Nov 29, 2013 / 5:00 am
This is a tough article to write as my vulnerabilities and weaknesses will be revealed.
I have had the opportunity to work with other people’s children and treat them as my own through various jobs running a childcare centre, directing a summer camp, and years spent teaching and coaching. However, now I am treating and loving another man’s son as my own. It is a wonderful and challenging opportunity.
Years ago, I heard a comedian make the comment, "I am going to work you like a red-headed step child." This made me both laugh and cringe and now I have a red-headed step-son!
Four minutes into my blind date with his mother, we discovered that we both had young boys named William. Our attraction was strong, so this was not a deal breaker.
As our relationship grew, we introduced the children and as the months passed, we let them decide what to call each other. At first, it was step brother and step sister, but happily it has just morphed into brother and sister. Now almost three years in, it is hilarious to hear my daughter introduce her brothers to strangers, “This is my brother Will and my other brother Will!” – At least it isn’t “Daryl!”
Given our past failed marriages, neither one of us is in a hurry to get married, but we are loving our second chance at happiness and raising our ‘step’ children together.
We have tried everything to differentiate the boys “Big/Little Will, Bill, Willie”. Nothing worked until a friend jokingly suggested using their ages. So now we have Will 8 and Will 6. (or ‘Eighter’ and ‘Sixer’). This strategy works awesome for now, as birthdays bring a new nickname, but I predict awkwardness and a change when the teenage years begin.
If someone asks, I say I have three children. And I do. I feel that and know that. But it is different. For two of my children, I have been there since the first tummy kicks, and I helped deliver them both into this world. For my red-headed step-son, I didn’t meet him until he was four.
Blending a family effectively requires a slow pace and much thought to the implications for the kids. Early on, I was almost in awe of how easily my partner welcomed my children into her heart. I honestly believe she loves my children as much as her own natural son.
Do women just have a greater capacity in their hearts to love? Or is it because she had a much more open and inclusive sense that families come in all shapes and sizes, while I was still grieving the loss of my family unit and the “white picket fence” dream.
I have lots of love to give, but early on, it didn’t flow as naturally from me to her son. If I am being truly honest, if we are watching the kids skate, my eyes would naturally find my daughter, while I would actively think to watch Will6’s progress.
I found this both mysterious and very troubling. It wasn’t that I didn’t love and care for her son, but it just wasn’t the same. I would see him differently; his actions and behaviour would register differently.
Will6 has a living, present, active, loving dad, and so I am not replacing an absent or deceased dad. Will8 told Will6 early on that he could call me Dad and Will 6 quickly said, "I have a Dad." Will8 said, "I know but I'm just saying if you miss him."
Will6 has a great relationship with his dad and I know that nothing I do will take away from that solid relationship. Will6 has the wonderful gift of two dads – his real dad and his ‘bald daddy!”.
As a step-dad, I need to honour his dad and carve out my own relationship with Will6. I want to be much more than just a “cool uncle” type: I want him to look to me for guidance, comfort, and discipline. While he still defers to mom when knees are skinned and for late night frights, he knows I am also there and a pretty solid second choice.
Canadian parenting icon Gordon Neufeld declares, “The only true authority we have with our children is the authority they are willing to grant us through their desire to maintain a strong relationship with us.” I think this is even more true when raising step children.
I have to earn Will6’s respect. I cannot demand it, that will only lead to more problems. I must take a more roundabout way into his heart. Without the luxury of years spent together, I try to maximize our time together to continue strengthening our bonds.
During my difficult divorce, there were times, I felt my bond with my own children being strained and threatened. Looking back, I know I focused too much attention on them out of guilt, for what they had been through, at the cost of building my new relationship withWill6.
Had I been more secure and confident in my bonds with my own children, perhaps Will6 and I could be further down the path together. But we are finding our way together quickly, creating our own fun memories and rituals (“Wake up time with Dr. Crush!”).
In the early blending days, there were definitely silent battles between the children to be beside me for movies or books at bedtime. There was also a lot of acceptance, resilience and understanding from all three of the children, as they had all been through the same thing.
Now my children are just fine with sharing their dad. I do try to spend equal individual time with all three so that they each feel special and unique. I always strive for equality.
It is critically important to me that Will6 feels and knows that he is equally important to me and he is not at the bottom of my hierarchy. I love my one-on-one time with him and whether we are off to a hockey game or the video game arcade, I feel new bonds of love growing all the time.
There are definitely growing pains as a family is blended together. I hate admitting that I did favour my children early on, in terms of who got the benefit of the doubt when battles and situations happened. Nowadays, if I am still being honest, I probably favour Will6 more!
The ultimate goal is to be a positive force in all my children’s lives. I want to be a strong male role model: the beacon to look to - for guidance, morality, ethics, and love.
While I wish it was totally natural and organic for me, the family assimilation came much more quickly and easily for my partner. One thing is for certain, the children are even better at it than both of us. They are thriving with their new normal and don't have the same mental restrictions/baggage that we, as adults, carry around.
I am certain plenty of step, adoptive, and foster parents can shed some light on the challenges and delights of loving children that are not ‘your own’ and how quickly they become your own through love, time, and understanding.
I would love to hear from other step parents. How easily did you accept your partner’s children as your own? What were your growing pains?
Until next time…
Nov 22, 2013 / 5:00 am
The “Lost Boys of Sudan” is a horrific story, both chilling and incredibly sad. Tragically enough, it’s also one of the most effective parenting tools I have ever found.
In my never ending quest to help my children develop compassion and an attitude of gratitude, I stumbled upon a documentary, “The Lost Boys of Sudan”. I watched it. Cried. And then made the risky decision to show my children. My reasoning was less about shock, and more to illustrate how fortunate we are to live in Canada.
The “Lost Boys of Sudan” is the name given to the groups of over 20,000 boys who were displaced and/or orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005) during which about 2.5 million were killed and millions more displaced. The term was used again as more children fled the post-independence violence of South Sudan during 2011-13.
Essentially, these orphaned boys walked barefoot for years in search of safe refuge, on a journey of over a thousand miles, across three countries to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. Over half of the children died along their epic journey, due to starvation, dehydration, sickness and disease, attacks by wild animals (lions) and militia gunfire. Miraculously, some of the surviving children eventually landed in the US to begin a new life.
It’s truly an amazing story and although graphic and extreme, I chose to show the “Lost Boys of Sudan” as both a teaching tool, measuring stick, and a harsh reality check.
I was keenly aware and leery of the obvious shock value within the story of the Lost Boys. This was real death, not Scooby Doo and I didn’t want my kids too scared or freaked out to miss the big picture. While they fixated on the lion attacks and, ‘kids dying all over the fields”, I was there to keep things in perspective (“No we don’t have lions here” and they have NO water or food, and look, no shoes – you have 11 pairs)”.
Growing up in North America and in a “civilized” peaceful society, it can be really difficult for anyone, including me, to really know how lucky we are. There really is no comparison to our life and the Boys of Sudan. It’s hard to believe that, in today’s ‘modern’ world, in our lifetime (not our great grandparent’s lifetime), that other human beings have to endure that kind of suffering and strife. It’s almost unimaginable. Almost.
As parents, we want to protect our children. We want life for them to be all sunshine, cupcakes, and smiles. When do you begin to discuss all the horrible evil things that happen in this world? All the really bad things humans do to one another: slavery, racism, violence, child pornography, war, starvation, and the terrible list goes on and on.
Sadly for me, given my children’s ages *(8,6,5), I currently “use” the Lost Boys for very basic purposes: to get more fruits and vegetables eaten, to squash whining in the grocery line-up, and to control the never-ending demand of things “NOW!” as in the popular, “I need water now, I’m dying back here!”
Whether you agree with my application or not, it’s working. Not a week goes by without one of my children citing the “Boys of Sudan”. Typical scenarios where “the Boys” are mentioned is at the dinner table, when someone refuses to eat fruit because of a little bruise, or when someone complains about having nothing to wear, or even a weak Wi-fi signal (Really son?? It’s THAT frustrating?).
I know I am not using all the teachable parts of the “Lost Boys of Sudan” – but I think you need to digest a story of this magnitude in small manageable chunks. I hope to evolve in my thinking and sharing of the story as my children get older and they can appreciate more.
How do you help your children put their needs and wants in perspective? (still walking uphill to school both ways?)
What can we do this Christmas season to help develop empathy in our children and eliminate self-pity?
I look forward to your ideas…
Until next time….
Nov 15, 2013 / 5:00 am
No, this question is not “You vs. Me” in a test of parenting skills.
No, it is not a question to be asked between a stay-at-home dad and a working dad.
This question is about your relationship with your spouse.
This was a golden question that came up in a friend’s couple’s therapy. This question, this one question, sent that relationship in a totally new direction. It was a life changing question and one that I felt was worthy and important enough to pass along to you.
Do you think you are better than your spouse?
If you can immediately, truthfully, and enthusiastically answer, “No! I am not better than my partner,” (without qualifying statements, just yes or no), then I am going to bet you are in a solid committed relationship, rich with mutual respect and authenticity. The odds are that you compliment each other (pun intended) well, recognizing each other’s unique gifts, skills and abilities.
If you have to hesitate and ponder your answer, then odds are your ego wants say, “Yes, I am better!” but your authentic self knows the real truth.
If you proudly declare, "Yes! I am better than my partner," then I smell trouble. You must be able to smell that trouble too with your enormous swelled head and its giant nose.
Is there a danger in believing you are better than your partner? YES!
Is there a danger in admitting they are lucky to be with you? YES!
Is there a danger in feeling like your opinion should carry more weight in family decisions? YES!
Is there a danger in thinking your partner isn't really worthy of your company and attention? YES!
There is a clear and present danger all around you.
Is anyone really better than anyone else? Don't we all have our own great strengths and appalling weaknesses?
Can I really look at any other human and say I am better? Least of all your loving partner? How ridiculous is that?
If your ego is starting to drive the bus and call the shots, then it might be time for a harsh reality check.
Please take a piece of “NOT scrap” paper (this is important so grab the good card stock) and write down a Top 10 list of all the things your partner is better than you at. Be sincere and specific. Choose characteristics and behaviours that society values.
Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Here are three examples from my list to get you started:
- My partner has an incredible drive and work ethic, and can complete very long to-do lists quickly and efficiently.
- My partner, although fiery, is quick to let go of her anger, whereas I stew and ruminate for much longer.
- My partner is never late and is an excellent manager of time.
Seriously, go and make your list. Your relationship condition may depend on you starting to acknowledge everything your partner brings to the table.
No. Don't do a list of all the things you are better at. I hear you say that list is much easier, but it serves no purpose Mr. Trump.
This humbling little exercise may just save or revive your relationship and improve the climate of your family life. It costs you nothing but your time and a humble, honest assessment.
Are you brave enough to comment????? Are you better that your partner?
Until next time…
Nov 8, 2013 / 5:00 am
I had time to kill waiting for a friend at a pub.
I knew no one in this pub, yet sitting on that bar stool, on a cloudy Tuesday afternoon, I received one of the best pieces of parenting advice ever from the Irish gent sitting two bar stools away.
Long story short, after awkward introductions, we struck up a lively animated conversation about our families. When I mentioned to him that I was a writer, interested in parenting from a dad’s point of view, my new friend Danny (imagine that) said that all he ever wanted to do was to “raise a son that I’d like to have a drink with!”
At first, the skeptic pessimist in me assumed Danny would likely have a drink with anyone, but then I realized what he really meant. He was so right.
His theory was so simple yet encompassed so many of my core values.
If I was to picture myself in a pub sometime in the future, and in walks a familiar stranger that sits on the stool beside me…
(if the pub/alcohol angle of this piece bothers you, pretend you are both sipping on blueberry pomegranate smoothies with flax, tofu, and the protein blaster added)
- I would want to hang out with someone that was cool, socially aware, confident, and interesting.
- I would value their intelligent conversation and their genuine interest in me and the world around us.
- I would relish their positive energy, quick wit, and active listening.
I would not want to have a drink with someone that kept interrupting me, complained too much, and was not polite to me or the staff.
I would quickly distance myself from someone that was belligerent and only talked about themselves.
I would not want to spend any time at all with someone that was narrow minded, opinionated, racist, or homophobic.
This list could go on and on, but I think you know what I mean.
In life, you want to surround yourself with positive, happy, genuine people, not idiots and energy suckers.
Like not wanting to spend five hours on a golf course with a jerk, everyone’s time is precious and, just like Grandpa Orval always says, “Nobody likes an A-Hole”.
So moving forward as a dad, I apply Danny’s wisdom to my life and parenting philosophy. I realize that if I want to raise my children to be great, all around balanced people, I need to be all those positive things NOW! They need to see it live and in person!
Like Gandhi uttered, be the change you seek.
I will continue to be genuinely interested in their lives and the world.
I will demonstrate real listening, social intelligence, and compassion.
While I am not responsible for their happiness, I will lead by example and choose kindness.
I will raise a friend a friend would love to have a drink with. And so should YOU!
I’ll drink to that! Sláinte (to your health) Danny Boy!
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