story of a father

Story of a father

Ken Phelans gives an amusing account of the busy summer months and his four-year-old’s pending nuptials.

So, summer is creeping steadily towards us and a whole two months of mayhem span endlessly before me, as in some ominous, tortured dream. Never mind my already fragile sanity, how will I keep my five-year-old occupied for June and July without ageing myself by ten years? What are we supposed to do with the little critters?! I mean, do teachers not provide a set of instructions? Okay, so I’ve lasted summers before, but they were better days, surely, when I was a fitter, stronger man?

Don’t get me wrong, long days on the beach, picnics in the park, even feeding the ducks are all good fun – it’s the in-between indecisive insufferable times that hurt. The times when it’s raining when you’re going to the beach, raining when you’re going to the park, or when the ducks won’t come out because of the rain. It’s the whole thing of being-at-a-loss-for-something-to-do that gets me. I suppose there’s the playground, the local play centre, the cinema, the relatives who’d possibly rather you weren’t there, maybe even the beach if weather permits – so I ought not complain too much.

It seems, upon reflection though, that despite two months’ ‘holidays’, it would be perfectly excusable to go a bit mad being a parent. Your entire thought process involves school runs, lunches, uniforms, washing, ironing, dinners, lunches. Adult conversation, when one is fortunate enough for such a thing to occur, involves muttering jibberish to oneself under one’s breath. Hardly stimulating, or sane. I suppose at least during summer holidays one doesn’t have to worry about homework (yay!)

story of a father

There is much wisdom to be garnered from Mr. Men books – speaking as I do from a position of authority (fifty books read– twice!) Each story carries its own little moral, for example that Mr. Nobody is a somebody (as everyone is), Mr. Uppity has no friends because he’s nasty to everyone and Mr. Birthday is so selfless he forgot his own birthday. Simple tales, secretly passed down through ancient Chinese proverbs from some long-forgotten sage.

There’s something quite humbling in seeing a young child enthralled by the simplest of stories, the most innocent of fables. I’ve discovered to my disdain, however, that I more than resemble a number of Mr. Men characters. I’m often as greedy as Mr. Greedy, as accident-prone as Mr. Bump and as worrisome as Mr. Worry. That worries me. Towards the end of the Mr. Men Collection, I asked Caleb to read himself: “One… day… Mr. Bump… went… to…” and so on. The first ventures into the world of reading. It may not be War and Peace, but nevertheless is in its own way something quite magical.

On starting Junior Infants, Caleb informed me that he was getting married. I have to say, I was a little taken aback; not that she didn’t seem like a fine young lady, more to do with the fact that he didn’t have a steady job, still lived with his daddy and was, in fact, four years old. This was, in my mind at least, a full two years shy of being capable of making such a commitment. He later confided in me that he had been afraid to start school in September, in case “all the girls wanted to marry me”. No lack of self-confidence there anyway.

It’s funny, the way children assume roles so early in life, talking of ‘girlfriend’ and ‘boyfriend’ and even marriage – at four! All harmless fun, and very cute. Also funny that at an early age, there are no gender stereotypes. Sure, boys play with soldiers and girls play with prams, but boys also play with prams, watch ‘girly’ TV programmes and play with play kitchens. Makes you wonder when boys have footballs thrust upon them and girls are given a pram to play with. So where do gender stereotypes originate? Where is the source of all our problems? Perhaps in the playground, and in the roles we ourselves give to our children.

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Dear new Dad



Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….


Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.