Parenting Hacks: Learn From My Mistakes

We have a wonderful bedtime routine going right now. Edie and I and her other dad (I am Papa and he is Dad) all get into her bed after she tends to her oral hygiene and any waste management needs. We read. We laugh. Sometimes there are tears, depending on how tired she is (ok, sometimes I am the one crying). Usually she wants to say the Lord’s Prayer/ Our Father. I sit in a chair and Daddy lays on the floor for a bit as she drifts off while I sing.

Tonight we read a book that was given to Edie as a birthday gift from a friend. If you don’t have it you should order it right now. Here, it is:

It’s wonderful in it’s discussion about feelings and all the various ways that a heart can feel and why. Beautifully written and conversation inducing. Edie started asking us questions tonight as we were reading it. She wanted us to give instances when we felt certain ways: happy, sad, scared, shy, etc. She shared her examples as well and it was a really thoughtful moment and glimpse into her emotional development.

One of the things she asked me was what made me sad. I told her that as a parent the thing that can make me sad is when I feel I have made a mistake or acted harshly as a parent. I don’t think she totally understood what I was getting at. I do want her to know that I recognize my mistakes and shortcomings as a parent, and as a human. I also think that her understanding of such topics happens incrementally and often gradually, so it’s ok to talk about things that are still slightly out of reach intellectually.

So it made me think that perhaps I could share a few of my mistakes I have made along the way. When I was a brand new parent I was always interested in hearing from parents about the mistakes they had made. It helped me to feel capable of parenting, even as a flawed person,and also to look for ways to avoid the same errors. I share this as a way of sharing with other parents. A way to say that you are capable, flaws and all, and maybe a way to help you to avoid some of the same mistakes I make. I am usually my own biggest critic and I’m sure like some of you feel that I’m often making more mistakes than not. So, the list is long but I’ll share the top three.

My Top Three Parenting Goofs

1. Lacking Patience

I absolutely hate myself when I am not patient with Edith. This is a mistake I make as she has gotten older. I have to remind myself that she is not trying to “push my buttons”. She is a tiny awesome human learning to navigate feelings and desires in a world where she is trying to slowly assert some level of autonomy.

I find that when I slow down and explain things calmly and kindly she is more apt to listen and respond reasonably. I find the same to be true of having a negative or biting tone with her. I don’t like when anyone speaks to Edith in a condescending or negative tone. Even when frustrated, it’s important to stay kind. As I like to remind myself, my voice becomes her inner voice. Patience and kindness go along way. In doing so I am teaching her to be patient and kind to herself and others.

2. Buying Too Much Stuff

I love to shop. I try really hard to be green and consider the environment in everything that I do. I must say though, when it comes to shopping, I struggle. I like the feeling I get when shopping. I like pretty things. I like clothes and shoes. I even like going to the mall some times. And Target, oh Target how I love thee. I try and follow a spending plan. I also buy a lot second hand, particularly furniture and decor. I have gone through seasons of buying way too many clothes and clothes that were too expensive for a little person. Recently we got rid of our toy room and got rid of some things. Edie toys now all fit in her room and that feels a little less excessive.

I also have stopped buying too many clothes, well ok, maybe I am still working on this one. However, I do buy less expensive things. We are obsessed with Get 20% off your first order at Primary.com with code AFF20PCT Primary. Their clothes are adorable, soft, practical, and reasonable reasonable reasonable. Follow the link and get a great little discount and no shipping fees.

3. Spending Too Much Time On My Phone

This is such a tricky tricky one. Edie doesn’t watch tv ( see Set Free From TV) and is quite low tech. However, I do look at mine way too much. I mean I am trying to do this blogging thing and that requires some phone time. However, we all know that we are hooked and that is what the makers of the technology want. We also now know that kids feel neglected by grown ups looking at their phones when we should be focusing our attention and gaze toward them. Edie recently has been trying to turn the internet off so that no one can have access to their phones. Ugh. Lesson learned. Hopefully. There is a sign at a local establishment nearby that warns parents “Stay off your phone and give your kids the attention they deserve.” I don’t want Edith to be addicted so I have to work on my own addiction as well.

Maybe I will make this a regular topic here on the blog. Would you mind sharing one of your parenting mistakes? I would be very curious to hear what you think you suck at! Just kidding. I think it helps us all to feel more human and less awful when we know we aren’t in this alone. So, chin up parent. We can learn from our mistakes and each other’s. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to go as my screen time minutes are a bit high for today. Edie is always watching.

The Reason I Stay: The Life of a Stay-at-Home Dad

Our daughter, Edith, just turned four. It really is crazy and incredible and I can hardly believe that it has been four years already. As I have mentioned in other posts, this is the final Spring and Summer before she starts school in the Fall. We are so very excited that she will be attending a Waldorf School. (More posts about that in the future). However, I am sad too, because it will be the end of a portion of my life with Edith that I have been very fond of: the stay-at-home-dad years.

I feel so very lucky that we were able to figure out how to make it work for me to stay at home. Being a dad (Papa actually) that stays home brings it’s own awkward moments and plenty of moms giving unsolicited advice. We still have a very pervasive attitude in our culture that men are merely babysitters and aren’t fully capable of parenting. I have wonderful and smart friends and none of them have ever “momsplained” anything to me, but plenty of strangers have:

“Put that girls hat on!”

“Giving mommy a break?”

“Do you have the day off today daddy?”

“Shouldn’t you be working?”

“You are doing a good job, daddy, how great that you are helping out!”

Gag. Gag. Gag. And these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Dads are parents too. This is doubly true of folks lucky enough to have two of them. Mostly we laugh these off but sometimes and on some days it can get to you at least a little bit.

I always get very excited when I run into another dad who stays at home. In fact if you are reading this and you are one please message me. We should definitely be friends. I’m not sure if stay-at-home-moms get the same line of questioning but I do get asked to sort of justify my choice to be at home. So, I thought I would share the reasons we chose for me to stay home. I say “we” because clearly I have the best husband on the planet and we make our decisions together. Usually. Unless it’s about how to spend $200 a week at Target. That’s all on me.

So here are the reasons I stay home.

1. I wanted to parent more than anything

I waited until I was almost 40 to be a parent. For a large part of my life I didn’t even think being a gay parent was an option. I want to be the best parent I can be. For me, this means spending as much time as possible with Edie in her formative years. I want to set the pace of the day for her and be there when she reaches milestones. I liked being a teacher and making money but nothing at all compares to the responsibility and reward of being a parent every single day.

2. She is my only child

Perhaps if we had started earlier, or if adoption wasn’t so darn expensive, or if having multiple children wasn’t so expensive then we would have had more than one. As it stands though she is my only child and most likely always will be. (Unless I get pregnant naturally). I literally can’t believe that my time as stay-at-home Papa is getting remotely close to ending. I have learned so much about myself, the world, and my husband during this time. I also feel like I’m just now getting ok at this parenting thing. Like many of you I feel like I suck most of the time. However, I give it my all because she is my all.

3. I want Edie to love herself

This is my absolute top goal as a parent. I want Edie to love herself and to love others. It’s also part of why we are raising Edith in a faith community. I want to be here to show her how to speak kindly to herself and others. I want to be there to help her navigate racism as best I can and to help her love herself so much that she can stand brave and tall in the face of injustice. I want to be there to help her build her confidence and to find her voice. Again, I mess up almost every single day and as a white man I am still learning, but we are determined that she love herself.

4. I stay home so Edie knows we will always be there

I should make sure that you know that I didn’t love my job as a teacher. So, quitting a job you don’t like is never too difficult. I should also say that though my husband works a full time job as an attorney he too makes tons of sacrifices. He rushes home on the 5 pm train to insure he sees Edie for at least an hour every evening and he is at her beck and call all weekend. We make sacrifices of our time to be with her because we want her to know that she is our priority and that we will always be there. This is certainly not to say that working parents do not do this. I am not judging anyone’s choices at all. I’m simply explaining our choice!

5. Who wouldn’t want to play all day?

Of course there are tough times. Most of the time by Friday I’m so tired and just want a moment or two to myself. However, I basically get to play all day and spend a large chunk of time outdoors. What’s not to love? Today, for example, we made pancakes, we did some chores, played with baby dolls, painted, went to the library, read, danced, did gymnastics in the family room, colored, played in the yard, walked the dog, and drew before bed.

Perhaps you are a stay-at-home parent as well and can relate to some of these. Maybe you are thinking about taking the leap into the land of parenting from home every day. I’d love to hear from you about your own experiences. Also, if you are a fellow stay-at-home-dad message me! We can start a club.

What are your thoughts on staying home to parent?

Get Out! Enjoying the Outdoors With Your Little One Everyday

It’s that time of year when it is starting to feel like it has been winter forever. In fact, in New England, where we live, it has been cold now for five months. Though we haven’t had much snow this year we have had dark, gray, and cold and we are all a bit ready for Spring. Today was the last official day of winter and Edith and I decided it would be the perfect beach day. And it was.

The temperature was right around 40, though the wind made it feel more like 26. The sun however was doing it’s thing and was lovely and invigorating. As we were climbing rocks and hunting for treasures I started thinking about how we had the place to ourselves. In fact, we went to two separate beaches and had both to ourselves, except for the birds and crabs.

As a stay-at -home parent being outside every day has been a priority and a real life saver. Not only does it give structure and meaning, it also helps us to stay healthy, calm, and refreshed. I read recently that Americans spend 97% of their time indoors. I also read that young children should be outside at least 3 hours, though preferably between 4 and 6! I definitely fall short of that some times though I’m always looking for ways to increase our time outside. It’s good for me, it’s good for her, and it’s good for the dog. If you are looking for ways to get out and stay outdoors more then here are some tips!

Top 5 Ways to Play Outside More:

1. Dress The Part

As the saying goes, “There’s no bad weather, just the wrong clothes.” We have found that layers are key. Edie is a real Yankee and is almost never cold unless it’s below 10. When it is that cold we definitely stay inside more. However, with layers we can stay out much longer. In the winter that means we wear all of Our LL Bean gear at once. This means snow pants and boots too, as well as good quality gloves. The cheap Target ones are cute but do not work for longer periods of time. Layer and stay!

2.Open Ended Play Is Best

While at times it’s good to have a mission or even a game as a focus, the best play is usually open ended. Backyards or beaches make great locations for this type of explorative play. In the backyard it’s good to have some old kitchen tools, buckets, old cookie trays, sticks, wagons, or other materials. After or during a rain storm these are even more fun. Always begin one of these play sessions by saying, “it’s ok to get dirty and make a mess as long as we are being safe!” I always tell Edith, “when you are dirty you know you’ve had fun!” This takes the pressure off and sets clear expectations.

3.Create a Mission Or Project:

Edie and I have a little wooden box with compartments that we use for all sorts of things. One way we use it is to organize and categorize our collections. Sea glass and shells are definitely our thing. We have multiple full jars and containers throughout our house. We use this box to help learn sorting and categorizing. It’s also aesthetically pleasing. The point is that you can set our on a mission. We will often collect things related to the season: pine cones in fall, sticks in winter, etc. It can be as simple as collecting rocks or looking for sticks in the backyard. Make it a mission and make it fun.

4. Grow Something Together

When you plant, feed, water, and wait together with your little ones there are so many fun and rewarding experiences to be had. It doesn’t have to be anything huge. We have a small vegetable garden. We love growing strawberries. Flowers are my favorite and provides an experience in most seasons. Even in winter, Edith will check the strawberry patch to see how it’s fairing. There are lessons on conservation and environmentalism to be learned as well as patience and all the amazing bugs. Right now, we are enjoying the birds at our feeder and watching the daffodils, hyacinth, and tulips slowly emerge.

5. Schedule It Every Day

We all live to follow a rhythm to our day that is predictable and orderly. This is particularly true for children. What do you do all day? Scheduling a Successful Day As a Stay-At-Home-Parent is one of my posts about scheduling if you haven’t read that yet. Schedule your time outside and make it a priority. Try and keep to the same time frame every day. Break it up if the weather is too nasty or cold (or hot). Schedule meals outside too when possible as a little picnic is good for the soul.

I’m curious…how much time do you spend outside with your children? What are other ways to get out more?

How can you get out more tomorrow?

Birthday Basics: Picking Gifts For A Four-Year-Old Girl

Edie will be four in less than two weeks. It seems quite impossible. The old saying that “the days are long but the years are short” is so completely true. Today is a Friday and usually by Friday I feel pretty bad about my stay-at-home parenting skills. I’ve lost my cool a few times and let Edie push my buttons a bit today as only an almost four-year-old can do. I think she must have asked me several times , “Are you mad, sad, or frustrated?” When my answer was simply “Yes.” Her response was “Don’t be Papa.”

It is so strange to watch your child grow from a docile lump into this person with will and opinions. That will and those opinions are often at odds with my own and a struggle ensues. I love the person she is becoming, however, and mostly I just have to learn to let her have power when appropriate and to pick my old proverbial battles.

At 4, I feel like I can begin to describe who she is as a person and while I know some of those will change, it’s still fun and fascinating. The thing is, I really like her. I feel so lucky to be her Papa and as I get to know her more I like who she is becoming.

Edie, or Edith, as she now prefers, is observant. She is quiet and often serious as she observes every single detail in her surroundings and remembers everything. Edith is kind. I have seen her offer kids a hand of help when no one is watching. I have seen her face true concerned when she sees someone else who is upset. Edith is expressive. She loves creating and dancing and painting and singing. I can’t wait to see what she creates as she ages. Edith is funny. This one is important in our family. She loves to laugh and make others laugh she will gladly fall down to get a smile from someone. Edith is perfect. I know that some parents disagree with saying that to their kids, but I tell her that almost every day. She will hear the opposite plenty in her life so I want her to know she is exactly who she should be and that she is enough.

Ok, I’ll stop gushing now. Edie is adored and she is loved. We will celebrate her with a simple party at home. Some brunch (hello…gay dads) and some cake with a gymnast design on it per her directions. We will have a few games and some face painting. Here are a few of the gifts she’s getting. Check them out for the fourish year old in your life.

(This post contains some affiliate links. This means I might get compensated at no cost to you)

1. We are big Waldorf Education fans. We hope that Edie will attend a Waldorf in the future. She learned about candle dipping at a Waldorf event and she loved it. She is getting this nice kit from one of my favorite shops, Bella Luna Toys. Check them out!

2. Edie loves taking pictures and clearly we think she’s brilliant so she’s getting a camera. This one is a good deal and is waterproof, too. A bonus for beach visits and rainy days!

3. Obviously, Edie is getting dresses from Primary. These are so cute and only $14 right now. Annnnddddd they are so soft and wash perfectly. Want to buy cute spring looks at 20% off and free shipping?? Well, here you go…
Get 20% off your first order at Primary.com with code AFF20PCT

4. Ok, one more from our faves at Bella Luna. This adorable little Loom is the perfect starter model. Low commitment and low price until we see if she enjoys its. Bella Luna also has great dolls and some wonderful wooden toys as well.

5. I mentioned the face paint we will be doing at the party. It’s comes from a shop we have mentioned before, Ecokids, from our favorite state of Maine. Edie is also getting a few art supplies from them. We love their paint and their finger paint as well.

These picks are simple and hopefully help to encourage Edie to be her true self. We look forward to celebrating her and loving her more every day. We also look forward to when the tantrums stop. They do stop right?

Happy Spring. Happy Birthday, Edith Daring. You are loved.

What do you do all day? Scheduling a Successful Day As a Stay-At-Home-Parent

I decided I really needed to start this entry by sharing a picture of an activity that was unscheduled. One of the things I have learned, actually a skill I transferred to parenting from my teaching career, is the ability to recognize opportunities that present themselves to experience unplanned joy. This picture of Edie playing in my grandmother’s flooded backyard with her cousin captures a perfect example of such joy. Being open to opportunities to laugh, get dirty, and try something new are essential for young kids and their caregivers alike.

Having said that, I also know the importance of a routine and some planning. I think this can be one thing that parents struggle with. It can be especially tricky for stay-at-home parents. There are definitely those days, particularly during the cold winter months, where the time where Edie and I are home alone can feel like an eternity. As has been said by many parents, “The days are long, but the years are short.”

Here are just a few things that I have found helpful along the way to keep Edie engaged and learning, and to keep me sane and learning too.

Make a Physical Calendar

Particularly as kids age I think a consistent routine and set activities can be helpful. We have an old chalkboard that is in our kitchen. On one side it has the full month and any regularly schedule activities. My husband and I can also use this place to remind each other of any events that we are attending or appointments to remember.

On the other side we have a simple checklist. Edie and I create this every day and she has choice and a voice, something that is exceptionally important for her and all three year olds. She helps me figure out the day of the week and the weather. Some times she adds drawings. It helps her with number sense and to learn the days of the week and months.

I have considered an hourly schedule and I might do that as she ages and gets closer to school ( I’m not crying you are!) For now, though, the list works and keeps us both accountable. It gives her something to check off after dinner each night.

Go Do Something Everyday

If you can, then you should join the YMCA. It’s been a lifesaver for us. We have regularly schedule swimming as well as gymnastics class. Most Y’s have a babysitting service too if you are into that and need a minute or a workout yourself. Go to your local museum.

We are lucky to have the Peabody Essex Museum nearby. They have a wonderful pre-school hour each week as well as many other opportunities for young children and families. Don’t forget your library. When I first started staying at home I did not get out enough with Edie. Yes, we went to the beach every day and took walks but I mean organized activities with other kids. I think it not only helps with their development but is a great way to meet other parents too.

Some days it’s just grocery store and dry cleaners while other days (too many days if you ask my husband) it is running to Target or our favorite Thrift Shops. Just get out!

Creativity and Pre-Academic Skills Focus

Take time every single day to make something with your little one. Some of my favorite moments are painting and drawing with Edie. We also love utilizing our massive sea glass collection in a variety of ways. A little glue and some string or paper goes a long way. Of course painting is one of Edith’s favorites. Check out Ecokids for a wonderful line of paints, clay, crayons and more. You will not be disappointed.

Edie has been very into letters, writing, reading, and numbers lately. When we go to Target we almost always buy something like this Workbook. I am definitely against pushing literacy too early. In fact as a former teacher I could devote an entire blog to that topic alone. However, if that is an interest your child has then go for it. They even make cute paint by number workbooks that help with all sorts of skills.

Include Little Ones In Household Jobs

Little ones love to be a part of household tasks like cleaning, cooking, organizing, shopping, pet care, etc. There are also lots of reasons why chores are important and beneficial. Here is a great article from the New York Times highlighting some reasons why.

One way that I love to include Edie is dinner prep. Getting her involved has made dinner prep so much easier and less stressful and since we are tv free (see blogSet Free From TV) , she is engaged and not bored while I’m cooking. We bought these great knives that she is quite good with and we have fun cooking together.
. Edie also helps with laundry, dishes, and feeding the dog as well as dusting and floors. I had to let go of some of my control freak overly clean tendencies but that’s ok. Mostly.

Go Outside

Buying clothes to help you enjoy the outdoors in every weather condition is very important. Not only is the fresh air good for you and your little ones’ mental health and physical health, it can make a day much more fun and interesting. We are lucky enough to live a few blocks from the ocean and we go there in all seasons. Yes, the summer is still our favorite but there is something to do and explore all year long.

Let me know what you think? What tips am I missing? Don’t be afraid to schedule as little or as much as works for you and your family. Remember that consistency and clear expectations make our kids feel safe and secure, but don’t be afraid to seize moments of adventure! Go play!