Dads Helping Dads Figure Out Being a Dad

Classes for expectant parents

So, one of my readers asked if I could talk a bit about what classes we took in preparation for the impending child.  If you are in my area, the courses were taken at Foothill Presbyterian hospital.

Human Sexuality

Ok, so strictly speaking, this was not in preparation for childbirth.  I took this class in undergrad at Vanguard University.  However, this course covered the biology of pregnancy and childbirth and included a crash-course in Lamaze.  Very little of the material covered in the courses below went beyond what we covered in this course — and this course was often more in-depth.

Birthing Class

This was a 4-week class and covered what to expect in childbirth.  It also covered breathing techniques and the benefits of breastfeeding.  For a first-time parent, and especially for someone who did not have the benefit of the training that I had in undergrad, this is a great course.

Our instructor went over the stages of labor, the biology of the birthing process, and a smorgasbord of breathing techniques taken from Bradley, Lamaze and (I expect) others.  She also did a show-and-tell with the tools used in labor and delivery.  She suggested a variety of delivery positions, the use of a birthing ball, and talked about when to call 911 (such as with a prolapsed cord).

I would recommend this course, but understand that there will likely be a lot of review.

Breastfeeding Class

This was a one-time class that covered latching, the shift from colostrum to milk, and possible problems with breastfeeding, while extolling the benefits of breastfeeding.  They did want fathers to come to this class in order to be aware of the process.  Like the birthing class there was a show and tell, showing the different pumps and products available to make breastfeeding easier and to care for the breasts.

If you plan to breastfeed, this class is worthwhile.  While much of the material covered will not be necessary for most parents (most of the time, kids figure out the nursing thing without any special help!), if you have a problem, this class provides tools to deal with those problems and educates about the types of questions to ask if you do have a problem.

Baby Basics

This was a one-time class that covered the birthing process, diaper changing, dressing the kid, and swaddling.  Most of the class consisted of a video, showing a part of a delivery, parents getting peed on, what baby poop at various stages looks like, and describing when to go to the doctor.

Ok — I understand why this class exists.  There was a guy in the class who squirmed and squealed throughout the video.  The guy was legitimately freaked out — and somehow he screamed baby-daddy.

Bottom line, I thought this class was (for me) a waste of time.  For many people the material would be useful.  If you are truly clueless, take this class.  Otherwise, I might recommend finding someone who has a baby and asking if you can come over for the day and help them out.  Explain why: I have no idea what I am doing, and was hoping that you could show me how to do this stuff.  Chances are, they will be happy to have the help!  Just make sure that you have your whooping cough shot first, and ask lots of questions.

Happiest Baby on the Block

We have NOT taken this class.  It is offered at one of the bigger hospitals in the area that has a well-respected birthing wing.  The material seems solid (we bought the book), but are not sure of the class would offer anything more than simply reading the book.  If anyone has taken this class, we would love some feedback!

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RESPECT – What does it mean?

Find out what it means to me …

Aretha had all the answers! But how do we go about teaching our kids a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T?

Since I am past the child-rearing years, I have some observations, and some questions.

As I have shared before, I am pretty happy with how our kids turned out. But neither of them were always as respectful as we wished they would be. They were not the worst, either. I think, for the most part, they were more respectful to others than they were to us, and if a parent has to choose, I expect that it would be preferrable to having kids who speak their minds at home and behave when away, to having kids who are polite at home and mouth off to others.

There are cultural issues too. I observed when I was in Texas that many of the children there routinely addressed adults as “sir” and “ma’am” – frankly, it was pretty nice. In contrast, so many of the children here in Southern California are just “lippy” as a matter of course. To quote Tony Hillerman, “They behave as if they have no family.”

But the kids in Texas grow up to be just like the adults here. Some are great and some are scum. But they are polite! They even call the arresting officer “sir”.

We worked to make our kids independent and strong, and I think we did that well. How do you balance that goal with that of instilling a polite humility and respect for others? I do not know. It is a “gray area” anyway, as success or failure seems to change moment by moment and there is a wide range of “normal”.  Any suggestions?

We need to avoid unhealthy guilt or shame if we are not going to quench their spirits or cause other future problems. Reinforcing and encouraging the positive and ignoring or when possible discouraging the negative was what we embraced as an overall philosophy – but there were many bumps along the way. The only REAL consistency in life is inconsistency.

And what part of this is “caught” and not “taught”?  Are we adults respectful to others in front of our kids?  At times I was not – and I regret that now.  Language, tone of voice, attitude are all communicated even before the kids understand what they mean.  Yelling at drivers, criticizing the pastor or teachers, even our political opinions can easily teach our children about our own disrespect for others.  Our kids catch it from us if we are not careful!

I think that we perhaps overlook the idea that we owe respect to others – some because of their position, and some just because we have no reason (yet) to disrespect them. But how can we teach that? Or do we even have consensus that we should?

I look forward to your reflections and suggestions. I will soon have another go-round with my grandkids — I want to get it right!

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Teaching kids about investing and interest

As a parent to be, I can’t help but think about all of the things that I want to teach my kids that they don’t learn in school.  Education regarding business and finances top that list.  Below is my plan for teaching my kids about interest.  If you have kids, and especially if you have done something similar, please comment on how it has worked for you and include any suggestions that you might have!  For convenience sake, I will describe what we will do as a kind of tutorial, in case you wanted to give it a try.  This also makes it easier to describe the process.

When you start providing the child with an allowance, encourage them to put some money into the “bank.”  Whether a bank is actually used or not is immaterial — the bank could be a coffee can.  The important thing is that interest is paid to encourage saving.

To start, pay an excessive interest rate.  For example, if the child gets $4 a month, and saves $1, you could pay $.25 per month per dollar saved.  It is important to keep the principle (the money saved) separate from the interest (the extra that you pay the child for saving), because you are only going to pay ‘simple interest.’  This means that after 4 months, when the child has an extra dollar in interest, you are not going to pay an additional $.25.  When you determine how much interest to pay, make sure that you can afford it.  Using our example, if the child saved $1/month and did not take any money out, in month 12, you would have to pay $3 in interest, just for that month!  The lower the allowance for the child, the higher the interest rate I would pay as an incitement for the child.

As the child ages, they may ask why they are not receiving interest on the interest they have been paid.  Smart kid — this is what is known as compound interest.  If they don’t ask, you should introduce the idea to them.  At this point, you will want to reduce the interest rate that you are paying.  Why you ask?

The rule of 72 is a rule of thumb used to determine how long it will take an investment to double in value.  You take 72 and divide it by the interest rate to determine how long it will take the investment to double in value.  At 10% interest per year, it will take an investment 7.2 years to double in value.  At 10% per month, it will take 7.2 months to double in value.  In our example, we are paying 25% per month.  72/25=2.88, so if the child put $1 into the ‘bank’ and nothing else, it would be worth approximately $2 in month 3, $4 in month 6, $8 in month 9 and $16 in month 12.  In other words, in addition to the allowance you pay the child, you also pay an additional $15 of interest on that first dollar alone.  Needless to say, this is unsustainable.

If you pay 5% per month (this is still a whopping 60%/yr), at the end of 2 years, you will be paying about $2.33 per month of interest.  The child will have saved $24, but their balance will be almost $47.  This is probably sustainable for most people for a few years.  Obviously, you will need to show the child that this lower interest rate is actually better for them due to compounding.  It would be helpful to sit down with the child each month and compare: the amount of principle, the amount of interest, how much they would have had with simple interest, and the amount that they have with compound interest.  Keep a ledger to compare the amounts so that the child can get used to calculating interest using each method and comparing the amounts earned using each method.



Where Did We Go Wrong?

This may be an unusual posting.  Being a thinker, I have, over the years, spent a lot of time thinking about — at times agonizing about — things we did wrong as parents.  But first, I think I deserve the opportunity to lay down some caveats.

1. No two children are the same.  In that sense, there is no such thing as an “experienced” parent.  Whatever we do, whatever we say, it is a unique, one-time-only experience for the child.  What worked for Johnny may or may not work for Mary.

2.  A lot of what we read is right — some of the time.  That means that a lot of what we read is wrong — some of the time.  All of our best efforts to obtain wisdom and knowledge may improve our batting average, but we will all screw the pooch from time to time.  Write that on the back of your hand and pray daily for guidance – and forgiveness!

3.  I don’t believe that anybody sets out on this parenting adventure intending to raise messed-up kids.  But look around at all of the messed up adults and pray that you somehow find adequate models to emulate so that you can achieve your intended goal of “successful parenting” – however you would measure it.

4.  Kids are pretty resilient.  They can absorb a fair amount of parental ineptitude and turn out OK.  Thank God!

I am proud of my kids, and as I have shared before, they are old enough now that I can believe that they are launched and on their own pathways.  Their successes and failures from this point on rightfully belong to them.  Now I am looking forward to messing up their kids, the way grandparents are supposed to do.

We succeeded in getting them through adolescence and young adulthood, through high school and college, without a pregnancy, without drug or alcohol abuse, and without arrest records.  They both take their civic duties seriously and are wrestling with how they will integrate their faith into their own families.

But there are things I am sorry for, and I would like to share them with you so that perhaps you may avoid making the same mistakes.

First, fairness is over-rated.  I have a highly developed sense of what is fair.  I got it at an early age, and it affected the way we interacted with our kids.  If I had it to do over again, I would try to teach them the idea that not all things will be equal, but that all things will be done according to what is needed by the individual at the time.   The list of things affected by this is extensive, and includes such things as curfews, bed times, allowances, gifts, chores, and so on.

Next, I would try to be more positive.  By nature and by vocation I have been evaluative and critical in my interactions at work, in leadership, and in my family.  I almost completely missed the opportunity to be a cheerleader for my kids.  Given the opportunity to do it all again, I would try to be more of an encourager and to keep my negative observations to myself.

Finally, I would have invested more in my relationship with my wife and a little less on my kids.  My wife and I each, I think, were guilty of placing our kids above our marriage.  I believe this is a common problem.  Squeaky wheel gets the grease – that sort of thing.  But it is a scary and certainly unhealthy thing to put your marriage on a shelf for 20+ years while you raise your kids.  To some degree, we are all guilty of that.  I wish I had done it less.

Perhaps this will stimulate some discussion about things to avoid.  Guess it’s that negative, evaluative thing coming out again …

But it is all part of the adventure!

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Bedtime Reading: Honey for a Child’s Heart

In a former life — about the time that I met the girl who would become my wife — I took a college class called “Christian Education of Children.” There are several foundational things which I remember from that class — things which molded and shaped my work, my teaching, my interactions with other people, and of course my parenting.

One of the books which we read for the class was Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt. As I was thinking about writing this post, curiosity overcame me and I checked Amazon to see if this classic little book was still in print. I guess I should not have been surprised to find that it is not only still available, but is in its fourth revision!

The book presents a philosophy about the importance of reading to a child, and presents a suggested list of books for each stage of a child’s growth.

Some of the best times that I remember as a dad cluster around that hour before bed-time. When the kids were very young — even before they could talk — we would sit on the bed together and read a book.  Bedtime reading was a highlight of our day!

The earliest books were wordless. The pictures were large and bright, and we talked to the kids about shapes and colors and animals and people. We talked about the farm and the airplane and the car and the fire truck. Simple concepts, but the habit was formed and we had years to go.

Soon we graduated to Dr. Seuss and his fantasy universe of Cats and Things and Green Eggs and Ham. I do believe that my wife can STILL recite the entire book about hair (“Hair, hair it’s everywhere. Some have a little. Some have a lot. Long hair, short hair, polka dots …”). I confess to being bothered at times with the chore of it all. There was some good TV on around 7:30. But it was a small sacrifice in the larger scheme of things, and bedtime reading did get more interesting and stimulating as the kids grew older and the subject matter more diverse.

There were myriads of other children’s books and my wife was a weekly visitor to our public library. How exciting it was to notice when the kids were following along while we read and began to associate those black marks on the pages with the words we were speaking.

Eventually our bedtime stories moved on to more complicated fare. We tried to stay ahead of the children’s development, looking for children’s books above their own abilities. Jeremy and I worked our way through a couple of the big National Geographic coffee table books. As I recall, one was all about America and another was all about boats and the sea. These had lots of words, but also had many colorful photographs, and we generally would do a chapter each night. I believe these stimulated his interest and enthusiasm for road trips, a shared passion which we still enjoy.

Other favorites included The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein. These classics both stimulated a love for fantasy and presented many object lessons on faith and life.

If you do not consider yourself a strong reader, then get past your embarrassment and start anyway. Reading bedtime stories from children’s books aloud to your child will improve your reading skills and abilities and broaden your own horizons. Your son or daughter will not judge you and you can count on it that you read better than they do. By the time they are two, you will find it an easy and enjoyable family time, and it will pay great dividends in your self-confidence, and in their academic careers. If your children love reading, it is hard to imagine that they won’t do their best in school!

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A work in progress…

This section is a major work in progress.  I am working on an education-related project as a part of my MBA program, and am hoping to get feedback from readers.  As I do my research, I will be posting/documenting my work here along with proposed applications.  My hope is that you, the reader, will be able to make use of my research – summarized and stated succinctly –  in the early education of your children, and push back against some of my crazier ideas as they relate to education.  The initial focus will be children between age 2 and first grade, and will expand with time.  This project is heavily academic, but also inherently pragmatic.  I will focus on the latter here, and discuss the academic just enough to support my proposals.  Check back often!