I wrote about a few years ago, in an article “Loving My Red-Headed Step-Child” (that was later published in the book “Dad’s Behaving Dadly”), my step-son already has a great father! I am not trying to replace a dad, just simply wanting to be another positive ‘dadly’ influence in his life.
Most step-dads arrive into a child’s life like an awesome new playmate: someone that always wants to throw a ball or bounce on a trampoline. This play-based relationship usually evolves into a more parental role as one roof begins to house all the children. My step-son and I are carving out our own unique relationship. Like step-dads everywhere, I try to be present everyday and make deposits to my step-son’s emotional bank account. I want to earn his respect, not demand it.
Sometimes step-dads are the only dad present and participating in the life of young child, so they grow into their ‘dad’ title naturally. Frankly, I would never insist that my step-son calls me “Dad”. I don’t care if he calls me “Daddy-Jeff”, “Bald-Dad”, or just “Jeff” – just don’t call me “not involved” or “not present”. I want to lay the careful foundation for our relationship now so that when the storms of the teenage years hit, I will be another safe harbour for him. I want to be a strong male role model and the beacon for guidance, morality, ethics, and love. You may not share genetics with your step-children, but you can share a relationship and a connection.
I do honestly believe, if done well, children of divorce can receive MORE love as they may have two additional parental figures that will love them, help guide them, and be there in their life. We have had weekend soccer games with four excited adults cheering! Step-parenting can have great benefits. Just this past week, mom was at work, dad was at work, but I was able to attend and videotape the daytime talent show recital!
So this weekend, let’s celebrate all male parental figures. In your circle of friends, reach out to a step-dad and tell him what an awesome job he is doing. If you are a dad, that has the blessing of another dad in your child’s life, reach out to him and thank him for being there! Step-parenting is not always an easy role, but very rewarding!
While it’s easier to become a father that to be one, for these supermen, the choice to love another’s as your own is even more incredible.
TAKE AWAY POINT – Don’t forget step-dads and their contributions on Father’s Day. While the children may be spending time with their biological dad, make sure their step-dad gets his kudos because he is also awesome. You cannot love mom and ignore the inherent responsibilities of her children. Step-dads choose to love.
Until next time...
I was driving in a bad mood. I don’t even remember what was wrong. I guess something in my entitled, privileged life wasn’t working out the way I wanted. Even the smiling, cooing eight-month old baby in the back seat couldn’t break up the dark gloomy clouds over my head.
In a row of at least eight cars, we waited for our turn to turn left. Up ahead, I saw the begging, bearded, dirty man on the median touting his handwritten cardboard sign; a sign that likely said something about being hungry and needing money. In a split second, I judged everything about him; his relative abilities, mental state, education level, and general worth as a human being.
I pleaded with the left turn arrow to stay green so I wouldn’t have to decide if I was giving him money. “Please please, one more car – keep going, oh come on moron!” Perhaps it was divine intervention, but the white haired man in front of me obeyed the yellow light and chose to wait.
Ironically enough, we pulled up right along side the beggar; he was about two feet from our car. Instead of acknowledging the existence of another human in close proximity, I chose to suddenly fumble with something in the glove box.
But my son saw him. My son made eye contact with him. I heard “ba ba ba ba ba” as he pointed to the smiling man who waved back.
Still in an ugly foul mood, I said, “Yes Eli, he should be working, he does have two arms and two legs that work! Instead of that sign, he could be holding a pizza sign or advertise something and get paid!”
But that wasn’t what my innocent son was saying at all.
I saw the nuisance. He saw the person.
Suddenly, I was horribly ashamed of myself and my judgments. An embarrassed wave of enlightenment washed over me. God only knows the circumstances that brought this man to this point in his life. He is someone’s son or brother, maybe husband or father. Who am I to judge this man and his worth?
An angry car horn from somewhere behind me snapped me out of my epiphany. But I have never forgotten how I felt in that moment. I wanted to stop my car and hug that man. But I didn’t.
My roly-poly baby son reminded me that everyone deserves respect and love. Babies are laughing, jiggling masses that radiate innocent, pure love. Babies are a little like dogs that way. They don’t judge a person’s worth by what they do for a living, they love regardless.
Researchers at Princeton discovered that, in a blink of an eye, upon seeing a new face, our adult brains decide whether a person is attractive, trustworthy, and potentially how educated a person is. Babies do not do this. They see a new face, and they smile.
Sitting in a taxi with my son in San Francisco, I was reminded again of that shameful left turn moment. Our taxi driver, with his thick Indian accent and head dress, was an imposing man at first glance. We could have stayed in awkward silence as my son slept, but this time, I turned my judgment into curiosity and learned all about this amazing, intelligent man from Sri Lanka who was working two jobs to bring the rest of his family to America.
H. Jackson Brown Jr. said it best, “Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something.” As a parent, I want to teach my children about the world, but if I am present and attuned, my children might just teach me the most valuable lessons of all.
TAKE AWAY POINT - Be aware of the snap judgments you make everyday and remember to love like a baby does.
Until next time.
When my ex-wife came out four years ago, I knew MY world was never going to be the same, but I quickly realized that my children’s world was about to look very different too. Gone was the dream of the “white-picket-fence-perfect-million-dollar family”. This odd idyllic image was to be replaced by pickups and drop-offs to two different houses, each with two different bedrooms, two sets of clothes, and two sets of toys.
This is the reality for many blended families, sharing the responsibilities of raising children (I hate the word ‘custody’). Unlike other divorce situations that are extremely bitter and/or nasty, ours has been an easier road (but not without our share of storms over the past four years). With any separation, it is critical to keep the best interests of the kids at the forefront of any decision making. One of the most challenging aspects of a ‘successful divorce with kids’ is shelving the personal emotions one might feel against their former partner. You must do what is best for the kids (sometimes perhaps through clenched teeth and bitter unsent texts) to minimize the collateral damage to the innocent children, especially in the early days of the divorce, when emotions are much more raw.
Given our work and life structure right now, we arrived at a working separation agreement where the children would be with me Monday to Friday and with their mother Friday to Monday morning. These ‘transition’ days can sometimes carry a little sadness and anxiety (and that’s just for us parents). While mom and I share parenting values and a friendship, within these two different living arrangements, there are also two different parenting philosophies. Behaviours and choices that are permitted or happen in one house, do not happen in the other. And the kids know it!
Mom and I have open dialogue about issues and challenges with our son and daughter (now 9 and 7) and share ideas on what is working, but of course, I can only control what happens in this house (ha, ‘control’, what an illusion!)
At this house, during the busy week of activities and school, the kids have chores and expectations of helping out, firm bedtimes, and homework. We need that structure to survive and thrive. We all need to pitch in because there are three extra people at this house (my new partner, her son, and our new baby). At mom’s house, because her time is largely on the weekends, there is more freedom and ease with time with later bedtimes, paid chores, and increased screen time.
“I like Mommy’s house better!” is a line we do hear occasionally, and while it naturally stings a little (because I think I’m super cool), it is not powerful enough to warrant change. From the outside, one house IS more fun. If I was a kid, I would prefer the house with little homework or responsibility. However, in our house, we are looking long term - we believe we are teaching life lessons, work ethics, and how to be a good person. And I am certain; mom feels the same way about her rules. I don’t think the kids tell me they like Mommy’s house better to hurt me. Usually they say it out of frustration or when they are called on their poor behaviour or choices.
A variable worth noting is that in our busy home with four children, there are two parents who can divide and conquer as well as support and bolster each other when disciplining the children. My ex-wife did have a partner for awhile for ‘backup’, but she is now parenting alone and as hard as it is to admit, my children do take advantage. My son, who is the oldest, has much more decision making power at mom’s house than here and who doesn’t love power?
I guess we could cave and try to win the “Our house is better” title, but we believe in the long term benefits of our philosophy; doing what is best for the kids. By her own admission, mom wants to “reel it in” and have more structure on weekends and bring the houses into more alignment of expectations and responsibilities.
On transition days for children of divorce, there is definitely a “changing of regime” that kids may find initially confusing (Who is in charge? Which rules are in play?), but children are smart and learn to adapt to whatever regime is “governing”. However, birthday parties and school events, where both mom and I are in attendance, can prove challenging and almost funny as they try to ‘work the room’ to get the answer they want from one of us. Thankfully, we are usually on the same page, “No, your mom is right, cotton candy is not a good choice right before bed!”
As any separated parent with shared access can tell you, it is not easy navigating a constantly changing landscape of life and co-parenting. There are high highs and low lows. Single parents may find have new partners, which can have its own unique challenges for children and families to navigate. New jobs, partners, and schedules can all wreak havoc on the fragile family norm between two houses. As children get older, their needs will change and one living arrangement might benefit them more.
TAKEAWAY POINT – If you are in a blended family situation and enjoy shared responsibly for raising your children, try to keep the big picture in mind. Your house may not be the fun house, but it may be the stability and predictability of your house that forms a solid foundation for your children. Strive for open communication with your ex-partner about the rules in each of your houses. Each household does not have to be a carbon copy of the other, but the more similar the expectations and rules, the easier life can be for the children as they go from one home to the other. It is not a competition for who can be the fun house, rather a coordinated effort to raise respectful, confident, resilient children.
If you are a blended family with older kids, does it get easier?
Any tips you can pass along for navigating “I like Mommy’s/Daddy’s house better?”
Until next time...
Read more The Dad Vibe articles
- These Dads get it! May 8
- Naked in front of kids? Apr 24
- Spousal resentment meter Apr 10
- '50 Shades of You' Mar 13
- How to raise a kid no one likes Feb 13
- Daddy's gone? Where? Jan 16
- My step-dad struggles Dec 5
- I know why you two fight: Part 2 Nov 21
- I know why you two fight Nov 7
- Dads do it differently! Oct 24
- The day I lost my daughter Sep 12
- Talk to your kids for 7 Minutes? Aug 15
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