Sunday, May 24th13.3°C
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The Dad Vibe

'Mommy's house is better'

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?”

 

Please add your thoughts at the Dad Vibe... www.thedadvibe.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheDadVibe

Until next time...



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These Dads get it!

Last Sunday, I was the host and DJ for the 10th Annual Father Daughter Dance, a dance that started back in 2005 with only 17 dads. We thought 17 dads coming was cool, but this year we were at capacity with over 175 dads, together in one room, each with one, two, or even three daughters for an unforgettable night of family memories with 400 other enthusiastic people. This year we were sold out a week early! Imagining a sell out 10 years ago was a foolish pipe dream, but this dance is a small example of how much more involved fathers are today.

As a DJ, you cannot imagine a more positive and happy vibe in a room. From the giggles in the photo booth and ‘hair salons’, to the silly dancing on the floor, these Dads GET IT! As their beaming daughters gaze up and marvel, these dads proudly embrace the role of hero!

The Father-Daughter bond is so important to the development of a strong, confident woman. Over the past few years, I have written many articles about this bond, but today, I want to touch on a few keys points inspired by the amazing moments I witnessed on Sunday.

First of all, we had 175 dads in one place to dance! As tough as it is to say, part of the magic of this night is no moms allowed. There are no women for shy, goofy, non-dancing dads to be self-conscious in front of. Let’s face it, very few men are fantastic confident dancers; most of us are just OK, safe with our limited repertoire of dance moves. Sure we can bust out the odd hand clapping shimmy moonwalk, or the C3PO robot with the faulty arm, but keeping the beat for an extended time (and looking cool) is tough work. Maybe it’s how we are raised and socialized; most men don’t phone and invite each other out for a night of dancing.

“Hey Brock, what are you doing tonight? Oh, putting in a new transmission eh? Me? Oh well, I feel like dancing tonight, do you want... hello.... Brock???”

But at this dance, by the end of the night, almost ever dad is on the floor, but it usually starts with one “Wiggle Dad”.

Many years ago, we took our children to see the Wiggles, those wickedly talented Australian guys. At the concert, parents were encouraged to get up and dance with their families. Understandably, most of us were too cool for school and politely declined the Wiggle’s offer and stayed planted in our seats. However, in our section, while we all sat safe, one dad and his daughter danced like there was no tomorrow. He was up and ‘committed to dance’ and what he lacked in dance rhythm and coordination, he more than made up for in enthusiasm. His daughter loved it and was right there with him.

I am sure his dancing angered a few dads, “Well, if he does it, then do we all have to?” But what his dancing did was give us fence-sitting dads the green light to be goofy and step out of our comfort zone for our kids. I found myself standing and grooving away, who cares if I default to the the Carleton with my Caucasian overbite, nothing and no one else mattered – all that mattered was having fun with my children. I won’t see these other people again, but I will see my son and daughter again. If I did see any of other people, what would they say? “Nice Dancing”? or “Cool Dad”? I may not love dancing, but I do love my kids.

I often think about “Wiggle Dad” and his impact on me, the rest of my seating section, and my thoughts on parenting. The world needs Wiggle Dads, to show the other nervous self-conscious dads that everything is going to be awesome. Life is short. These are the good old days right now, soak it up! We have at least 15-20 Wiggle Dads at our dance every year. You can witness their exuberance and zany attitude rubbing off and inspiring even the most nervous, withdrawn, or stodgy dads.

I want to mention that we intentionally leave the wording on our Father Daughter Dance posters ambiguous. We never really specify the age of the daughters. We have had 18 month olds up to 14 year olds attend and have a blast. If a teenage daughter still wants to come and have fun with her cool dad, then all the power to them, major win for dad!! We also never specify dress code or WHO can bring a little girl. She may come on the arm of a step dad, grandpa, uncle, or family friend. The dance is open to any man playing a significant role in the life of a young girl.

The diverse cross section of men attending is astounding and awesome; white/blue collar, gay/straight, old/young, men in suits/men in jeans. None of that matters, because for one night, they are united in a huge public display of modern fatherhood, and more specifically, they were united by their love for their daughters.

These guys get it.

As a dad, you are first man your daughter will love. You set the bar for every man she will ever encounter. He will be judged by the standard you will set. How high will you set the bar? The thousands of interactions you will share with your daughter will help shape her into the woman she will become. Everything matters; how you talk to (and with) your daughter, how you ask her opinion and feelings, how you listen to her, and how you talk about her to other people. She will learn that she has a voice that is equal to a man’s and needs to be listened to. The amazing woman that, if you play your cards right, you may be lucky enough to walk down a wedding aisle as she gets married to someone very much like you, in personality, character, and love for her. Heck, she may even want a fun Father Daughter Dance at her wedding, to relive one of her best childhood memories!

Although I mentioned it numerous times throughout the dance, I want to thank all the wonderful families that support our Father Daughter Dance. You are inspiring and incredible. I love running into you and your daughters around town and hearing about your experience at the dance and how much you are looking forward to the next one! That is why we do it!

 

If you want to be the first to know about the next dance, please add your name to the list @ www.thedadvibe.com.

If you are in the Okanagan and want to help sponsor the dance or help our little committee of four dads, then please email me [email protected] for more info.

And if you want ideas on how to host a Father-Daughter Dance in your community, I would love to help you create more amazing family memories!

Until next time...



Naked in front of kids?

Let me set the scene for the last time my son ever saw my penis...

It was between the second and third period of a junior hockey Rockets game. There were not enough toilets to accommodate the ‘beer-bladdered’ home town hockey fans. So there we were, father and son, hand in hand, waiting patiently for an open stall (as the urinals were way too high up for my four year old and the thought of ANYTHING from that urinal touching my son was revolting)!  A drunk, red faced fan turned out to be a hero as he somehow, through blurred vision, spotted my son and I waiting and gave up his spot in line for the toilets – oh the nobility!

My son urgently and proudly went first while I waited and read the bathroom wall. After he was done, I decided I had better go while I had the chance (and he was preoccupied with the bathroom lock). I guess the lock became less interesting as the sound of urine hit the bowl. Unbeknownst to me, I now had an audience of one, who loudly declared to a suddenly quiet bathroom, “Wow Daddy, your penis is huge!”

While I received a few high-fives and some hilarious comments from other dudes, that was the last time my son (or any of my children) ever saw my privates. Fun family baths became a cherished memory. While my wife still occasionally showers with our young daughter, I don’t think my nudity and/or my privates being visible serves any purpose, so I am never naked around our kids. I should make clear that I am comfortable with my body. I don’t mind being naked around the hockey dressing room or with my partner (I actually look for opportunities to be naked with her), but it is a choice to never be naked around the kids.

Am I an uptight prude about nudity or simply practical and sensible?

As a conscientious parent, I want my children to have a healthy understanding of their body and a positive body image. Real bodies are not like the magazine covers. Real bodies are wonderful machines and can do many amazing things. I do want my children to be comfortable with their own bodies and so we talk openly and matter-of-factly about body parts. “Yep, it’s a penis. I have one, you have one, grandpa has one, the prime minister has one, etc.” I actually believe my choice to be ‘not nude’ serves to begin teaching modesty and privacy (because who really likes the ‘ripped-6-pack-shirt-off guy at the corporate family picnic).

Our western culture tends to be pretty uptight about nudity. If you were to travel the globe, while you might find some cultures even more uptight about nudity (Hello UK), you will easily find many cultures that embrace and celebrate the human body. At an upscale wellness centre/spa near our home, there is a “European hour” from 8-9pm in the saunas and steam rooms. Sadly, I am too shy, self-conscious, and essentially fearful of shrinkage (there is a cold pool) to participate. On our last trip, we met an entire naked Austrian family in a hot wooden sauna, and I felt bashful and ashamed of my conservatism. Part of me yearned for the total freedom they seemed to enjoy because to that family and many other naturalists, a body was just a body, used to move dem’ bones around.

A friend of mine confided in me that his wife is naked all the time around the house. That didn’t sound like a problem to me, until he clarified that their young children were always around to witness her natural state while vacuuming, dusting, and cleaning. While she didn’t seem to care, but her constant nakedness really bothered him. Should it have bothered him? Is that a conversation that you need to have with your partner about boundaries and limits of your bare living? Why are my friend, myself, and most of our society so uptight about nudity?

A key point to remember: a naked body doesn’t equal sexuality. There is nothing wrong, dirty, or shameful about nudity. So maybe we all need to relax! Now if our kids happen to walk in while we are changing, we don’t shriek and slam the door, but we just get dressed as casually as possible and continue on. No big deal.

At what age should you stop being naked in front of your kids? There doesn’t seem to be a hard and fast rule anywhere. Most of my research led me to a simple conclusion: do what feels right for your family and your values.

If we are preaching that nudity has nothing to do with sexuality, should we have different rules for opposite gendered children? Or are bodies just bodies?

The maturity of your kids may dictate when to start promoting privacy and modesty. Your kids will likely give clues that it’s time for privacy – for both you and them. If your nudity is a big snickering deal to your kids, where they laugh and point, then you probably can start the conversation of bodies being private and respecting other people’s privacy. All things considered, I think six years of age is when parents should stop being naked in front of their kids.

As I am writing this, I distinctly remember seeing the Hay family jewels for the first time, early one Sunday morning, through my dad’s damn billowy three quarter length robe. I was around seven and I was not shocked or scarred by the sight (many parents fear their nudity may inflict permanent scarring which is extremely unlikely), however, the fact that I still remember the colour of the bathrobe is interesting.

Let’s talk nudity at your house. When was the last time your kids saw your privates? Yesterday? Last year? Never? Have you had those naked conversations with your kids or partner?

Where do you fall on the “Naked in front of the kids” continuum? Never? Sometimes? Occasionally? Or all the time?

Please bare all and share at www.thedadvibe.com or www.facebook.com/TheDadVibe

 

Until next time...



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Spousal resentment meter

Late last week, we took our Spousal Resentment Meter (SRM) from a volatile 6 back down to a calm 0.

Psychologist Dr. Alison Poulsen has a great definition of resentment; “... is the feeling of bitterness, anger, or hatred resulting from a real or imagined wrong. The key difference between resentment, anger and contempt stems from how a person perceives the status of the wrong-doer. Resentment is directed at people with perceived higher status; anger is directed at people with perceived equal status; contempt is directed at people with perceived lower status."

Therefore in order to resent your partner, you have to feel an inequality or injustice in your relationship. Have you ever experienced that? For example, a stay-at-home parent may begin to harbour resentment toward their working partner because of the perception that he/she is more successful, has more social outlets, and more purpose to his/her days.

Resentment often masquerades as many other emotions; anger, jealousy, passive aggression, and contempt. Resentment tends to start off small but can grow quickly if unmanaged, with the resentment replaying day after day and even mutating into other issues. Some experts believe that resentment is the number one killer of relationships, the primary destroyer of respect and love and I agree.

Think of your Spousal Resentment Meter (or SRM) as a giant rubber band, wound between you and your partner with a range of tension from a loose zero to killer tight 10. If the stressors of daily life begin to impact the dynamics of your relationship, couples may find that the rubber band between them begins to tighten with anger, hurt, and resentment. The band will continue to get tighter and tighter until something or someone snaps. Permanent tension, like some couples that choose to live at a constant 6, will eventually stretch and break the band too...

Ideally, in a perfect world, your relationship should be free of resentment. But have you felt moments of being used, taken advantage of, or being unrecognized for your hard work? Do you say little and internalize the negative feelings? If you do not address these feelings with yourself and your partner, resentment will prevent you from seeing anything positive in that person or be happy for their successes.

Remember, resentment is a choice and has little effect on the person it is directed at. It's often said that resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Yet the one who suffers is the person who harbors resentment.

Dr. Bob Navarra, a Gottman trained therapist, has categorized Resentment into three categories. This is my quick summary of his interesting theory and thoughts.

 

Category 1 – Cloudy day - The small irritating stuff which you can let go of when your relationship is largely in a good place – “I could have used more help at our party but I know you were talking with an old friend...”

Category 2 – Thunderstorm - These resentments carry more negative feelings, and can blow up quickly if left unattended or unmanaged. While not threatening the security of a relationship, these resentments can lead to irritation, anger, or contempt (a definite winding of the SRM rubber band). Put on your MacGyver vest and disarm the ticking time bombs – “The kids see you as the fun parent, while I am stuck always being the heavy...”

Category 3 – Hurricane - These resentments cause great distress and pain in a relationship – often perceived as a ‘fundamental flaw’ in your partner by triggering deep feelings or shaking core beliefs. These major storms, which often need the intervention of professional help, can cause a lot damage often leading to withdrawal or feelings of gridlock, hopelessness, and confusion – “You have always been lazy because your family had money and you don’t know what a hard day of work looks like!”

Like Gremlins and food after midnight, resentment feeds on our negative feelings, and becomes stronger the longer it is ignored. So how do we stop it?


Five quick ways to decrease your Spousal Resentment

1. Recognize and identify what is triggering resentment in you. (Identifying feelings of inadequacy, helplessness, or lack of power).

2. Talk about it with your partner. When you don’t talk about it, the bitterness and anger will only grow and fester, creating more distance and space between you. When your partner, in an attempt to repair, asks “What’s wrong?", stop saying “Nothing!” Be courageous and vulnerable, and share your thoughts... you are the one holding the burning hot ember of resentment in your hand, the faster you let go, the better.

3. Pick a time when you are both calm. Without attacking each other, you must tell your partner what you need using “I” statements. “When you spend more time with your friends, I feel rejected or unimportant. I need time with me to be a priority in our weekly plans...”

4. Remain solution focused and ready to forgive.

5. Take care of yourself and your needs. Exercise, eating healthy, and sleep are great resentment barriers.

 

It takes huge strength and courage to express and share our pain to the people that are hurting us. That is vulnerability at its core. We constantly need to be aware of the tension in our relationship because we all strive for harmony and intimacy. True intimacy occurs when we can express our deepest feelings to our partner and we feel heard and respected.

Take-away point: If you feel resentment building in your relationship, and your spousal resentment meter is nearing a 7 or an 8, don’t wait to let it explode. Pick a calm time and share your true authentic feelings – disarm the time bomb that is inside you.

American Journalist Joan Lunden claims “Holding onto anger, resentment and hurt only gives you tense muscles, a headache and a sore jaw from clenching your teeth. Forgiveness gives you back the laughter and the lightness in your life.”

Have you experienced resentment in your relationship? Please share – I bet your feelings and experiences are shared by many... How did you handle your burning ember of resentment? Or perhaps you have been resented?

Until next time...



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About the Author

Jeff Hay… is a Kelowna based writer, motivational speaker, parenting coach, and father of three. Along with writing for Castanet, Jeff also writes for the Huffington Post, the Good Men Project, and the National Fatherhood Initiative in the United States.  When he is not playing his favourite role of “DAD”, Jeff is speaking throughout Canada as a popular parenting educator and working on his website – www.thedadvibe.com and his parenting book for Dads, “Wait Till Your Father Gets Home!” Jeff dedicates his life’s work to improving the well-being of children by increasing the proportion of children growing up with involved, responsible, and committed fathers.

E-mail Jeff your thoughts or questions anytime at [email protected]

 




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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.


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