Daring to Love Fiercely Even When We Fall Short as Parents

Our children aren’t looking for perfect parents. They’re looking for tremendous love.

“This is going to be awesome.”

Those were the actual words that ran through my head as I packed my two kids into the car to go get some ice cream. It sounds fun, right? Mom was out of town and this was my opportunity to have some “fun dad time” with my kids. My kids are one and three years old.

Things didn’t necessarily go as planned. This was our selfie from said outing:

[su_spacer size=”40″][/su_spacer]

father tries taking a selfie with kids and ice cream

1 | First, that is my mouth

It is the mouth of someone concentrating really hard on something. The “something” in this case was me trying to take a “cool dad” selfie while simultaneously trying to keep my kids from covering 50 percent of their bodies in chocolate ice cream.

2 | Just look at those eyebrows

Pure confusion. My kids might as well have just said, “Dad, good try and all, but you have no idea what you’re doing. Where’s mom?”

3 | No extra hands

Did I think about what sorts of things I might actually need to make this outing successful? Not even a little bit. “Put the kids in the car and drive” was the extent of my planning. No wet wipes for their hands, no pulling my daughter’s sleeves up. Just 100 percent no-idea-what-I’m-doing winging it.

4 | Look at how dangerous that tilt is

When the lady asked me if the kids wanted a cup or cone, I’m pretty sure I looked at my kids with a stupid smile plastered to my face and loudly proclaimed, “CONES FOR EVERYONE!” the same way I might scream at a bar that the next round is on me. Boy, am I a fun dad.

Had I known that Satan himself manufactures those supernaturally top-heavy ice cream cones, I might have reconsidered my decision. As soon as you set those stupid things down, they go ICE CREAM FIRST onto the diseased outdoor table that all the other patrons and cockroaches dined at and then pooped on prior to us sitting there. Whenever their ice creams tipped over – and it happened many, many times – I just wiped off the tops with my one free hand using a napkin.

Words, and even the picture, don’t adequately describe how badly this ice cream outing went. It was like a terrible Pinterest fail unfolding in real time, and I was the crappy end product that everyone laughs at.

And yet! I took my kids to get ice cream. And that is what they need more than anything: a daddy who loves them hard, through tipping cones, failed selfies, and epic ill-preparedness.

I think we all need to be reminded of this sort of thing from time to time. You might be going through something hard right now. Maybe your son, like mine, has angry toddler outbursts and you’re not exactly sure how to go about helping him. Maybe your child has special needs. Maybe your marriage is struggling.

In the midst of these difficulties, what your child (or spouse) needs more than anything is for you to remember to look up from your struggles and truly see them.

Our children aren’t looking for perfect parents. They’re looking for tremendous love.

After all, you and I both know that we’re never going to get parenting 100 percent right. So today, I encourage you to do the hard work of looking up from your own worries and struggles and remember to love on your children, which might look something like this:

  • Hug them often
  • Tell them you love them
  • Smile at them
  • Tell them why you like them
  • Take them on ice cream outings
  • Tell them what they’re good at
  • Play with them

Research links warmth and affection between parent and child with higher self-esteem, better parent-child communication, and fewer psychological behavior problems.

Remembering to love your child won’t make your issues or struggles go away. Those are still going to be difficult, and you’re still going to have to fight through them. But loving on your family is the best decision that you make every single day.

Dare to love your child tremendously today. Even if it results in disastrous ice cream adventures. Put aside your worries and remember that your most important job as a parent is, first, to love.

Why I Clean My Teens’ Rooms (And You Should Consider It, Too!)

At a time when their brains and bodies are in overdrive, I don’t mind taking on the small job of keeping my teen’s room clean.

I’m standing in the doorway to my son’s room. I’m reluctant to pass the threshold from my clean, undisturbed hallway carpet into what appears to be a war zone that smells like a farm animal. I plug my nose, and go forth into the dungeon of young man sweat. I put my toddler to work by giving her simple, really boring tasks (don’t judge) and we begin to clean.

You’re asking yourself why I would choose to clean Cheetos out of someone’s bed, so I want to shed some light on why I do what I do. To be clear, my son’s room is not the only goat poop smelling room I clean. I do the same cleaning regimen for my teenage daughter. And, might I add, her room is far worse. I’m talking about her room’s a freaking freak show. Nail polish open on the window sill, sports bra’s hanging from the fan, makeup caked into the carpet. I literally found a piece of cheese in her bed. Like, good, expensive cheddar, just left to petrify and die in her nasty little bed quilt. 

I often clean my teenagers’ rooms because they’re a bundle of confused hormones with an enormous amount of responsibility stemming from high school sports, academics, and expectations from family and friends. Not only that, but teenagers are thrust from childhood into a world that expects them to learn how how to drive a car (murder machine), get a job, get all their homework done, keep their rooms clean, make friends, keep friends, get rid of bad friends, learn about sex, talk about sex, maybe have sex (oh hell no) and the list goes on.

The expectations we put on young people, without recognizing their vulnerability, their lack of developmental maturity to process and complete all the tasks we ask of them, is a road block to a healthy teenage/parent relationship. How do I know this? Trial and error. I’m a researcher by nature. I read, I process, I put into action different modalities, until I find a way that feels good for us all. And by this, I mean, actions that create harmony, happiness, and feel heart-centered. Nothing based on fear, or physical punishment.

One of the books that has help shaped my ideas of parenting through understanding, simple actions, and love, is “Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy!” by Dr. Michael J. Bradly. Dr. Bradley provides readers with the science behind the “modern” teenage brain, and offers explicit information on how to parent these teenagers of today. Being able to take a step back, a deep breath, and let your guard down in knowing that our kids are not literally trying to kill us – they just can’t help it – is the next best thing to coffee.

This is why I started cleaning my teenagers’ bedrooms. I realized why we were butting heads constantly. They’re overwhelmed, fearful, and not able to process everything that was happening to them. When we yell at them to get what we want, we are actually digging a hole, one that we inevitably sink into, further and further away from the very teenagers who need us more than ever. They need simplicity. They need to feel empowered, they need to feel loved. Will cleaning their room inhibit their ability to be responsible young adults who can go to college and get jobs? No. It won’t.

What it will do is offer them a safe, clean, happy, and Cheetos-free place to come home to and do their homework. It’ll show them that you appreciate how well they’re doing in school, or it’ll show them that you want them to have more time to focus on school if they aren’t doing so well.

It’ll show them that you know how hard they’re working at relationships, and that you appreciate their helping with dinner, or playing with their kid sister. It will show them that you understand, that you’ve been an overwhelmed teenager before, and that you get it. Above all, that you get it. 

This is how connection is built. And from connection, empathy grows, and empathy is the tie that binds us all to one another. Especially, those pesky teenagers.

So, yes, I scrub, vacuum, wipe, fold, put away, and finally sage the whole room (hashtag hippie mama). I stand back, and smile at this tiny offering of love, and wait for them to come home, mumble a “thank you mom,” and then give me a stinky, sweaty, Cheetos-smelling hug.

The Remarkable Strength Within Every Mother to Overcome

My wife recently told me a story about my own mom that, strangely, I had never heard before. Despite not having heard it before, it had a deep impact on me.

My wife recently told me a story about my own mom that, strangely, I had never heard before. Despite not having heard it before, it had a deep impact on me.

It was December of 2007, a week before my wife and I got married. Me, my soon-to-be wife, and our parents were all moving my stuff out of my parents’ house and into the moving truck that would carry it – along with my wife’s belongings – to our new apartment nearly three hours away.

If you had seen me that day, you would have become intimately familiar with my teeth due to the constant smile that alighted on my face. To say that I was excited would have been an understatement: I was getting ready to marry my dream girl, start a new career, and move to a big city to start a brand new chapter in my life.

After we spent the morning loading everything into the truck, my wife headed upstairs to use the restroom one final time before we departed. When she came out of the bathroom, she caught sight of my mom. This moment that, to this day, stirs something deep within me.

My mom was sitting in a chair in our family room by herself. The TV wasn’t on. There was no smartphone. She was just sitting there in the quiet room. But my wife noticed something else. My mom had tears in her eyes. She had been crying because, as my wife would later explain to oblivious me, her little boy was moving out of her house for the last time.

That day was the last day she would be the most important woman in her little boy’s life. From then on, she’d no longer be the one to take care of him when he was sick or be the one he’d go to for counsel.

As a father of two preschoolers, I can just barely comprehend the heartache she must have felt. If she had walked downstairs and made her pain and sadness known, it would have been completely understandable. But that day, my mom taught me something about mothers that I won’t forget.

She dipped into that vast well of love and strength, walked downstairs, looked into my smiling face, and smiled right back at me. She knew that the best thing for her son was to meet him where he was at, to temporarily quell her own sadness, and instead bring forth that part of her heart that was genuinely excited for the journey her little boy – now all grown up – was about to embark upon with his new wife.

She put herself last so that I could be first. With remarkable strength and unconditional love, she overcame her deepest sadness.

This remarkable strength isn’t characteristic of my mom alone. I watched my wife go through physical agony in order to bring our children into this world. I watched her nurse them as they grew. I watched her endure sleep deprivation to keep them healthy and happy.

I know moms who long to stay home with their children, but choose to work so that their children and families can have a better life. I’ve read incredible stories, like the one about the mom who fought off a mountain lion to protect her son or the mom who jumped in front of an SUV to save her children from rolling off a cliff.

But this remarkable strength isn’t limited to the extraordinary. It empowered my mom to make my lunch before school every single morning for 13 years. It empowered my wife to pump during her short breaks at school as a teacher so our oldest could continue to have sustenance. No matter the circumstances or the depth of loss and heartache, a mother’s love prevails.

If your own mother, wife, or friend has shown you this love, or if you know a mother who needs an encouraging word, reach out to them today to thank them.

Remind them that they can, and will, overcome.

How My Baby Healed Me

What I never expected was how becoming a mom would heal me, repair my soul, and make me stronger than ever before.

Experienced mothers told me that motherhood can change you, your marriage, your priorities, and your body – for good and bad. They warned me I would be tired. They warned me I would worry. They told me I would love this precious creature that I grew inside me for almost 10 months more than anything.

What they didn’t tell me was how becoming a mom would heal me, repair my soul, and make me stronger than ever before.

I always assumed I would be a mother, just like my mom and the generations before. I knew becoming a mom was like growing breasts. It’s going to happen eventually, but I didn’t know when.

Friend’s and older sibling’s kid’s birthday parties didn’t inspire any tug at my baby heartstrings. Actually, they had the opposite effect when I was in my early 20s and newly married. Yes, most of the babies looked cute – when they weren’t screaming or drooling or smelling bad or wiping sticky fingers on me. But I left those parties as soon as I politely could, and with a migraine, thinking, I’m so not ready for that.

My uterus felt zero pangs of longing. Zero. Thankfully my husband was on the same page.

And then it happened to us. One sunny summer morning, my husband and I were enjoying pancakes and lattes at a little neighborhood café. We noticed an infant sleeping peacefully in a baby carrier next to our table. We looked at each other and smiled.

“Let’s have a baby,” he said. I felt a mix of terror and excitement at the prospect of growing a person inside me. I was 24.

“Don’t think about it, just have fun trying to make babies,” said one well-meaning friend as she rocked and soothed her 6-month-old side to side against her chest after I told her it hadn’t happened yet. Each month that I peed on the narrow white plastic stick but didn’t see a plus sign made me want what my body was denying me even more.

After almost a year of trying, I finally got pregnant.

My husband and I agreed we didn’t want to know the sex until the baby was born. But at the requisite 20-week ultrasound, the baby’s sex was obvious. “What’s that?” I asked, pointing to a blurry white shape on the screen. “That,” said the doctor, “is his penis.”

A boy. I was having a boy. I would name him after my father, whose death left me sad and adrift when I was 17. We would have a beautiful baby boy to carry his name.

My husband beamed. He couldn’t wait to share the news with his parents. But, alone in my car on the drive home from the doctor’s office, I pulled over to the side of the road and cried. My father would never meet his grandson, adding again to the growing list of milestones he had missed.

I relished every pound I gained, carefully choosing every bite that crossed my lips, and marveled at the life growing inside me with every kick. But it was his first breath that began healing my broken heart. His sweet baby scent and dewy soft skin was completely intoxicating.

I carried my precious son everywhere and never wanted to put him down. Never did I think I could love so deeply, or be so happy, again.

The emptiness inside me began to fill with each day, each smile, each gentle coo, each time his little hands reached for me. Yes, there were times I was too exhausted to feel anything but frustration during the late night feedings or the countless middle-of-the-night diaper changes.

But I had changed. No longer were my needs the most important. No longer was life just about me. I was a mom now. And I was whole.

How to Cultivate a Growth Mindset with Your Children

People with a growth mindset believe their abilities can grow and be cultivated through hard work. Here’s how to encourage that perspective in your kids.

He had just started walking and was getting the feel of his legs beneath him. Toddling around, chasing our dogs, grabbing at the cat, he was fearless.

Until we took him outside. As I let my son learn to walk around outside, I began to see a pattern. He would fall on the cement, scrape his knees and cry for help. He started becoming scared to walk around because he was afraid of falling.

My son would normally get excited when he knew we were going outside, so I began to get a little frustrated with his sudden change of heart. Like any parent, I started considering why he was acting this way and what I could do to help change his attitude.

I’m one of those over-analyzing parents who tries to get everything right from the start in my parenting endeavors. I wanted to learn as much as I could to help my kids become kind and generous humans who know what it means to work hard and persevere.

Most research will tell you that parents who model and explain their behavior for their children is the best way to teach them. I get that. But I want to help my toddler along now. So, how can I do that?

By teaching him these two powerful words: Try again.

Each time my son fell, his fear grew. I realized that whenever he would start to cry, I’d rush over to help him up and coo over him. I want my son to know that mom is there to meet his needs, but not every need should be met the same way.

Teaching that failing is okay

I want him to know that sometimes trying again is hard and scary, but so worth it in the end. I’ve realized that the tools and traits I sow now, my son will reap as he grows, quicker than I realize.

So how can we help our children become confident in their abilities, brave failure, learn from their struggles, and persevere?

Learning about your child’s mindset

If you haven’t heard of Carol Dweck yet, you might want to check her out. Her recent studies and research on growth mindsets and fixed mindsets has taken the nation by storm the last few years.

Over the course of a couple decades and endless research, Dweck discovered the power of our mindset – how our way of thinking can affect our ability to be confident and succeed in our daily lives. Understanding our mindset can mean all the difference in how your child responds to failure, flaws, struggles, and hard work with perseverance.

What do you look for to know what kind of mindset you’re cultivating in your home?

Fixed mindset vs. growth mindset

Simply put, a fixed mindset assumes our abilities are fixed. They cannot grow or change. People with a fixed mindset typically believe that true success comes from talent. They also believe that their failures define them, thus they tend to hide them. They tend to stick with what they know so they feel confident and place their value on the outcome, regardless of the process.

People with a growth mindset believe that their abilities can grow and be cultivated through hard work. As Dweck states, “brains and talent are just the starting point.” You will find that individuals who lean towards a growth mindset can accept failure instead of hiding from it, and see it as an opportunity to grow and expand themselves.

You might even go so far as to say that individuals with fixed mindsets tend to feel entitled, because they see themselves as talented, not hard working. Conversely, those who cultivate a growth mindset understand the power of hard work and perseverance to “try again.”

How you can promote a growth mindset in your children

Our brain is like a muscle that can grow. The younger you are, the more exercising and growing your brain is capable of. How do you grow your muscles? With practice and exercise.

There’s a fine balance between pushing your child when they don’t want to be pushed and becoming an authoritarian. Parents tend to err on the side of caution and find themselves letting their children quit too soon, before they’ve had a chance try again, and possibly grow.

Instead of only empowering kids to make choices, why not empower them to accept failure and learn from it, if not grow and excel?

Most of us know that, in order to develop skills, we need to practice, practice, practice, and usually practice some more. A young student is struggling to move up in choir. Instead of seeking voice lessons or opportunities to work with the teacher outside of class hours, the student just gives up.

Another student thinks they should be on the varsity team just because they’re a senior. Their thinking is rooted in entitlement, when what they need to do is persevere.

It’s not all about praise

Last year, Dweck observed that many parents and teachers were using growth mindset principles incorrectly. Simply having your child try again without guiding them to the proper tools to improve their efforts and performance will likely not result in a growth mindset.

She claims that it’s not all about praising your child’s effort alone. Parents should offer their children specific and constructive feedback in order to help them succeed with the next try. This doesn’t mean ultimately doing their math homework for them. It means looking at key areas where they are failing and helping them understand the tools to advocate for themselves.

Cultivating a growth mindset takes time

When my son falls or fails at putting his toys back together correctly, I gently encourage him to try again, and model for him when I can.

The first step is encouraging kids to try again. Then show them how to try again. Then let them try and possibly fail, and try again. Then you can guide them to learn from their trying.

Cultivating a growth mindset is hard. It takes time. But it will help your children see growth as a constant state of being.

When Friends Phase You Out: That Ageless Conflict

When we see in our daughters the exclusionary and passive aggressive behaviors we recognize from our own friend experiences, it’s easy to worry.

I’ve been phased out by two mummy friends recently. I won’t lie, it feels shitty. 

Both “phasings” have been carried out in a passive aggressive way. The first friend – let’s codename her Coral – just stopped replying to messages, committing to play dates, being free for drinks, telling me about life events, and so on and so on. To everyone else, she’s the same old socially available Coral, but to me and a couple of other buddies, nada.

The second – let’s codename her Rose – sent the first flutterings of uncertainty up my sails by neglecting to invite my daughter Mouse to a party that she’s hosted, and we’ve attended, for the last three years. Again, with no former grumblings that our friendship had fallen shy of the runway.

Rose’s nail in the proverbial coffin came with that most feared of all PassAgg behavior: the Facebook Unfriending. In my standard over-analytical manner, I mentally retraced my digital footprint. Two weeks ago, I liked one of her statuses, so we must have still been “friends” then for me to have seen it. So at some point in the last fortnight, Rose called up my page and decided that no, she didn’t need me in her friends list. She didn’t like me enough to keep that little string of communication open, and she didn’t want my daughter to go to her daughter’s party.

Each of those little realizations felt like a bit of a kick in my stomach. Instantly, I felt transported back to the playground. I wondered what I’d done wrong, why I wasn’t good enough all of a sudden, and whether some of my other mutual friends might see what Rose and Coral have seen in me, and follow suit.

Rose and Coral are in the same NCT pack, within a wider First Time Mum brigade (established back when we were First Time Mums and clung to each other like limpets in uncertain seas). So it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the phasing out might have been discussed at NCT Headquarters, a.k.a. the local health club.

First came the sting of shock. Then came the mild bubble of anger and resentment at the betrayal. Then came the internal slagging off, the “well, I have loads of amazing pals, I don’t need them anyway.” Then, finally, the little deflated balloon of sadness that farts out its last scrap of air and says, in a tiny voice, “but they were my friends.”

This is different than the natural drifting apart that many friendships go through, when interests and lifestyles and locations change, and the friendship isn’t quite strong enough to navigate and mold around those new differences. I’ve got a few of those under my belt, and I’m ashamed that I’ve let them get away. But with those, at least both parties are usually aware that their path has become overgrown and indistinct. With Rose and Coral, I really thought that we were muddling through quite well.

Running concurrently to this, Mouse’s preschool has reported a few instances of her friendship group regularly disbanding, or worse, excluding one member with exclamations such as, “You’re not my best friend anymore. We don’t want you to play with us.”

Although not the ringleader, she’s certainly one of the main culprits, and we hear all about the remnants of the fallouts as we’re getting ready for bed. “I couldn’t do dress-up today with X, because she’s not my friend. Y pushed W because they’re not best friends anymore. I didn’t want to sit next to Y for snack time because I don’t like her today. She’s not best friends with anyone.”

As a mum, this breaks my heart. I watch Mouse at home and with other children, and she’s BRILLIANT. I’d love her to be my very best friend. She’s funny, she’s kind, she’s attentive. She’s imaginative, she’s playful, she’s gentle. She’s protective, she’s silly, she’s got an infectious belly laugh.

She’s also rather stubborn, quite bossy, and a complete snitch. Oh, she’ll rat you out in a heartbeat. It’s these three traits that make me worry for her, that I hope in time she’ll learn to tone down just a touch to align with what’s deemed socially acceptable, keeping her nicely below the parapet. I want her to develop a sense of social conscience, basically.

I see her innocence and her vulnerability, but is this starting to give way to something I wish wasn’t there? Is she already displaying the tiny, icy daggers of cruelty and exclusionary power that girls just seem to have? I don’t want that for her. I don’t want her to be mean. I don’t want her to be a pushover, either.

I just want her to be her, as I know her.

I don’t want her to feel that knot in her stomach when she realizes that she’s not been invited to the party that her friends are going to. I don’t want her to comprehend the very notion of not being invited, of not being in favor with someone. Of not, full stop.

Equally, I don’t want her to be the reason that another person feels sad. I don’t want her to be the reason they might cry to their parents at bedtime and not want to go to school the next day in case they have no one to sit with at lunchtime, or play with at break time.

I suppose, really, I need to stop internalizing her anticipated feelings and behaviors, jumbling them up with my own. Just because I’m a sensitive old soul doesn’t mean that Mouse will be, too. Just because she’s feisty doesn’t mean she’ll be a bully, either.

Isn’t that what life is all about – having a few hard knocks and tests of character, but enough happy feels to outweigh them? Isn’t it about realizing that some friendships are lifelong, and others come and go as life stages peak and ebb? Shouldn’t we accept these stages as a fact of society, rather than using them as a reason to self-deprecate? Maybe. I hope so.

Girls, though. Damn girls.

10 Ways Fathers Can Help Their Daughters Have a Healthy Body Image

I’ll never forget what a girl in my 9th grade Biology class asked me one day.

Clarissa and I had become friends, in a brother-sister kind of way, over the course of the semester as we dissected frogs together and secretly made fun of our teacher for using a microphone to teach our class of 30 students.

Towards the end of the semester, Clarissa began opening up to me about personal things. She talked about how she thought her lips were too big – and not in the facetious sort of way that I might flex and ask which way to the weight room.

I mean, she was truly self-conscious about her lips and even mentioned lip reduction surgery. One day as we were sitting in class, our teacher’s amplified voice booming over us, she turned to me and asked a question I’ll never forget:

“Do you think I’m pretty?”

I was dumbstruck. It was such a vulnerable question and, honestly, it tears me up inside when I think back all these years later because, in that moment, it seemed as if her entire self-worth hung in the balance for my answer. With one word, I could have crushed her.

Even if I’m wrong about how Clarissa defined her self-worth – and I hope I am – I am not wrong in saying that our culture sends the message to our daughters that self-worth is defined by physical appearance, day-in and day-out.

And if our daughters internalize this skewed way of thinking, they begin to hyper-focus on the ways their own bodies don’t measure up to culture’s ideal. This then leads to destructive measures for some who try to fix or cope with the issue – measures like self-hatred, bulimia, and over-eating.

As dads, we can loose the raging warrior inside and fight for our daughters by pointing out this unhealthy way of thinking. We can teach them that true beauty and self-worth is holistic and considers every facet of who they are.

Here are some ways you can join the fight:

Refuse to treat women as sexual objects

Pop culture bombards our daughters with the message that a woman’s best use is in her sexuality. Well, I disagree with pop culture’s summation of women. We can combat this message by praising non-sexualized role models, like Ginni Rometty (CEO of IBM) and Tina Fey (comedian, actress, author, etc.) and by simply telling our daughters when we’re bothered by the over-sexualization of women.

Be close to her

Research suggests that girls with limited or no father figures in their lives are “two to three times more likely to have problems in regard to depression, aggression, delinquency, teenage pregnancy, school failure, academic underachievement…” and the list goes on.

One of the best things we can do to help our daughters have a healthy body image – and a healthy view of life in general – is to be close to them. Take them on dates, tell them about our feelings, give them advice, and tell them we love them.

Praise her for who she is

If we praise our daughters for every facet of who they are, they will begin to internalize this and can begin to shake off culture’s message that their value comes from their appearance. We can choose to praise our daughters for their character, intellect, and the choices that they make.

Be mindful of your gaze

Our daughters notice our gaze. I don’t fully understand why this is, but they are aware of what or who we do double takes on and where our eyes linger. If we are constantly giving attention to women based on how much skin they show, we are sending the message that love, through attention, is earned by dressing or looking a certain way. 

Tell her she’s beautiful

We should never stop telling our daughters they are beautiful.

Be mindful of your words

I’ve been around men who have no problem making gratuitous sexual comments about women. “Men will be men,” some may say. Fathers who want their daughters to have a healthy body image should think about what it means to be a man. 

When we say a woman is hot, thin, fat, or ugly, we are indirectly communicating to our daughters that they, too, should or shouldn’t look a certain way, thereby placing an unhealthy emphasis on their appearance.

Treat food neutrally

Let food be food.

Be mindful of your own body image

Most of us men actually care about how we look, though we may not readily admit it. If we frequently comment about how we need to lose weight, go to the gym, or eat better, we are indirectly facilitating the sort of unhealthy internal dialogue that will continually try to take up residence in our daughters’ minds. 

Do all of these things for your wife, too

The way you treat your wife will be the way your daughter will expect to be treated. If you value and praise your wife for all of her attributes – including her beauty – you will help your daughter learn to value herself for those same attributes.

Make a pact with me

That day in Biology class, I am glad to say that, despite being a clueless teenage boy, I told Clarissa that I thought she was pretty. But as fathers (and mothers), we have the opportunity to raise daughters who don’t need to rely on others’ opinions about their appearance to define their worth.

Let’s change our daughters’ lives.

Stop Asking Your Kids Questions If You Don’t Want the Answers

It’s a common parenting tic- asking questions when we really mean to be giving information. Here’s how to nip it in the bud.

One of the fundamental things I learned about being a toddler parent was to give them choices. This is often done in question form.

Do you want to wear the blue pants or the red? Do you want an apple or grapes? Do you want to leave the playground now or in five minutes?

In this way, we are allowing our children to believe they have a say in what they do. It gives them power. This power enables them to develop critical thinking skills – skills that are generally seen as integral to being a successful adult.

This method only works, of course, if you abide by their answer. If they want the red pants, let them wear the red pants. This sounds obvious, but in some situations, the child’s response is often of no consequence to the outcome because you’ve already settled on one.

What many people do – myself included – is pepper children’s days with questions. Most of these questions aren’t asked to warrant a response. They’re almost rhetorical. Or they’re asked because the asker wants to hear something specific. A question might be asked simply to eke out conversation with the child. What’s cuter than a chatty two year old?

Do you want to go to Grandma’s? We’re having salmon for dinner. Do you like salmon? When the child says, no, they in fact do not want to go to Grandma’s, you’re likely to pick them up and say something like, well, we’re going anyway. And, salmon is what’s for dinner.

So why ask?

It happens easily. I slip into this often. It doesn’t even have to be for things of great consequence. It can be small. Do you want to go to the store? you ask as you buckle them into their car seat. What you’re really saying is, we are going to the store. So just say it. Don’t ask.

Or ask open-ended questions instead, like what do you like about going to grocery store? It’s true you might get a snarky nothing! in response, but you’re more likely to go forward with a cooperative child than if they say they don’t want to go in the first place – after you supposedly gave them a choice.

As I’ve become aware of this child-rearing tic, I frequently find myself telling our daughter’s grandparents to stop. I feel like a jerk, one of those hyper-organized moms veering into helicopter land. A mom who is micromanaging my child’s life instead of going with the flow. But this particular thing happens all too often. I think if we were more aware, we might get (slightly) better, less disruptive outcomes in our already chaotic days of child-rearing.

I work hard to empower my daughter with choice. Her choice. Her wee voice matters. And yet when Grandma questions do you want dinner? I am adamant. Don’t ask her. Just tell her. It’s dinnertime.

By asking children questions without any intention of respecting their replies, you are telling them that their voice doesn’t matter.

In turn, it may negate those other questions – the ones you use to empower them, your give-them-a-choice questions. It’s confusing to them. Haven’t we all heard that consistency is key?

Now, I am not one who believes every decision in every day should be up to a child. I’m the parent; I make the rules. But it does feel good to come together with your child or children and make them complicit in your plans. This may help things run smoother. In fact, it probably will.

But they’re kids, remember. They don’t truly play by any rule books.

To My Granddaughter: Do Not Lose Faith in People

I want to tell you this world will be all good and wonderful things. I want to tell you there is beautiful inspiration everywhere. And there is.

Dear Granddaughter,

How did you get to be nine months old already?

In a wink, you’ll be trading your pacifier for a driver’s license, then a brief case and stilettos as you make your way into the world. I want to slow time, to freeze it – protect you as you are.

I want to tell you this world will be all good and wonderful things. I want to tell you there is beautiful inspiration everywhere. And there is. You will love the baby animals. You will love the bluest of skies, and see clouds form fluffy hearts and puffy baby elephants that will float over you like magic. You’ll point and giggle and roll on the grass as a puppy licks your face.

You’ll dream of wonderful things to come and imagine all of the possibilities. You’ll hear fairy tales of beautiful people, of love, romance, and adventure. You’ll learn there are villains in these stories, those that mean harm and ill will toward others. They’ll scare you, your eyes will widen, and you’ll cry. You’ll be told that good always wins and triumphs over bad. And when you watch Disney, you’ll hope for this, and believe it to be true.

You’ll learn about planet earth, and how tiny we are compared to the universe. Tears of wonder will fill your eyes when you behold the stars on a clear night because it’ll be too magnificent to be real.

I wish I could say everyone will like you and love you. And most will. A few will not and you won’t know why. Don’t spend time feeling bad about it, wish them your best and go be with those who want your star to shine.

What I can’t tell you is why bad things happen, things that may upset or scare you, mean things that people do to each other. You won’t understand why, and I can’t explain it. No one really can. Because no one really knows.

You must not lose faith in people. Some will explain things according to their beliefs. Do not simply accept their beliefs. Question everything and seek answers. Seek your own truth.

Look for the good in people, and you’ll find it. When you do, let it rub off on you. When you see the bad in people, try to help them to see the good in themselves. Give them a second chance. Don’t hate when you see people hurt one another. Be kind, be empathetic, but be strong in your conviction to stand up for what is good in this world. There is so much good!

Our generation should have given you a much better world. In some ways, I suppose we have. But in many ways, we have not. Please, don’t despair. So many are doing so much. And one of these days, maybe peace really will win out. Each generation thinks change is all about them, when in reality, it’s about you, and the generations to come after you.

Never give up on humanity. And please, never stop loving and caring. This is the stuff of life. Each of us chooses our way and it’s not easy. How will you know each choice will be the right one? You won’t. You must believe in yourself and believe in those you love. Your life will work out. Maybe not exactly the way you want it to – there will always be unexpected obstacles. But you’ll push your way through and around them because you will be a determined force.

This is a lot to rest on the shoulders of a baby.

I love you. So many people love you. You’ll feel this love and it will strengthen you. Don’t expect anyone or anything to create your happiness. You must create it yourself by choosing it. Every day. Every week. Every month. Every year. You have freedom of choice, so be sure you choose wisely. Resolve to be happy. 

And, mostly, you will be.

All my love – forever and ever,

Your grandmother.

Beyond Hugs: How to Incorporate More Loving Touch Into Your Kids’ Day

Our kids bloom when we hold, hug, kiss and love on them.

A recent picture of Victoria Beckham kissing her daughter Harper on the lips was criticized by many for being far too intimate an act.

Scores of Instagram comments suggested the kiss was inappropriate. How on earth have we become such a touch-phobic society when all the evidence suggests that humans are hardwired for physical intimacy?

The Case for Loving Touch

  • Loving touch boosts cooperation in relationships with more trust and reciprocity between those who physically interact more.
  • Touch is a vital part of the way humans communicate – studies show we feel sympathy, love, joy, and gratitude through touch.
  • Loving touch has a plethora of physical benefits with some studies showing increased survival rates of patients with complex diseases who were given touch therapy.
  • There also seems to be some emerging evidence that supportive touch enhances our abilities. A study of the sporting world found that teams that touched more, though celebratory high fives and encouraging fist bumps, were significantly more successful.
  • There is evidence to suggest that touch promotes happiness and can act as a antidote to depression.
  • Engaging our children in healthy touch, and clear communication about “good touch/bad touch,” is part of the armory for sexual abuse prevention. One of the primary reasons the reaction to Victoria and Harper’s kiss is so alarming is that this sort of healthy, loving touch is actually a key part of raising kids who are more protected from toxic touching.

I have a very busy five-year-old. She is fiercely independent, ambitious, curious, and so socially driven that at a BBQ last weekend, the only time I saw her was a glimpse of her hand reaching through the crowd to grab a scorched burger from the food table. This means that she’ll quite often hit a wall and either slump or explode because she’s running on empty. I need to consciously make sure I am refilling her cup.

When done consensually and with the clear permission of the child, loving touches can boost happiness, health, and resilience in our children.

Here are 10 ways I squeeze more physical contact in to our day:

1 | Fist bumps

We have our own special one. I think Ramona picked it up from a playground, but we’ve made it our own. We bump fists, wave our hands, and say “High Five, Dolphin Dive.” We do it several times an hour just to remind ourselves that we’re awesome.

2 | Hand catching

My dad used to keep me entertained with this in boring church services and now I keep my kids occupied like this in an equally quiet place. I open my palm and they have to poke it. I’m not allowed to move my hand but I have to try and grasp theirs. Such fun. Can end in very loud giggles though, so be warned.

3 | Nose rubbing

Here in New Zealand there’s a traditional Maori greeting, a Hongi, where greeters press their noses together. The sentiment is beautiful – it’s about sharing breath with one another. Sometimes my kids and I press our noses together and try to sync our breathing.

4 | Listen to body noises

My children put their heads on my heart or my belly and listen to the thump and gurgle. I return the great favor.

5 | Shoulder massage

My daughter loves watching films. Often we’ve seen them 73,7800 times (approximately), so I’m not that piqued by the storyline any more. So I take the opportunity to give her a shoulder massage. It’s one way to connect with her when she’s doing something potentially quite isolating.

6 | The Arm Game

I’m sorry, I can’t think what to call this, but it results in great laughs. One person bares an arm and closes their eyes. The other person walks two fingers up from the first person’s wrist to their shoulder. The first person has to shout when they believe the person has reached the crease by their elbow. It’s impossible! And so fun!

7 | Mimic animals

My daughter is going through a big penguin phase. These days I just have to say, “Want to connect like a penguin?” and we do this really subtle Penguin Dance, by facing tummy to tummy and swooping our necks. This would be an awesome one for any kid into animals. (Like, every kid, am I right?)

8 | Rough housing

We face each other on our knees and have to pin each other down. I’m amazing at this! Literally get my five-year-old down every time! (I jest, I jest. Every so often I let her pin me.)

9 | Body measurements

Every so often we check how much their hands and feet have grown. We place our palms together, and then our feet. Sometimes our ears and chins and bellies.

10 | Bathe together

I love taking a bath with my kids. Sometimes I even take a book in and say “I’m going to read for 10 minutes and after that we will play” – everyone is a winner! Once we get playing we end up all up in each other’s grills. It’s a great, natural opportunity to talk about what bits of our bodies are private and aren’t to be touched by anyone.

Victoria Beckham understands that loving touch is to our children what the sun is to a flower. Held by us, kissed by us, caressed by us, our children bloom and grow.