Monday, January 12, 2015

Togetherness: A Dad’s Perspective on Marriage (First things First)


This is a re-post of an article from 2010 for "First things First" which was on a site which no longer exists. The "First things First" project was designed to remind parents that they need to look after themselves first in order to more effectively look after their children. This post has been lightly edited from the original content.
 - Gavin Bollard January 2015.


In traditional society, mothers and fathers tend to live in completely different worlds. The home, the kids and school are all in the mother’s realm while the father is more likely to take care of bread-winning and financial matters.

The working week has expanded to take in weekends and the hours of work have lengthened too, courtesy of the traffic problems.  Many fathers today hardly see their children and not because of the high divorce rate either.  It’s simply that they have to leave before the kids are awake and they don’t get home until after bedtime.  Some fathers have frequent out of state business which further reduces their family time.

Today’s fathers are simply fighting for free time. We are weekend fathers, trying desperately to squeeze a week of family time into a few spare hours on the weekend.

Of course, our children are “perfect” from our point of view. We only see them in fleeting glimpses and our rarity makes us exciting.  The kids tend to behave for us because we have that “less familiar” quality that mom and their teachers simply don’t have anymore.

We have no idea what our families go through from week to week because we’re simply not there. It becomes easy to turn a blind eye to the problems of school and home and to those “labels” we keep hearing about.  Let’s face it.  After a week of hard work and after we've completed our manly chores around the house, we just want some time to ourselves.

Sometimes we’ll fool ourselves into thinking that we’re doing a good thing by looking after the kids for the day while our wives go out to enjoy themselves.  Sometimes, it really is a good thing because mothers certainly need a break but sometimes it isn't.

The truth is that we’re getting stuck in the rut of everyday life and that we've forgotten the importance of our relationships.  Without love, sharing and support, our lives are empty and despite our hard exteriors, fathers need love too.

Since it’s obvious that time is our biggest enemy, it makes sense that the most important thing for us to do is to make time for ourselves.  There are lots of ways to make that extra time;

Reduce your working hours.
Seriously, work and money are very important but there are other jobs and if your workplace can’t be supportive of your needs as a family man, then it’s time to move on.  If you've taken out a giant mortgage and you need to work long hours to pay it off, then perhaps it’s time to consider whether it’s really worth the effort.  Chances are, you took out that mortgage before you really understood the demands of parenthood – certainly before you realized that you had special needs children who would require much more time and money than other children.

You weren't put on this earth to earn money for someone else’s company.  You need to put family first and sometimes that means lowering your material goals to something that allows you to “live”.

Of course, if you’re working for yourself, then you really only have yourself to blame.  It’s time to delegate the work, hire some subordinates or reduce those goals.

Get some help.
I have a real problem with some of the things that the now retired baby boom generation are doing with their lives.  They were supported in their parenthood by the previous generation. I know, I remember because I was a child being looked after by grandparents at times.  Their generation was also much more neighborly and it was quite common for neighbors to look after each other’s children.  These days, the older generation seem to be shirking their family responsibilities and taking too much time out for themselves.

Parents of special needs children have big issues outsourcing their childcare.  It’s not easy finding people who are even tempered and qualified enough to look after our children.  It’s even harder to find carers who will simply accept our child and their “faults” instead of trying to change the child by increasing discipline or changing their diets – and of course, there’s the fact that sometimes our children’s reactions (meltdowns) are quite scary.

There is help out there though.  There are some good babysitters around and there are other services like respite care.  Use them.  Don’t wait until your wife answers the door saying “how was daddy-waddy’s day too-day…”, that’s a sure sign she’s been spending too much time with the kids.

You need to be working on your relationship – and that means talking about adult things when the kids aren’t around.

 The other thing that’s critical is being supportive and working on the partnership. Here are a few tips which have helped my relationship;

Take Time Out
This one is fairly obvious.  It simply means that you need to take time out, away from the kids, to be adults. Get the kids minded and go to a restaurant, a movie or a show.  So many couples with special needs children tell me that this part of their lives is over. It’s only over if you decide that it’s over.  You need to take the initiative.

Talk
Often, even when we go out, we find it difficult to talk about anything other than the kids.  After all, that’s almost the only thing we have in common these days.  We’re too busy other shared activities.  If this is you, then it’s time you found some shared interests with your partner.

My wife and I became involved in scouting for the kids and as a result, we had a lot of new things to talk about, she was a leader in Joeys and I was a leader in cubs.  We would go to different meetings with different people but we have similar experiences and can talk about craft ideas and things which drive us. It’s great to be able to talk about something other than our own kids sometimes.

Be There
When my wife had our first baby, I was caught up with work and I think I made only one or two obstetrician appointments.  When things went pear-shaped during the birth, the obstetrician wasn't exactly on friendly terms with me and I wasn't fully aware of what my wife had told him during appointments, so I was unable to prevent him from making choices she wouldn't be happy with.

I pulled out all stops with our second child and I made all appointments except one (and I was only late once or twice).  We had a different obstetrician and I was on very friendly terms with him.  He was willing to listen when I voiced concerns and I was able to relay my wife’s wishes during the procedure – and  be heard.

I had started down the right path but I still needed to learn a lot about being supportive.  For work reasons once again, I let my wife attend one of the early school meeting for our eldest son, by herself.  I’d always thought that it was a mark of my trust that I trusted my wife to handle these meetings by herself and to make the right choices for our family.  Instead of trust, it was betrayal.  I’d once again put work before family and my wife was quickly reduced to tears by the emotional vampires at the school.

Since then, I've managed to make most of the school appointments and our lives have been better for it as a result. Now, together we’re in control of our children’s future – and we’re more relaxed because we have those shared experiences together.  We both know what the score is and what we’re striving for.

First things first is all about taking time out for yourself.  It might seem to be a contradiction that I’m advocating spending even more time with your family but what I’m really suggesting is that we need to be spending more quality time on togetherness.  We need to be pulling the focus off supporting our special needs children all the time and putting a little more effort into supporting each other.  You’ll be surprised how little effort it takes to lighten the load.

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