Archives for June 2017

Crossing the Threshold

The other morning I was doing what I usually do for the first hour of my waking existence (or at least what’s left of the hour after making coffee and preparing breakfast), which was to read on the sofa. As my four daughters emerge one by one, they generally grab a book from the shelves and sit next to me, until we’re a wire full of birds.

The other morning, though, it was just me and the eight year-old. She was sitting silently by my side with one of the lesser known works of Dr. Seuss: the title escapes me, but it was something he had written under sub-pseudonym Theo LeSieg. At some point she turned to me and said “Daddy” (she puts the emphasis on the second syllable, which just kills me).

When she had my attention, she said, “I think I’m reading now?”

She proceeded to demonstrate. Yup, no doubt. She was reading.

This has been a frustrating process for her, especially since she knew perfectly well that her two older sisters were both younger when they started. She had asked me one night after she got into bed: “Daddy? Do you think I’ll be able to read when I’m a grownup?”

Like most things we learn, the final hurdle is one of confidence. And she’s not quite there yet. The elder girls, by contrast, took to reading like a leap out of a plane. It was as if they had finally found the key to the handcuffs. This one is taking it slow.

I try not to imagine my kids in future professions, but occasionally the mind does drift. Of the four, it’s the eight year-old I can see becoming a writer. Not because of her reading, but because of her drawing; the way she renders people in her pictures–in their gestures, expressions, positions, hair, clothing, orientation to one another–casts each of them as utterly distinct and alive. They are characters as realized as any in a novel. Of course, she could be an artist and that would be okay too.

But not a pirate. And that’s final.


Fathers, Real and Imagined

So I know Father’s Day was last weekend, but we can still talk about them, right?

Fathers. We all had ’em at some point. Some of us are one! I mentioned a while ago that I was about to start teaching a Nurturing Father’s class at Family Tree Relief Nursery.  Well, we’re a few weeks in now and I am happy to say that it exceeds my highest expectations. There are so few places for men–fathers, grandfathers, stepfathers, godfathers–to get together and talk about the experience of being male and having children your care. Every week I see light bulbs of recognition or the shock of the new. Both are valuable.

The currency of fatherhood is devalued in our society. Worse, this has happened even while the expectations for men to care for children and participate in household labor have increased. At least part of the problem is that it is easy–and largely tolerated, if not encouraged–for men to opt out of parenting altogether. There is a price, of course (in the form of child support payments). But the real cost is borne by children. When it comes to fathers and male caretakers, any degree of (safe) presence and involvement makes an outsize difference.

There are a lot of mistaken assumptions about fathers and fatherhood (and many of them are carried on by the men in question). Here is an excellent piece from the Washington Post last weekend called Five Myths About Fatherhood. Among the takeaways is this explication of the dilemma of men who, like many mothers, want to “have it all:”

“Men with children say they feel continued pressure to be the primary providers for their families (in opinion polls, about two-thirds of Americans say a married man should be able to support his family), and at the same time they want to meet modern fathering ideals (in polls, they are just as likely as mothers to say that parenting is ‘extremely important’ to their identity). Even when flexible schedules and other family-friendly work arrangements are available to men, there’s often a stigma associated with taking advantage of them.”

Workplaces in America obviously have a lot of catching up to do. But so do those very institutions–government and law–that have traditionally not exactly been seen as ignoring the needs of men. I, too, will be a post-feminist in a post-patriarchy. But when it comes to the rights of fathers, misconceptions about men and children can skew things the other way. As a parent coach working with families seeking reunification, I sometimes have to explain to state agencies that a father engaging in wrestling and roughhousing with his kids is not necessarily “unsafe” (that’s what I’m there for), but a perfectly valid way for men to nurture their children.

Guys, I hope you had a good Father’s Day. Keep celebrating.





Last Chance to Learn Stuff

So, we went to a graduation party this weekend and it reminded me that, though we’re not there yet in my family, we’re going to be there alarmingly soon. Like six years from now! That might sound like a long time, but consider what happened to the last six years of your kids’ lives. Where did they go? Have you looked under the rug?

I’m not panicking. But it brought to mind the question of what skills I would like them to have when they are ready to leave the house and go into the great world (or at least across the great town). And I’m not thinking about values or anything deep like that (another post did that). I’m thinking about things that you need to know how to do when you’re on your own.

Like many modern parents, I asked the internet for help. Turns out this is a fruitful topic, as there are many, many takes (20,700,000 to be exact) on the essential skills for graduates. Here’s a good one. And here is another. And here are two more. They’re all different! If I were to string them all together it would just be too much. How can there be so much variation in what an “essential skill” entails?

But wait. After copying down the four lists to which I linked above, there were none I exactly disagreed with, and it was too hard to boil them down to a single Top Ten. Apparently we need to know a lot of things.

Next, I marked the items that appeared on multiple lists (though some had slightly different wording). Here’s what I found:

Cooking: all 4 lists

Laundry: 3 lists

Auto maintenance: 2 lists (2 others had “how to pump gas” but this is Oregon)

Banking/budget: 2 lists

Social skills/etiquette: 2 lists

Advocate for self: 3 lists

Discernment/judgement of character ie “creep alarm”: 2 lists (interesting!)

So there’s our Top Seven Essential Skills by Metascore™.

I wondered if some of the items could really be taught, or if they had to be gained by hard experience; the big example was “how to tell love from infatuation.” Good luck with that!




Learning All the Time

This week’s post is by featured contributor Esther Schiedel. We hope that you enjoy it and, as always, we look forward to future posts by Esther.

Several years ago, when I was in graduate school, I attended a training about using the university’s online distance learning resources. This was in the early days of using the internet for college classes, so the computer literacy level of professors and teaching assistants in fields other than computer science was pretty low. What impressed me was the obvious discomfort displayed by many of those in attendance–discomfort at having to learn something new. Here were people who dedicated their lives to teaching and research and they were resistant to learning!

Of course, I am always open to learning new things—except when I get completely flustered and frustrated when attempting to do something, especially on a computer or a smart phone.

Why is learning so uncomfortable at times?

Here are some factors that make it so for me:

When I’m pressed for time

When I’m not really interested but am forced to learn something in order to do what I want to do

When learning something new involves having to unlearn certain attitudes and habitual responses

When there is a lot to learn but I can only absorb a small amount at one time

Having to learn also reveals my weaknesses. I want to appear smart and competent—not ignorant and needing help. Even when no one is looking!

Looking back on my childhood and schooling I realize that many times I was praised for knowing something—not for learning something. Some things came easy to me as a child—that felt good and I got praised for it. But when I couldn’t figure out something easily, I often got upset and decided I didn’t like that subject or activity. In doing so I missed out on opportunities to learn how to learn.

Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making writes, “My own study of parental development has shown that we—as parents—grow and change when we have an expectation of ourselves, of our children, of the world, that doesn’t fit with reality (such as ‘I am never going to yell at my kids, I am always going to be patient and kind’). Then either we stay stuck and get upset or angry or we grow—by changing our behavior to live up to our expectations or by creating more realistic expectations.”

In other words, as parents, we need to learn.  To learn different ways to behave. To learn what to expect from ourselves and our children. We need to keep learning all the time because our children keep growing and changing.

We may be used to feeling competent and to being in charge. We may think we need to be the expert and know it all. We may see asking for help as a sign of weakness or incompetence. Like those professors, we may be uncomfortable with learning something new.

What can help us? Realizing that learning—that being willing to learn—is the true sign of intelligence and competence. I heard the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson explain that when he got an answer wrong, instead of feeling silly or ashamed he welcomed it as an opportunity to learn something new.

We grow by being willing to learn. We can learn by examining our expectations and the reality of our lives. We can learn by gathering more information and considering different perspectives. We can learn by trying new approaches to old problems. We can learn other parents, from books, from classes, and from our children.

Esther Schiedel is parent to three adults, grandparent to three boys, and a Certified Family Life Educator. She provides parenting education through classes and workshops through LBCC and through her business, Sharing Strengths. She became interested in parenting education when she became a parent and had a need for more information and support.