Compassion For Your Kids Starts With Compassion for Yourself

 

A few days ago, I saw a set of “Bad Parent” memes posted on the Facebook. the message they conveyed was this:  If your kid does something wrong, it’s all your fault because your a bad parent, and you should be ashamed of yourself.  Yeah.

Firstly, this is an extreme oversimplification.  There are so many factors (and people) that can influence a child’s behavior.  Even if a parent does everything right, their child could still behave in ways that are undesirable.  But hey, maybe some of it is our fault.  Maybe kids wouldn’t lie so much if their parents wouldn’t have overreacted in the past.  Maybe they would have an easier time standing up for themselves if their parents weren’t always talking down to them.  But what good does it do to beat ourselves up about it?  How does it help to bully ourselves, and call ourselves bad parents?   How can we have compassion for our kids if we can’t have compassion for ourselves?  How can we forgive our kids if we can’t forgive ourselves?  How can we love our kids, if we can’t first love ourselves?

You and I are not bad parents.  We are growing parents.  We are learning parents.  We are trying, and getting better every day.  Are we perfect? No, far from it. Do we make mistakes?  Of course.  But maybe our kids don’t need perfect parents.  Maybe what our kids need is someone that can show them how to get up after they’ve fallen down.  how to admit that they’ve made a mistake.  And how to show love and compassion to broken, hurting, imperfect people.

Thanks for reading,

Dadosaurus Rex

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It’s OK to Have Unlimited Screen Time

11141203_708424129269470_6321678382145679367_n“But if I let them do whatever they want, they’ll just watch TV and play video games all day!”

This is a very common reaction to the idea of allowing one’s children complete (or even partial) freedom.  They will spend the whole day with eyes locked to a screen, completely cut off from the real world.  I understand this concern.  I have felt the anxiety that comes along with it.  I have tried limiting “Screen Time” in the past, and it has resulted in a painful power struggle that has only two possible outcomes (as is true with any power struggle).  Either I overcome and defeat my children, forcing them to bend to my will, or they are victorious, and I cower in the corner, rocking back and fourth in the fetal position.  I do not find either of these to be desirable.

So, what did I do?  Two things.  One:  I changed my perspective.  Even as adults screens are a very real part of our daily lives, and I would challenge you to add up the amount of “Screen Time” you have in one day.  It took some time, but I realized that my children’s brains would not turn to soup if they spent some time with the TV, computer, or tablet.  (I also found out that the more I relaxed, the happier everyone was)  I allowed them the freedom to choose, and, for a while, they chose to binge watch their favorite TV shows.  But after a while, when they realized that it was no longer a scarce commodity, they relented, and began exploring their other options.

Which brings me to the second thing:  I gave them other options.  There are so many things that most kids would rather do than watch TV or play video games.  Below is a list of things my kids consistently choose over a screen.

  • Light-saber battling
  • Painting
  • Looking for bugs
  • helping to prepare a meal
  • Riding bikes
  • Playing with play dough
  • Recording videos for their YouTube Channel
  • Playing in water
  • Racing
  • “Nature Talking” (An activity invented by parasaurolophus [8] that involves sitting quietly with eyes closed and listening/talking to trees)
  • Going to the park
  • Writing stories (Its even more fun If I staple together a few sheets of white paper, with a colored piece for the cover so they have a little book to write in)
  • Going for a walk
  • Building a snowman
  • Collecting leaves
  • Taking apart broken/old electronics (Last week was the toaster)
  • Doing mazes
  • Reading or being read to
  • Watering the plants
  • Building forts
  • Playing tag

I could honestly go on forever, but you get the point.  Sometimes it just takes a little creativity, initiative, and involvement on my part, but honestly watching movies and playing video games has become a last resort for them, when all other options have been exhausted.

~Dadosaurus Rex

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Shifting My Focus Away From Perfect Parenting

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I’m call myself an unschooler.  A gentle and peaceful parent.  An empathetic parent.  And most of the time, I am.  But sometimes my actions don’t quite line up with my declared parenting style.  Honestly, there are times when my actions are diametrically opposed to my declared parenting style.  I’m selfish.  I put my own needs before the needs of my children.  I yell.  I get agitated by things that don’t matter.  I fail to see things from my child’s perspective.  My fear of imaginary things that might happen causes me to harm the relationship I have with my children.  Sometimes I worry that by the time I figure out how to be a decent parent, my children will be grown.

Since achieving parental perfection seems to be out of the question, my focus is now on three main areas.

Admitting and Apologizing

What I did was wrong.  I shouldn’t have behaved so poorly.  I’m sorry.  No reason to try to cover it up, justify it, or ignore it.  We all make mistakes, and my children appreciate my willingness to be open, genuine, and vulnerable.

Learning and Improving

I am committed to constant improvement as a parent, and nothing helps more than making mistakes and learning from them.  Its hard to feel down about being a bad dad when I look at how far I have come in such a short amount of time.

Remembering and Empathizing

My imperfections remind me that we are all human.  Remembering this helps me to be more understanding when others exhibit imperfect behavior, and to respond appropriately.

So, I can’t teach my children how to be perfect, but I can set an example in repairing relationships, using failure as a stepping stone to success, and showing empathy and compassion to broken, hurting, imperfect people.  And I think that is just as good.

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Replacing Your Unfounded Parenting Fears With Empathy for Your Child

If I had to sum up what is wrong with our society in one sentence it would be this:  “Too much fear, and not enough empathy.”  This is especially true in our dealings with children.  I struggled for far to long (and still do at times) with the misguided and unfounded fears of parenting.

What if someone yells at my child?
What if he turns out to be ungrateful?
What if people think I am a bad parent?

All these concerns are not centered around the well being of my child, but my own personal fears, prejudices, and desire for comfort.

I strive now to replace these with more important questions.

What is best for my child?
How must my child be feeling in this situation?
What might she be thinking?
How would I feel if it was me?

Being empathetic toward your children not only allows you to care for and protect our societies most vulnerable individuals, but also shows your child the importance of being compassionate.  It empowers them, and helps them to realize that it is okay to have feelings and emotions, and they are not something to be afraid of, hidden, bottled up, or dismissed.  It creates a healthy environment where burdens are shared collectively, and conflicts are resolved respectfully.

Conversely, hitting, time-outs, yelling, control, bribery and artificial rewards (which in my experience are almost always rooted in fear) let children know that their feelings are unimportant and insignificant.  Children learn to keep their emotions, desires, and thoughts to themselves.  Either out of fear of being labeled a whiner (or worse), or simply because they don’t think anyone cares.

Daddy, Why Aren’t You Helping Me?

When I was a new father my wife and I lived quite far from our families.  We made a trip to our home town when our first child was about a year old.  Her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were excited to see her.  So when someone reached to take her, I gave her up right away.  She grabbed onto my shirt and started to cry, but was pulled away into the arms of someone who to her was a stranger.  She looked at me, confused at first, then her eyes filled with terror as she continued to cry and reach out to me.  My family assured me that this is just what kids do, and you have to let them cry sometimes.  But she wasn’t “just crying,” She was telling me something.  She was trying to communicate.  “I’m scared, daddy,”  “I don’t know what’s going on,” “I’m not sure who these people are,” “Daddy, why aren’t you helping me?”  But her pleas fell on deaf ears.  I did not want to make waves or upset my family.  What would they think of me or say about me if I wouldn’t allow them to hold my child?  I figured it wouldn’t do much harm, so I did my best to ignore her crying.  My wife, however, did not share this sentiment.  She put our daughters needs before her own fears, and refused to ignore her desperate cries.

The Result?  I severely damaged the relationship I had been building with my daughter, and she learned that she couldn’t trust me.  She didn’t feel safe with me anymore.  For some time after if I was holding her, and something made her feel uncomfortable, she would seek out my wife, someone she knew would listen and understand.  Someone she could trust.

Even though a lot has changed since then, we still don’t live in a perfect house where it’s all daisy chains and unicorns.  We are haunted by the ghosts and scars of fear and control.  But every day we increase the love, the compassion, the respect, and the empathy, and every day we grow a little closer.

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BREAKING NEWS: Portland Diner Owner Comforts Toddler

Breakfast PancakesA few days ago the owner of a diner in Portland Maine took it upon herself to yell at a one year old who was crying too loudly.  She admits, however, that the biggest issue was the parents ordering the child (who she refers to as “it”) “3 fucking pancakes.”  It took forty minutes for the pancakes to be served, and when they finally did arrive, the owner suggested that they take the pancakes to go.  When they didn’t take her suggestion, she began to yell at the child.

The mother left a bad review on the restaurant’s Facebook page (for obvious reasons), to which the owner responded with a psychotic rant. (You can check out the full story, as well as screen shots of the Facebook review and response here)

In the wake of this nonsense, there has been an outpouring of support.  Not for the family, or the child, but for the owner of the diner.  Her Facebook page has gone from a little over 1000 likes to over 40, 000 in a matter of days.  They have also received 11,000 5 star reviews from people across the country and the globe.

I was shocked that the vast majority of the comments were  bashing the parents and praising the owner, and I didn’t know what to make of it.  My friend Josh Spicer at DaddyEngine summed it up quite nicely, “What the past few months online have taught me is that hate sells.”  It makes me wonder what would have happened had the story played out differently.

I don’t think, “Portland Diner Owner Comforts Toddler” is a headline you will ever read.  Had the owner made an effort to connect with the parents, or comfort the toddler, given her some crayons, or offered something else to eat while she waited for the pancakes, we never would have heard anything about it.  On the off chance that someone did decide to write about it, no one would care.  There would be no outpouring of “likes” there would be no avalanche of reviews, there would be no one calling the woman a hero, or making plans for a visit to Portland.

How sad it is that in our society hatred is idolized and encouraged, and kindness is ignored.

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UPDATE:  The Washington Post has now posted an article written by the mother, giving her side of the story.  You can read it here.  After it was published, the pendulum started swinging the other way in the review section of the Marcy’s Diner Facebook page.  There are still far more “5-stars” than “1-stars” but there is not nearly as much as a disparity as there had been.

3 Reasons People Are Complaining About Your Parenting

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When our children were younger, we were very conscientious about their care.  They didn’t drink “Kool-Aid.”  We mixed their juice half and half with water.  There was not often candy in our house.  We didn’t have network or cable television, and they would occasionally watch something from our collection of age appropriate DVDs (and by age appropriate, I don’t necessarily mean G rated, Cartoons, or Disney movies, many of which are extremely confusing and traumatic for a very young child)  We weren’t denying them anything they were asking for, but simply not giving them anything that was potentially damaging to their health and happiness when they weren’t even asking for it.

For some reason, this upset people.  A chorus of “You can’t shelter them forever!” was constantly ringing in my ears.  A phrase that never made much sense to me, because all parents “shelter” their children to a certain extent.  You don’t sit your 3 year old down to watch hard core pornography.  You don’t offer your 5 year old a shot of vodka.  You don’t drop your 2 year old off on the outskirts of town and see if they can find their way home.  Oh, and then there was the story of so-and-so.  You remember s0-and-so, don’t you?  Their mother never allowed them to have such-and-such, and when they finally got ahold of it they were obsessed with it and never did anything else!  You don’t want your kid to be like so-and-so, do you?  People were also constantly trying to undermine our parenting decisions.  Thrusting spoonsful of ice cream toward my 8 month old daughter, or putting on movies they knew we wouldn’t want the kids watching.  In short, it was extreme disrespect for my children’s wellness, and extreme disrespect for my wife and I as parents.  Obviously, we didn’t know what we were doing, so they had to correct it for us.

Well, some years and a few kids later, things have changed.  The kids are older, candy is inevitable, and we now have a TV with Netflix and a computer with the internet.  But one thing hasn’t changed, we are still upsetting people with the way we raise our children.  The problem now?  Too much freedom.  We don’t force them to dress a certain way, we let them eat when and what they would like, they do not have a fixed bedtime, they decide who they do and don’t want to hug and kiss, and we have no limits on screen time.

Why then, are people still upset?  Isn’t this what they wanted?  For us to stop sheltering our children and to stop being so “controlling”?  But that was never really the issue.  The issue was that we were doing something different.  We were going against the grain, and we still are.  That is a problem for three reasons:

1. By doing something different we must be implying that the way they raised their children was wrong.

2. They are jealous because they wanted to do something different, but gave in to pressure to maintain the status quo.

3.  Society has taught them to fear what they do not understand.

So, to all you different parents out there, I say be yourself, do what’s best for your family, and don’t listen for one second to the jerks who try to bring you down.  Your children will thank you, and you won’t have to ever wonder what would have happened if you had raised them the way you knew was right.

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Harnessing Homeschool Fears

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As a dad* who has chosen not to send his kids to school, my children’s future is always on my mind.  Will they be successful?  Will they be happy?  Will they be ashamed?  Will they want to homeschool their kids?  Will they regret being homeschooled?  I know that homeschooling was the right choice for my family, and I believe that homeschooling is the best choice for most any family, but I still have plenty of room for doubt, and that is a good thing.

If my children turn out illiterate, ignorant, or worse, I cannot blame bad teachers.  I cannot blame stingy tax-payers who refuse to fund better schools.  I cannot blame politicians who care only for standardized test scores.  I cannot blame bullies, I cannot blame behavioral specialists, I cannot blame the lunch lady.  I cannot be irate that my child was not in the gifted program, or complain that they should have been in the remedial program.  I cannot be outraged that they cut band or art.  I cannot say that someone else has robbed my child of their education, their childhood, or their future.  If something goes wrong I cannot blame anyone.  Anyone, that is, except myself.

Because of this, I have a drive and motivation that I would not have if I was counting on someone else to educate my child.  I am always re-evaluating my approaches, reading articles, asking questions on forums, asking the kids for feedback, and trying any means possible to improve the educational experience my children receive.   I have a much more vested interest in my children than any teacher ever could.  Being directly involved in the lives of my children is one of the many reasons I choose to homeschool.

*I’m writing this from my perspective, but we mustn’t forget my lovely wife.  Just know that any time I say “I” I really mean “we.”

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He did WHAT in his cup?

cupIf you have seen the animated film Cars you may remember the scene where Lightning McQueen is telling the residents of Radiator Springs of Doc’s history as a race car.  He explains to them that Doc has won 3 Piston Cups, to which Tow Mater replies “He did what in his cup?”

Well I am proud to say that last night I was presented with my first Piston Cup.  My youngest son, who is 20 months, is learning to use the toilet.  He does not like diapers, and if we are home, he is usually naked from the waist down.  When he first abandoned his diapers a few months ago, he was pretty neutral as far as the toilet was concerned.  If you sat him on it, he would go, but mostly he would just go on the floor, and watch as Mom or Dad hurried to clean up.  Slowly though, he began to realize that it was more desirable to use the toilet, and he has been having fewer and fewer accidents.

Last night, he was upstairs in bed, watching a movie on the kindle with his brother and sisters.  He felt that call of nature, so he paused the movie and made for the stairs.  There just so happened to be an empty cup sitting on the first landing.  Seeing that he still had a measurable distance to the bathroom, and not wanting to create an unsightly slip hazard on the floor, he stood over the cup and relieved himself.  (This is one of the reasons why, if you have children,  you should never drink out of cups you find lying around the house, no matter how wasteful you feel just dumping things out.)

If your wondering how I reacted, the truth is, I didn’t.  He made a valiant effort, and showed spectacular resourcefulness, so there was no reason to reprimand, scold, or otherwise tell him he was wrong.  But I also am not keen on this becoming a recurring event, so I wasn’t about to praise him for it.  I don’t really think I could have said anything anyway, even if I wanted to, without breaking out into uncontrollable laughter.

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I’m Going to Let Go Now

“We have a cultural notion that if children were not engineered, if we did not manipulate them, they would grow up as beasts in the field. This is the wildest fallacy in the world.” ~ Joseph Chilton Pearce

Do you remember being a kid, growing up?  You and your sister would both lay hands on some toy, or other desired object, and pull with all your might in an attempt to remove it from each others’ grasp.  And then, after a few minutes of tug-of-war, you would decide that there was something even better than having the object you so desired.  Then, releasing the object, you would watch as your little sister proceeded to roll across the floor.

Since becoming a father, I have been in a similar power struggle with my children.  Each of us white knuckled, struggling to take control from the hands of the other.  What they wear, how they speak, what they learn, where they go, when they sleep, where they sleep, what they eat, when they eat.  At the onset, I wanted control over every aspect of their lives.  After all, I am the parent, I am the adult, and I know what is best for them, right?

I soon found out that this was the wrong way to have a healthy relationship with my children.  I also learned that lessons are much more powerful when you learn them for yourself, rather than having them forced on you.  So I let go, and watched in terror as they rolled across the floor.  They weren’t ready for control, they didn’t know what to expect.  They had spent their whole lives being told what to do, where to go, and who to be.  I had created an environment of fear, manipulation, and control, and instilled a belief that “Might makes right.”  That wasn’t going to go away overnight.

I am doing my best to let the kids make their own decisions whenever possible.  We are still recovering from the days when Dad was the Dictator, and the kids sometimes make choices that tie my gut up in knots, but I am convinced that this is the way I should have been parenting all along.

If you are struggling with your children over control of their lives, it might be scary to think about letting go.  But the sooner you do it, the softer their fall will be, and the better your relationship.

“Children pursue life, and in doing so, pursue knowledge. They need adults to trust in the inevitability of this very natural process, and to offer what assistance they can.” ~ Earl Stevens

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My 4 Year Old’s Bucket List

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Here is one from the archives (March of last year).  Made me smile.

My children and I were sitting at home, looking at a raised relief map of Colorado.  My son, who is 4, asked, “Are those the Andes Mountains?” I explained to him that they were called the Rocky Mountains, and showed him on the globe where the Andes Mountains were.  “Can we Climb the Rocky Mountains?”

“Yes!  Of course we can,” I replied, “But it might be a while before we do.”

Later, we were putting together a jumbo United States puzzle.  Each state was a piece of the puzzle, and many of the states had pictures on them, showing what might be found in that state.  It was then my son informed me that he would like to go canoeing in Oregon, hug a cactus in Arizona, and visit some hay in Montana.

At 4 years old, my son is a little young to have a “Bucket List,” but I guess he is getting an early start.  It is such a pleasure to see his sense of adventure, and his eagerness to explore the world.  And who knows, maybe our next vacation will be to Arizona, and we can all hug a cactus.

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