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…
In part 1, we looked at the first reason why you two may fight, your protective self vs. your authentic self.
Now I want to talk about the great Terry Real, best selling author and founder of the Relational Life Institute, who coined the term "core negative image (CNI)” as it relates to the core negative image you may possess about your partner. This thought provoking nugget has really helped me on my journey and it may help you too.
Your partner's CNI of you isn't really you, but an exaggerated version of you at your worst. It's your evil twin that often shows up in a disagreement or conflict.
"She is so cold, controlling, and manipulative!"
"He is nasty, withdrawn, and passive aggressive!"
CNI awareness is great, but learning how to work with each other's CNIs, according to Real, can be the single most transformative aspect of relationship empowerment work.
In his book, "The New Rules of Marriage", Real has an entire chapter/exercise in working with CNIs. Essentially it comes down to this reality. In a fight, when you are presented with your partner's CNI of you, I guarantee you will react combatively, citing the obvious distortion of their image, "You are crazy, I am NOT like that at all." We defend, deflect, and diffuse.
But remember, the CNI is the you, when the most immature wounded parts of you are driving the ship. So instead of battling or refuting it, the true power comes when you stop denying the truthful aspects and instead accept that a few grains of truth might exist and accept that. Being defensive will not help.
When couples enter into this classic Texas gunslinger standoff of "I'm right. No, I'm right!" the only winning answer, according to Real, is "Who cares?!"
Do you want to be right or happy? You can’t have both.
Your relationship needs some heroic leadership sometimes. You can be the one to lay down your armour and sword, disarming your protective self, thus taking the high road to happiness, not the well worn trail to righteousness. Stop slamming doors, withdrawing, or trying to control your partner. You can only control yourself.
Feeling brave? Here is the takeaway this week.
When you and your partner are in a good place, be vulnerable and try asking about their core negative image of you. Again, don’t refute or build a defense, just listen and learn from the grains of truth.
What is your core negative image of your partner? How does that affect your day to day living?
Moving forward, how will this new CNI awareness change the rules of engagement??
Please be brave and share….
I know exactly why you and your partner fight with each other. Sure, your fights might masquerade and manifest as arguments about money, the kids, the lack of sex, or who took out the garbage last, but that is not really what they are about.
At the absolute root, it's about your protective self and your core negative image (CNI) of your partner. I will discuss CNI in my next article, for now, I want to focus on your protective and authentic self.
You have an authentic self; the true, real you, often referred to as your inner child. The good guy that lives his values inside you. We like this guy, but he is vulnerable and easily hurt.
He has been hurt before. Past conflicts and hurts from parents, siblings, and early relationships, have necessitated the need for constant protection from a body guard. This bodyguard is your protective self.
Your protective self lives the motto "Nothing is going to hurt you, not on my watch!" Like anti-virus spyware, your protective self is constantly vigilant, on the lookout for anything that might hurt, disrespect, or threaten the authentic self.
Your partner has a protective self too. And when those two meet in the narrow alleyway of conflict, look out! You engage, argue, and fight, but it's your protective selves that are battling, not the authentic selves.
Like two proud gladiators, these protective selves battle for honour, ego, and the pursuit of righteousness. As the battle escalates, the authentic selves try to stay safely nestled behind, holed up in a little cave, waiting for the battle to subside before they, like frightened turtles, can surface again.
My partner is a match and I am a torch. She is fiery and can run red hot but quickly cools. I am the opposite. I take a long time to heat up, but explode and simmer for way too long. When I finally lash out at my partner, I often feel sheepish, shocked, or embarrassed at the extremes of my protective self. For example, do I really think she is an animal hater and wants to kill my dog, or is she just sick of cleaning up dog hair and feces?
Once you gain the awareness that your argument is simply two protective selves battling, you gain the power to disengage, step back from your 'flooded' state, and breathe. Go make a sandwich, take the dog for a walk, or sit on the throne. No argument has ever changed a feeling anyway.
Even if you disagree with 85% of the exaggerated, emotionally charged 'crap' your partner is saying, in the remaining 15%, there are some nuggets of cold hard truth.
Self awareness is the key to transforming your relationship. Becoming more aware of your default patterns, triggers, old scripts, and reactions can improve your relationships in challenging times.
This has NOTHING to do with your partner or changing his or her behaviour.
Be aware of what triggers your protective self. Let's spend the week in a heightened state of self! Be ready to ask your protective self to step back to play well in the sandbox!
Next time I will share insights into Terry Real's relationship changing notion of Core Negative Image... you will be amazed and uneasy!
Until next time!
Read more The Dad Vibe articles
- 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
- You better than your Dad? Mar 14
- My kid needs to suffer... Jan 17
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