Fabulous Film Fathers

With the snow and cold weather out, my boys and I have been taking advantage of Netflix and our local library to watch some movies.  I’ve noticed a couple that showed some good examples of fatherhood.  Just a warning: Spoilers Be Ahead.  If you haven’t seen Despicable me or Shrek Forever After yet, you might want to bookmark this article and come back later.  Otherwise, dive on in.

Despicable Me

The main character, Gru, is a villain.  He’s first introduced noticing a little boy crying over a dropped ice cream cone.  He cheers up the boy by crafting a balloon animal… and then shows his true colors as he pops it making the boy sadder than he was to begin with.  Not quite your ideal father figure, right?  Especially when his motive for adopting three girls is to gain access to another villains lair so he can steal a shrink ray that he plans on using to steal the Moon.

In flashbacks, we are shown Gru constantly trying to please his mother to no avail.  He says he’d like to go to the Moon.  She responds by telling him they stopped sending up monkeys.  He shows a spaceship design, she dismisses it.  Even a working model fails to impress her.  He hasn’t exactly grown up learning how to be a loving parent.

As his plans for stealing the Moon progress, the girls pry open Gru’s cold heart.  He supports them against a carnival worker who tries to cheat them out of a prize.  (In typical villain fashion, he trades the baseball to be thrown with a giant plasma cannon.)  He finds the girls becoming less of a chore and annoyance that get in the way of what he really wants (stealing the Moon) and more of an experience that he looks forward to.  The movie leaves open the question as to whether he has turned completely from his villainous ways and become a hero.  In any event, he is definitely a good father in the end, gladly giving up his stolen prize to save his girls and then risking his life to save them.

This movie shows how parents often find themselves at conflict between what they wanted to do before having children and what they want to do after having kids.  Your priorities shift and things that previously seemed like the most important things in the world fall to the wayside.  Other activities that would previously make you want to run away screaming turn out to be the happiest times of your life.

Shrek Forever After

Shrek has definitely undergone a lot of changes in the four movies he has appeared in.  In the first movie, he fell in love.  In the second, he learns to love himself.  In the third, he comes to grips with his impending fatherhood.  In the fourth film, Shrek is shown to be living the hectic life of a parent.  And a famous one no less.  Every day is the same routine over and over and over again.  Every quiet moment he gets to himself is interrupted by someone or something.  He can’t even go to the bathroom in peace without a local tour group pointing out his potty activities.

By the time the triplet’s’ first birthday party rolls around, he is a raw bundle of nerves.  (Not so good for any parent, even worse for an ogre parent.)  He blows up at the party and storms away.  At this moment, Rumpelstiltskin steps in.  He offers Shrek one day of freedom.  Just one day where he doesn’t need to worry about being a husband and father.  He can go back to his old life for 24 hours.  The offer sounds glorious but, even in his at-wit’s-end state, Shrek senses a catch.  The catch is that Rumpelstiltskin will take one day from Shrek’s past.  A day from his childhood that he wouldn’t even remember.  Shrek signs the contract.

Suddenly, his world is turned upside down.  Shrek finds himself a feared, single ogre again.  He’s able to terrify villagers and do whatever he wants, whenever he wants.  But his happy romp takes a terrifying turn when he sees his home deserted (in fact, it looks like it was never occupied at all) and he is captured.  Donkey doesn’t remember him at all.  It turns out that Rumpelstiltskin’s taken day was the day Shrek was born.  This means he never existed, never rescued Fiona and never became a father.  Once his 24 hours of freedom are up, Shrek will fade away and this topsy-turvy world (where Rumpelstiltskin rules instead of being a vagabond) will be cemented in place.  This only chance to get out of the contract is to find Fiona and share True Love’s Kiss before his time runs out.

What follows is a series of desperate attempts by Shrek to find Fiona and get her to fall in love with him.  At one point, she even kisses Shrek but it has no effect.  Shrek realizes that, in this reality, she never fell in love with him.  Simply being there isn’t enough.  He needs to take an interest in her and support her to get her to love him once more.

The lesson here is twofold.  First off, being a parent can be stressful.  Any parent who tells you that they never feel any stress at all as they raise their kids is lying.  There will be times when you wish that you could just run off for a day and forget about being married with children.  But even in these darkest times, a parent will still love their kids.  They might want some time for themselves, but they would never truly wish for their kids to vanish completely.

The key is small doses of “kid freedom.”  Go on a date night with your spouse while the kids are with a trusted friend/relative/babysitter.  Have your spouse watch the kids while you run some errands alone.  Or have your spouse run the errands while you stay home alone and enjoy some solitude.  These little breaks will help keep you from an ogre-sized blow up.

The second lesson here doesn’t involve the kids as much as it involves the parents.  You can’t simply just “show up” and expect that your spouse will stay in love with you because you are you.  You need to constantly work on making your spouse fall in love with you all over again.  This can be with a previously mentioned date night or kid-break-period.  It could also be simply listening to your spouse when they are talking about something that interests them even if your couldn’t care less.  The little things can build up and help to strengthen a marriage.  And a healthy, happy marriage can lead to healthy, happy parenting.

Parenting Styles

As a father, I’m always on the look out for new useful parenting information. Raising children creates a constant need for guidance as problems arise.

As a father, I’m always on the look out for new useful parenting information. Raising children creates a constant need for guidance as problems arise. Seeking professional advice to navigate these unchartered waters makes sense. I recently came across a thought provoking article by Dr. Michele Borba titled “7 Deadly Parenting Styles of Modern Day Child Rearing.” It’s derived from her book “The Big Book of Parenting Solutions.” These seven parenting styles are essentially extreme variations of possible paths parents might take on their journey of raising children. In trying to determine if my wife and I fit into any of these styles, the results were quite surprising.

The following is the list of 7 Deadly Parenting Styles of Modern Day Child Rearing according to Dr. Michele Borba coupled with the real life experience of my wife and I as parents:

Deadly Style 1: Helicopter Parenting – Hovering over your kids, hurrying to smooth every one of life’s bumps.

Without question I would deem this sort of style a typical rookie parent trap. One naturally tries to protect one’s child from any negative experience. But over time one learns to allow the child to experience failure in order to learn coping mechanisms as well as build confidence. I would consider this style of parenting fairly common and easily outgrown. My wife and I would certainly be former Helicopter Parents.

Deadly Style 2: Incubator “Hothouse” Parenting – Pushing your kids into learning earlier than appropriate for their cognitive age and developmental level.

The pressure to push one’s child can be overwhelming. The sheer number of publications and web sites stressing more learning at earlier ages is stifling. Advertisements make outrageous claims of educational breakthroughs with the additional marketing ploy of instilling parental guilt if you as a parent don’t partake to give your child an edge. My wife and I were also former “Hothouse” Parents. Fortunately our son’s one smart cookie and was able to keep up or exceed the demands of the pressure we imparted. Our daughter has not been subjected to these pressures. The lesson learned here was to be aware of the child’s needs and to adapt accordingly.

Deadly Style 3: (Quick-Fix) Band-Aid Parenting – Relying on fast solutions to temporarily fix a problem, instead aiming for real, lasting change.

My wife and I still find ourselves falling into this style every so often. The reason usually comes down to lack of time management as well as proper preparation for a variety of contingencies.

Deadly Style 4: Buddy Parenting – Placing popularity with your child above establishing limits, boundaries or saying no.

This can be chalked up to the simple premise of wanting to always be loved by one’s child. I know I for one did not willingly like to partake in being the “bad guy” during the first couple years of my son’s life. Yet over time reason trumps this human frailty. As a parent, you either adapt and evolve to instill discipline in a child’s life or be prepared for the consequences of inaction in the future. Thankfully, my wife and I chose to be responsible parents. Yet Buddy Parenting was initially our style as well.

Deadly Style 5: Accessory Parenting – Measuring your worth and success as a parent based on your child’s accolades.

I can honestly say my wife and I did not ever participate in such a narcissistic style. We both are from humble backgrounds which may have played a crucial role in avoiding falling into the Accessory Parenting trap. If a parent respects their children as unique individuals rather than extensions of themselves, the potential bitterness that might develop in the relationship between child and parent can be avoided.

Deadly Style 6: Paranoid Parenting – Obsessively keeping your child safe from any physical or psychological harm.

In the uncertain world we live in, the temptation for parents to insulate one’s children from physical or psychological harm runs deep. To this day, my wife and I find ourselves shielding our children from certain ugly truths such as mass murder, terrorism, acts of violence upon children by adults and so forth. Yet we have taken the approach to disperse information to our children in doses that are age appropriate. This falls under the realm of Lying to your Children which I wrote about in a previous article. Information may be withheld until such as a time that they can comprehend the details.

In a more general sense, of course it’s okay to allow a child to fall off a bike or experience the sting of defeat. These are milestones in one’s life which build character.

So I wouldn’t deem my wife and I Paranoid Parents, but rather pragmatists. A full fledged Paranoid Parenting style over time would leave one’s children lacking coping skills in the future.

Deadly Style 7: Secondary Parenting – Relinquishing your influence such that your children’s world is controlled more by outsiders-including corporations, marketers and the media

To be fair, many parents need dual incomes to provide for their children. The result may indeed be a Secondary Parenting style. Many children in my generation grew up as “latch key” kids. Our parents gave us more responsibility at an early age. Yet we were not subjected at the time by the variety of choices of media that modern kids grapple with on a daily basis. In this era of instant demand, instant access for everything, today’s parents need to be completely engaged about controlling access. Also, maintaining a constant line of communication with primary care providers as well as one’s own children can make a huge difference. Secondary Style Parenting just simply needs to be redefined to reflect today’s world.

Final Thoughts

The results of examining the various styles of parenting offered a unique opportunity for introspection. As our children grow, so do we as parents. With any luck we’ll continue to evolve in order to adapt to the challenges the lie ahead. As time passes, more parenting styles will inevitably develop reflecting societal changes. New challenges, new priorities, yet the same desire to be the best parents we can be for our children.

What kind of parenting style have you employed? Did you ever fall into any of the above parenting styles?

Article originally published on CuteMonster.com

CuteMonster.comVincent Daly aka CuteMonsterDad is a graphic designer, writer, actor, artist and most importantly a husband and father. He is the founder of CuteMonster.com, a resource for Dads.

Lying To Your Children

That’s right folks, I lie to my kids. And I do it because I love them.

Originally published on CuteMonster.com

My entire life I’ve been told to tell the truth. The noble premise imparting “the truth shall set you free” forever ingrained in my mind. The memorable tale of George Washington admitting his complete guilt in the cherry tree massacre resulting in his personal transformational epiphany that truth holds more power than any lie. All wonderful deeply profound concepts I treasured. Then I had children. As they’ve grown more aware of the world and their surroundings, the use of the “little white lie” has gained prominence. That’s right folks, I lie to my kids. And I do it because I love them.

As a parent, you’re entrusted with the safety and well being of your children. With young kids, you are the primary source of information. The need to protect them at many times outweighs the necessity for truth. From terrorism to parents being caught in an intimate moment, kids sometimes need an alternative version to events that are transpiring before them. My 4 year old son’s latest obsession is the concept of dying. He’s aware of what dying means and yet he can’t comprehend fully why living things need to die. When a beloved family pet passed away last year my wife and I had to tread lightly on the subject until we felt he was ready to deal with a tragic loss. It’s amazing to what lengths a parent will go to shield a child from emotional pain.

On the other hand, the moral implication of lying to one’s children certainly becomes problematic if used too often as a crutch to control behavior. No doubt a slippery slope looms large for those who continue down the path of misinformation for convenience’s sake. Also, young kids really perceive more than we give them credit at times. Even at a tender age, they can discern between facial expressions versus the spoken word. In other words, unless you have a stellar poker face, they’ll know you’re lying. You risk eroding trust over time. Hence, the need for a balanced approach.

Like fatherhood, the following list is an evolving work in progress on major exceptions to telling the truth to young children:

  1. Loss of Life/ Death of Pets
    This seems to be fairly common place from generation to generation and there’s a reason for it. Death’s too huge a subject for young children to wrap their heads around. Better to ease them into the discussion then bombard them with such an intricate matter.
  2. Intimacy between Parents
    What parents haven’t been caught engaged in some form of intimacy only to have a child waltz in unannounced. Quick thinking usually saves the day to explain to a child what they just witnessed. Closing the door to prevent unannounced visitors isn’t always an option for parents. Perhaps setting up windows of opportunity when the kids will be asleep, out, etc. might be best. Not ideal for spontaneity but that’s the price one pays when children are in the mix.
  3. Catastrophic Events
    Kids need to know you’ll always keep them safe. Terrorism obviously does not conform to the notion of complete safety. Neither do natural disasters. Yet assuring children that you’ll protect them from these larger than life events can help minimize difficult issues that adults struggle to comprehend.

What exceptions do you make for telling the truth to your children? Should there be exceptions?

CuteMonster.comVincent Daly aka CuteMonsterDad is a graphic designer, writer, actor, artist and most importantly a husband and father. He is the founder of CuteMonster.com, a resource for Dads.

Negotiating with the neighbor kids

Parenting styles and decisions are some of the toughest issues to deal with when the kids get together but by being humble and having a conversation you can go a long way to making sure that the kids get a long as well as the parents.

Dealing with discipline issues with your own kids is difficult enough but when you add in other kids that are not your own you run into some dicey situations. In our neighborhood there are no shortage of little friends to enjoy a sunny summer afternoon with but when all the kids end up on my watch I have to think about how to handle the inevitable fights that come up.

With my boys I’m pretty quick with the whistle and handing out infractions. First offense gets a warning, second gets a timeout, and the third gets a toy taken away. Now I can give the warning to anyone but the timeout is tougher to administer to kids that aren’t my own. I have found that some quick chats with the other parents go a long way in making this easier. Since I am more strict than the other parents on the block it is important for me to understand what their rules are to help maintain the peace. For the most part the discipline issue is important in just keeping the kids safe. I need them to listen and respond the first time to keep them from getting in the street or hurting each other. By knowing how their parents discipline I am able to maintain that consistency the kids need.

Parenting styles and decisions are some of the toughest issues to deal with when the kids get together but by being humble and having a conversation you can go a long way to making sure that the kids get a long as well as the parents. We may do things differently but it is not from a lack of care and concern. Let’s establish that we all love our kids and want the best for them and be willing to learn a little along the way.

Portland Dad writes over at Stay At Home Dad PDX about raising two boys as a stay at home dad. You can also find him on twitter as Portlanddad.