7

Maybe Dad: A Simple and Powerful Message From My Daughters

I sat there and stared at the table setting and welled up in tears. The other 3 plates contained what was left of a family dinner and mine lay there empty. Beside each table setting, my girls had written the names of our family members. Beside my name said “Maby”. Maybe dad. It was a message that broke my heart but I needed to hear. Too many dinner times I had arrived late or not at all because I was in a meeting or just trying to get that important email sent out. Too many dinner times, I had left my wife and daughters with the hope that I would be there for dinner but arrived 15, 30, or 60 minutes late. Now, we are at the point of “Maybe, Dad” for dinner. When we stop and listen to our kids, they can tell us so much… so much that comes unfiltered. So much that comes straight from their hearts.

I remember Chris Kennedy sharing that Barrack Obama had made it a priority to be home for dinner and if the President of the US could do this more often than not, so could he. Whenever I start to complain about my job, Chris is always the first person to tell me, “you signed up for this, you can choose to make it work for you”. I hate it when he says this but he is right. In our job as educators, there will always be the draw to be part of that committee, to attend that workshop, to be part of that meeting, to plan that perfect lesson, or to write that important email. There are many times when we can say no. Saying no to the things we don’t necessarily want to do is easier; saying no to the things we do want to do is much more difficult. We can, however, do this and make our families a priority.  We are all busy and we never have “enough time” but we can prioritize our time; if dinner time is important to me, I can make better boundaries and be sure that I am home for this more often. Yes, there are evenings when I absolutely have to be at the school or in a meeting but there are other times where it is my choice and I prioritize other things over these dinner times. This is not so much about doing way less but perhaps doing things differently. Instead of working until 6:30 and then heading home, I can head home earlier and catch up on work after the kids are in bed. I can still do my job well but shift my schedule so I do not miss out on the most important times in my life… time with my kids – these are times I will never get back and they must be a priority.

Having said this, I also think that we, as a system, need to continually strive to be more understanding of the importance of family and create the conditions for more wellness and balance in the lives of people within our communities. Each person is at a different place and we need to do a better job of seeking to understand and support. It is no secret that people who are healthier and happier are more engaged and more effective at work; we need to make this health and happiness a priority in our schools and districts. As principals and formal leaders, we can have a significant impact on this but we also need to take care of ourselves. The “airplane oxygen mask” analogy works here too – if we do not take care of ourselves, we will have a harder time caring for others.  There will always be a need for some late-afternoon learning sessions, volunteering as after-school coaches and club leaders, and having some fun as a staff beyond the school day but we need to be continually mindful of what we are asking of ourselves and others. If family is a priority and time with family makes people healthier, happier and more engaged at work, as a system we need to support this.

My goal is to put my family in my calendar like I do for meetings and evening events. I have to set better boundaries on leaving school to make sure I am home. I have to learn to say “I can only stay until 5:30”. I can be more reflective on what needs to be done and what can wait. I can be home for dinner more often.

In the past year, there have been some changes that have occurred that have helped me as a father. I am thankful that our superintendent has discouraged emails on the weekends as I find I can be at home and away from work on weekends (and to district staff who are bringing wellness to the forefront). I am thankful that my colleague George Kozlovic encouraged me to take emails off my phone so I can be at home and focus on family. I am thankful that my staff understands that I need to arrive at school a little later in the mornings so I can help my daughters get ready for school and my wife can look after our newborn son. Most importantly, I am thankful that my daughters set my name tag as “maby Dad” and sent me a message to shift my priorities and be home for dinner more often. There will be more times when I get to home to help to cook, serve the food, talk about “what went well” in our days… and the table is set with my name tag saying simply “Dad”.

Please feel free to share any ideas that have occurred in your school or district to help support those wanting to spend more time with family while maintaining their effectiveness as an educator. 

This song is a good reminder for us all…

8

A Priority of Family Instead of Medications

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by stephanski: http://flickr.com/photos/stephanski/6749689975/

This post stems from a personal experience and is NOT a criticism of parenting but merely a way to express my concern for the structural and societal pressures many North American parents face.  Medications are a necessity for some children and this is not meant to be the focus of this conversation.  As a society, I believe we need to better support families so there are less pressures to spend time away from our kids.  By supporting parents better as a North American society, I wonder what impact that would have on our kids?

I recently read an article from Psychology Today, “Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD” , and I found myself nodding my head in agreement at the start and then becoming frustrated as I continued to read.  In the article, the author states that 9%* of school aged children are diagnosed with (and medicated for) ADHD while in France, this number is 0.5%. I appreciated the section that focused on societal issues that stated,

French child psychiatrists, on the other hand, view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes. Instead of treating children’s focusing and behavioral problems with drugs, French doctors prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child’s brain but in the child’s social context.

Although there are health disorders and disabilities that are very real and require significant medical support (as well as support and care for families), I often think that the culture and structures of North American society leads to a variety of disorders in our children. I was thinking that this article might support my thoughts and answer some questions.  The author briefly mentioned that parents and society play a key role in child development by providing key structures (ie. meal times).  Then, it took a concerning turn that aligned with much of the dialogue that occurs in schools and households in North America when it stated,

French parents let their babies “cry it out” if they are not sleeping through the night at the age of four months…  But French parents have a different philosophy of disciplinine. Consistently enforced limits, in the French view, make children feel safe and secure. Clear limits, they believe, actually make a child feel happier and safer—something that is congruent with my own experience as both a therapist and a parent. Finally, French parents believe that hearing the word “no” rescues children from the “tyranny of their own desires.” And spanking, when used judiciously, is not considered child abuse in France.

I think the article missed the key point here.  When family time is a priority, we see less children experiencing difficulties. Structure is important but it is not about spanking nor is it about “crying it out” methods.

In our North American society, with a high cost of living and little support, parents often are both forced to work.  Daycare is a booming industry.  Meals can be a series of snacks on the run. Parents who  make a decision (and have the financial ability) to not work when their kids are young state they are “JUST a stay at home mom/dad”.  Families are pressured to have their kids “kindergarten-ready” (whatever that means) to do well in school.  Parents pressure each other to get their kids registered in the “best” pre-schools and in the “top” organized activities. We pressure each other to get our kids involved with other groups of kids so they can be “socialized”.  We apply “programs” from best-selling authors and experts that disagree with each other.  When we do all this, we give up the opportunity to just BE with our kids.  We give up the chance for our kids to be with us and learn from us.

Being a relatively new father as well as an educator, I have read a few books and watched a few videos on the topic of child development and early learning.  I enjoy the bigger ideas in books like Raffi Cavoukian’s “Child Honouring” and Gordon Neufeld’s “Hold on to Your Kids” but I struggle with the books and videos that teach parents and educators to rely on a program or a standardized approach.  We often try to simplify parenting and education to a solution of a series of checklists and strategies that can be boxed and sold.  This minimizes the needed effort for us as parents.  What we really need is for us, and our society, to prioritize our time and relationships with our kids… we need to be truly present in their lives. Ironically, if we did this, we would likely need significantly less programs, books, videos, and medications. As stated, this is a result of deep societal issue in which we are so rushed in our daily lives that we are often forced or choose to have other adults (and often peers) raise our kids.

Although I appreciate articles that encourage our society to move away from medication as a fix, I fear that the underlying message in the Psychology Today article becomes a checklist of things to do TO kids rather than making family time a priority so that we can do more WITH kids.  We need a holistic approach that places children and family at the centre of what we do – a society that values family and makes raising our children our main purpose.

It is no secret that I struggle with work-family-friends balance.  However, I wonder if our society supported and placed family and children at the forefront, would our kids better develop the social-emotional skills required to handle the endless challenges they face?

I understand that there are medical conditions that are very real.  We need to support parents and families.  Our kids need us.  They do n0t always need experts**.  They do not always need medications**.  They need caring, attached adults.

 

**Note: I do understand there are disabilities and challenges that are very real and require medical attention, medication and expertise.  This is not a black and white topic.  The challenge is knowing when it is a medical issue.  Parents of children with disabilities need societal support instead of judgment.  Whether it is a medical or social concern, our kids need us parents more than ever. 

*ADHD in Canada is estimated to be 3-5% (Mental Health Canada).

As always, I would appreciate your help, thoughts and feedback on this topic.