Tagged: family advice

Toughen up, boy

1953 Vintage Photo 1950s Georgia _Father And Child

My kids recently had ‘lockdown’ training at school – think of fire drills, except for other adverse events. I don’t know what they do in this training, but it seemed to upset my son a little. He hasn’t wanted to sleep near a window, has been taking a while to get to sleep and has been a bit clingy at night time.

My natural reaction to seeing my boy upset is to comfort him – I’m sure that’s a natural reaction for most parents.

I held my little boy close, gave him a cuddle, prayed with him and generally settled him. My boy, without a care in the world, in a safe home, in a warm bed, with a full tummy. His room full of toys, his draws full of clean clothes. He has electricity that turns on, running water and a pantry full of food. He has emergency services literally a phone call away. My little boy, I held him close.

It dawned on me as I held him close – I want to keep him safe, but I think there’s a bigger lesson to be learned here.

I sat him on my lap and looked deep into his brown eyes.

“Boy, inside of you is a man-in-training. When you’re learning to be a man, you’re going to have to face things that are scary, uncomfortable or frightening. Sometimes, my boy, you’re going to have to be tough, and you’re going to have to be courageous”. I settled him, put him in bed and once again reminded him that sometimes, he will need to face his fears and just be tougher than the situation he finds himself in.

It’s a hard thing, looking into your kids eyes knowing you won’t always be there to protect them, knowing they’ll have to face hardships in their life that you won’t always be able to help with. Just like Johnny Cash’s classic ‘Boy named Sue’ . I don’t want my kids to live in fear, but I want them to have the fortitude to face challenges in their life.

So I’m asking, what have you dads (and mums) done to develop a bit of toughness in your kids? I’m so aware that our kids, certainly in Australia, are probably the most pampered, protected, safe generation ever. Our kids are well fed, immunised, protected, educated – the works! How do you prepare your kids for possible eventualities? How do you gently push back and help them find strength within themselves during hard times? To give them permission to fail, to gently let go so they can start building resilience within themselves?

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Lamenting a culture that never was

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I was privileged to go to a Samoan wedding last night. It was the first Samoan wedding I’ve been to. Actually, it was just the wedding reception, but there was enough Samoan to know it was almost exclusively a Samoan wedding. I’ve been to other cultural weddings in the past. I’ve been to a Macedonian wedding, an Indian wedding and plenty of Aussie weddings. Incidentally, do you know the difference between an Aussie wedding and an Aussie funeral? One less drunk.

Jokes aside, it was a beautiful reception. The groom was a couple of years younger than me, and is currently a professional rugby league player. To be honest, no-one really mentioned the bride, as lovely as she was.

Now, I don’t know how indicative this reception was of Samoan wedding receptions, but there were many things that the MC would preface much of the proceedings by saying ‘in Samoan culture’. For example, he’d say ‘in Samoan culture, we always invite the priest and his wife to eat first’, or ‘in Samoan culture, we share dances and songs at gatherings like this’. Indeed, there was much singing, dancing, prayers and formalities. Most of the reception, save for a few speeches, was done in Samoan. One of the grooms family members was a tribal chief, who gave a very ostentatious speech in Tongan. The women all gave dances, the men gave dances, they all gave dances. At various times during the evening, they broke out into beautiful Samoan songs – many of which I recongnised as old church hymns, except in Samoan. It was truly a beautiful experience, and it gives me goosebumps even now thinking about it. Regardless of your views on faith, there is something totally inspiring about spontaneous hymns in a beautiful language.

Just over a year ago, I was in Fiji. Going there, it weighed heavy on my mind the disparity between my Western wealth and the humble, austere living of the Fijians. Anyone who has been to Fiji will know what I’m talking about. How do I reconcile having a plate of food, served by a beautiful Fijian man or woman, who goes home to a simple home, perhaps without even electricity. It wasn’t until I visited a nearby village and partook in a kava ceremony that it made sense – how the Fijians could live like this – really in what we would describe as poverty.

During this ceremony, the village elders described how they were deliberate in preserving their culture. How they were committed to seeing their culture and their way of life preserved and passed onto their children, and their children’s children. They were describing their love of their culture. So we sat there, on the floor of this wall-less shelter listening to the elders, sipping kava, being mesmerised by this simple way of life. It wasn’t until that moment that I realised that even though there was a huge disparity – and I mean huge – between my shallow wealth and the depth of their culture that I wondered who was missing out.

I can’t help wonder, now, what is my culture. Even as a fairly conservative kinda guy, I don’t have any real rituals, customs or rites. I had no formal initiation into manhood. I have a personal faith, but to say the predominant culture I find myself is in anyway religious would be incorrect. I have no tribe with a chief, I have no songs of my forefathers, even at significant events (weddings, funerals etc), to say there are cultural expectations would be a stretch of the imagination. I have no special language to pass onto my son or daughter, no lore nor rites. I pray I will train them up in the ways of the Lord, and this is one inheritance I am very proud to implore them to find their faith in Him.

So, we – I – have very little in the way of culture. What do we have? I have been searching for the answer. What have we found our new culture? I look back to the social revolutions of the 60’s, where there was a very clear rebellion against the conservative ways of the 50’s. It is very easy to see the difference this rebellion, if you want to call it that, had on our Western society. But even now, if one was to rebel, what culture would they be rebelling against? If I was to tell my culture to ‘stick it’, so to speak, what would I actually be rebelling against, for the cultural rules and expectations placed on me are so minimal.

In the years proceeding 1990, Latvia, along with many other former Soviet republics regained independence after being occupied, bound by the evil yolk of communism. During those oppressive years,  the Communists imposed their might on the Latvians, forbidding the language, the culture, the stories, the lore. In the three decades since independence, Latvia, as well as her sister states Lithuania and Estonia have been deliberate in nurturing their culture, their language and traditions. Jay Nordlinger writes that for many Lativans returning to Latvia after Communism it has been both a physical and spiritual experience. Many Jews similarly express similar sentiments when they return to Israel.

I love capitalism, and firmly believe ethical capitalism (I know some friends will scoff at that term!) does much more benefit than controlled economies. What capitalism can’t do, what it cant buy or produce though is connection, culture and being. I wonder, if, here in ‘the West’, we have traded culture, connection and a sense of being for a never-satisfied need for ‘things’ and ‘stuff’. I wonder.

Culture, in the traditional sense of the word, doesn’t spring up overnight, but something I think needs to be practiced daily. One only needs to look at the Jews to see how, especially for observant Jews, their culture is a daily practice. It’s a culture that’s sustained them through over 3500 of human existence, through being scattered amongst the earth, through Pogroms and Holocausts and ever present promises of destruction.

So I ask – do you come from a strong culture? How do you see culture in terms of identity? Is it a culture you wish to impart into your children? Do you find comfort in the company of ‘your own’?

You may think this blog is somewhat somber, and perhaps it is. I guess I’m just missing this idea of culture, this idea of belonging to something bigger than myself. Something that perhaps compliments my faith, and something bigger to shepherd my children in as I guide them through the wilds to maturity. I’m interested. Tell me your thoughts.

 

Picture credit from http://www.qiane.co.nz/anele-nigel-le-lagoto-resort-savaii-destination-wedding/

Your best self vs your real self

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They say marriage is a lifetime of getting used to someone. Without a doubt, any long term relationship is a rollercoaster. You get the good, the bad, the ugly. Sometimes you can get all of that in the space of an hour!

You’ve probably noticed your slightly (or very!) different, depending on who your with. Some people are quiet and industrious at work, but put them in a grandstand at the football and they are boisterous and uncouth! Some people are relaxed everywhere, except behind the wheel of a car. You probably have variations on who you are, depending on the context of the situation.

Another way of looking at this is do you give your partner what’s right, or what’s left. For example, do you find yourself planning your life on how you can invest in your partner, or, do you find yourself giving them the scraps of your energy after everyone else has had a piece of you?

There’s an interesting dynamic though, in marriage. It’s the dynamic, or tension between being your real self, and being your best self. It’s the tension between doing what’s real to you, and doing what’s best for your relationship. It’s an interesting, and difficult tension.

It’s the tension that you get after you and your partner have had really huge weeks, and you want to sit quietly and they want to talk through the week. Do you be your true self, or your best self for your partner?

It’s the tension in silly things – leaving the toilet seat up because you don’t care what way it goes, and putting it down because your partner likes it down and you want to be your best for them.

It’s the tension between just wanting to go to sleep, because that’s what you want, or choosing to open up physically to your partner because you want to give your best to your partner.

It’s the tension between listening enough to hear the key points, or giving your whole attention to your partner.

I think this tension manifests itself in many things.

So what is the answer? I used the picture above because I’ve met some people who seem to think that love is a licence for bad behavior. They seem to use the ‘if you can’t love me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best’ mentality to really just be selfish. Inversely, I’ve met other people who do literally everything they can to support their partner. It might be in the way they put their life on hold to support their partners career, or family, a project or lifestyle.

Is there a point where you give up being your real self, and give your best self, for the sake of the relationship? What about vice versa?

You can only every control yourself, your actions and emotions, so this isn’t about changing your partner. What I’m asking is how have you managed that tension between giving your best self to your partner, and being your real self? Can the two ‘selves’ exist? Can you be real, but still give the best of yourself to your partner? I’m curious, let me know.

Waste time with your family today.

Did you know that there’s a law in China that adult children must provide for the financial and spiritual needs of their aging parents, if they are not involved with their ongoing care? Adult children can actually be sued by their aging parents for neglecting them!

I spent an afternoon playing Lego with my son yesterday. For about three hours, we sat on the carpet and built rocket-powered cars, office buildings complete with motorbike jumps and imagined a world where the usual laws of gravity, fear and responsibility did not exist. Whilst we were doing this, I dared not look at my quickly-growing lawn, or thinking about the garden that needed weeding, or that DIY job in the garage that should have been finished months years ago.

In the last two months, a colleague of mine, a dad, passed away due to a horrible cancer. He left behind a wife and three kids. He would often say ‘no one gets to their deathbed and wishes they spent more time in the office’. I’m sure his wife and children would go to the ends of the earth to waste just a few more minutes with him, paddling on their stand-up paddle board or hanging out at a café.

In the last week, a family member has been diagnosed with a critical illness and is an induced coma. He has a wife and three young children. We are all very hopeful he will pull through, but in these moments, you wish you could spend just a few more minutes wasting time with those you love.

Those who know me know my dad passed away when I was 6. What I wouldn’t give for five more minutes that I could waste with him.

I marvelled at my son, playing with his Lego. I taught him a thing or two about the practicalities of building Lego, and he reminded me a stack of times about how to imagine. He told me ‘I’ll never stop playing with Lego, dad’. I responded, telling him I hope he never forgets how to play Lego, either.

You see, those moments of wasted time with your family are not actually a waste at all. That 30 minutes playing catch. That bike-ride. That afternoon of Lego. The sneaky after-dinner ice-cream dash. Those ‘wasted time’ moments aren’t ‘icing on the cake’ for your family. It’s one of the main ingredients. It’s the chocolate chips in the family brownie. It’s not an optional extra, it’s the sprinkles on the fairy bread.

At this point you’re probably thinking ‘but you don’t know how busy I am’. Maybe I do, maybe I don’t. I’m not saying I’ve got it all together. I don’t. Far from it. I find myself working sometimes 6 days a week, and doing extra things here and there for some extra bucks from time to time. I’m finding though the more I do ‘stuff’, the more time I need to waste with the people I love. It’s a quick game of Uno before dinner. Taking 5 minutes in the morning to help my son with some Lego. Brushing my teeth with the kids before I go to work.

You see, wasting time with your family is never a waste. I know there are times in your life when you do need to spend some time doing that overtime, or that extra bit of study, or spending a bit of time looking after yourself. I know that, and I know that all too well.

I started this blog talking about the Chinese rule of adult kids having to look after their parents. When I’m old, and grey(er!), I don’t want my children to feel obliged to support me, financially or otherwise. I hope that as my children grow and develop, I waste enough time with them now, so that when I’m old, they’ll want to waste time with me. I hope the choices that my kids make won’t be what retirement home to ship me off too. I hope the choices they make will be about how they can waste time with me.

Image from http://www.picturesofbabies.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/papatea_final.jpg

It’s probably your parents fault

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Have you met anyone who’s been a victim? Of course you have! Almost everyone has been a victim of something. A victim of a crime. A victim of an unjust system. A victim of bad parenting.

You’ve probably met people, that despite being a victim of something, have chosen to forge ahead.

On the flip side, you’ve probably met people that have allowed their victim status to become them. They frame the world in terms of their victimhood and proclaim the ills of the person, system or events that ‘caused’ them to be a victim. You see this often when people have been abused by a church, by a family member or someone that should have been protecting them.

I read an article the other day, that was posted on facebook between two sisters. It essentially talked about being raised by parents who were emotionally unavailable and emotionally illiterate, and the impact this had on the person who wrote the article. One of the daughters discussed very openly on how she believed her parents were emotionally unavailable, unaware and, in her words, ‘brought them up in an environment of rage’.

I’m a parent. Like pretty much most parents I know, I put in a stack of effort in raising my children to become happy, well adapted, engaged, productive adults. I know my parents did this, too.

With the benefit of hindsight, I know my parents made mistakes. They’ll even admit their mistakes. There’s no hurt, malice or anger there – we’ve had some pretty honest conversations and they’ve often said they would of done things differently.

I’m not going to lie. My life probably would have been different if my parents did do things differently. If I learned different skills, was pushed in different directions and had and different focuses during my upbringing.

One of the greatest lies someone can tell themselves is that their life would be better if their parents were better. If their parents were more emotionally in tune, wealthier, kinder, more loving. Your childhood may have been easier and you may be imparted with better skills, but to say your life overall would be better is a falsehood.

It is an unfair, and honestly, wrong assumption to expect your parents to teach you everything. To give you every single tool to become an adult. Some parents will impart financial skills, others emotional, some practical or vocational. I truly believe parents will impart the skills that they have to raise the most well rounded children. Are there abusive and neglecting parents? Of course there are. Do they have an impact on a person’s ability to grow into a well adjusted adult? Without a doubt.

Part of being a grown up is identifying areas where you lack a skill or capability. There may be areas in your childhood where hurts were caused, where you don’t feel your parents gave you the right skills to manage a situation. Guess what? Learn from it. Learn. Grow. Develop into a well rounded human.

You can go around, blaming your parents for whatever slight they caused – real or perceived. You’ll grow into the victim you believe you are, and that victimhood will enslave your whole life.

There are situations when parents have genuinely abused or neglected their children. Genuinely. That’s horrible, it’s wrong and it’s rotten. As trite as it sounds, you can get healing from this – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. This will be a process, but again, you can choose to let healing in, or you can choose to be a victim.

I suspect with many ‘victims’, they’ve allowed themselves to be ensnared in their hurt. They’ve chosen to let the vines of hurt choke the otherwise beautiful garden of happy memories.

It’s unfair to expect your parents to solve all your problems, equip you with every tool to succeed and provide you with an easy life. It’s not going to happen. It’s an unrealistic expectation – unfair to yourself and unfair to them.

There’s nothing wrong with talking to your parents about the joys, disappointments, hurts and happiness of growing up. That’s a pretty mature thing to do, it helps you grow and helps build relationships between people. Focusing a locus of disappointment on your parents for not meeting a particular need, however, is unhealthy and will cause you a lifetime of hurt.

Parents aren’t perfect. You’re not perfect. Your parents probably have disadvantaged you in some way. Guess what? They’ve probably given you a stack of help, too. Don’t let your disappointments enslave you. You’re a grown adult – you’ve got agency about your decisions and choices about your emotions and your life and your wellbeing. You can choose to be a continual victim, or you can choose to learn, grow and adapt.

What choice will you make?

Image from http://i.huffpost.com/gen/1776924/thumbs/o-JAIL-CELL-facebook.jpg

Dad shaped hole

I’ve watched two movies in recent times about the relationship between a son and his dad. The first movie, the Judge, was possibly one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. It’s an arm wrestle of wills between a dad and his son, and truly, something I think you ought to watch.

This will be a short blog, and I think I’ll cut right to the chase.

I think everyone has a dad-shaped hole. Something inside of them that’s just YEARNING for the love, acceptance and pride of their dad. I can’t speak for girls, but I certainly know it’s true for boys.

It’s this inbuilt gauge, a compass, a guiding force. Your mum will always love you, but your dad – that’s a different kettle of fish all together.

It’s in a three year old, pushing his toy lawnmower behind his daddy as he cuts the cuts the grass in front of him.

It’s in the eight year old, proudly showing his science experiment, longing to know that his dad thinks its cool.

It’s in the twelve year old, hoping that his dad will tell him these changes he’s experiencing are normal.

It’s in the fifteen year old, wondering if he’s tough enough to beat his dad in football.

It’s in the seventeen year old, hoping his dad is proud that he got his licence.

It’s in the 21 year old, aching to know his dad is there for graduation.

It’s in the 25 year old, bringing the girl he hopes to marry home, hoping his dad approves.

It’s in the 27 year old, standing at the alter, watching his mum cry, but looking for that silent nod of approval from his dad.

It’s in the 28 year old, walking his dad through his first new house, telling him of the DIY jobs he already has planned.

It’s in the 29 year old, handing his dad his grandchild, beaming with pride.

It’s in the 30 year old, just wanting to bounce ideas off his dad about this whole crazy idea about being married.

It’s in the 33 year old, needing his dads advice on whether or not to take that job interstate.

It’s in the 40 year old, just racking his brains about this whole life thing, trying desperately to hold onto something strong

It’s in the 50 year old, catching a glimpse of the joy his dad had when he had his first grandchild

It’s in the 60 year old, wondering how he would carry the family legacy, now his dad has gone

It’s in those silent moments of fishing together. Wrestling through an idea together. Arguing over who’s boss, like lions fighting for command of the pride. It’s in that moment, when a son knows his dad went hammer and tooth, never giving up, never giving in, even when, in retrospect, things weren’t that good.

Dads, your sons need you. They need you when they are infants. They need you when they are boys. They need you when they are teenagers and they need you when they are young adults. They need you as they journey through life.

I’ve said it before, but being a dad is not a passive activity. It’s something you journey through. At first, you are teaching your son, mentoring him, guiding him. You walk with him, are in the trenches with him, are side by side with him. Finally, he will walk with you. He will be by your side, being your strength, the joy that carries you along.

Dads, don’t be shy in showing your boys love, pride, discipline and guidance. Your boys are aching for it.

Image from http://dorkshelf.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads//2014/10/The-Judge-Featured-1900×560-1412876043.jpg

In praise of Step Dads

Step dads, and indeed step parents have got a pretty bad wrap. Ever since Cinderella and her evil step mother, the step parent has been the enemy. The villain. The intruder. The harassing step-dad off Hod Rod

Conservative commentators argue that children living with a non-biological parent have an exponentially higher risk of childhood abuse (physical, mental and sexual) compared to children living with both biological parents.  A recent report by the Center for Independent Studies reports similar findings.

This post, however, isn’t about the evil step dad. It’s about the good one. The one that finds a gal who, for what ever reason, has kids from her previous relationship. The step dad that loves his new wife and her kids, as if they were his own.

Any parent will know that parenting can be taxing at the best of times. Discipline, showing love, setting boundaries and managing subsequent children between parent and step children can add substantial challenges for the step dad.

This is going to sound cold, but separated parents are my bread and butter. I spend 8 hours a day talking to separated parents, about money, their kids and their ex partners. Occasionally, I”ll chat to a dad who has re-partnered and who shares some of his struggles with bringing up someone elses children. He might talk about the financial burdens, if the biological dad does not pay Child Support. He might talk about the emotional strain, as he is hamstrung on setting boundaries for his step children who are only too happy to play the parents off each other. Sometimes he might just want to let off steam on this whole step parenting caper.

Some step dads have the challenge of filling the shoes of a dad who has passed away. Often, the biological dad who has passed away achieves ‘hero’ status in the eyes of the children he left behind. The dad that passed away can do no wrong – he does not have to struggle with evening homework. He does not have to enforce boundaries. Discipline. Set curfews.  He does not have to juggle work, family, bills, church or friends. He does not have to contend with anything – he simply (and I say this with absolute respect) was the perfect dad, who if he was around, would of ‘understood’ his kids, unlike the step-dad who seemingly has no clue.

Many step-dads are hamstrung when it comes to disciplining his step children. So often, the term ‘you can’t do/say that to me – you’re not my real dad’ comes out when he tries to establish even the most rudimentary boundaries for his step children.

I want to perhaps give some encouragement to the step dads out there. The ones who love and care for their step children. The ones who got an ‘instant family’ when they married.

Step dads, I want to acknowledge you’ve got a tough, tough job. A job, a task that has and is going to test you and make you wonder if these kids were worth the girl. Times when even the most simplest boundaries you set for your household are going to get tested. Step dads, hang in there.

If I have some advice for the step dad, it’s this.

You’ll never be able to fill the shoes of your step-kids dad, nor you ought too. You’ll probably never discipline right, say the right things or do the right things.

Here’s what you can be, however.

You can be a GREAT influence on your step kids. They won’t say it. As kids, they probably won’t think it, but I promise you this. They will watch you like a hawk. They will watch you to see if you’re going to stick it out. If you’re going to go the full ten rounds. If you’re going to go until the final bell with this marriage thing with their mum.

Your step kids are going to judge you for EVERYTHING you do, and everything you don’t do. Don’t be scared about this – be encouraged. What would you rather be judged for – doing what you believe was right, or talking a half-baked approach? Being deliberate in loving, caring for and respecting your step kids, or being ambivalent, only seeking to do the bare minimum? Your step kids will watch how you treat their mother. They will watch how you approach morality, faith, ethics and justice. They will find your consistencies and your inconsistencies and boy will they magnify them!

Don’t be scared to tell them that sometimes you don’t have a clue about this step parent business, but you’re working on it. Don’t be scared to be consistent, to strive to make the right choices and to tell your step kids that you’ll love them regardless. Take a consistent approach to parenting.

As a step dad, you’re going to take a heap of shots, Some cheap shots, some shots from behind, some shots you may of even deserved. Roll with them.

Here’s what I can almost guarantee. Love your step kids mother. Love your step kids, even when they are being absolute, well, absolute challenges!

Your step kids won’t always be kids. They eventually will grow up, They’ll leave the teenage years and their adults life will start.

They’ll want to choose a vocation, maybe university or technical college. They’ll want to find a partner of their own, buy a house or a car, holiday and be an adult.

Through that, they’ll want an ear to bounce ideas off. If you’ve been consistent, if you’ve stayed in the game and not given up on them, guess what? Chances are, they’ll come to you. They’ll want advice off the man who’s protected them, loved them , provided for them and even made hard decisions for then that they have absolutely hated. When they grow up, and they will grow up, they’ll realize the hard yards you put in.

They’ll have their own kids one day. If you’ve been that loving, consistent figure in their life, they won’t call you their step dad anymore. They’ll have a new name for you. That name? Grandad.

So step dads, keep up the good fight. It’s a hard one, a thankless one and many times, just plain terrible, but chin up. Some punches will floor you, but get up off that canvas. Keep fighting for your step kids, because in the future, they’ll fight for you.

Image from http://sean.famthings.com/page/2/