There are no handcuffs or blindfolds in this movie...
No retakes, no clever editing, no body doubles; it’s you, raw and uncut....
This is the movie of your life... the movie your kids watch everyday.
You and your partner are the stars of the movie, but also the director, producer and even the key grip (whatever that is...). The dynamics of your relationship are played out daily to a very captive audience. They are watching and studying EVERYTHING: how you interact, how you show affection, how you problem solve, how you fight or disagree, and possibly how you make up.
The movie starts in the morning at the breakfast table; often a joyful place but sometimes an icy chill can linger and casts a cold shadow over the cereal bowls and juice. What movie do your kids see? It is a horror movie or a romantic comedy? With front row seats to the greatest show on earth, your children are constantly forming their ideas of what a relationship looks like – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
As a father and partner, here are some of the things I try (and often fail) to keep in mind as our movie plays out...
- My tone of voice and body language say more than my words ever could.
- Eye contact is essential in showing respect and attention (not on my phone).
- Mom’s voice and opinion are just as important as mine (my children need that message, especially my daughter; her female voice and ideas are just as important as the boys).
- We are equal in making household decisions.
- Stop interrupting! We constantly remind our kids not to interrupt yet we model awesome interrupting every day.
- I need to listen, really listen and stop cutting Mom off. Sometimes I am just waiting for her to finish whatever she is saying, so I can drop in my awesome zinger comeback (and win).
Don’t underestimate the intelligence of your audience either! While they might not understand all the acerbic sarcasm and adult talk, they will easily detect tones, body language, and a funky/different vibe in the room. What is said and what is unsaid never goes undetected, so lose the clenched teeth and arms akimbo.
As a divorced dad, I am proud and lucky to be a blended family; a glorious second chance at happiness. Just like Godfather 2, Terminator 2, and the Empire Strikes Back, the sequel can be much better than the original. I have taken the lessons and epic fails from the first movie to improve in the sequel. This sequel (and final installment – no trilogy here) is a much better production and positive role model for my children to see. Still far from perfect, I am more aware now.
My partner and I often joke about wishing we had video cameras installed so we could tell who said what and who was right (not that it ever really matters), but I am glad sometimes that we have no record of the low points in our relationship. Every day, we get a chance to rewrite another chapter in our love story.
So let’s talk about your movie. If we were searching for your movie on NetFlix or a long lost retro video store, in what category would we find your movie? Drama? Romantic Comedy? Action adventure? Suspense Thriller?
And if your movie was nominated to win an Oscar, in what category could you win? Best Original Screenplay? Best Director? Best Costume Design? Or the coveted Best Actor/Actress in a Leading Role?
With a heightened awareness of the “50 Shades” your kids see, try to make the best movie possible. Your children are listening, experiencing, and watching you every day with no makeup or rehearsals. The true power lies in realizing that you are not only the actors, but also the director. Award winning directors guide and inspire their stars to give the best performances of their careers.
Sadly, you can’t pick the stories your kids will remember. They will pick and choose from all your movies. Your children may not remember much from the $10,000 family trip to Disneyland, but the time you comforted your partner during a tough time may loom large in their memory. These are the ordinary stories that will shape their expectations for future relationships. Your movie is going to set the stage for the movie they will show their children. It’s the best reality show of all time and you are the star.
Lights, Camera, ACTION!
Let’s get creative, what movie title best describes your love story? “Dirty Dancing?”, “Some Kind of Wonderful?”, “Pretty Woman?”, “Die Hard?” Please share!
Until next time....
You avoid them at work.
You get stuck talking to them at parties.
They dated your best friend’s roommate.
These are the adults that no one likes. How did they become so self-centered, obnoxious, and plain awful?
What happened in their formative years that created these “unlikeables”? What could their parents have done differently to help mold a more likeable human?
Here are 6 excellent ways to raise a kid no one likes:
- Always let you child interrupt your adult conversations. They are the most important person in the room – ALWAYS!
- Always give your child whatever they want as soon as they demand it!
- Always say “Yes” to your children (stop being a big meanie!)
- Always do everything for your child – that’s your job as a parent! Science fair projects are hard!! Make life easy for your kids!
- Always let your children off with their poor manners – they will learn those when they are adults.
- Always let your kids play – hard work and chores are for adults!
STOP THE INSANITY!
While an argument could definitely be made that doing the above ‘Sins of Parenting” is a form of child abuse, it will definitely help create an adult that no one likes.
Here are some better tips to raise polite, hard working, confident, kids that people will like and respect.
Do not let your child interrupt conversation (unless Timmy is trapped in a well or on fire).
When you let your child interrupt, the message sent is that they really are the most important person in the room and what they want is more important than anything else.
Unfortunately, some parents were raised in a “children should be seen not heard” household and want to do the exact opposite, so the world comes to a complete stop, and we all hang on whatever little self-centered Jenny Diva wants to say. Kids need to learn that they are important, but not always the most important person; you are unique – just like everybody else.
RESULT – Help your children learn to read social cues, assess body language, and basically recognize two people that are in a conversation, and then WAIT! No one likes to be interrupted...
Teaching kids to wait and be patient is critical. Kids constantly ask for things – toys, water, more bread.... Sadly, we help create impulsive, now-now-now-‘Me-First’-instant-gratification junkies by jumping when they say jump. “You want that toy? Let’s think about over night, and maybe if you still want it a week from now, perhaps save your birthday money for it...”
RESULT – Patient kids are able to wait their turn and also look past the short term.
Saying ‘NO’ is a good thing.
As parents, our job is to set healthy boundaries and encourage kids to think critically. Kids come up with cockamamie ideas all the time - that’s their job, to explore and push boundaries in order to learn. Our job is to say NO to a large percentage of those ridiculous ideas or ask why? Remember, they are the playground, we are the fence, keeping them safe. Parents often complain that they are always saying “No” to their kids – GOOD! You are not a big meanie – you are a parent. Spineless, jellyfish parents can unwittingly create a chaotic world for their kids with no limits or expectations.
RESULT - By saying ‘no’, we are creating boundaries and expectations for our children’s behaviour. A 70/30 split of No/Yes will make them appreciate the “Yes” even more!
Never do for a child what they can do for themselves.
It’s one of the Golden Rules of parenting... “May I please have a drink of water daddy?”
“Yes, get it yourself – you know where the glasses are and where the tap is.”
In the kid’s hockey dressing room, I don’t dress my nine and seven year old, they can do that themselves. While it might be slower than the other kids (whose irritated parents are dressing them), it’s teaching them to be responsible – they will only forget their jock once (natural consequences are awesome). I will continue to tie skates until they are strong enough to do it themselves. If you are doing everything for your child, the message sent it that they are not competent at anything and other people will need to take care of them. Many men leave the comfy confines of momma’s house only to search for another woman to look after them... is that what you want for your kids?
RESULT - Empower your children to solve kid sized problems.
Good manners never go out of style.
“May I please...”
“Thank you so much for the...”
Parents often feel like we are constantly on our kids about their manners, but you have to be, until it becomes a wonderful habit.
RESULT - Learning simple human life skills early is critical to being a likeable adult: achieving and maintaining eye contact, asking good questions, learning how to meet people and shake hands, practicing two-way conversations. These are all skills we can help model and teach our children.
Teach the kids what hard work looks like.
Finally, a common complaint about today’s young people is that they are lazy and have a huge sense of entitlement. While that might be true, how do you change that now? Kids need to understand that life is not a free ride and that you pitch in around the house. We don’t pay kids for doing house chores -- ‘EFF’ that (forget that). You live here, you do your share. Make beds, take out garbage, pick up dog poop, - many hands make for light work. No one pays me for cutting the grass or folding laundry (that’s why I hate it).
We had our kids ‘picking rocks and weeds’ all summer. As soon as any bickering session would start between them, out came the weeds. The complaints of “I’m bored” and “Why is my iPod not on the charger?” ended quickly. Who will be there to pat them on the back for completed their daily occupational tasks at work? Best answer – no one – they can do it themselves...
RESULT – Starting kids early with good work habits can turn into a strong work ethic for adulthood. Focus on the effort that brings results.
*a Bonus point*
Eat what’s on your plate, we ain’t running a restaurant here.
Parents make picky eaters – that comes first. Make one healthy meal, not chicken stir-fry for the adults and then hotdogs for the kids. You are not raising a prince, a princess, or Kardashian. Clean off your plate and then clean up your plate. We, as your parents, are not your personal servants or waiters. These food divas grow up to be picky about everything and are always the ones to order off the menu and change the chef’s specials (and you know what chef’s do to ALL of your orders when you dine with a diva...)
Obviously, no parent ever wants to raise a child to become an unlikeable adult, but it happens. There can be hundreds of reasons why an adult behaves the way they do, but I’m guessing somewhere in their life experience, lives a wounded child that perhaps needed some additional guidance, better examples or some tough love.
Are we unintentionally enabling our kids to self-centered? Being self-centered can be a life stage, it is just that – a stage – you enter and then you leave. Kids that never develop empathy, patience, or compassion will have a tough time as adults. The harsh reality is that adults that have ambition and drive, and are also likeable adults are the ones getting promoted and generally living a happier, more fulfilling life.
This article is the tip of the tip of the iceberg on how to raise a happy kid, but by avoiding the pitfalls listed above, our kids will have a much better shot at a great life!
If we are truly raising someone else's husband or wife, then we don't want to have to apologize to those poor unfortunate souls 20 years from now. If only we had done things differently, "Pat" wouldn't be such an unsociable narcissistic jerk... Pat would think about other people and consider their feeling or points of view.
As parents ourselves, we are constantly struggling between wanting to help our children but also letting them sprout their wings (and fail sometimes). We can make their lives easier, not by doing everything for them, but by supporting and letting them live it - experience the highs and lows together. We are the golf caddy, they are the star golfer...
Until next time...
Unlike retailers and children everywhere, I do not look forward to December and I am thankful that it is over.
Although Santa’s arrival is awesome, it’s the departures in December that drag me down. I am not a morbid-glass-half-empty-doomsday type of person, but my optimism and positivity were severely tested by too many sad events last month. The onset of the holidays can trigger many happy memories but also many sad ones (every December 19th, I think about my incredible father-in-law who we lost a few years back).
This December started with a groom, whose wedding I was set to entertain at later this month, then it was Dave, an old high school hockey friend I used to party with, and now it is Mike, a very funny guy I graduated with from broadcast school: guys my age, passing long before their time. While the first two guys had time to say their goodbyes in the final weeks of their lives, my broadcasting friend Mike was killed suddenly in an early morning car accident, on his way to work his radio morning show. Suddenly gone.
Of all the tragic unwritten stories of the people left behind to grieve, including loving partners losing best friends, my heart is torn apart for the kids left behind. Children not quite old enough to realize or are blissfully oblivious to the massive impact that a father’s passing now presents, but I see it: the void. I know the fishing trips, baseball games, and tickle fights that will be missing the tremendous presence of a father. Other male figures may surely step up and attempt to fill the void, but those are massive shoes to fill.
I see that void fact clearly, and it motivates me to be better now: more involved, more patient, and more present today. Tomorrow is not promised to anyone. These past few weeks have taught me that there are no guarantees in this life. To paraphrase the prophet Garth Brooks, if tomorrow never comes, will my family know EXACTLY how much they mean to me?
Every since these deaths, I think even more about my children and the privilege of being a father. I’m almost waiting for one of them to call me out and say, “What’s up with you lately Dad? You're acting weird!” Bedtime stories and cuddles carry increased significance each night, (“Sure, we can read that one more time”). For some reason, I am really bothered by the fact that Mike’s kids drifted off to sleep and woke to a terrible new reality.
Like escaping sand through a clasped hand, what memories of “Dad” will they grasp and cling to? That last hug? Favourite books they read together? Daddy's talks? Daddy’s laugh?
What memories would your kids cling to?
Whenever I hear about a heroic police officer or soldier getting killed, I naturally feel sad. When I hear they leave kids behind, that sadness triples. If you, as a parent, were going off to war, what would you say to your kids in case you didn’t make it back? What legacy would they draw on? Samurai warriors, before heading into battle, were said to have a clear head: all of their affairs were in order. They were not going into a battle, half wondering if they had professed their love to family. This clarity of mind gave them an edge over an opponent suddenly carrying regrets and worry over unresolved fences that need mending.
So what is my takeaway from the gloomy Debbie Downer tale? What does it mean for all of us? Simple. There are no guarantees in this life. You are here. Today is all that matters. And with an attitude of gratitude, we can try to live today fully, be present inspiring parents, and pray for the families missing key figures this year and consider yourself one of the lucky ones.
Any kid, who had lost a parent, would trade every present for the next hundred years for another weekend with their departed father or mother, one more adventure, one more talk, hug - one more time.
You have this weekend with your kids. How will you spend your time? If tomorrow doesn’t come, will your children know how their Samurai Dad feels?
Much of the magic in Charles Dickens’ 1843 Classic, “A Christmas Carol”, is that Ebenezer Scrooge gets a ‘do-over’ – a chance to rewrite himself and his legacy.
Live each day as a mini lifetime. Every day you get to wake up and love your family all over again, but better. Make those memories now for them to cling to later!
Hug your families tight and thanks for your continued Dad Vibe support! Much appreciated!
January is a time to reassess your priorities. So I challenge you – a New Year challenge: What will you do differently in 2015 to better show your family exactly what they mean to you? Less time at work? Turn off your phone when you get home? More bedtime stories and hugs?
What would make a difference? Please add in the comments below...
Together, let’s make 2015 the best year of parenting EVER!
“Our son did that!”
“You mean your son or my son?”
“Yeah, guess what stunt your son pulled today?”
With more and more marriages ending in divorce, the number of blended families continues to rise. In fact, in the stats I found, the blended family has become the most common form of family (1 out of every 3 Americans is either a step-parent or step child, or has some other form of blended family - that’s almost 100 million people). Aside from the normal everyday challenges that any family faces, a blended family has different struggles, challenges, and opportunities.
We are a blended family. Loyal readers of my work may remember that under our blessed roof, I have two children from my previous marriage (boy 9 and girl 6), my partner has one child from her previous marriage (boy 7) and now we have a new baby boy. We are almost three years in and I honestly believe we are a successful blended family. While scheduling and unified discipline can be challenging, we have cultivated respectful working relationships with our ex-partners which makes the day to day life much easier. Without the added stress of strong negative emotions toward our ex-partners, we are better able to focus on our own relationship and the individual needs of our children.
In building our step family, we have moved slowly and with much thought and intention as to what is best for the kids. We have a happy crew in an energetic house, but I am failing at one of the biggest blended family challenges; treating all of the kids equally. It is a hard truth to admit to yourself and to your spouse that you are failing at something so important - loving and treating their children as your own.
Is it assumed that in a blended family, a parent will always favour their own biological child over a step-child? Is biological favouritism a reality? I know my partner is better at treating all 3 (now 4) equally, better at separating the behaviour from the person. According to winningstepfamilies.com, it’s okay for me to feel differently about my own children than my step-son. But is it? Something about that just doesn’t sit right with me.
I am terrified that in my step-son’s eyes, he feels he is at the bottom of my totem pole. But how can I help that?
I try so hard to be unbiased, non-judgmental, non-favouring, but my patience level and tone of voice are not the same for all three kids. My intentions are true, but sometimes I fail, and I hate it.
I have read the step-parenting books and have learned how to discipline equally and earn respect, but when it comes time to discipline, I know I don’t create a level playing field. Hence, my biological children tend to get the benefit of the doubt more than my step-son. I should say that all three are amazing kids; bright, polite, and fun. They all make bad decisions and mistakes. But if it comes down to a “No, he did it!”/“No, he did it first!” my default loyalty seems to always be my own children.
In my mind, I strive to be tougher on my own kids (so that my step-son can see some tough love dealt their way) but is this an effective approach?
If I had a step-daughter rather than a step-son, I think things would be much different, not necessarily better but different. With my sons, as a father, I feel the need to help teach them to ‘be a man’ - not in a macho-stop-crying- testosterone way, but in a good-honest-ethical-man way. So with a step daughter, the behaviour triggers would be different, but the lack of equality might still exist.
In my “Loving My Red Headed Step Child” article (featured in the “Dads Behaving Dadly” book), I focused on the great challenges and opportunities of being a step-dad. I am not replacing his involved dad, so I am not his “real dad” but I am pretty damn close…way cooler than an uncle! It’s a constant balancing act of being involved, but not intrusive, respecting his own dad and also my own role in the parenting hierarchy.
As a step parent, new children are delivered into your life with their pre-existing interests, self-esteem levels, and behaviours. You only move forward, playing the hand you are dealt. Our role as step parents is to create a loving relationship with our step children -- to add to their lives. Is this easier said than done? It’s been over a year since I wrote my ‘redheaded’ article, time is ticking, and I need to be better - starting with my tone of voice and the words I use.
In my last few articles, I have examined couples in conflict. One of the major areas of potential conflict for us is when there is a perceived injustice inflicted on a step child. That is when the lioness or poppa grizzly roars loudly - to protect their young. Perhaps my partner feels I was a little harder on her son in tone or consequence, or maybe I feel she didn’t have the patience for my daughter that she had for her son - etc, etc, etc. Any blended family can provide hundreds of examples of perceived injustices. Every parent has triggers that set us off, but we need to always separate the behaviour and choices from the child, especially in a blended family setting.
Here are 5 things I am working on to be a better step-dad…
- Being hyper aware of the language I use - my son, our son, your son (our new baby should not be the only child to receive the “our” pronoun, they all should). We also try to limit the use of “Step” in our house - he is my son, not step-son.
- Keeping my tone of voice equal for all children.
- Striving for a equal level of patience for all children.
- Constantly separating the child from the behaviour
- Putting my relationship/marriage first -- that is essential for blended family success.
The takeaways this week from my confessional (thanks for listening!), are that blended families may have additional challenges. “Biological favouritism”, be it intentional or not, is a daily challenge for many step parents. When people ask how many children I have, I use to say, “Two from my previous marriage, a step-son, and we have a new baby together”. But now, in this fresh new age of enlightenment, I just say four children, because that is the beautiful truth!
Time for you to confess, blended family or not, do you favour one of your children or are things equal in your house? If yes, you do favour, what changes could you make to make things equal?
Until next time…
Read more The Dad Vibe articles
- 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
- A stranger touched my child... Jul 25
- Bottles, breasts and erections Jul 11
- What Dads really want on Father's Day... Jun 13
- Meet our baby boy Clarence... May 16
- Daddy on a Pedestal, for now May 2
- Your Mom is a lying witch! Apr 18
- R we teaching our children 2 B dumb? Apr 4
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