Adventures in Fathering

Four out of five, because it’s impossible to get them all together…

When you take over as a full time parent, people always seem to have expectations for your success or failure. Dads are particularly singled out with these expectations, but not in the way one might think. From what I have experienced, the male of the species is expected to do a lot less.

I get compliments all the time about my kids. I suppose I could just chalk it up to how good they really are, and beautiful, and smart. But most of the compliments seem to be aimed at me. But I am only half of the reason they are how they are, if that. Would people compliment my wife like that? Would they compliment her if she had to wrestle all five of them through a church service? They tell me I’m doing so well bringing them week after week, would they do the same to her?

The double standard seems to assume men aren’t as capable of parenting as women. Fathers are inept creatures, barely able to juggle one child, let alone five.

Frankly the assertion makes me laugh. Yeah, my kids are a handful. They are constantly moving, vibrating really, and sometimes they make noise at inopportune times. They treat me like a jungle gym. They stand firm in “no” and make me drag them by the leg into certain places. But it isn’t hard. It’s exhausting sometimes to be sure, but not “hard”.

I love them. I love the challenges they bring. I love watching them make connections and grow and learn. I love that they force me to be strong and active. I love that they ask complex questions and make me think. If I was not actively involved in their lives I dare say I would atrophy.

I pity the men out there who don’t have kids, or at least act like they don’t. I pity the men who don’t know their kids well enough to know what discipline works for what kid (hint: they are individuals, every one is different). I pity the men who never engage with their kids, physically or mentally, for they will grow olds quickly without the exercise.

Most of all I feel a bit grumpy towards the men who fit the stereotype of inept and aloof. They are the reason for so many misplaced compliments towards men like me. They are the reason I will get five compliments to every one my wife gets. They are the reason my kids never get told how awesome they are, everyone is too busy being surprised by me.

Next time you see a lone father (or mother) with well behaved (mostly) kids, compliment all of them.

They’ll appreciate it.

The Beautiful Life

“Expedition Happiness” Watch on Netflix. Or don’t.

Sometimes when I read blogs or watch documentaries all I can think is “How do these hipsters make it look so easy?”

I don’t know what kind of world these people live in, they are always young, always attractive, frequently childless, and always seem to have an endless stream of money. They seem more like fictional characters than real people. You have to wonder what they do for a living, are they ever stressed? Do they get bored? Do they fight? Where is the ugly in their life?

Sure, sometimes the bus breaks down, the visa gets denied, or the cake in the oven falls. But these people always seem to handle it with a smile. Or at the very least they look gorgeous while crying.

Well, that ain’t my life.

I get sick. Nothing productive happens for days at a stretch. My kids make giant messes, animals get into my trash, my trailer sometimes smells like something died in it.

People thrive on positive. We love comedy and run from tragedy. We live vicariously through these adventurers and beautiful hipsters. We don’t like our conventional lives, so we read about theirs and forget our problems for a bit.

But who’s to say your conventional life is ugly? Who’s to say you aren’t living a beautiful life, even if it isn’t quite the adventure these people seem to have? Life is a gift, even with its warts and wrinkles. Life is beautiful even with the sickness and the smells.

You don’t have to read blogs or watch fru-fru documentaries (both of which I do. Too much.) to enjoy a beautiful life. All you have to do is start enjoying yours.

Control Freaks

There is a cold that seeps in slowly, down to your bones. You may not even realize it’s there until you’re snapping at loved ones or unable to sleep. You won’t always see its full strength, sometimes you can keep it in check. Sometimes it will scare you with its intensity.

Anger takes many forms. Sometimes it is righteous, but more frequently it is not. Often times anger is just a sign that we are a little too concerned about the amount of control we have over our lives.

We are anxious creatures, always wanting to have everything in line. Certainly some people aren’t as concerned about having all their ducks in a row, but I dare say the vast majority of us like to have our routines and our schedules and our predictability.

I am one of those people. I operate best when I have a written schedule and predictable hours. This is however not the existence I have chosen. Nor has it been the life chosen for me.

I worked in wildland fire and now my wife works in wildland fire. This is not a predictable line of work at all. I now stay home with five children. Control over every minute detail is impossible with little ones. Many of not most days it seems Chaos is the supreme ruler of the house.

My three year old wiped my phone completely clean. Squeaky clean. Nothing that wasn’t in the cloud was saved. I lost it. I yelled so much. I couldn’t handle the fact that my life (and by extension my three year old) was not totally in my control.

My wife has been having some (completely normal) growing pains starting this new job. Money is tight (as usual). The truck struggles to get up the hill from town (duh, it’s a 35% grade). The van has a coolant leak (super slow). The trailer gets kinda messy (seven people in 200 sq ft).

There are many things for my anxious mind to latch onto. So many things to spin me into anger. I can’t seem to get anything together. One day I keep my cool, the next I’m bickering over some dirty dishes.

Our pre-marriage councillor was the first person to point out to me that I liked control. It had never occurred to me before. But man was he right, feeling out of control is the number one reason I spiral into an anxious and contentious mess. I tend to pick a lot of fights when I feel out of control, even with myself.

I think God has put me exactly where He wants me. He knows exactly the kind of crucible needed to make me trust Him, or die trying.

Knowing Who is ultimately in charge is not a fun lesson to learn. Especially when one is a control freak like me. I am a hard headed sinner indeed.

Tight Spaces

A trip to get internet…

When you live in a tiny space, you tend to know well your living partners.

Every cough, every fart, every bump into the wall. Every single time they go to the bathroom (where is that WD-40?). You hear all the quarrels, all the laughs, all the times they play a little too rough with the cat.

There is a certain level of intimacy that you simply don’t get in a sticks and bricks house. There are no rooms to lock yourself up in, nowhere for the kids to hide. You go outside for alone time, or you kick them out. Or you simply hide in the van. Or you get over it and accept that these are in fact your children and you will never escape them. Much of the time though, someone’s going outside.

You get creative in the marital department. It’s really not much different from when we were co-sleeping with toddlers and newborns. We have curtains and did I mention that van? We even have a tent if we need a “night out”.

Tight knit spaces seem to make for tight knit families, at least at the ages they are at. We’ll see how it goes in later years…

Seasons

This is my third season.

In fire, we describe a firefighter’s experience level in terms of “seasons”. A typical season is six months long and can be quite arduous. Sometimes the season is busy and physically demanding, sometimes it is slow and mentally exhausting. Sometimes it is a bit of both.

This is my third season as a stay at home dad. So far I find that parenting is a lot like that as well.

My first season began in Truth Or Consequences, NM. My wife handed me the keys to our truck and trailer and said “don’t destroy our house.” She went off to fire boot camp and left me to find a camping spot for five kids, two cats, a dog, and me. I never felt so free and optimistic. I was newly unemployed, and she had no job prospects, but I felt like we were finally headed in a good direction.

That first season we stayed with family in Virginia. She worked 60 hour weeks and I battled family disagreements, juggled school and play, and tried to keep seven people fed well. It had its problems, but for the most part it was easy. I felt like I accomplished something. I felt that I had it under at least some control.

Then came the second season. After a fire season in New Mexico, we returned to our home in Florida. I now had to worry about more than just a couple rooms and a trailer. I had an entire house to care for. I stumbled. I failed. I succeeded in some, I completely missed the mark in others.

It wasn’t completely the role reversal we were going for, and I almost wonder if that is part of where the struggles came from. I still worked. I still tried to take on more than I could. I let some things slide and over focused on others.

I didn’t even realize my failures.

Now I am in my third season, the beginning clearly marked by a new living space and a stable schedule. I have only 200 square feet to care for, not nearly the same distraction as 1800. I have been given an opportunity to make a good season.

This is going to require focus and determination, two things which don’t come to me easily. I intend to learn in a small space what I couldn’t in the impersonal space of extended family’s houses or the “large” overwhelming space of an entire house. This tiny space doesn’t require too much work, unlike the tiny people in it. They are going to be a main focus this time in a way they weren’t in previous seasons.

If I can’t handle this, I definitely can’t handle a “normal” living quarters.

A Slow Down Of Sorts

I promised I would keep up a report for you of our various preparations for the summer season and I intend to keep that promise no matter how boring I may think developments are.

Not a lot happened the past couple of days, mostly just cleaning. Lots of cleaning. The mountain of laundry on top of the dryer is a symbolic reminder of the mountain we’ll be living on for the next six months. And that’s just the clean laundry, the dirty pile is a picture of Everest itself.

Not my laundry pile but from my Steemit post yesterday. I got mountains on the brain ya’ll…

There was also some schooling and some calling around looking for medical records from our retired pediatrician. Did you know they recommend that pediatricians keep records for 28 years from a child’s birth? The things you learn from Googling all day.

In fact it has been so calm I have had time to contemplate matters both political and religious. When I have time to head down those rabbit trails, watch out!

I might make some posts about those thoughts once things settle down some more. Perhaps it’s a little too calm…

I will say this though: I am so glad that this year we actually get to go out as a family. I was never made for the bachelor life and despite Nicole’s introversion neither was she. We need each other for so much. Companionship is one of the best blessings of marriage.

Even though we travel in separate vehicles, there is something to be said for shared experiences, especially the difficult ones. There is no one I would rather be stranded in Savannah, GA with a peeling trailer roof than her.

Did I mention our temporary tag also blew off?
When stranded in Savannah, get sushi!

No one else could keep me as cool and collected as she did when we had to hunker down for a day in the parking lot of the Artesia Wal-Mart while waiting for spark plugs to soak.

And with outfits like this, who wouldn’t want to be stranded at a Wal-Mart with her?!

When I am alone I think too much. And it’s always worst case scenarios. Thank God for the sanity of a companion.

Oh look, Hobby Lobby. It’s like she planned it…
It’s always the Ford isn’t it?

Enough of this deep stuff, I have a mountain to… fold?

Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) and Birth Control, A Dangerous Combination

From “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” by Toni Weschler

From my previous posts you have learned that I don’t oppose all forms of birth control, but that I urge caution about hormonal birth control.

I have two reasons for this: the first is the fact that hormonal birth control can be an abortificant. The second is much more personal, hormonal birth control can really create havoc on your body and mind.

Shortly before we were married, my wife went to her gynecologist for a routine check and pre-wedding screening (not like she needed it but whatever). While there, the doctor told her she should start taking birth control a couple of months before the wedding. “You don’t want to be inconvenienced by a baby.” she told her. Being young and naive my soon to be wife acquiesced and started taking what the doctor prescribed.

The side effects began her first week on the pill. At first it was a near constant nausea which kept her in bed most of the time. Next, a nearly insatiable libido disappeared. Then came the depression and anxiety. She reported these to the doctor and was assured they weren’t side-effects, she was probably just nervous about the wedding.

Reluctantly, the doctor switched her pills for the patch. Her nausea abated slightly, but the rest of the symptoms remained in full force.

By the time the wedding came, she had very little interest in sex. There were a few nights on the honeymoon where she cried for hours because she couldn’t understand what was happening to her. She didn’t want me anymore. What sort of switch happened that would cause her to suddenly stop her interest in me?

Upon our return, my new wife reported these problems to the doctor only to be told that she was probably just regretting her decision to get married so young. “Depression is not a side effect of birth control.” Nonetheless, her doctor agreed to change the medication again, this time to the Nuva Ring.

While the ring was better for nausea, the depression worsened dramatically. There were nights I would wake up next to a sweating, rocking, tearful woman. Sex was nearly impossible. She contemplated suicide.

All the while, the doctor insisted it was in her head.

I don’t remember exactly what clicked in my mind, but one morning I told her to quit the birth control. While the side-effects weren’t spelled out on the packaging, it was too suspicious to me that they would coincide with her first dosages. She quit taking them, much to her doctor’s chagrin.

Within a month her mood was vastly better. Her nausea disappeared. There were still incredible mental and emotional scars that made sex difficult, but her appetite for it returned in force. Two months after quitting (three months after the wedding), she was pregnant.

After our first daughter was born we ignorantly decided to try the BC again. Breastfeeding was a hellish nightmare (thanks to a lack of lactation consultants) and parenting did not seem like something we wanted to do more of at that point.

Side effects came right back full force. She was told “oh, those aren’t side effects” yet again.

Funny how they disappeared shortly after she stopped taking the pill for the second time.

The labels did vaguely mention that you could have suicidal thoughts as a side-effect. But it was listed as an almost unheard of side effect. Our only guess is that women who do not suffer from Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) rarely have those side effects. Or that doctors simply don’t care.

She was never screened for PMDD, we didn’t know she had it until almost ten years later. But the diagnosis made everything make sense. Any fluctuation in hormones brings about emotional and mental changes in her. Birth control, pregnancy, and breastfeeding each had their own effects, whether nausea or severe depression or decreased libido. Like clockwork she gets severe depression about ten days before her period and starts feeling better immediately upon menstruation. Then she is healthy for a week or so after, before plunging back down again.

Most doctors don’t even know what PMDD is, it’s just not on their radar. They are convinced that BC simply doesn’t have any emotional side effects. They barely listened to her about the nausea.

It’s almost like they have an agenda to push. Hence the “you don’t want to be inconvenienced by a baby” comment.

Needless to say, hormonal birth control is definitely not for us. Since this happened to us we have talked to dozens of women who had similar experiences, even ones without PMDD.

If you decide to use it and you experience similar side effects, don’t let the doctor tell you that you are crazy or that you should just switch until you find one that works. Get your hormones checked and talk to a doctor about the possibility of PMDD. It took a general practitioner about ten minutes to make the diagnosis and prescribe medication and other therapies. Now she is healthier emotionally than she has ever been.

It’s not worth living in misery when there are other ways to go about preventing pregnancy.

Love Your Wife: Love Yourself

Simpson Selfie
Sometimes I see myself as a Simpson, apparently…

From stay-at-home moms being called bad moms for wanting an hour to themselves, to husbands and fathers who just want some time away in their “mancaves” being called irresponsible, self-care gets a bad rap.

In blogs and books and sermons, folks are told that they should give up everything and give themselves to everyone else’s needs far above their own. People are beaten to death with the line that true happiness is only found in complete and utter self-denial.

But the Bible implies something very different, especially to husbands, in Ephesians 5:28-30:

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.

In order for a man to properly love his wife, he must first love himself.

But… This is not the selfish, narcissistic, self serving “love” that many men demonstrate through cruelty, waste, disrespect, slovenliness, and misplaced passions.

The self-love spoken of in these verses is informed by a proper perspective of self. The man who practices this self-love is enlightened by Gods own view of him. This man sees himself as God sees him, frail and sinful, fallen and weak, but loved, saved by grace, imperfect, but being sanctified daily and made more holy. God is pleased to see us as image bearers reflecting His glory back to Him. Instead of wretches clothed in rags He is pleased to see us in the robes of His Son.

A man who loves himself will care for himself, he will take pride in himself. He will understand that his value and loveliness is not in his success, his wealth, his looks, or his health, but simply in his createdness. Only when he understands this will he be able to take care of those things. When he properly loves himself he will be able to properly love those things and care for them.

And when he cares for those things he can care for his wife. Only when he cares for himself will be able to care for her. When he takes care of his health he is able to care for her. When he tends to his wealth he is able to care for her. When he is successful in any number of other areas, he will be able to care for her.

A man who eats too much, sits too long, and invests far too much time in pursuit of wealth and “security” is not a man who is able to care well for his wife. A man who hates himself and takes no pride in the fruits of his labors is most often married to a miserable woman.

Christ cared for Himself, He took time away from the crowds, the disciples, and from healing. He knew enough to rest, because His humanity was frail like ours. By taking the time to care for Himself, Christ was better able to care for His bride, the church.

About a week ago I was forcefully informed that my self-hatred was killing my marriage. My life to some degree has been falling apart because I have been refusing to take pride in my own life and worth, and refusing to care for my responsibilities (because what’s the point?). Even what I learned back in February seemed to be going by the wayside.

I tried to take care of everyone, tried to make everyone else better, but neglected myself.  I shut myself down, never expressing feelings thoughts or emotions. I never had an opinion that didn’t agree with someone else.

I became a nothing. And my wife despised it.

She wants a man who loves himself, who takes charge of himself, who disciplines himself, who prioritizes himself. She wants a man with a voice, opinions, thoughts, challenges to her daily life. not a lump of flesh. Certainly not the weak-willed mumble I was quickly becoming.

I am learning, slowly, to love myself. I’m figuring out how to to do the things I want, to make time for me, to refresh my soul and take care of my body. I’m making sure to take care of my appearance as well, as this is important.

And for the first time in my life I’m learning to take some pride in what I do, instead of loathing the silence from critics or friends, I’m taking it as a sign to improve and keep striving. Eventually I’ll get someone’s attention. At least I’ll know my capabilities.

It’s refreshing and terrifying all at the same time.

Spanking? Or Every Other Method? 

The Gluesticks of Correction

When I said that my wife and I have adopted peaceful parenting techniques I didn’t mean that we completely ruled out physical techniques. This is one area where my wife and I slightly disagree. While she completely rules out spanking, I don’t. 

I reserve spankings for very specific moments, often when natural consequences would be too traumatic or permanent. There are moments when a child needs a quick attention getting and oftentimes (short duration) physical pain is the best way to accomplish it. These circumstances tend to be circumstances where behavior change is more important perhaps than heart change. Physical enforcement is useful in these cases.  

If a child has a habit of running out into traffic, a quick swat on the butt is often helpful in driving home the concept of danger. If the child pesters an animal it is often useful to gently swat their hand before the animal responds with a far more painful gesture. 

My wife makes several good points about spanking and why she doesn’t do them anymore. First, it is difficult for sinful parents to spank without anger. If there is even the slightest bit of anger, you are spanking for the wrong reasons. Second, we don’t hit adults, why do we think it is OK to hit children? There is a certain degree of dehumanizing that we do to children. I have had an avid spanking advocate tell me that children are just like dogs and only respond to physical pain. If they are only intelligent enough to understand physical pain, how do we expect them to understand the explanation required by Tripp’s methods? 

She believes (and is quite persuasive) that if a child is inclined to run into traffic that the child should simply not be allowed to walk.  If a child cannot handle themselves around an animal, remove him from the situation. Rather than be reactionary to “bad” (immature) behavior, be proactive and remove the child from temptation. 

The reason I am inclined to disagree with her logic is that I am not always there to redirect or remove them from temptations or dangerous situations. I prefer to instill an association of pain in them which might persuade them to flee the situation themselves. 

A meltdown in the store is best handled by redirecting the child’s attention away from the object which has caused the meltdown, by quiet words of correction, or by simply ignoring the child and not giving him the attention he wants. We have found that our kids learn quickly what gets them good things and what gets them nothing. 

If we were to haul our child out of the store every time they fussed or whined, not only would we never get our shopping done, we would reinforce in the child’s mind that she is in control. Consistently demonstrating calm strength in the face of chaos is a great way to teach our children that we are in control as parents, not them. 

There are parents who advocate the tactic of taking the child away from the activity as punishment. This is fine, as long as the activity is only fun for the child. If we are participating in a family activity where I am having fun, or the other, more well behaved children are having fun, there is no way I am going to suffer or force the other kids to suffer just because the two year old is grumpy. Our tactic again is usually redirection or ignoring. Harsh consequences are often unnecessary if you consistently train them that tantrums get them nowhere. 

This, I believe, is what the father in the photo was doing. Instead of telling his daughter that her feelings are unimportant or that she should not communicate them, he allowed her to express them in her own immature way. But he didn’t give in. He didn’t coddle her or express to her that her tantrum would get her her way. He simply let her express the feeling and then move on (as adults are allowed to do, just in a more mature manner). 

As for “subjecting everyone in the store to it”, who cares? It doesn’t look like anyone else in the store cares. And if they do, it’s most likely because they either have no children or they are delusional and think they are perfect parents. Having dealt with thousands of little tantrums I can assure you that I do not judge other parents for their children’s behavior (their own behavior however, is another story).

It’s high time we stop telling other parents how horrible they are. Instead, we should focus on our own parenting job and ask ourselves how we are doing. 

When we are perfect, then we can go judge everyone else. Until then, we should probably keep our disgust at other people’s children to ourselves. 

Peaceful Does Not Mean Permissive

The “offensive” picture 

Spankings. Whoopins. Corporal punishment. All of these terms describe physical forms of discipline. But are these the only forms of acceptable or effective discipline? 

This post wasn’t going to be posted for awhile, but there has been a picture floating around social media which has prompted me to fast track it. 

Since adopting the NAP we have tried to move away from coercive and aggressive forms of discipline for our children. We have adopted a philosophy commonly known as “Peaceful Parenting”. 

Among many Reformed folks and among many in the general public, peaceful parenting gets a pretty bad rap. Some mistake it for permissive parenting. Some insist that the Bible requires physically coercive discipline. 

The recent photo of a toddler throwing a tantrum in Whole Foods while her father and grandfather stood passively over her prompted quite a bit of backlash in the conservative world. One post struck me in particular, that of Matt Walsh. I typically agree with Matt on most subjects, but this is one where I find myself in the minority among his followers. 

Many of the comments on his post were along the lines of “I would never let my child do that without harsh physical consequences!” or “If my toddler acted like that I would have drug him out of that store and taken him right home!” Perhaps worst of all, they accused the father in question of raising a snot-nosed liberal who will forever throw tantrums to get everything she wants. 

As a father of five I can say with conviction that if we followed either of the suggested courses above our shopping would never get done. 

“Spare the rod, spoil the child” is an oft quoted verse when Reformed folks debate discipline methods. One would think Reformed people would be more meticulous, as this is in fact a misquote. 

The actual verse says:

“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” Proverbs 13:24 ESV. 

No mention there of “spoiling”.  The Proverb actually describes it as something worse. You aren’t “spoiling” your children if you fail to discipline them, you are hating them. 

Some would say that parenting without aggression or physical coercion is parenting without discipline at all. They believe that we are hating our kids by not using a physical rod to discipline them. In the minds of many of these people every infraction (such as a grocery store meltdown) is to be met with a swift swat. Either the hand is to be used or an object like a gluestick or “something that doesn’t leave a lasting mark” (so as not to draw the attention of the Child Protective Services). Their thinking is that physical pain is the only way to reinforce instruction. They insist that discipline cannot happen without this pain. 

A few years ago we went through a Sunday school class on Paul Tripp’s “Shepherding a Child’s Heart”. The process for discipline outlined in this book goes something like this: Child does something wrong, child is sat down and told what they did wrong, child is spanked, child calms down, parent and child reconcile with a hug, child learns. 

The stated intent of the book was to teach parents to to train a child’s heart and not just change their behavior. While I agree with the premise that a child needs heart change more than simple behavior modification, I disagree that spanking is always necessary. In fact this book tries to make the case that spanking is the only Biblical method of discipline. Honestly I don’t believe that this method ends up being much more than behavior modification. 

Physical pain as reinforcement for instruction is less a matter of heart change and more a matter of instinct. When a child (or adult) performs an action and is met with a painful consequence, it is usually natural for them to respond by ceasing that action (I say usually because often we are inclined so strongly towards sins that even physical pain won’t drive us away). It makes sense that we can change a child’s behavior with spankings or other physical punishment. 

But discipline requires far more than just changing behavior. We must not only turn our kids from the wrongs and towards the rights, we must also ensure that they know why actions are right or wrong and encourage them to want to do the right. This depth of discipline cannot be accomplished by spanking alone, if at all.

So how do we ensure our kids aren’t railroading us or everyone else they come in contact with? Permissive parenting differs from peaceful parenting. Where peaceful parenting creates and enforces boundaries (just without coercion or aggression), permissive parenting allows kids to do whatever they want. This is, by definition, parenting without discipline and in fact, hating the child. 

To keep our kids from becoming little hellions we establish firm boundaries and teach them to respect everyone, regardless of that person’s status or position. We teach them to live by the Golden Rule and the Non-Aggression Principle. We teach them to treat others with kindness, even in excess of how they would want to be treated. We also teach them about property rights and to respect what others own or possess. 

Next time I will discuss both my wife’s philosophy on spanking and mine and talk about a few other methods of discipline which we prefer.