I Will Never “Date” My Kids

meandtheboys

I’m not sure when it got trendy or acceptable to advise people to “date” their kids, but I sure wish it would stop.

Look, I get (and appreciate) the sentiment behind it. Essentially it’s a way of saying spend more one-on-one time with your children. Go out just the two of you, make him feel special, do something he likes, and really talk about things without interruption. All of those things are good, and all of those things are necessary. I try to do that with Will as much as possible with our fishing trips and clandestine ice cream parlor visits, and Sam — well, frankly Sam is happy no matter what. But when he gets a little older, I’ll give him the same one-on-one time as Will.

Let’s put aside the creepy factor that goes into associating the term dating (and all that comes with it) with your children for a second, and focus on the other reasons this isn’t a good idea. Namely, I hated dating. Really, it was horrible. More than that, I was terrible at it. And if I had to suddenly date again, I’d still be horrendous.

If I followed the Internet’s advice to “date” my kids, it’d be a pretty ugly picture. I’d pick Will up and accidentally bring flowers to which he’s allergic. Then I’d nervously stammer and stutter my way through dinner, while wondering if it’s expected that I pay, or tell Will to fork over his allowance in an attempt to be egalitarian and progressive to pick up his share of the tab. Although to be fair, either scenario likely ends with me just getting a hug and kiss on the cheek before calling it a night.

Even the “relationship experts” who tell me to date my wife are way off base. Dating was such a horror show, I never want to go back to that. True story, on my first date with MJ I unknowingly referred to the penis size of one of her relatives (LONG story). I’m not even kidding. That’s how bad I am at dating. And saying the right thing. And having any game whatsoever. The point is, I don’t want to date. I want to be married and spend time with my wife. I don’t need to pretend to date because the reality of marriage is so much better.

The same goes for my kids.

I’m horrible at dating and I hated it, but I’m good at being a dad and I love spending time with them. And that’s all this is. It’s not dating, it’s spending quality time with our kids. It’s being an involved parent. So let’s just call it that without invoking dating and all that comes with it.

And when it comes time for my boys to actually start dating, let’s hope they fare better than their father.

Share Button

The Parents of Leelah Alcorn Broke the Cardinal Rule of Parenting

leelah

Love your kids unconditionally, keep them safe, and always be there for them.

Leelah Alcorn, born Joshua Alcorn, was a 17-year-old transgender Ohio kid who took her own life last week because her parents couldn’t follow that most basic and universal tenet of parenting. After telling her parents she has long identified as a girl trapped in a boy’s body, they responded by negatively judging her, removing her from school, taking away her online support network, and sending her to Christian therapists who reinforced her parents’ views that what she was doing was against God’s will.

And that, according to her suicide note published online (which cannot be linked to because her parents asked Tumblr to remove it), is what led to her throwing herself in front of a tractor-trailer last Sunday.

In the aftermath of this totally preventable tragedy, some have said it’s bad form to “bash” parents who have just lost a child. Others think making a big deal of this story in the press will only serve to cast Leelah Alcorn as a martyr, thereby legitimizing suicide as a viable solution for kids in similar situations.

I believe those people are wrong on both counts.

On the latter point, transgender kids are already at a heightened risk of suicide. According to the Youth Suicide Prevention Program, half of all transgender youths attempt suicide at least once by the time they turn 20. Thinking the media spotlight on Leelah Alcorn’s death will be the catalyst for heightened suicide attempts is a misguided attempt to brush off an uncomfortable conversation. After all, this is an important story and one that absolutely must be told, because it shines a light on a subject far too many people would rather leave festering in the shadows.

And finally, while I wouldn’t wish the loss of a child on any parent, it is vital to talk about the fact – and it is a fact – that the actions of Leelah Alcorn’s parents directly contributed to her death. Here she is in her own words.

“When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.

My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.”

She also described what happened when she came out as gay at school, which included a mostly positive reaction from friends, but non-acceptance from her parents. Leelah’s parents then removed her from school and took away her phone and laptop, which separated her from social media and online support networks. She spoke of “No friends, no support, no love. Just my parents’ disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.”

As I watched this story unfold during the last few days, I held out hope for one final potential silver lining: Leelah’s parents ultimately accepting their daughter’s gender identity, and finally seeing how their actions contributed to her death. Unfortunately, after Leelah’s mother was interviewed by CNN, it appears that’s too much to ask.

“We don’t support that, religiously,” Carla Alcorn told CNN, regarding Leelah’s request to live as a girl. “But we told him we loved him unconditionally. We loved him no matter what. I loved my son. People need to know that I loved him. He was a good kid, a good boy.”

First of all, if your religion says it’s a sin to be a homosexual or for boys to live as girls, imagine what it says about parental intolerance that directly contributes to the death of your child. But second, and most disappointing, even after Leelah’s death and subsequent suicide note begging for her death to mean something and help other transgender kids, her mother STILL couldn’t bring herself to refer to Leelah as “she.” And aside from Leelah’s death, her mother’s reaction after the fact is one of the most devastating parts of this story.

The reason we need to criticize Leelah’s parents and shine a light on their behavior, is because it directly contributed to the death of a child. The two people who created her – the two people on this planet who should love and accept her the most – turned their backs on her. More than that, they yanked Leelah’s support network while she was depressed, which is exactly when she needed it most. And then they sent her to religious “counselors” who perpetuated shaming tactics and reinforced the idea Leelah was an affront to herself, God, and her parents.

As a parent, that is unconscionable. That is unacceptable. And that is the kind of abhorrent behavior that needs to be exposed so fewer people will repeat this mistake.

“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.”

If Will or Sam came to me and told me they were gay or transgender, then I’d be the proudest damn father of a gay or transgender kid you’ve ever seen. I might not fully understand it and I’d probably have some reservations, but we’d talk about it. And I’d support them. And I’d let them know no matter what happens, they are loved by their mother and me to the max.

Parents, love your damn kids unconditionally. Real unconditional love, not love that’s dependent on things like sexual orientation and gender. It’s your main job and it’s your most important responsibility. It’s also the best way to honor Leelah Alcorn’s last wish, and give transgender kids in this country the love and support her parents couldn’t provide her.

If you’re in a similar situation and contemplating suicide, please reach out. To a friend, parent, teacher, or a professional at places like TransLifeline.org.

Share Button

Why I Never Want to be a Stay-at-Home Dad

badsahd

“If things were different and I didn’t have to work full time, I’d love to be a stay-at-home dad.”

Like many working dads I know, I’ve said that a lot over the years. After all, these two kids are my life. My heart and soul. My reason for existing and doing what I do. They are, quite literally, the best parts of me. So knowing all that, what kind of dad wouldn’t want to genuinely quit his job and be a stay-at-home dad?

This kind. Right here. Me.

I was on vacation last week, which means I spent a ton of time with my two sons. And I enjoyed that time. Most of that time. Definitely some of it, anyway.

But in between wrestling a screwdriver out of Sam’s hands with my oldest on my back, and trying to figure out how Sam managed to make Chinese the default language on my smartphone, I came to a realization. An epiphany, if you will.

I don’t want to be a stay-at-home dad. Not even a little bit. Not ever.

Now let me make something very clear. I love stay-at-home dads and I support them 100%. I know a TON of guys who made this decision, and they are badasses whom I love. I’m not denigrating them or downplaying what they do. What I’m writing is not meant as an insult to stay-at-home dads, nor will it turn into into yet another piece by a working parent blowing sunshine up the collective asses of at-home parents while spouting that “hardest job in the world” nonsense (your job is not more difficult than coal miners, those Deadliest Catch guys, military personnel, cops, firefighters, and air traffic controllers).

This is about me. It’s about finally overcoming the self-imposed shame and stigma of not wanting to care for my kids full time. Because that’s not an easy thing to admit — to you or to myself.

I feel like a hypocrite because my true feelings go against everything I’ve said since Will was born. For years I’ve been telling people I’d love to try my hand at being a full-time stay-at-home dad. I’d talk about how freeing and wonderful it would be to slip my corporate shackles and shed my primary breadwinner responsibilities in favor of play dates. As a proponent of involved fatherhood, I’ve spoken at length about how — if circumstances were different — I’d happily be home taking care of the kids and bucking societal gender norms.

But I overlooked one pretty important factor: I wouldn’t be very good at it.

Don’t confuse that with me not being able to do the job. I could keep the house reasonably clean, get my oldest to school with a packed lunch, and keep the youngest one alive. I could be a full-time, stay-at-home dad. But being able to do something and being good at something are two very different things.

And watching how phenomenal my wife is as a stay-at-home mom, I simply realized this is an area in which I wouldn’t excel.

For starters, I love to work and I need to work. Working fulfills me, and if I didn’t have that I wouldn’t be very happy. Of course my kids fulfill me too (albeit in a completely different way), but for years I felt guilty about saying I liked to work. That I needed to work. It felt like ignoring my kids or prioritizing myself above them.

I also don’t have the right temperament for the job. I don’t do well with imaginative or creative play, mainly because (and this sounds even more horrible) I’m not a huge fan of babies and little kids. I’m much better starting around age 3. Add to that, even as a kid I always hated arts and crafts. And the chances of me becoming a “Pinterest Parent” are slim to none.

MJ does all those things and she does them well. I marvel at her ability to seamlessly get through the day while weathering Hurricane Sam and even managing to make things educational for him in the process. Where I break down and tear my hair out, she finds a way to redirect him and engage him in something I never would have thought of in a million years.

As Will has gotten older I’ve been able to relate to him a lot more, but when they’re little I’m just frustrated and confused. I’m still occasionally silly and I get down on the floor to play, but I know my strength will be relating to my boys as they get older — a time my wife admits she is dreading.

You stay-at-home parents do an amazing job. A tough job. And, as I’m finally ready to admit, you do a job I just don’t want to do. After nearly seven years and a hefty heaping of guilt, I’m finally OK with that. I’ve talked to a lot of at-home parents who admit they couldn’t handle going to work full time, and that’s OK too.

The trick is finding someone who complements you by being strong where you’re weak, and vice versa. MJ can’t work right now and I’d go crazy at home full time. It works for us. It works for now.

So I have this to say to working parents who love to work: stop beating yourself up for not wanting to be home full time. It’s not a character flaw and it doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids. You can be a good parent and still love to work, as long as you find the right blend of home and career. And there’s certainly something to be said for modeling hard work and professional success to your kids.

Stepping back and taking an honest look at the situation has given me clarity, relieved me of some guilt and doubt, and made me ever more appreciative of the job my wife does at home. If you’re in the same boat I was, I wish the same for you.

And for the single parents laughing to yourselves and calling me a wimp because you’re out there working and parenting full-time every day without any help, you’re right. You folks really are superheroes!

Share Button

7 Little Remedies for Babies With Colic

littleremedies_gripewater

A year ago, MJ and I were in the throes of Sam’s unrelenting colic. And it was horrible.

While we had the run of the mill newborn experience with Will, Sam was a different animal altogether. An angry, howling, strictly nocturnal creature who refused to sleep or go gently into any good night. His colic was intense and nightmarish, and — well, I didn’t deal with it very well.

But that doesn’t mean you need to make the same mistake. Here are some of the tricks of the trade I learned over the years when dealing with a colicky baby.

—————————————

7. Swaddle
I naively thought swaddling was just wrapping a blanket around the kid. I was wrong. It’s truly an art form. You have to wrap in a way that stops the baby from being able to wiggle his arms free. They like to feel like they’re in a safe, warm cocoon not all that dissimilar from the womb. Once you perfect the “baby burrito” technique, that’ll help a lot.

6. Shift Your Position
Sometimes the way you like to hold the baby isn’t the way the baby wants to be held. You’ve got to try a whole bunch of different positions and experiment to see which one works the best. A lot of times, putting an arm under Sam’s belly and holding him face down seemed to work. I’m not sure why, but it doesn’t matter. Whatever works.

5. White Noise
Look, I’m not a doctor. I have no idea if this really works or not. But years ago with Will we bought a white noise machine from Brookstone, and it is one of the best purchases we ever made. When Sam was struggling to sleep, we stole borrowed it from Will and gave it to Sam. We put it on the setting for “fetal heartbeat” (a sound that closely resembles the sound of mom’s heartbeat a baby can hear in the womb) and it did seem to help him relax a little.

4. Pacifiers
Babies have a natural instinct to suck (pun intended). Sucking on a nipple or bottle means comfort for the baby, so when either or those isn’t available, try a pacifier. It’s not only comforting for the kid and will put him at ease, some researchers also believe it cuts down on the risk of SIDS. Unfortunately, Sam was one of the only babies on Earth who refused to take a pacifier!

3. Babywearing
This one is slightly hypocritical since I hate babywearing and refuse to do it. But nonetheless, a lot of people feel differently and a lot of babies respond very well to it. So if you have a colicky baby who isn’t responding to anything else, try putting him/her in a sling and wearing the baby close for comfort.

2. Burping
When in doubt, burp. Babies who have been crying incessantly have a tendency to gulp down a boatload of air, which can cause a lot of gas and make the crying and discomfort even worse. So burp the kid and get some relief. Normally I like to just throw him up on my shoulder and thump his back a bit, but at other times it’s also good to lay him across my knees or put my arm under his belly and burp him that way. Whatever works best for you.

1. Use Little Remedies Gas Drops & Gripe Water
Sometimes all of the above just aren’t enough. Luckily, that’s where Little Remedies comes in. There are two products we used with Sam that gave him (and us) relief. The first is Little Remedies Gas Drops which help quickly relieve tummy pain from excess gas, while gently easing stomach discomfort and bloating. Like all Little Remedies products, there are no artificial colors or flavors, no alcohol, saccharin, or preservatives. It can even be mixed with 1 ounce of water, formula, or other liquid. The second product is Little Remedies Gripe Water. This was a huge help to us when Sam was colicky, and especially when he couldn’t stop hiccuping after crying so much. It’s very safe and natural — with no alcohol or gluten — and reduces air buildup.

My wife and I are very cognizant of what goes into our kids’ bodies, and we use Little Remedies at every turn because they go by the idea that “less is more,” and none of their products contain artificial flavors, colors, or alcohol.

***Disclaimer: I was compensated by Little Remedies for this post. However, I used their products way before they ever approached me and I stand by their effectiveness and endorse them 100%. Check out their website and Facebook page.

Share Button

My Son Is Starting to Doubt Santa – And That’s OK

santame

“Dad, I know the Santa Alarm isn’t real.”

The alarm my 6-year-old references is a tool we use to keep him upstairs on Christmas morning until he wakes us up and we’re all able to go down together.  It’s something my father did to my brother and I for years (more than I’m willing to admit here). I’ve never actually specified what happens if the Santa Alarm is tripped, but years ago Will chose to believe all of his presents would disappear. I never confirmed that fear, but I didn’t exactly refute it either.

But apparently he broached the topic with kids at school, who told him they’ve been downstairs before their parents woke up. Heck, they even opened a gift or two. Lo and behold, none of Santa’s gifts self-destructed or magically transported themselves back to the North Pole.

“It just doesn’t make sense, dad. It’s impossible for the presents to just disappear. That’s how I know you’re lying about the Santa Alarm.”

First of all, never underestimate the ability of small children to start huge and complex discussions just before bedtime. Second, uh oh!

This is the first brick removed from the wall. The initial pinprick leak in the dam. The chink in the armor that will one day spiderweb across the magical innocence of my son’s youth until it finally shatters into a million pieces and disintegrates upon impact.

And honestly, I’m torn on how to feel.

I have walked the Santa tightrope ever since becoming a parent. Before Will was born, I swore I wouldn’t perpetuate the Santa Myth. I was going to be that parent who didn’t unnecessarily lie to his kids. I was going to promote logical thinking and watch with pride as my son used deductive reasoning to summarily disprove and dismiss Santa. And if that upset the parents of his school friends, too bad. They shouldn’t have lied to their kids.

But then I actually became a parent and witnessed firsthand the magic that comes with Santa. Because it is real.

I loved his excitement at the thought of a larger than life figure coming to visit him in the dead of night to deliver gifts. How he longed to feed the reindeer and make sure they’re hydrated enough to continue the journey.  I envied the complete glee and wonder he displayed when one of Santa’s sleigh bells found its way into his stocking. Say what you want, but there truly is magic in it.

And yet…

When he started putting two and two together about the Santa Alarm being fake, I was surprised my first emotion wasn’t fear, panic, and loathing the impending loss of youthful naivete. It was pride. Maybe it’s the journalist in me, but I was proud of him for checking with sources, applying reason, and coming to a common sense conclusion. The correct conclusion, I might add.

In that moment, I couldn’t lie to him. Yet I also didn’t come out and tell him the truth. Instead, I applauded his efforts and told him we all need to gather information and use it to determine what we do and do not believe in. I was like a shrink, turning it around on him and asking “Well what do YOU believe?” I felt like a government official at a press conference in that I would neither confirm nor deny the reality of the Santa Alarm.

Is it a cop-out? Yeah, kinda. But I also think it’s best right now.

He still believes in Santa. I like that. But I also know today it’s the Santa Alarm, but next year (or the year after or the year after that) it’s going to be doubting flying reindeer. And then the mathematical impossibility of Santa visiting every kid’s house in one night the world over. And eventually, the existence of the Big Man himself.

I think too many parents mourn the loss of youthful innocence, while forgetting to simultaneously celebrate the intellectual advancements maturity brings with it. Both have a place in our house, and neither one is better or worse than the other.

One day Santa will be gone, but there’s still magic to be had as your children grow and learn to think for themselves.

Share Button