The P Word

Muddling my way through parenting

Are we nearly there yet?

The phrase in the title of this post is one that sends shivers down the spines of most parents, especially when uttered by your offspring just a short while into a long journey. That sense of dread and foreboding can sink even the most buoyant of hearts.

Some of you may even have heard that phrase uttered by your children on journeys this weekend when travelling to visit friends or family for Christmas. For our kids, these words are often nothing more than an over-flowing of excited expectation about what awaits them at the end of the journey. Or just plain boredom!

Advent calendarAt this time of year, that sense of expectation is probably at an annual high as your kids wait for all that’s in store on 25 December (as heightened by this mysterious and unnecessary 25th door on my daughter’s advent calendar!)

However, that’s not really what this post is all about.

We can all learn ways to deal with those back-seat-of-the-car protestations, but perhaps that phrase has a much deeper meaning when it flies through the head of many parents.

So often we long for the end of the current ‘phase’ of parenting. We strain our eyes to see the distant horizon, or limp along towards the oasis in the desert when we crave for things start to get easier. Have you ever found yourself looking forward to the months or years around he corner (‘We must nearly be there by now!’), and forgetting to completely engage with the challenges and joys of whatever you and your kids are going through in the present?

I’ve heard all the wisdom of more experienced parents with their jaded views of the different phases of their kids’ lives : ‘It never gets easier’, ‘You never stop worrying’, or even ‘The only thing that changes is they get more expensive’. I’m not going to argue with those who have the battle scars to prove it, but is that really what it’s all about? Do I have to settle for that disheartening view of my children’s development, while I develop as a parent? No, gladly.

Several friends have recently set out on the parenting journey for the first time, and I’ve been trying to recall what those first few phases are like. The main thing that springs to mind is the constant re-adjustment as the routine changes, or as you try new ways of dealing with the seismic changes in your child’s eating/sleeping/playing habits (which can appear to be almost daily). I regularly found myself thinking ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ when totally desperate to get enough rest in order to function the following day!

But (as the voices of experience suggest) do we ever actually get ‘there’? Is there a time in the future when I can look forward to serenity and peace in my life and parenting?

Maybe not, but I can choose to relish each phase of parenting to the maximum. I can choose to enjoy the delight in my kids’ eyes as they explore, learn and experience new things. I can choose to endure the tough times because that perseverance of getting through together (with my wife and children) will strengthen the bonds between us and be the foundation of the better times that lie ahead.

Even though the end of your difficult ‘phase’ may sometimes feel a long way off, don’t just sit there and wait for the journey to end. We all know that’s a sure-fire way of making the subsequent period of time seem to last forever!

So, whichever part of the journey you’re on, and however arduous it may feel at the moment, hang in there! And have a Happy Christmas.

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Lessons from America

A few weeks ago we returned from a family-defining holiday in California. Prompted by a good friend’s wedding, we took full advantage and spent 10 days travelling around this beautiful, incredible state which is full of extremes. The only sadness is that finances won’t allow us to repeat such a trip on a regular basis.

However, I need to start with an apology. My attitude towards Americans has not always been entirely positive. I have despaired at their seemingly incessant, overly-exuberant enthusiasm.

But I will not let my pre-judgemental attitude (based mainly on American TV, to be fair) take control again.

Stars and stripesHere are a few examples of how my preconceptions about Americans were challenged and my eyes were opened to the positive reality of that great nation:

You’re too damn happy …

Wrong. I wish I was more like that. When celebrating another passing year at Disneyland, several complete strangers wished me a happy birthday. It was undeniably genuine on every occasion. I thanked every one of them.

You annihilate the English language …

Wrong(ish). I even managed to find the use of ‘center’ and ‘theater’ quite endearing. After all, you can’t argue with the logic.

You’re all show and no substance …

Wrong. The welcoming, warm attitude we encountered was totally genuine and a refreshing change to the stiflingly reserved cynicism which has become a key characteristic of the UK. The apologetically fake British laugh which covers a whole range of insecurities was replaced by a hearty expression of joy. America knows how to laugh properly.

You can’t design a proper road junction (sorry, ‘intersection’) …

Wrong. Despite your obsession with the car, the road system creates an atmosphere of giving way to others. Cars actually stop for pedestrians. Drivers (mostly) look out for other people and think its ok to take a bit of time to travel somewhere, instead of just getting from A to B in the shortest possible time.

Before you think you’re reading the wrong blog, let me address what America & those wonderful people we call Americans taught/reminded me about parenting:

  • To throw off my reservations and inhibitions.
  • To embrace the privilege of parenting to the full.
  • To be a positive role model, who takes a positive attitude in all situations.
  • To encourage my kids and celebrate their achievements (of all kinds) at every opportunity.
So, hopefully without sounding too much like an ambassador for the Californian Tourist Board, I heartily recommend America and its gloriously positive people. You might even learn a lot too.

Parenting influences: trauma

Earlier today I heard a colleague discussing impending parenthood with a pregnant workmate. His point was basically that, however much you plan, nothing can ever really prepare you for what’s about to happen. It was all said  in a very well-meaning way, and whether that’s what she wanted to hear or not, you can’t argue with his honesty.

Because we can never really be prepared, whatever ante-natal classes we attend or whatever tomes of advice books we read. When we become Mum or Dad, all that we’re actually doing is signing up for loving a little person, who we hope, will become a big person who’s ready for all that will face him/her in future life. We certainly don’t sign up for an easy, trouble-free future with decades of serene, chilled-out family life ahead of us. Mostly, that just means being busy/tired/manic/shattered, but sadly sometimes things can become a lot more troubling.

This post (the first in a mini-series of some key ‘influences’ on how we parent) is going to tackle those really difficult, stop-you-in-your-tracks moments, and most notably the consequences (or emotional fall-out) that can impact us for years to come.

I’ve held off writing this for at least a few months because of parents I know who are going through really testing times at the moment. But I’ve realised that there will probably rarely be a time when some parent I know isn’t facing a massive challenge. That’s probably the same with you. I guess that for the vast majority of us there is a friend or family member who is currently going through a truly traumatic period as a parent. So, hoping that this isn’t too painful to read for anybody with raw emotions from a recent/current parenting trauma, here we go …

I’m not trying to get sympathy by sharing my own sob-story, but I’ve known pain too. I know that trauma has consequences. Even though it’s before my long-term memory kicked in, my family suffered bereavement when my twin sister died of cancer aged just 3 years. As a parent myself, our child #1 had major surgery on his skull aged 19 months (gladly he is now a very happy and healthy boy). Memories of both those episodes still cause tears and sadness today.

But in my recent musings about these periods of pain, I’ve been struck by a series of attitudes, feelings and emotions that can cause more long-term pain and damage if we let them take hold. These are some examples of dangerously misguided ideas that, if allowed to take root, can have a massively negative influence on how we parent, as well as what we think of ourselves, our children and other parents:

1. ‘I’m due a bit of good luck now’

If only. Admittedly this does happen sometimes, as some families can enjoy a good run without much anguish following a significantly difficult episode. After all, life is full of different seasons of varying lengths which encompass all shades of light and dark. But as with most parenting-related things, there are no guarantees.

If we somehow persuade ourselves that we ‘deserve’ some good luck, I think that it can lull us into a dangerous sense of false security. Because what happens the next time? Will we fall into an even deeper pit because ‘this wasn’t meant to happen again’? We can easily feel robbed if we assume that we’ve had our ‘bad time’ and trauma should be a thing of the past.

After my family’s trauma when my sister died, did we receive some kind of pain-free guarantee for the rest of our lives? No. Have we enjoyed genuine happiness as a family? Of course. I’m not trying to be pessimistic, just realistic.

2. Guilt for losing perspective

‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’, as the saying goes. Well yes, sometimes it does. And I guess as a parent going through trauma can give us a determination to be more family-focused, and take a ‘healthier’ outlook to parenting in the future. However, if only that were that were the case all the time in all situations.

Despite repeatedly hearing the advice to ‘pick your battles’, I know that all too often I get dragged into the most menial of debates/arguments with the kids. In the aftermath of such incidents, I can be hit by a real sense of guilt for forgetting what’s important. So what if child #2 didn’t eat that last piece of pasta for lunch? I’ve got a wife, house, job and two inspirational little people in my life.

3. Other parents should ‘get a grip’

Another manifestation of similar feelings to those I’ve just mentioned is a tendency to judge other parents. We’ve all done it, as I’ve admitted before. You see a parent on the High Street telling his/her offspring off for something that appears really petty. Or maybe you just hear another parent incessantly whinging about a worry or situation that you think isn’t even worth a moment’s thought.

Perhaps your response is to either look on them with demeaning pity, or despair at their lack of parenting skills. Even worse, we can translate our own parenting challenges onto their lives and judge them because we think they don’t know how bad things can really be.

Whatever emotions or experiences may lead us to think that way, let’s give them a chance. Can we get a complete understanding of what could be a really challenging family situation at a moment’s glance? No. Let’s try not judge others, especially when we don’t even know half the story.

So, if you have known pain as a parent and ever thought any of these things in the following months/years, give yourself (and others) a break.

Try to leave those painful, destructive attitudes behind you and embrace all that the adventure of parenting has in store, whatever that may be.

There may be some bad times ahead, but I’m sure there will be a lot of good in there too.

‘Make a moment’

I quite like the sound of  ‘Olly Appreciation Day’, or maybe I’d settle for a simple ‘Football Teams With Yellow Shirts Awareness Week’.

It’s fair to say that a proliferation of PR-hungry pressure groups have created their own fast-growing empire of awareness days/weeks/months. It’s something that usually riles me, but when one crops up in support of an issue that I care a bit about my attitude can suddenly change.

So, as a parenting blogger the revelation that I stumbled across this lunchtime of the fast-approaching Parents’ Week has led me to dust of The P Word’s long-neglected dashboard and click ‘New post’.

Parents Week

The strapline associated with this year’s Parents’ Week is ‘Make a Moment’, which gives it a focus which I can really get my teeth into.

Celebrity parents have got behind the campaign: Apprentice loser (sorry, ‘celebrity entrepreneur’!) Saira Khan, the couple behind Ella’s Kitchen and even the legend that is Sid from Cbeebies!

As a Christian bloke, I was a little bit proud that the Church of England has thrown its own weight behind Parents’ Week with a special prayer from the Bishop of Oxford. If you want, you can even listen to the Bish read his own prayer aloud.

The words of that prayer raise a couple of interesting points, which apply to all parents whether you choose to pray or not:

‘Thank you for … what they [our kids] give us as they explore life’

The adventures that our children will take us on is fun – it’s full of life, laughter and tears. If we let them.

It’s all too easy to take the adventure out of life, for ourselves as well as our offspring. Sometimes our own laziness, or perhaps just sheer exhaustion, will quickly reduce the experience of life to the lowest common denominator that we can all handle as a family.

For my own family it’s usually the TV screen that teeters on the brink of hogging too much of our precious time. My kids probably watch more TV than the textbooks suggest to allow, which most of the time I’m happy with because it helps us all rest and unwind. However, sometimes we get a bit close to allowing the TV to restrict opportunities for adventure and exploration. So that’s my personal challenge – what’s yours?

‘Help us to slow down, to pause and make a moment’

Slow down. Really, in 2012?! Life is meant to be run at full pelt, isn’t it? Oh. Good advice, Mr Prayer Author.

As far as our kids are concerned, time really is of the essence. Time is the root of so many things we (me included!) do wrong as parents. It is also the root of so much that we do right. Without spending time together we are not living as a family, merely a disparate group of individuals who happen too live under the same roof. But if we make a bit of effort to spend as much time with our children as we can (as well as leaving a bit of time to sleep, work, clean, eat, etc.) the rewards can be immense.

But heed the Bishop’s own podcast-ed confession. He admits to regretting not giving his own children the time to make more moments and create more memories together as a family. It’s fast becoming a cliché (probably already repeated on this blog as well!) but how many children grow up and say ‘I wish my parents had spent less time with me as a child’?

So, why not do what the Rt Rev says and ‘make a moment’ with your kid(s) this Parents’ Week.

And the week after that.

And every week next month.

And every week next year.

Growing up fast (and other clichés)

This blog post has changed during its formation. Just a few days ago I was in a bit of a parenting ‘low’. To set the tone for what’s to follow – be prepared for a few clichés! – I was (almost literally) pulling my hair out.

The draft title for this post was ‘Growing pains’ as I was pondering the pressures related to a few significant changes that both children have gone through in recent weeks.

To cut a long story short, here is a brief summary of my recent issues:

New school. In the mad world of UK pre-school childcare, child #2 has started at the pre-prep department of a local private school. Unbelievably, over 12 months this is the cheapest option available to us which involves my wife keeping her job (and who wants to voluntarily surrender employment while a few million others are also seeking work). Anyway … within a few days of starting at this new school she has become (here comes another …) 3 going on 13. The teenage years have come way too early: tantrums are now accompanied by bucket-loads of ‘attitude’, and her stubborn streak has developed a vice-like quality that will refuse to concede any ground. Feel free to judge me for it, but even bribery doesn’t work any more.

Homework. I had a horrible first experience of helping child #1 with ‘proper’ homework. Perhaps not helped by attempting it half-asleep on a lazy Sunday afternoon after some lunchtime wine, I had given up even before he did. My own school report would surely include the phrase ‘must do better’.

Sleep. The nightmare of bedtime has returned. Child #2 is back at her worst, refusing to settle down at bedtime. There are a few things which could have contributed to this, but the fact of the matter is we just don’t know why. And so we are left completely helpless and solution-less, which is hugely frustrating. I just hope we get back to normality before too long. After five years of broken/disturbed evenings and nights, I’m quite enjoying have a bit of life and a bit of sanity back.

But I have moaned for too long.

As suggested at the top, I am now refusing to dwell on these negatives which dragged me into the parenting doldrums. I will choose – in the immortal words of Monty Python – to look on the bright side of life.

I’ll put all of the points above down to ‘growing pains’. But rather than point a finger at the changes in my kids, perhaps I should examine my own role in it all. Perhaps I had just settled into a bit of a routine, and wasn’t prepared to face the next step in the never-ending adjustment of parenthood. Now I’ve acknowledged that, I feel ‘back in the game’ again.

As that most over-used of clichés says, they do indeed grow up fast – and sometimes I just need a bit of time to catch up.

So …

Living the dream?

I’m generally quite a mild-mannered bloke, but sometimes it takes just a few short words to get me really riled.

‘Living the dream’ is one such phrase. Maybe just because I think it wreaks of American sensationalism, but perhaps more justifiably because it’s simply not possible. You can never actually ‘live’ a dream. Living is reality; dreaming is fantasy. Perhaps there are indeed times in our lives when it feels a bit like we are doing just that – but I’d argue that they are incomplete dreams, or transitory moments which finish as soon as we dare to believe that it our lives are indeed dream-like.

‘Watch this space’ is another phrase that ‘gets my goat’ (now there’s a better quality example of characterful language). What space? How long do I have to watch for? I’ll move on before my blood pressure rises too high …

But I’m an optimist at heart, honest. So if living the dream is indeed an impossible dream, what steps can we take towards that aspiration?

To re-define the debate (if that’s allowed at this post-rant stage) perhaps it’s better to talk in terms of turning vision into reality. That’s a much more palatable phrase. It’s language that crops up in all walks of life. At my work, we run an event for church leaders all about turning vision into action. When my wife and I walked into the house we now own, we had the same vision for the project which we later embarked on to revive a tired, unloved shell of a house (described to me recently as ‘the brown house’) and turn it into a proper family home.

The vision

And last night my wife turned a bit of her personal vision into reality. To help her through the unwanted side-effects of pregnancy she took up knitting to restore a bit of sanity. A few months down the line and she was hooked (if you’ll excuse the crochet pun, for those in the know) – a fully-fledged enthusiast. But it didn’t stop there. She began to dream of turning her new interest into more than just a hobby. Plans for a high street haberdashery started to take root, but as a first step she decided to start online. And just over 24 hours ago, The Yarn Barn went live. It’s the start of a journey, but a start nonetheless.

So what has all this got to do with parenting, you may ask.

I’m sure we all had our dreams of what parenthood would be. Perhaps it’s slipping into lazy stereotype mode to suggest that many women would have dreamt of that first babe-in-arms moment, while blokes would have looked forwards to having a kick-about in the back garden with their son (or daughter).

As great as those moments are (yes, we may even experience that passing sensation of ‘living the dream’!) any parent knows that the reality is quite different. We don’t look forward to exhaustion accompanied by short tempers. Sending your child to the thinking step – or at least the behaviour that prompts such disciplinary measures – is something that surely happens only in nightmares, not dreams.

The reality?

But there is hope. Earlier this summer, despite the complexities, my wife and I had a shared vision of how we wanted our family holiday to be. Our main objective was survival (of course), but to help us on the way we decided that we would only carry out child-instigated (or at least child-focused) ideas or activities. We wanted to live life at their pace, not try and force our own agenda on our little companions. Productivity went out of the window. The to-do list was usurped from its usual role in my life as judge, jury and executioner. (There’s more on the benefits of this approach in a previous post.)

And the result? We had a ball. Our two weeks of family holiday did still have the occasional moments of exasperation, but the over-riding memory is one of fun and laughter. We had to make a few sacrifices along the way, and everything took at least three times longer than it might have done if we crammed our own plans into the day as well. But was it worth it? By ‘eck, of course it was!

So, are you living the dream? Probably not, unless you’re a resident of cloud-cuckoo-land. But are there a few small things that would make your vision of parenting a bit more real once again?

Now, where’s that football …

Surviving the summer?

Are you still hanging in there? Have you ever been more exhausted? Summer holidays, eh …

As the huge chasm of time that has passed since my last blog post may suggest, it’s been a challenge on many fronts.

As child #1 is about to move from Reception into Year 1, this is the first ‘proper’ summer holiday I’ve had as a parent. And blimey, what a strange experience it’s been. As with every new phase of parenting, there’s an almost mind-boggling amount of stuff to learn and adapt to – but the past few weeks have been quite a shock to the system.

As some indication of what’s been flying through my little mind over the past few weeks, here are a few random reflections on the wide-ranging thoughts which punctuated this most un-summery summertime:

Why on earth did I do this?

Firstly, the maths doesn’t work. We’re both working parents (my wife part-time) and our employers are more generous than most with holiday allowances. But still we’re scrabbling around for ways to sort childcare during school holidays. This summer, we’ve managed to arrange almost two solid weeks with the whole family being together, with the odd extra day when one or other of us will be with the children. That means that for roughly two-thirds of their holidays we’re relying on the fact that we are fortunate to have four recently retired, healthy and active grandparents willing to assist, all within reasonable driving distance. Haven’t got a first clue what we’d do otherwise.

Despite this limited time together, as always with parenting there have been times of immense testing. Admittedly the most significant challenge was child #1’s inability to listen to what we were asking him to do … only to discover after a few weeks that he’s actually partially deaf thanks to an ear infection. Oops! (We’ve tried to be easier on him since.)

But you know what I mean. The mealtime struggles, the complaints when it’s bed or bath time, the persistent pleas to be carried everywhere, the bickering between siblings over what to watch on TV / what to play with / where to sit …

I could go on, but you’ll have your own gripes to recollect. So before this all gets too depressing, let’s move on to something more positive.

Oh, that’s why I did it …

From time to time, the little people who turn our lives upside-down remind us why we ever considered doing this parenting stuff. It’s often the little things that melt our hearts.

Football

Football (and artistic) genius!

I’ve been fortunate enough to have several such moments over the past fortnight, but the one that stands out is child #1 learning to carry child #2 (gladly there wasn’t too much trial and error involved). Forget the Olympics, the look or satisfaction when he manages to carry his sister for a dozen or so steps is pure gold.

Added to that, I’ve had the opportunity to myself launch into a fully-fledged second childhood. A trip to Legoland was the undoubted highlight, but we’ve also enjoyed a day with friends at Bristol Zoo and many other more cost-effective adventures (including a successful first foray into ten pin bowling!) which have all added up to me – plus the spouse and the kids – making great memories which I hope will live with us all for a really long time.

Confession time – I’m a judgemental parent

We’ve all done it. I’m probably worst than most, to be brutally honest. But sometimes the actions, attitudes or examples set by other parents leave a lot to be desired, don’t they?

Of course, if other parents saw us at our worst they’d completely understand that we don’t normally act/speak in that way. Or maybe we should just give other people a bit more of a chance. Food for thought, certainly.

Do you know what time it is?!

I should know by now that kids just don’t get the concept of a lie-in. They especially don’t seem to understand that holidays are a good time to get some rest. But after a few weeks of early rising children this summer, they’ve finally started to get it! I know that we’re much more fortunate than many other parents with the usual time of our human alarm clocks (rarely before 7am) but so far this week we’ve even been allowed to doze beyond 8am, occasionally even later – heavenly!

Now we’ve go something else to learn: how to re-adjust their waking times so they’re ready for school days when we’re trying to get two sleepy children out of the door with that golden combination – correctly dressed and on time!

So, to survive? Or maybe …

Whatever your parenting experience has been so far this summer, I hope that during the remainder of the ‘holiday’ you’re able to do more than just survive – and maybe even thrive.

Father’s Day: a letter to Dad

It’s card-buying time for thousands of children of all ages across the country.

Yes, my card’s (almost) in the post – but I’m doing something a little bit different this year. I’m using this blog post as a kind of ‘open letter’ (you know, the sort of thing that business leaders write to politicians using the Daily Telegraph as their method of delivery). Essentially, it’s a way of saying something to somebody and making a broader public statement at the same time. So, ahead of Father’s Day this Sunday, here’s my own ‘open letter’ as a public way of honouring the great man who I call Dad.

[Before I begin, I realise that for many people the idea of celebrating Father’s Day is a difficult concept. Some have lost their Dad and this annual event evokes painful memories, while others are no longer in contact with absent (for whatever reason) fathers. And far too many ‘men’ down the years have neglected their responsibilities and inflicted lasting damage on their offspring. If that includes you, my heart bleeds for you. In whatever way possible, I hope that you are able to find your own peace, healing, restoration and freedom.]

I have been fortunate enough to have a great Dad, and I never plan to take that for granted. Here are a few reasons why:

Ok, this isn't my t-shirt, but the sentiment's the same!

Dear Dad,

Thank you for being there. My memory is full of happy times spent with you. We watched football together, ran together, talked together, played together – heck, we even built an epic Lego train set together! Time together. Our time together. Special time together.

Thank you for believing in me. You let me follow my dreams and gently nudged me in the right direction, or suggested a better path, if I was going off track.

Thank you for being a rock. As with most families, we’ve faced a few challenges. Even though it’s been a bumpy ride at times, with a few massive boulders along the way, you have always been reliable, strong, loving and with an unswerving determination that we will get through things together.

Thank you for being fun. Time with you has always been enjoyable; because of your determination to look at the lighter side of life, even the more mundane times together have been brought to life by your energy, enthusiasm and unfailing desire to enjoy life in all its fullness.

Thank you for setting an example. As a Dad, you’re my number one role model. Just by being your son, you have shown me and taught me everything that I need to be a good, positive and encouraging Dad to my own children. Beyond that, you have demonstrated loyalty, commitment, enjoyment and many other characteristics that I hope to inherit in similar measures.

Thank you for being ‘Poppa’. A new generation is now enjoying getting to know you and learning from you as their grandfather. You’re displaying the same characteristics which lit up my childhood, and your energy levels remain seemingly undimmed by the advancing years.

Thank you for not being perfect. Nobody’s perfect, even though the stuff I’ve written above may make it sound like you are! But you’ve shown me that even though we all have bad days and we all have faults, there’s no need to be restricted or held back by our limitations.

To put it simply, THANK YOU for being Dad.

From an eternally grateful and loved son,

O

Father’s Day: more than just an afterthought

You may not have realised it, but this Sunday (17 June) it’s Father’s Day, at least in the UK.

As you might have guessed from my previous posts, this is something I’m quite excited about. Not because I’m expecting  to be surrounded by gifts and have a day of treats and surprises, but because I think it’s REALLY important.

As my own dad is a retired history teacher, perhaps it’s appropriate that I start a mini-series of blog posts about this special day by giving a bit of a background about how Father’s Day came into existence.

To be honest, most of my ‘research’ comes from the dubious source that is Wikipedia, but here’s some kind of brief summary:

  • Just over 100 years ago, an American woman wanted to honour her father, who was a Civil War veteran and single parent who had raised his six children.
  • It was a popular local event, but failed to take-off to any great extent until the 1930s.
  • More official recognition was resisted in some quarters because it was viewed as ‘an attempt by merchants to replicate the commercial success of Mother’s Day’.
  • Eventually, in 1966 the US President Lyndon B Johnson officially declared the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day.

So, after a few decades of ambivalence, Father’s Day slowly started to gather some significant momentum.

But perhaps the biggest problem with the current perception of Father’s Day is rooted in the tale of its creation.

It only really came into existence because Mother’s Day already existed, so right from the beginning it was riding on the coat-tails of its higher profile and more illustrious counterpart. In one respect, it was just an afterthought.

So has it ever really emerged from the shadow of Mothering Sunday? Is it still only a second-rate celebration?

Perhaps we’ll find out for real on Sunday.

Who’s taking the lead?

Last week I spent a few days at a leadership conference, because the charity I’m employed by works primarily with church leaders.

It got me thinking about my role as a parent. Am I really a ‘leader’ at home? Am I comfortable with that, or does the term ‘leadership’ not have a place in a domestic situation?

When some of the faithful volunteers without whom the church would struggle to survive are introduced to the concept of leadership, one of the first obstacles for them to overcome is often just to start thinking of themselves as leaders. They may have responsibility for other people for at least an hour or two each week, maybe children or the elderly, or even take charge of a team of other volunteers. But many still struggle to embrace the tag of ‘leader’.

So, as parents, are we leaders in our families? Of course. We have authority, responsibility and influence. Whether we like it or not, our kids look up to us, learn from us and are formed to some extent by the way we act and the words we use. Frightening, eh?!

Turning the tables

Can playtime be fun for all involved?

So here comes the crux of this post. One of the things I’ve learned about leadership is that it’s about more than just leading; it’s is often about being led.

As children we were led by our parents, teachers and other influencers; as we grow up and enter the working world, we’re led by those who manage us, as well as share their experience and knowledge. There are others who lead us: trusted friends, family members, doctors, sports team coaches, priests, the list goes on … you see, being led always comes before leadership itself. And it’s a pretty good habit to retain even when our own responsibilities start to increase.

During my parenting course training (as I’ve mentioned in several previous posts), one of the things that’s covered is letting our children take the lead during playtime. Because all too often as parents we somehow manage to make playtime as miserable as possible. We take on our formal role as ‘leader’ and manage to drain all the fun out of the situation. We choose to play with them, but only on our terms. Our choices, our time-scales, our rules. You know the sort of thing: letting the detailed, over-complicated rules of board games get in the way of our kids having any fun; getting the Lego out so we (not they) can build another world-beating architectural masterpiece. We’ll all have our own examples, I’m sure.

But to conclude, I’ll actually get to the inspiration for this post. About 24 hours ago I read this fantastic story about a six-year-old who wants to help people suffering from poverty. Supported by his parents, advocated by his dad, this young man is making a difference. He wanted to raise £60, but has already topped £3,000 and the figure will no doubt keep rising as his big event (the sponsored two-mile run) gets ever closer. Just see what #teamjoel is doing on Twitter.

This is all happening because he’s being allowed to take the lead.

Forget your cynicism about who’s actually the driving force behind this fundraising project (I’ve only met his dad once, and he seemed to have a trust-worthy character), because this is great stuff. Joel saw something and wanted to respond. When asked what he wanted to do about it, he wasn’t faced with objections, barriers or excuses. He was just allowed to let it fly, to turn his idea into reality. He was allowed to take the lead.

As the charity he’s raising money for, Tearfund has got very excited about it all. I don’t often sponsor strangers, but I’ve made an exception on this occasion. If you want to donate as well, join in here.

Go Joel! (And his parents!)

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