Cleaning out a part of the basement I found a box full of photographs from the mid to late 90’s. Some of the pictures I never even looked at. The year 1997 was one of the best years of my life. That’s when my first child was born.
These past few weeks have been stressful leaving me feeling particularly anxious and I have a hard time sleeping lately. The truth is I have a lot on my plate right now with the divorce, trying to work things out here as a 50/50 parent, work stress and kids who are being more than a handful.
I knew this would impact them, how could it not? Divorce is harsh even when the divorce terms are not and the communication is polite and reasonable. When kids see their family broken apart they don’t have a say or a choice other than to go along with it and just deal with it in some way. I think the impact on kids is the most unfortunate thing about a divorce. They act out in anger, hurt and resentment and I understand that but there’s a line.
This is most evident in my teenage daughter who over the course of the past year and a half to two years (even before divorce was considered) has progressively gotten meaner and more disrespectful, this is most evident in her interactions with her mother. The lying, stealing things from the other kids and her mom, sneaking around online as if I don’t know etc. But it’s the lack of remorse that gets me the most. When caught she simply does not care or apologize at all. I’ve tried to be understanding, to look for answers and hope that she will at least make an effort but it never ends. At times I feel completely lost in what to do.
Yesterday was another episode of lying by sneaking on social media using a basic flip phone. I really thought we removed any chance for that but as usual she found a way. So what now? I’ve taken things away, made her do chores etc. you name it but nothing seems to work. Her mother told me when she’s there it’s worse. The level of disrespect with her mother has gotten to the point of outright refusing to do something and saying, “no” and “so what if I don’t?” I can’t really understand that BUT again I look for the answer and hope there is one. “She’s a teenager and this is what teenagers do” I tell myself but this goes beyond typical teenage years rebellion. Is it a cry for help I have to wonder?
When I think back to my childhood and the anger I felt, I know that anger was rooted in feeling lost and without stability in my home. The environment didn’t feel safe to me and it wasn’t. I felt like I needed to build up a wall of anger for protection and as a result I acted out in a very similar way my kid is acting out now. So then I try to imagine how she must feel. A father who can be overbearing, angry, stressed often and perhaps worse of all poor at saying or expressing love and approval. For me I always felt like I needed to direct my kids to what’s right and allow their mother to express love. She must feel like I’m always on the verge of yelling at her or looking for ways to scold her, she doesn’t make that hard that’s for sure but what’s missing?
The responsibility is in part mine. The larger effort needed is really on my part. The chance to capture something I felt was lost on me as a kid. She’s never had to face the things I did as a kid and she never will but the lack of connection with her own father is a travesty I think. I’ve tried to provide everything reasonable for my kids but it’s not the house, vacations or any of those material things it’s the love that matters most. I need to be better at expressing that last part. I’m not naive and of course I know she will continue to be a teenager who gets on my nerves and tests me on occasion but I also know as a parent I have to step up and try my best to let her know that while I won’t be walked over, I do in fact love her.
The youngest is always content with dollar store items. Given the choice between candy and a cheap toy she will almost always pick the cheap toy. Yesterday we stopped by the dollar store, part of my plan to spend less at the market, for a few things and as always I let her browse the toy section where she pointed out this doll. I guess the quality control for a $1 doll isn’t the tightest.
When told my marriage of 18 years was coming to a close my dad said, “When you come visit me this weekend I’d like to talk to you, I have some advice for you.” I’ve always gone to my dad for advice because I respect his opinion. In my eyes he’s always been a solid person with a voice of reason.
Over the years I think I can count on one hand, no make that two or three fingers, the number of times my father has offered me advice without my asking for it. One time was years ago concerning my family. He said something in the way of, “Don’t work too much and spend time with your wife and kids as much as possible.” Sorry I blew that one dad but I always wanted it to be that way it’s just that I guess I didn’t take your advice soon enough. Honestly I always did what I thought was the right thing for my family but..
The second time came more than 15 years later when I went to visit him. I was waiting in anticipation for his words of wisdom because unsolicited advice from him was so uncommon. I think there’s a lesson in that. In the days prior to the visit I thought about what he might say and how he could relate to my situation. My parents divorced when I was only one or two so I knew he could understand what it’s like to watch your wife walk away and to see your kids half the time, how much that sucks and how much you miss your family.
When I arrived we went for a ride in his work van to run an errand and the conversation started. The first thing he said was, “I’m really sorry things have gone this way for your family, are you sure there’s nothing that can be done?” I’ve never, as an adult, shed a tear in front of my dad but when he first spoke I had to pause before answering. It was dark so I was quick to wipe away the tear and then answer in a fake controlled voice. “I’m sure there’s nothing because the choice is not mine and I can’t make it not happen.” He then made a comment about wishing he could just talk to her and perhaps reason with her but I knew there was no point and it would not make a difference anyway. It’s not like a bomb had been dropped suddenly, more like a bomb was floating overhead for too long then finally dropped after more than enough warnings. Then came his fatherly advice to me.
With a smile my dad said, “Don’t worry too much about it. You will get over this, trust me, and besides I was just getting started at your age.” We both laughed.
There it was. The advice I had been waiting for. The words of unsolicited yet appreciated wisdom but certainly not what I expected to hear. The conversation quickly turned to talk about science fiction authors and corny jokes. I love you dad.
All work and no play is not an option or at least one I won’t take. Yesterday I took half the day off to hang out with the kids. We went to the park for a metal detecting adventure.
My daughter said metal detecting is and old person hobby. Shortly after I found coins in this crater but she still laughed. I guess I have an old person hobby.
I love the feel of the warm sand under my feet. Last year we were up north and the sand was actually so hot we had to stop once in a while and stand on the dune grass or a towel, yes soft feet from not going barefoot much was the main reason. My son loves being buried in the sand. He said, “dad bury me up in this sand.” My reply, “alright but close your eyes real tight so you don’t get sand in your eyes.”
I used to like getting buried in sand as a kid and have been under it on this very beach. As you grow up things change. The idea of getting sand in certain places takes away from the appeal of warm sand covering your body. My trick was to jump out of the sand and run into the water to rinse off but still I would have sand in my hair for days after.
There are so many things that we do differently as adults compared to when we were kids. Some of those things are out of changes in responsibility, maturity, and social expectations but I think there are some things we should never lose sight of.
Have you ever believed in Santa or the Tooth Fairy? How about monsters and dragons? As kids we see magic in things. As adults we tend to see logic and reason in things. I’m not at all saying you should believe in the above, that’s alright if you do, or throw logic and reason out the window but I’m saying we should see life as magical. Life is a gift to be enjoyed each day. Wouldn’t it be nice if we woke up each day and instead of focusing on all the adult things we have to do that can be a drag, we instead looked at life as an adventure and something to be enjoyed? Today I am thankful.
Allowing me to grocery shop is like saying, “here’s $400, go nuts.” My idea of grocery shopping has always been to walk down each aisle and purchase whatever the hell I want. I’m the guy the grocery store loves because all those things placed at eye level to help encourage impulse shoppers to overspend, I like all those things.
I’m a list maker because I know there are things I need to buy, it’s the other things I just want to buy; cookies, four Delmonico steaks, 15 pounds of pork chops, artichokes that I don’t know how to cook, assorted home goods like cleaners we don’t need, quail eggs…it goes on and on. All the things I need combined with the other stuff that costs $295.00. I’d proudly bring home my loot and get laughed at. It was funny but in a pathetic out of control way like how you laugh at your friend who’s has one too many at the pub.
Today was the first time I’ve ever gone grocery shopping as a single dad, or single anything for that matter, who has half of the kids each week. I made my list vowing to stick to it. The idea of making dinner for half the number of people was considered when making my list like, instead of two packs of hot dogs I got one. Surely that would help me to keep the spending down. I also decided to first stop at the dollar store just in case they had some things there. I’ve been to the dollar store before but it was for cheap toys and candy. This time I walked down each aisle, sticking to my list, and purchased 18 things. My bill came to $18.54. Most of those items were non perishable and my guess is I would have spent more than tipple that at the grocery store. I walked out with a smile on my face. Will l like the dollar store body soap I wonder?
My next stop was the grocery store and the real test. I walked in feeling determined but that’s where the Sandies Pecan Shortbread cookies are, right at eye level. Instead of walking down each aisle browsing, I followed a patch directly to the things I needed making sure to keep my wandering eyes focused straight ahead. Heading down the bread aisle I saw the damn donuts. They also keep them close to the milk isle, smart marketing, but I only noticed them at the bread isle. The temptation was strong, I even stopped in front of them and almost reached but I moved along. I walked away and felt good about it.
Heading to the checkout lane I felt confident having stuck to my list. I’ve never just purchased what’s on the list but I did it. My total bill came to $83.24. Leaving I felt relief in not just sticking to my list but knowing I can cut back. I think I can make it.
I have a confession. I bought one Cadbury egg in the checkout lane. The wait was long there and the chocolate eggs were piled high with shiny wrappers.
Growing up I was lucky. My parents divorced when I was one, that’s not the lucky part, but my dad was always in the picture. As a kid I was exposed to good men and bad men. I always considered my dad to be one of the good ones, hardworking, kind, made time for me and most of all an even guy. By an even guy I mean he was always calm in any situation, never over reacting and someone I never felt I could not trust. He wasn’t a disciplinarian but he was respected because of the things I listed.
I wasn’t afraid of not doing what dad said because I thought there would be a punishment, I was afraid of not doing what he said because I respected him too much to do otherwise. That’s not to say I was a very well-behaved kid, far from it, but dad was the kind of guy you didn’t want to disappoint because you loved him so much.
Lately I’ve been thinking about my relationship with my own kids, how it’s been over the years and what it’s like now. There are things I wish I could go back and change, yelling out of anger (dad never did that) or overreacting when they acted like kids. There’s no set in stone rule book for raising kids, I’ve tried different things with mixed results, but I do know there are things all kids need and that’s love, kindness and a role model. Someone needs to provide those last three things, mom and dad, mom or dad..or whatever. I’ve made spending time with my kids a priority and each day I’m so thankful that my career allows me to do that often. I’ve also worked hard at trying to be the things my dad was to me.
Right now I’m lucky. I’m getting divorced, that’s not the lucky part, but the mother of my kids is an awesome role model who’s there for our kids. She’s a hard worker, even-tempered, and they trust her. Despite what’s happening to my marriage I know the kids are and will always be our priority. I’m thankful for that.
Before I had any kids people would warn me about the terrible twos. It’s supposed to be the age when everything they say and do is done with the intention to drive you up the wall. It’s true, the terrible twos are terrible, but what about the terrible teenage years?
I’m a father of four kids, three of them being teenagers. These are the years when my kids have tried me more than ever because it’s during this time when they are the most opinionated. I remember those years thinking I knew it all. When you try so many ways of showing them consequence to action it’s easy to get frustrated when they get to the years when they just don’t care. It’s part of growing up I know. As a kid I was more than a handful and so in a way I guess this is payback for all the things I did.
As a parent you hear all kinds of methods for getting your kids to behave from smothering them with love to tough love. The thing is not all kids respond to all things same way. Sometimes taking away a favorite toy will work for one kid when noting seems to work for another. You have to find out what works.
Today when I got home my 16-year-old told on the other two teenagers for tormenting the youngest. It’s a game they often play only because they think the reaction they get is funny. The youngest isn’t beyond overreacting which makes matters worse. The scenario plays out like this (15-year-old to 13-year-old) “HAAAHAAAA look at her hair, sticking up in the back like that.” (13-year-old) “Wow look at you with your hair it’s sticking up.” Not a particularly mean thing to say but then the reaction from the 11-year-old is, “SHUUUUT UUUUUUP LEAVE ME ALONE!!!” Said with the voice of a shrieking harpy and loud enough to cause structural damage to our home.
Last year I was discussing this issue with a Realtor friend and she gave me a fantastic idea I’d never really considered. She said, “When my kids are bad I put them to work.” It’s brilliant. I’ve taken away the Xbox, toys, iPod’s, computers, phones and just about anything I could think of. It got to the point when there was nothing left to take so then what? Chores are always in abundance. It’s the thing that never runs out and it works. Tomorrow they will act up because that’s what kids do but it won’t be like today. The chores will remain fresh in their minds for a few days then we will repeat the cycle.