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"Do I have to wear a jacket, Dad?"
"Of course! It's only six degrees outside!"
"Yeah, but honey," Mom intervenes, "It is going up to fourteen today, he'll just end up stuffing it in his backpack. You're fine as you are, sweetie."
"Great!" Boy celebrates, "Thanks, Mom!"
Dad is not done, however.
"But, you're the one always worried about him catching a cold because he's not dressed properly."
"Well, sure." She answers, "When it's minus five and there's snow on the ground. Not when it's late spring!"
"But," He keeps going, "Six degrees is six degrees. Why is six degrees in March any different than six degrees in May?"
And so on.
Welcome to parenting in 2016.
Have they been on the iPad for too long, or do they deserve some downtime after scoring well on their report cards?
Before getting dessert, do they have to eat four pieces of broccoli, or six, or all of it? Did you give them as many florets as last time? If the number of florets has increase, they'll notice and refuse to eat them, and you'll have to explain yourself.
They're playing with that new toy, because Dad said they could. But Dad was unaware that Mom told them they had to clean their rooms today. So, can they clean their rooms just a little later, since it's Saturday, and Dad, after all, did give them permission to play with their new toy.
Mom said they could stay up later tonight, "What?" says Dad, "We just talked about how tired they are in the morning!" Mom replies, "I know, but they only have four days of school this week, so I thought we could have a special family movie night."
Are parents exhausted at the end of the day because of parenting, or because of each other?
Any single parent probably would not need very much time to prove how much more difficult it is managing a household without a partner to support you. But, when there are two of you, do debating and nitpicking augment the stress level unnecessarily?
There is a certain peace which comes with being able to make a decision, even a "bad" one, without having to run in by your partner.
Too tired to make supper? I'm ordering pizza...without a conversation about budget and nutrition.
I'm watching this movie with the kids,...because they want to, and I, just this once, don't want to defend whether it's appropriate, or explain the research I've done online to justify my decision.
Sometimes paradise is defined simply by being able to say "yes" or "no" all by your grown-up self.
One study, and article after article online describe moms who simply want alone time for Mother's Day. That's it. Time without their partner, without the kids, and without having to decide anything for anyone but herself.
We Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers have so much literature available to us (much of which contains information which will be updated and/or changed by the time we successfully implement those ideas) we think about and analyze nearly everything about our children. Not only can we still not reach a consensus of agreement from family to family, but we still even have a hard time presenting a united opinion in front of our children (which can destroy your children's respect for your authority, if you believe the literature).
I once heard the difference between the Gen-X/Yers' parenting style and the Baby-Boomers' parenting style described in the following way:
Yesterday's parents worry about what will happen; today's parents worry about what might happen.
I think that is absolutely on point.
So, for Mother's Day and Father's Day, how about this: let's move up our New Year's resolution date from January 1st 2017, to late May 2016, and resolve that, before second-guessing our partner, we will ask ourselves, "What real harm can come from what's about to happen? What do I have to gain, compared to the energy I am going to lose, by debating the number of broccoli florets on a plate, or the temperature at 8 AM vs 1 PM and how that temperature change should be reflected in my child's outerwear?"
Let it go.
Let it free your body,
Let it move your soul.
- Luba 1984
When I received my review copy of Lynn Wilson's A Handbook for Grandparents, Over 700 Creative Things to Do and Make With Your Grandchild, I expected to find within its pages a lot of cute pictures, some children's drawings, and a few notes to Gramma and Grandpa about how to go about making collages with their little grandchildren.
I expected a sort of Arts and Crafts for Dummies.
Instead, this must-have work is so multi-dimensional, it would behoove both grandparents and parents to stow a copy on a shelf which is within easy reach at all times.
While there are many tools available to teach parents how to shave balloons and make papier maché, very few also have "above the fold" advice stressing the importance, and the delicate balance, of a parent/grandparent relationship. Before I discuss the encyclopedia of activities which comprise the vast majority of the book's pages, I would like to mention how important I found its opening section.
Lynn's book begins its journey with several pages devoted to helping grandparents understand that, yes, they play a vital role in these little people's live, but most important decisions lie with the child's parents, and must be respected. Also within that first chapter are wise words for parents who must come to understand that the older generation are no longer the parents they grew up with. They are now grandparents who have earned their retirement years, and whose joints and energy levels are not what they used to be:
Parents must also have realistic expectations about the amount of practical help some grandparents are willing and able to provide given their own plans for their retirement or their work commitments. Grandparents' involvement will vary significantly between families.
I especially like these passages, which speak to grandparents of how different modern-day parenting may be from what they were accustomed to a generation ago. These are delicate words which are often more easily transmitted through a book suggestion than spoken in person:
Family dynamics are always changing. Over time there may well be many changes in your immediate and extended family. There are many challenging transitions that can affect families, and it's important to be respectful of each unique circumstance. A new baby, an adopted child, a move, a new school, illness, death, separation and divorce, another set of grandparents to build relationships with; these can all have a drastic effect on the members of any family. In many of these situations, your daughter or son will need your support as never before.
As our children find partners who may be from different ethnic or religious backgrounds, grandparents will be exposed to various cultural influences and differing social conventions. This may influence the parents' beliefs, attitudes, and expectations to child rearing. Whatever the circumstances, successful relationships between all parties will depend on open communication.
Sometimes it's nice to have someone speak for us, isn't it?
The early chapters of the book even go as far as teaching grandparents that a visit by their grandchildren does not translate to a behavior free-for-all. Ms. Wilson offers specific methods for ensuring there is a continuity for the child as far as an expectation of respect and responsibility, and several ideas for how get a child to clean up after themselves once all the toys have been given a run-through. In other words, even at Gramma and Grandpa's, there are House Rules.
Now, on the to the nitty, gritty.
Before I explain how magnificently this book offers what must be thousands of ideas to be shared between and a grandparent and a grandchild, I will make the suggestion that this is a book which is best consumed in small doses. This is definitely a reference guide, not a novel. It can be overwhelming if a grandparent, upon receiving the book, feels he or she must digest all this information and react immediately to call to make your house safe, acquire age-appropriate toys, and buy all the classic children's books. (Ms. Wilson actually actively discourages grandparents from rushing out and purchasing a "truck load of toys," and, for that, we thank her! There is even a fantastic section of gift suggestions...other than toys!)
I would inscribe this book "Dear Mom and Dad, to be used only as needed. Love, Me."
The meat of the book is divided into sections and subsections of indoor and outdoor activities, ideas, and crafts.
The real genius of this work is its rhythm, simplicity and the repetition of its layout. (Just how kids like things!)
Each section has a master theme, for instance, Bath Tub Fun. There you will find at least a dozen ideas, each rarely more than a sentence in length. There are always "Simple Ideas" for young children, and "More Complex Ideas" for older kids.
In each section I found ideas which were very different and wonderfully original when compared with suggestions I've read in best-selling magazines and on the popular websites. These sections are also decorated with children's drawings, memories and thoughts from children, parents, and grandparents, as well as children's book suggestions which match each chapter's theme.
There are sections dealing with recipes, nature, rainy days, technology, books, and even some suggestions for what to do on snowy days (this book does work for us Canadians!)
One of the great things about this book's building block—its heart—is it can generate as much excitement and interest in a grandchild as it can in a grandparent. If I were a grandparent (my kids are 11 and 9-years-old respectively, so I'm in no hurry!), I would definitely encourage my grandchild to "Grab the handbook off the shelf and pick something to do!"
There are literally years of what-to-do within its pages.
I especially like the chapter about extended stays at Gramma and Grampa's, because that means a little quiet reading time for mom and dad, or, as I like to call it, Naptime for dummies.
I write a weekly column, "Questions Parents Ask" at Lifeworks.com. With my son heading away to Scout Camp this weekend, I reread a post I had written one year ago about the lessons I'd learned the first time I saw this group of kids gain autonomy the moment the stepped away from their parents.
Both my children enjoy helping out in the kitchen. When the three of us were away at Cub Camp this weekend, I realized how much of an impediment I am to letting them not only gain independence, but also to seizing the opportunity to free myself of some cooking duties at home.
Often, once I begin preparing a meal, one (or both) of them will chime in "Can I help?" Occasionally I will say yes, but, more often than not, I will tell them there are too many hot pots, hot liquids, and sharp knives. Also, we're often in a bit of a rush so I really just want to get this done so we can sit down and eat.
At Camp, every meal was taken care of by the campers. There was an assigned rotation with two or three kids cooking and two or three others cleaning up. Yes, there was an adult supervising, but that supervision involved giving a quick demonstration of what needed to be done, and then sipping coffee and making sure safety protocols were being followed. Sure, the meals took longer to prepare -- and they weren't always pretty -- but sipping a cup of Arabica was far better than mixing, pouring, and flipping flapjacks.
I was close to flabbergasted as I watched my kids and the rest of the crew prepare my meals and wash the pots -- outside in the cold, with a smile! What was I doing wrong at home?
First (and this is a mainstay of modern parenting), I am so often rushed that I feel I have no time to step back and let them create disaster. This may be a difficult routine to change during the school week, but on the weekend? I can surely find 20 extra minutes to let junior cooks help.
Second: I see injuries waiting to happen at every turn. Yes, knives are sharp and water is hot. But, I should adopt part of the "See, Do, Teach" approach. Show them once, step away, and make sure safety protocols are followed as they chop away.
It is one thing to teach children autonomy and responsibility. It's another to realize it's already within them, and we may just be that one cook too many in the kitchen.
They say the number one method for correcting and guiding behavior in your children is creating clear rules and guidelines...and sticking to them.
That is often more easily said, than done:
Don't fret! These tips for preparing for the start of the school year begin by emphasizing getting the most out of your summer...especially if you're a parent who has been putting themselves second since the end of June.
As a Father's Day treat, I allowed myself (sandwiched between my children) to watch one of my favorite shows: CBS Sunday Morning. Their reports are timely and intelligent, sensitive and textured, and Charles Osgood is as warm and soothing a television host as there ever was.
Yesterday's theme was—appropriately—fathers.
Lee Cowan's cover story—"Daddy's Home: Embracing Paternity Leave"— focused on the unforgivable lack of a nationwide parental leave policy in the U.S. (Cowan points out that the U.S. is one of only two countries in the world that does not have country-wide paid maternity leave!)
Steve Hartman invited cameras to follow him as he helped his widowed father move out of their family home in Toledo and into an apartment, leaving behind a trove of memories. (The report includes a wonderful montage of old pictures placed against the backdrop of present-day images of the cottage).
There was also a current events piece about the tragedy in Charleston, a retrospective on Jane Russell, and a feature questioning the future of Vietnam's floating market in an evolving economy.
Then came Jim Gaffigan's rant on Father's Day.
My kids watched it with me. The three of us were full from the breakfast my wife had prepared (green eggs and ham, bacon, coffee, and fresh Quebec strawberries), the cards my children had constructed and colored lay next to my new paper weight: a rock from our garden decorated by my daughter so it resembled the moon.
Jim began his speech:
It's Father's Day. Ugh. How weird is that? A day to honor Dads? It doesn't make sense.
Mother's Day I get. They are mothers. They brought us into the world. Father's Day is like celebrating Darth Vader's birthday.
Great. Cuddle up kids. He continued:
"I guess since we honored mothers in May we should probably give a day in June to that guy who gets up early on his one day off to abandon us to go golfing."
I'm sure there are some really good dads out there, and I commend both of them.
I do do things with my kids, but when I come back from an outing, just know they are going to be sunburned, covered in mosquito bites and, yes, I forgot to get napkins when I bought them ice cream.
Wait, I lost one of their shoes? Well, at least I took them out! You're welcome.
He went on. But, I think we get it.
We got it when it was Archie Bunker in 1971.
We got it when it was Homer Simpson in 1989.
We got it when it was Ray Romano in 1996.
We've been getting it for a long time. There were several decades when we even deserved to get it.
But now it's tired, and insulting and—worst of all—counterproductive.
I know, he's a comedian. Fantastic. If that's your brand of humor, yuck it up.
But there are many of us dads who work hard to be what our children expect from a parent, and what society is only very slowly awakening to.
We are fathers who are working hard, not to prove that we can do it just as well, but working hard to succeed, so it becomes a given that we are doing it just as well. We want the care and love we provide for our children to be taken for granted, as it has been for mothers all these years.
We challenge dads like Gaffigan to understand that it is not about being lauded for taking an active role in their children's lives with a "Look he can do that!" But rather to assume that we should be doing that.
We are all parents to these children. Mothers and fathers.
Incompetence in not gender specific, it's an individual failing.
Physical and mental nourishment and enrichment are not gender specific, they are necessities to be provided to children by anyone who happens through this child's life.
That is why the dads in Lee Cowan's cover story are stitching together sick days and vacation time to be home with their kids.
Unfortunately, that feature was also stitched into a Father's Day show which chose the easy way out, at the expense progressive parenting and social change.
What role should the federal government have in child care?
There is a constant debate between putting in place a structure of affordable daycare versus providing funds directly to parents (read: baby bonus, family allowance, etc).
Stephen Harper's conservative government has opted for the latter.
The Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB) will send monthly cheques to all Canadian families for each child under the age 18.
For any family who had registered for the program prior to May 15th 2015, the first cheques will arrive in July; those families who register after that date will have an appropriate delay in receiving their payments.
The first cheques will include payments retroactive to January 1st 2015.
For each child ages newborn to 6-years-old, the monthly allowance will be $160.00. For 6-to-17-year-olds, the monthly payment will be $60.00.
As of today (May 17th, 2015), the federal government claims 200,000 eligible families are still not registered to receive the payment.
If you have not yet applied for the benefit (and have one or more children under 18-years-of-age) you can register online at www.canada.ca/taxsavings.
The program is not without its critics.
One of those criticisms is that, since the plan—and the amount of the payouts—is universal regardless of a family's income, a family earning millions will receive the same contributions as one earning in the five-figure range.
On Friday, I spoke with Pierre Poilievre, Minister of Employment and Social Development and asked him about millionaires receiving equal benefits as a family struggling to make ends meet:
The Universal Child Care Benefit helps 100% of families with kids. It gives them almost $2,000.00 a year for kids under 6 and $720.00 for kids 6 through 17. Now, the point is, it’s universal. Everyone gets it. Regardless of what you make, or the child care you choose, you get the money. The Liberals and the NDP would take away the Child Care Benefit, and even after they do that, they have billions of dollars in shortfall in their own plans. So the message is, with our approach, people know what they get and they can count on it, regardless of their income or the choices they make in child care.
As far as the cost of the program to the federal government (about $1.1 billion in 2014-15 and $4.4 billion in 2015-16), Minister Poilievre says the money will come directly from the general revenues of the Government of Canada. These funds, he says, are available thanks to the Prime Minister's balanced budget.
I also asked him specifically to comment on a common point of view held by residents of Quebec—my home province. In Quebec, we have a "Universal Daycare" program. The daily cost of the program to parents is anywhere from $7.30 per child for a family earning $100,000 or less, up to a maximum rate of $20.00 per child if the family income is greater than $150,000.
This new sliding scale, instituted by our provincial government, has been scorned by many middle-income earners. However, the real challenge of the program was—and still is—a lack of space and a waiting list which can be as long as two years or more.
I asked Minister Poilievre about the decision to use government funds in the form of cheques sent directly to parents versus using that money to create more daycare spaces:
If we put all the money into government run license daycare spaces, that would exclude about 90% of families. If you have a stay-at-home parent, you get nothing; if you have a grandparent who takes care of the kids, you get nothing; if you have a neighborhood family, you get nothing; if you rely on a private daycare, you get nothing. So the approach of putting all the money into government run license daycare would exclude at least 90% of families. The other thing I would point out is, the Liberal Party promised for 13 years that they would create such a program nationally; they spent billions on it and it didn’t create a single daycare space. All the money was vaporized by bureaucracy, researchers and lobbyists. None of it actually delivered daycare spaces. Even if people want a licensed daycare, the chances that the Government will produce it by the time their kids are still young enough to benefit are next to none. The simplest, easiest way is to put the money in the mail and send it to the parent.
One motivation for our provincial government to provide relatively inexpensive daycare is that it encourages both parents to return to the workforce, thereby generating more taxable income. When asked whether the UCCB will instead encourage one parent to stay home with their child to the potential detriment of government coffers, he said:
Any politician that wants to make child care policy that can maximize how much money the government can take out of people’s pockets deserves to be defeated. I think we should let parents make child care choices in the interests of their children, not in the interest of the taxman.
Minister Poilievre insisted the timing of this program's rollout was not done intentionally to coincide with Canada's federal election in October, but rather he insists this was only now possible due to the balanced budget.
When asked whether the program was contingent on the Conservatives being re-elected:
Yes. The Liberals have said they would take away the UCCB. They would cancel it and spend it on a child care bureaucracy, so the only way that these child care payments would continue is with a re-elected Conservative majority.
Note: The Liberal Party, as well as the NDP, were contacted and given an opportunity to react to these statements. Comments from both parties should be forthcoming and will be published in this space.
I was reading this article in the National Post about an English professor who left his career in education to pursue another as a mixed martial arts fighter.
As a metaphor to illustrate how men today are less likely to engage is risky behaviour relative to their counterparts a generation ago, the journalist wrote the following:
Much of the violence we commit is now done at arm’s length — by way of technology. Canadian soldiers charged up Vimy Ridge in 1917. Today, a drone might do the trick. The most dangerous behaviour most North American men engage in is driving a car. And there is a good chance it is a minivan, a boxy emblem of masculine decline.
I added the italics.
"...minivan, a boxy emblem of masculine decline."
I drive a minivan, so do many of my peers.
Before I defend whether I am "in decline", I would like to ask: in decline from what?
From the soldiers we are all supposed to be? The bar brawlers arrested after their team loses the game? The boors whose families are not to distract them from the NFL triple header on Sunday?
I disagree. As would, I feel safe assuming, the fellas at the National Fatherhood Initiative, or the Dads Groups in New York City, or Boston, or Chicago.
Or the more than one-thousand fathers who are member of our Dad Bloggers Facebook group.
It is at this point in the argument I am often told I am blowing something out of proportion, or that I'm missing the point, or that I am taking the metaphor too seriously.
But, that is the point. There are those of us for whom this argument is taken very seriously.
Modern weakness is not men driving minivans; it is men who try to hide their family vehicles from their peers, lest they be judged to be somehow emasculated.
The weakness has become being too proud to miss an NFL match in favour of the one being played on a soccer pitch by your 8-year-old's team.
The decline is represented by the words "Because I have to." which too often follow "I drive a minivan."
I love my van - not only because of its higher seating position and because it makes sense - but because of what it represents. I love listening to the doors being slid open a little more firmly than they need to be. I love watching the cartoon dust ball of schoolbags, lunch bags, and splash pants in the rear view mirror as my kids (always!) rush to get seated in the morning.
I love that my van represents for me, the evolution of who I have become.
I have never been in a fight, and I certainly don't regret that. But, challenges? Everyday. And those challenges are made even greater by the same circumstances which necessitated an upgrade in my vehicle's cubic footage.
My van is not an emblem of masculine decline; it is a badge of honour.