Three Principles for Fatherhood

middleschooler_dad

Howdy! My name is Rob, and I will be blogging for the Parenting Success Network. I’m happy to be here and I hope that you will find my posts useful.

I am father to four daughters, and one thing that is often pointed out about me is that I am male. In my other job I work with children and families at a Relief Nursery. This is maybe more unusual than it should be. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 less than 6% of people who work in childcare were men; in Preschool and Kindergarten, it was less than 2%. There are a number of reasons for this, and this is not the time to go into them. But I find it disheartening, given that around 100% of fathers are men, and they have real work to do.

I wanted to start with a couple of principles to which I subscribe in my role as a father. I didn’t make them up, and I can’t say that I stick to them with anything like total compliance (we all have days, right?). But I think they’re important and worth discussing.

  1. Be on the same page with your wife or partner.

This may take some explaining. My wife and I decided, while the first one was on the way, that it was absolutely essential we were both on board with the hows, whens and whys of raising our children. Having had no experience as a parent, or really being around kids at that point, I took it as a given. Anyway, she seemed to know what she was talking about. It turned out to be one of the most important decisions we have made as parents.

On what did we need to agree? It started before the birth, as we were lucky enough to be able to choose a natural birth with few complications. She wanted to stay at home, at least for the time being, so this required my cooperation (to say the least). I signed on to such practices as breastfeeding and co-sleeping with at least a partial understanding of the work this would entail. And later, the importance of consistent routines such as mealtimes and bedtimes. Later still, decisions about potty training, discipline, and education were made with mutual and conscious deliberation. This is not to say that what we had decided to do always worked, and that we didn’t have to go back to the drawing board again and again. The point is, fathers need to know what the plan is, and what it entails, in order to provide the support that the mother and the children need. We are a team, after all.

  1. Share the duties.

I can’t stress this enough. Fortunately, I have the research to back me up. A recent study found that, when men take part in housework and chores, it has a clear and positive effect on the child—specifically, that “when fathers take an active role in household work, their daughters are more inclined toward picturing themselves in leadership and management roles in potential jobs, as opposed to stereotypically feminine careers.” I was okay with doing the dishes before, but knowing that it actually expands the horizons for my girls’ future lives takes the edge off.

  1. Be present for the kids.

What does present mean? A colleague once shocked me by telling me that my kids were so lucky to have a father like me because, she went on, I was there. Like, physically there in the house. That’s present. Go me. But as I am reminded more often than I’d like, just being there leaves room for improvement. Am I distracted by work? Am I focused on getting the beds made and pajamas laid out for the night? Am I thinking about the episode of The Sopranos I’m going to watch on my phone later? Am I conscious of the fact that, though I just worked an eight hour day, my wife’s job runs to 24, with no overtime?

Kids need time with their father. They need him to ask about their day, to look at their drawings, to listen to what the warrior princesses were doing outside under the picnic table, and how the tea party went. They need him to be patient with bedtimes and give the extra hug, tell the extra story, and know that Tony Soprano will still be up to his shenanigans later. That’s presence. And it’s hard.

Those are my big three, but there are all that and more to be found here.

Healthy and Happy

I think if you asked any parent, they would agree that they want their children to be happy and healthy. We all want our children to have the gift of health and to live long and happy lives. All of us are coming from different places when we make decisions in regards to healthy lifestyles and how we implement them in our families. We were all raised differently and it can often be interesting and challenging to parents who may have been raised with different values around what “health” looks like and its’ importance.

A lot of us are also very confused. Should we take on the French philosophy of feeding? Should we eliminate gluten? Should we eliminate all food with dyes? What amount of exercise do we really end and what kinds are best?  The questions can be limitless and so can the information that is out there.  There are many new diets being introduced by the week and constantly changing ideas of what parents should or should not feed children. Many children today lead very sedentary lives with video games and media being a top priority. Included in this media are the messages sent about what is attractive in our society and what our society as a whole values.  It unfortunately usually doesn’t take long for children to form an opinion of what they think their bodies are supposed to look like according  to the messages that they see and hear. One of the messages youth often key in on is that being extremely thin is the ideal.

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This is “The Becerra Bikers” a few years ago after a family ride.

 

Though maintaining a healthy weight can certainly  be a part of a healthy lifestyle, I have realized more and more that automatically equating health with weight and size can be misleading and even harmful. I think that most of us probably know at least one person who is very thin but doesn’t live a very healthy lifestyle. When we see a person who is overweight, we might also make assumptions about the lifestyle that person leads. I know that I can think of examples of several people in my life who although  they may be a little overweight, they are actually very active and really value eating a healthy diet. It simply is not fair to make assumptions that people who are thin are automatically healthy people and that on the flip side people who aren’t super model thin aren’t.

In my Healthy Sprouts class that I taught through the Healthy Youth Program, we talked to families a lot about how we are all unique and come in different shapes and sizes.  Instead of putting the majority of the focus on size, it is important to focus on health for everyone!  Teaching our children how to care for their bodies (and modeling how we care for ours), is a huge gift! Every family is unique and faces different challenges, and there is not one size fits all package for any family. Through my research as a former nutrition educator for the Healthy Youth Program and my experiences as a parent, I have a few tips that might be helpful as you try to figure out what “healthy” might look like in your own family.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be active for at least 60 minutes every day. Because motivation, temperament, and activity level varies between each child, we might sometimes have to think outside of the box on how to make this process fun for each child. One of my children is so far not very excited about doing team sports, but she loves to ride her bike places and is open to doing yoga classes. I really do believe that there is a form of exercise for everyone. Walking, dance parties, organized sports, biking and swimming are a few of the many options when it comes to types of exercise we can encourage. This is something that I am trying to do a better job of with my own family, but my kids have been very receptive when we exercise together as a family.
  • Really think about the messages that you send your children based off of how you talk about your own size and body. Are you constantly weighing yourself in front of your children? Do you sit and talk with a friend about dieting or criticize your own body in front of your children? Children are extremely smart and perceptive, and I have really been contemplating the messages I send to my children by my actions and the things I say. When you put yourself down in front of your children, you are putting down a person who means the very most to your child!
  • Do your research. As you are deciding the specifics on what is best for your family, remember that not all information or internet sites are created equal. Often times sites have ulterior motives as they are trying to push their products.
  • From the years I spent teaching parent/child baby classes, I can see how common it is in our culture to compare body shapes and sizes early on. Though it usually starts as an observation or in fun, parents are often comparing their children’s size to their peers. Grandparents might joke about or constantly bring attention to the fact that one grandchild is much larger than another, even as babies.  I once had a mom break down in class once when she recalled how her family referred to her as the “fat” sister. She said that they were constantly joking and criticizing her and pushing her to lose weight. In tears, she told us that she will never do these comparisons or put this kind of pressure on her own daughters.
  • Eat dinner together as a family whenever possible. Family meals are a time to not only share food but also to share about our days and to check in with each family member. I inherited my childhood family table, and every time I look at it, it reminds me of the many times my family gathered around that table. And to be able to do the same thing with my family feels very special!
  • Be mindful about how much and which kinds of media you allow enter your home. Though we won’t be able to always shelter our children from everything, we can do our part to have a healthy relationship with media. When we do see commercials or ads, we can talk about the fact that even these pictures aren’t usually accurate pictures of what the person really looks like. They are often photoshopping and changing models to fit the societal ideal even more. There is room to have many meaningful conversations about health and body image.
  • Be more gentle with yourself. It is extremely important to me that my children have a healthy self-image, yet I can be so hard on myself when I haven’t been exercising as much as I would like. It can also sometimes still be hard to accept the fact that my body, that has grown and birthed 3 children,might not quite go back to the way I would like it to, even when I am exercising and eating well. It truly is a miracle that my body was able to grow these 3  children that are now in my care each day. I should be celebrating the beauty of this as I try to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how you approach health and body image in your own families. How are your ideas influenced by the way you were raised? What fun tips to you have for other families based off of what has worked well for you? I wish you and yours health during this new school year and in the years to come!

 

 

 

A New Rhythm

It happened again. Another summer flew by way faster than it should have. There are only a couple of days left to cram in as much fun as possible. This of course is being balanced with the rush to buy any last minute school necessities and trying to get back into  school year routines. Fall brings with it a new and exciting feel and a new family rhythm. Since my first child started school a few years ago, I find myself filled with mixed emotions at the start of a new school year. It seems to be very common for siblings to fight more at the end of the summer (mine included), which leaves many parents excited for more structure. After being able to spend more time with my children during the summer, I also feel sad that my children will start a routine that involves so much time away from home. It makes me realize how important it is to be supportive of and engaged with the teachers who will spend so much time with our precious children.

Gabe on his first day of kindergarten last year.

Gabe on his first day of kindergarten last year.

My children are also starting a new school this year, which brings with it another set of to-do’s and hopes. I hope my children have a smooth transition and feel happy at their new school. As you prepare for a new school year, take a few minutes to check out this helpful post, “Preparing Your Child for the New School Year.” I was reminded of some simple things I can do as a parent to help start the school year off right. Happy new school year everyone. I have a feeling it’s going to be a great one!