Goodbye Dad

On a morning walk during the last school holidays, I had the opportunity to see suburbia in its early buzz. And most of what I saw was good. Some pretty gardens with happy flowers, teddy bears still peeking out of a few windows, people coming out to check the mailbox and waving hello. But I also saw something but made me feel sad. Three SUVs pulling up at separate curbs – their engines humming outside nicely groomed houses. None of the driver’s turned their engines off. Only one of the drivers got out of this car. No-one was waiting on the curb or came out to greet them. And overflowing out of the passenger doors …children, all of them around school age carrying little cases or backpacks shouting… “Goodbye Dad”… several of them running back to try to give a final hug.

These were not children being dropped off for a weekend sleepover with a friend. These children were most likely being dropped off between a separated Mum and Dad. How did I know? A number of things were obvious like the cases on their back (and several other items dragged from the car) but also the tone of the goodbye to Dad was not the kind that says I will see you later in the day.

We are bringing up generations of children who’s normal is being split between homes with different rules and different atmospheres. Not for them any cozy Friday night movie nights with Mum and Dad together making the world secure.

I felt sad. Mainly I felt sad because I knew how torn most of these children would be feeling and that it was most likely that at times they were forced to choose out loud or in their own head which of their parents was the most reliable or lovable; children growing up too soon.

I believe relationships can thrive. I believe in the power of commitment hard work and at times professional intervention to facilitate a way through. And I believe that even if couples choose not to stay together there is still the ability to role model what respectful and caring relationships look like in the face of separation. And that would include – Dads getting out of their cars and Mums coming out on the curb to greet the arrival. When children step out of that car they step onto the wobbly bridge that spans no mans land. The least parents can do is swallow their own hurts/pride/anger/indifference and hold their children’s hand until they get to the other side.

Good cop – Bad cop – Wanna swap?

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So the kids know right? They know it’s Dad they ask when they want to have a sleep out, in a mouldy tent, on the back lawn, with weather forecasts of 5 degrees and steady rain. And they know it’s Mum they ask at 6pm on Sunday night when they need help with their social studies assignment which is due on Monday morning.

The kids have got you sussed! Whether it’s through ‘personality analysis’ (!) or smart timing our kids are pretty on the ball when it comes to asking for things that they want.

Years back after visiting a friend my son spoke candidly about what he thought she should have done when her child mis-behaved! I remember sitting in silence the rest of the journey a little ‘freaked out’. If he so clearly saw the dynamics of my friends parenting skills – what did he think of mine!

Have you ever wondered how it is that your child ‘sees you’?

We all have a uniqueness that influences the roles we play. Dad might be ‘the emotive perfectionist’ while Mum is ‘the laid back stabilizer’. Mum might be ‘the  soft touch negotiator’ whilst Dad is ‘the firm layer down of the law‘. In all relationships we make space and find our niche. Generally, when this is respectfully done between parents, the push and pull, light and shade of their roles weaves the unique dynamic that makes up their family. Sometimes though we can find ourselves cornered into a role that we no longer want.

The expression ‘he was angry enough for both of us’ explains well how a partner might influence our behaviour. When one person is so proudly the organiser it might not leave anyone else (including their partner) room to be this. Feelings of frustration or inadequacy can step in. Even, as a single parent we have a certain ways we see ourselves – a certain ‘parental identity’ that can disallow us ways of being we might prefer.

How might it be to step away from ‘planned and organised’ and into ‘we’ll go where the breeze takes us’ – even just for an afternoon? Or how might it be for ‘the timekeeper’ to take a break sometimes and be able to hand her watch over to Dad? Likewise it might be good for Dad to come home and find that consequences have already been metered out and he is free to cuddle by the fire with the kids and be ‘just loving’ tonight.

Is there a part of your parenting role you would like to play more often?

Good cop -Bad cop….wanna swap?

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This article was originally written for The Guardian newspaper and Parentline.

James, DNA and irrational positivity!

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James is a deceitful boy. When James disappoints his parents they are quick to remind him of it. In James’ home hard work, and honesty are valued – so are kindness and love. James knows this. When James’ parents tell him he is a liar, he  has no argument. His feet are glued to this position the same way deceit  is glued to his internal cells. At some point deceit and James became one.

Mathew sometimes lies. He lies when he feels cornered or trapped and sometimes he lies to get his own way. His parents are quick to point out when deceit may have hitched a ride on his shoulder.   In Mathews home   physical fitness, and honesty are valued – so are love and commitment.  Mathew knows this. When his parents open the ‘invisible lie box’ and exclaim “Whoops……looks like one may be missing….”  Mathew  may confirm or deny this. Mathew doesn’t stand in glue. Mostly he ends up saying something like “I lied – I’m sorry”. At some point Mathew realised that deceit was a little like a button you might push on  the play station control; it was something you could chose. It was  just one choice – out of many.

In my work I have met a few unfortunate James and a few lucky Mathews. It is quite difficult for the James’s’ to understand they have a choice. Mostly this is because of how others see them and hence, how they see themselves. James never hears “That doesn’t sound like something my James would want to do’ when his latest exploits are revealed.

If you think about the  last time you felt honourable, giving, generous or kind, chances are it made you inclined to give more, do more, or be more. A kind of warmth sat in your chest and you wanted more of it.

The experience of achieving and giving  is infectious. Sometimes even when we have done wrong (been rude to our spouse/ forgotten yet another lunch date) and we fix it (Cook him his favourite meal/ pick her daisies from our garden)we get that same warmth in our chest. We feel pride. It feels good to do good. And, it is no different for our children.

One of my favourite lines is -’Every child deserves to have at least one adult who is irrationally positive about them’. Now irrational positivity can sometimes be in short supply but when it is there in the flesh….when you hold it close and stand by your child’s side I doubt that any anger, deceit, sulks, sadness or mischief  can  truly compete.

If we can find a way to unglued (or un-label) our kids, even during the most repetitive and trying of times we offer them ‘choice’. When we understand that they may not always make the wisest decision about things in the first instance but we hold the hope that they will make better decisions  next time or in the future –  we create space. Deep breath space.  Looking heavenward space.

With a little hope and positivity we  can invite better choices and….warm chests.

**This article originally written for The Guardian and Parentline