The P Word

Muddling my way through parenting

Archive for the tag “memories”

How was your Christmas presence?

The play on words between ‘presents’ and ‘presence’ is often too tempting for many vicars to avoid when planning their Christmas Day sermons.

With no apologies, I’m going to plagiarise that cliché (if such a thing is possible) and apply it to parenting for a brief post-festive pause for thought.

Christmas presentsHowever much we may plan ahead for Christmas, it’s probably fair to say that most of the time spent thinking and doing in preparation for Christmas is centred around trying to buy presents for our family and friends.

Once the presents are bought and the plans of where you need/want to be on particular days are sorted, the planning of how you’re going to actually spend your time is likely to be well down the pecking order.

But what makes the biggest difference to our kids?

Sure, the people we’re with for Christmas will matter, and what they unwrap on The Big Day will hopefully bring a little happiness.

But if we want to make a lasting difference for them then we’ll focus on creating memories. We’ll play games that end in side-splitting laughter, we’ll have the time of our lives racing around the park (and probably get drenched on the way home!), we’ll read endless bedtime stories until the story-teller’s voice or eyelids give up, or we’ll sit and talk about the latest animated blockbuster that we’ve just enjoyed together. Or maybe – as I’ve recently seen posted by a friend on Facebook – we’ll fall asleep cuddled up together on the sofa.

I’ve talked in a previous post about allowing our kids to take the lead in setting the agenda and how/when we play together. Perhaps there is no greater opportunity than the Christmas holidays to allow your kids to set the tone and take a new approach to how you spend your time together.

Please don’t read this post as a guilt trip if you’re feeling like you’ve not been very ‘present’ in creating memories with your kids during the past few days (heck, if an afternoon snooze to sleep off a lunchtime tipple is criminal then I’d be incarcerated every Christmas!). But with whatever holiday time you’ve got left this festive period, it’s never too late to do some more fun/silly/crazy/memorable things that will enrich your child’s life and enhance your relationship with them.

You may even feel prompted to make a New Year’s resolution to give your kids more ‘presence’ in 2013. But if you do, please make sure it’s one you at least try to keep!

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.

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

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