Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dropping the Ball Directly Onto Dads

I've read lots of books lately about what it means to be a man or woman in this world raising a child. Everyone is an expert but no one really knows what they are doing. There is no LEGO manual for making every day awesome because no two families, let alone people are the same.

Finding balance between work and family life is constantly in flux for all of us no matter what your work and home situation may be. In the latest book which tells you everything you are doing is wrong, Tiffany Dufu has dropped the ball right onto dads in her book, Drop the Ball which perpetuates the lazy dad stereotypes of old. 

I mean, I'm sure Dufu meant well. She meant to share her personal experience backed by some semblance of research on how other moms feel about their perceived lazy husbands. But be warned, these, "experts" scream to you from bookshelves that the reason your husband doesn't clean the toilet taint (you know that area between the bowl and the tank) is because men don't want to share the worry and work that accompanies managing a home.

Wrong. We both worry though we probably worry about different things at different times. Let's be honest though, you can't be a parent and not worry about something.  Our mental health issues are on the rise on both sides of the coin. Men's mental health issues are steadily increasing with many men's worries escalating towards suicide which they believe is the only way out. Read up on Josh Levs' book All In where he conducted interviews with countless men over the ways they and their partners teamed up together to find a solution for their families. He will shed light on these sources who claim that women are doing most of the heavy lifting.

Teamwork is and always will be the key to any relationship and it is where most success resides for individuals and companies. People didn't get where they are today without influence from other people, period. Sometimes that meant that they took the lead and other times they were a support person.

The same holds true for relationships. Think of examples where teamwork works the best; on sports teams where their motto is "I don't want to win it for me, but the person next to me." It happens in businesses where people play specific roles that ebb and flow. Oftentimes a project manager takes on a role because they are the best at it while their supporting players may not be as strong. Nothing gets done in America without teamwork. But keeping score and holding that over your team will never make you a star.

What isn't productive is the claim that one gender works harder than the other at something. Claims that men work harder than women who work at home or claims that women work harder than men because they don't do as much housework doesn't bring us closer together, it divides us even more.

Authors like Dufu want to show one side only. They know extreme examples sell books. They want to prove that one sex is superior to the other based on quantifiable reasons. Why does there have to be this giant scale where we keep score?

I'm not in competition with my wife for who can do more. We don't keep a tally of all the things we accomplished that day like some maniacal tail-gunner taking out enemy planes. We don't compare notes at the end of the day over who did more like scars on a small fishing boat hunting down a shark.

We divide and conquer, together. I'm not good at the finances and she hasn't changed the cat litter since her first pregnancy. It works because we do the things that we are good at. In her case it's organizing and numbers and mine is just dealing with crap.

Dufu makes a claim that "When men change a diaper, they feel like they’re helping us out; when we change a diaper, we feel like we’re just doing our job.” If this is you, I'm sorry if you've been around men that don't see that caring for your children is an equal partnership.

The men that I know don't think of changing diapers as helping out their wives. We had children TOGETHER. We take care of them TOGETHER. We will always raise them TOGETHER. The very definition of a partnership is doing something together. 

If I were babysitting a neighbor's kid, that is helping out. If I were changing the diaper of my nephew, I might be helping out. If I am picking up someone's son to bring him home in addition to my own, that is helping out.  Being a parent and managing the household is not a job, it's a responsibility you both enter and navigate together.

I ran into this so often as a stay at home dad of nine years who was praised for doing the everyday tasks any parent would do with their children. People would say I was a good dad because I took my kids to the grocery store alone or because I could make an afternoon recital that my wife couldn't because she was working. These stereotypes make it hard to gain ground when it comes to equality on either side. 

I feel this way every time someone calls me Mr. Mom or asks me if I am babysitting. Stop referring to me as a character from a movie made in 1983. I'm a dad caring for my children while my wife works to support our family. The care and worry won't change once I am back in the workforce, it will just intensify since I won't be with them during the day anymore.

I recently started teaching again and now that I have a job, I'm still caring for the children. That part never changes no matter whether you are working or staying at home. I'm still carting the kids to after school activities and making dinner in the evening. Now that our family dynamic is changing again, we are figuring it out all over again.

Books like Drop the Ball reinforce these negative stereotypes about dads who are unwilling to be an active part of the household beyond just raising the children.  Society may keep those stereotypes alive but it's our job to disprove them, not reinforce them. Instead of figuring out who is doing more, let's focus on how doing it together looks like instead. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

You're The Reason Mommy Drinks

Parents,we are hurting our children in the worst possible way. It has nothing to do with gluten free anything or not slathering the clown makeup sunscreen on our children before heading out into the sun. It has to do with our drinking and the way we are allowing our kids to perceive just what alcohol means to us as adults.

I'm sure you've joked about it to your friends. You've probably posted a meme on your Facebook page with a comically large glass of wine. You may have even shared a picture via text with your buddies about how many beers you've needed to get through the day or laughed at t-shirts that claim "You're the reason daddy drinks." If you have, you're sending the wrong message to your children.

If you think these posts are all in good fun then you're being hypocritical. We can't say one thing and then totally mean another because we are probably telling our kids before they get to that responsible age that drinking is not okay. We're probably telling them that drinking lowers inhibitions and impairs their ability to think straight. We're probably telling them just how dangerous alcohol can be especially when they get behind the wheel of a car. These are all good messages but we lose all credibility when we use our dependency on alcohol to get through the day and then talk about it on social media.

A typical day for a parent on social media includes pictures of coffee, kid stuff for 12-18 hours, then alcohol. Complain about how hard it is, how you never get any sleep, and then repeat.

At some point when our children are on social media they will see our messages about how we deal with a tough day. I'd be embarrassed if my son were to ask if if that's how I really felt about being a dad.  Parents who post about how necessary drinking is to our survival as primary caregivers is the wrong message to send. Using alcohol to escape from reality or to deal with stress is incredibly careless of us.

Had a rough day? Grab a bottle of wine! Drink a six pack! You kids and all your shenanigans are the reason why we drink.

Oh and don't worry kids, you'll get here someday. Have a tough math test? Are your parents stressing you out? Faced adversity today? Just drink until you forget.

Never fear kids, alcohol is the answer. Someday, you'll be a parent and understand why it is necessary.

At least that is what our impression of what it takes to be a parent looks like on social media. We love to post about how many glasses of wine will make us forget about the day or how drinking this magic elixir will get us to tomorrow.

It's just a way to unwind after a particularly difficult day dealing with the children. What's the harm in that? I'm not saying that you should give up drinking. That's just crazy talk. That would be like saying play dates should be eliminated.

I like a beer or two from time to time. I just don't go on the internet complaining afterwards about how necessary this dependence on alcohol is to a taxing day with the children. Can we all agree that drinking in excess and posting about drinking on social media is a terrible message for our kids?

Maybe it's just me but I find that griping about being a parent and then drinking to "escape" from all the "hardships" I've faced that day with the kids seems counterproductive.

Go ahead and Google "mom and wine meme" and you'll get 866,000 hits. Mom wine culture is rampant on the internet. A search for "mom wine blog" will get you 4,290,000 hits. I'm not knocking those that enjoy a glass of wine or a beer at the end of the day but drinking to drown your sorrows about being a parent in that comically large wine glass is setting a dangerous precedence.

But it's just funny memes! What's the big deal? Well, as my kids get older and internet searches increase, they are bound to come across these images of adults coping with their hardships with alcohol. We aren't promoting responsible anything, only that the answer to life's problems is to drown them until they can't breathe anymore.

How can we honestly look at our kids in the eye and tell them that drinking their troubles away will not solve anything when we post about it all the time?

Remember that anti-drug commercial when we were kids where the kid screams "I learned it by watching you!"? We are doing it again. Our kids are watching us and emulating our behaviors. Is this the message we want to send?

The next time you reach for the alcohol do what I do and remember all the joy your children have brought you and smile. Here are some alternatives to posting on how hard your life as a parent is:

Go look at baby pictures on the computer or wistfully admire your wedding photos of your pre-kid dad-bod or lack of a muffin top.  If you're so inclined, go for a walk or a jog and then drink some water. Do some yoga or sit in a quiet room and rock yourself in a corner. Binge watch some Netflix and post spoilers on Facebook like the rest of us. You could even start your own parenting blog and tell other people what to do!  Anything but taking pictures of you drinking and whining about what you had to do today.

The point is, let's stop using alcohol as a reason to cope with having children. And while them getting up every thirty seconds after you've tucked them into bed sucks, no amount of beer or wine is going to get them to go to sleep. For some of you, alcohol may have played a role in getting us here in the first place but it shouldn't be the reason we continue to be parents.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Make Your Breakfast Berry Fast and Berry Good

The slow descent down the stairs is usually the first thing I hear as my kids make their way to the kitchen for breakfast. The shuffling feet, the soft padding of fleece lined slippers create this slow whooshing sound a bit like sandpaper against the grain.

Slowly, like sheep roused from their stables headed out to pasture my children saunter into the kitchen. Hairdos all akimbo, eyes, hardly open, they manage to mumble a good morning but just barely.

They don't know it yet but they've got it pretty good. The youngest at six years of age goes to bed at 7:30 pm and she sleeps until 7:00 am. That's a good solid eleven and a half hours though she is resistant to waking at all when it is time to actually find where that one shoe has gone off to before heading out the door.

As the kids get older in age, our oldest a tween, we extend bedtime for shows he can't watch with his sisters. My son stays up a bit later but still manages nine and a half hours of sleep though the teenage years are creeping up on us. Those days when growing made you tired and you felt like you could eat everything under the sun.

But there's just no time in the morning; it's hectic and fast paced. You'll want to minimize the drama so it won't carry over. Sometimes, things get combined to maximize efficiency.

Breakfast is a time to fuel up for the day. It's a time to pack our backpacks, make sure our lunches are actually with us, and eat something quick before we head out the door. That's why cereal, especially Cheerios, are a part of our morning routine.

To cut down on the amount it steps before our minds are fully awake, we put the spoons and bowls out the night before to set ourselves up for a successful day. Each kid places a cereal before their bowl like an offering to the breakfast gods.

I've bought cereals as a stay at home dad for the last nine years. I can tell you that a terrible tasting cereal gets shoved into the back of the pantry, banished from ever seeing the bottom of a bowl. You know the one thing that always goes? Berries. Anytime I've bought berries at the store, I have to ration them out. Once, my daughters ate an entire two quart package of raspberries!

That's why our family is pretty excited about Very Berry Cheerios. I don't know how General Mills did it, but I'm envisioning a giant vat of berries and those whole grain oats in a gigantic blender. They also managed to make them gluten free and they contain no artificial flavors or colors. Thank you cereal scientists!

Now instead of putting berries on our cereal, we have berries in our cereal. Getting a spoonful of berries in every bite is always going to be a recipe for happy kids, now if I can just keep them eating them all before I get a bowl. 

I have partnered with Life of Dad and Cheerios for this campaign, but my opinions are my own.