undeaddad

explorations of mindful fatherhood


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My Son’s Just Not That Into Yours

kids arguing

My question is this: When should we as parents intervene at the parent-to-parent level, and when should we simply coach our kids to navigate their own relationships?

My neighbor is such a pain that I’ve considered dedicating a separate blog to my conflicts with him. Instead, I hold back and relegate a few choice posts to our ongoing feuds. The latest conversation with him was an interesting mix of land disputes, fatherhood, and childhood friendship.

The guy next door was in a tizzy about the way I raked my leaves, and started bullying me about how I had to remove them from a certain wooded area of my lot, sending me emails citing town ordinances. After I corrected his misinterpretation of the law, he explained that his beef had more to do with “unresolved issues” than it did with the leaves, so he invited a conversation.

Turned out he was concerned about the disintegration of his son’s relationship with my son. My son hadn’t played with his son since the beginning of the summer, and my neighbor felt as though I had turned my son away from his. The back-story is that his son and mine played together for about a year. His son is a little socially awkward and a bit of a trouble-maker. He would frequently refuse to go home when his parents asked for him or would ignore my or my wife’s redirections if he was breaking our house rules. Nothing too egregious, to the point of us having a sit-down with parents, but enough to be annoying. The kid also had a butt fascination, frequently trying to hit people in their’s during light sabre battles, ramming his head into my wife’s butt, and investigating the butts of our pets. Simply put, he’s a little weird.

After a while, we made sure that the boys were always in sight so that we could monitor a bit more closely. My son is the perpetual rule-follower, so he tends to steer clear of anyone in violation of the rules. By the beginning of the summer, he was pulling away, frequently putting the kid off when he showed up at our door, suggesting they play after lunch or the next day. When the kid showed up again, my son would decline a second time.

Finally, we sat our son down and asked why he didn’t want to play anymore. “I’m burnt out,” was his reply, as though he was some mid-life professional discussing a career change. We told him that he needed to be upfront with his friend; if he wanted to take break, then he should tell him that. Afterwards, he successfully had a conversation with the boy, saying he wanted “to take a break from play-dates over the summer.”  The kid got it, and stayed away…

…until the end of the summer, when re was ringing our doorbell again.  My son turned him away a few times, and the kid finally stopped coming over.

So when my neighbor sat me down, he was in a huff that we hadn’t shown him the respect of letting him know that my son didn’t want to play with his. He felt it was unfair for him as a parent to keep sending his son over to our house, only to set him up for rejection. I could empathize with that experience, and kind of felt badly. But the question arose: How much should we as parents intervene at the parent-to-parent level, and how much should we help our kids navigate their own relationships?

In this particular situation, there wasn’t anything bad enough that prompted us to intervene directly in the boys’ relationship. There wasn’t outright bullying or even arguments, there wasn’t meanness or cruelty or even terrible violations of rules. In most of those cases, my wife or I would have likely stepped in or approached a parent. This was just the whittling away of a relationship based on a poor fit. My son didn’t want to play much anymore and couldn’t articulate a specific reason. I’m left to assume that the two just didn’t click, and perhaps even that my son thought that the other boy was a bit odd or maybe a trouble-maker.

What would I have said to the other parents in that case?  “My son just isn’t that into yours?”  “My son thinks your kid’s kind of a trouble-maker”  “Don’t send your kid over anymore because he’s a bit odd?”  I can’t fathom what I would have said. Plus, this wasn’t an abrupt thing. Just like adults can, these kids had drifted apart over time, and there wasn’t any specific marker that indicated to me that I should really go talk to the parent.

In the end, my neighbor made me feel like a bad parent. As though I hadn’t been thoughtful enough as a parent to step in and say something to my son’s friend’s dad. I felt this guilty tailspin. Had I mis-stepped? Would a “good” parent have done something different? I started resenting this other parent for his judgments, especially if he hadn’t been following his own advice, which smacked of hippocracy. If he had wanted to have a conversation about things as the relationship was having a part, then that responsibility fell upon him. Plus the added accusation of me “turning my son against his” was over the top.

In the end, it’s about deciding the line for ourselves. At times, kids need to navigate their own relationships, which can be confusing. Our job as parents in this case was to help our son be clear with his friend and draw a line for himself. I think that in the long run, this was the best decision. I will be there as a mediator when needed, but certainly a cautious, strategic one.

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Confessions of a Reformed Blog Hater

blogging%20imageI have to admit that I’m a reformed blog-hater.  Three years ago, if you had asked me what I thought of folks blogging about their own lives, I would have told you I considered it the most narcissistic writing endeavor that our technological age had birthed.  I simply–and mistakenly–thought that bloggers were the most self-absorbed of all writers.

Many apologies to my fellow bloggers for these sentiments, and I assure you I’ve come to value blogging.  Let me explain how I turned that corner.

Admittedly, my initial motivations for starting a blog were opportunistic.  I completed the first draft of a book manuscript about two years ago, and then launched into a year of constant editing.  When I tried submitting to agents, I came up dry.  I stopped writing.  I didn’t know how I felt about it all.  I had read many things about blogging as a means for developing a platform, but was uncomfortable with the idea.  I was still holding onto my dislike for bloggers.  Even my wife asked me about possibly starting a blog, but I refused (she’s full of good ideas that are sometimes hard for me to accept).

But I kept hearing about blogging and its benefits for writers.  After one final push from a relative, I decided to bite the bullet.  I thought it would be a good way of getting back into writing.  I settled on the theme of mindful fatherhood, a topic with which I’d been struggling.

Then I started to write.  I enjoyed sitting down to put my thoughts into words and elaborate on the struggles I face each day, especially my challenges of feeling depleted or absent at home.  But here’s the thing: expressing my thoughts and feelings has never been easy for me.  When something bad happens, I usually try to make sense of the situation quickly, draw some conclusions, and then sweep it under the rug so I don’t have to deal with it any longer.  This is the case for a host of life’s struggles, but especially my losses and fears.  It’s a source of conflict for my relationships because I don’t process significant events or spark conversations about my feelings.  Instead, I’m happy to run away.  I’d rather compartmentalize my feelings, stow them away where I don’t have to look at them, and try to forget.

Yet I find that when I write, I have much more tolerance when it comes to conflicting emotions.  An issue will come to mind and I’ll start putting it down in words.  With time, my thoughts and feelings begin crystallizing and connecting in my consciousness. I’m sure this is what any devoted journal- or diary-keeper would tell you.  And yet, my previous attempts at journaling always fell flat.  Each time I’d start a journal, I felt like a fool, and put it down again.

But not with blogging.  I stuck with blogging.  But why?  After many posts about my daily struggles, I realized I wasn’t shying away.  I kept blogging and, in the process, tolerating my feelings long enough to allow them to evolve on the screen.  My thoughts felt more organized, and through that organization I was better able to sit with them.

And yet, when it came down to it, I still couldn’t voice my feelings one-to-one with others in my life.  On one occasion, my wife read a post of mine and pointed out that she’d never known how I’d felt about that post’s topic.  She hadn’t realized that I’d given the subject any thought.  It was really difficult for us both to understand at the time.  Why did I feel more comfortable posting my feelings rather than sitting down with my own wife to have a conversation about them?  Was a “like” from a fellow blogger more important to me than connecting with her?

I was racked with guilt.  I was the one who used to slam bloggers for being self-absorbed, and here I was, potentially being the biggest narcissistic idiot of them all.  Was on-line validation of my feelings more important than validation from my wife?  Was I so shallow that it took a disembodied audience to force me to look at my own feelings about things, when the support of one person wasn’t enough?

I beat myself up like that for quite a while, but it forced me to sit and look at my real motivations.  This is what I’ve come up with so far.  I am a guy who relies on deadlines and pressure to accomplish things.  I like to see a project completed and presented in a nice neat package.  There’s something about blogging that satisfies this need in me.  I set a schedule for how many posts I’ll get out per week, determine a few topics, write in my free time, tweak and revise, and send out a fully formed post in the end.  Although my readership is small, there’s something about the knowledge that I have “readers” that helps me stick to it.  I have no delusions that people are waiting on tenterhooks for my posts, but the very fact that I “manage” a blog makes me commit to a schedule in my head.  That’s what makes me actually stick to the writing routine.

When it comes to developing the thoughts themselves, it’s the writing process that helps me do that.  At times, I have set aside time just to think (without writing) about tender subjects, like the losses in my life, my relationship with my parents, or conflicts at home, but my mind inevitably wanders off.  I’ll turn off the radio in the car to think and gain some clarity, but I end up thinking about dinner or the driver in front of me, and before I know it the radio is back on and I’m pulling into the garage.  My mind won’t allow me to sustain a thought that’s too uncomfortable.

But with writing, the words on the screen tether me to the thought.  They make it hard to get distracted or leave loose ends hanging.  The words on the screen force me to complete my thoughts and link one sentence to the next.  It’s through blogging that I have been able to tolerate reflection.

So, who is it all for?  I’ve discovered it isn’t for the faceless on-line audience.  It isn’t for people in my life.  It isn’t even for my wife.  It’s for me.  I want to become better at sitting with things that are difficult.  I want to be able to make sense of my life, what I want from it, and the things I do to thwart my own development.  Only by investing in this process I can become a better person, a better father, a better husband.  Blogging has helped me open up to myself a bit more, and has given my thoughts some space to expand.

My new challenge is translating that voice.  I have been somewhat successful in putting these words on a screen, and now I have to move them into spoken word.  I have to be able to voice my thoughts and struggles with my wife and others in person, in order to grow my relationships and help others understand me.

I’m glad that blogging has helped spark this process in me, but I have to remember my priorities.  Although I love seeing a new “like” on the screen or a new person following my work, I have to remember that blogging is about giving my thoughts the chance to expand, and extending that process into my personal relationships.  That is where the heart of the growth lies.  I am forever indebted to readers with whom my words resonate, because they emphasize that this process of growth and learning is a valid one, and one that deserves further investment.

I would chance a guess that this process motivates the writing of many other bloggers.  Blogging is a chance to expand upon one’s thoughts in order to develop further as a person.  It gives the writer an opportunity to reflect on one’s self and perhaps carry those insights into other, more personal relationships.  For this reason I have a new appreciation and, dare I say, love for blogging.

I’d like to know others’ motivations for blogging.  Please post or add a comment. Why do you blog?