by John Hoffman Knowing when to back off is an important Dad skill I love a lot of things about spring. But what I love best is that people come out of hibernation. When the weather gets warmer you see people outdoors more often, especially kids. I can still remember the heady feeling of spring when I was a kid. I could go outside without a heavy coat, wearing my sneakers. I didn’t have to put a lot of effort into staying warm. I felt lighter and full of energy. I was reminded of this the other day during a visit to a relative and her new baby. Last fall, Meghan*, her 12-year-old son Zach* and her new partner Sean* had moved to a new neighbourhood where city planners had wisely included some green space in the plan. As I looked out Meghan’s back window and exclaimed about how nice the pond and wooded area looked, she started talking about how much time her son Zach* had been spending outdoors in the last two weeks. In their previous neighbourhood the kids were always on their devices, she said. “But the kids around here are always outside,” she said. Zach and his buddies have been spending a ton of time in the green space. They used shovels and rakes to construct some jumps for their bikes. Recently they went over to a nearby construction site and talked the workers into giving them some scrap building materials, which they used to make a fort. One of the boys had a birthday a couple of weeks ago and one present he asked for was a tarpaulin (I love it!). They used the tarp to make the roof of their fort. This is all great stuff. Kids outside being active, creative and happy; creating all sorts of positive energy for themselves. But this blog is not about the virtues of outdoor play, although I could go on about that. There’s a dad angle to this story that illustrates an important, but sometimes tricky, aspect of fatherhood. Meghan told me a story about how Sean, who is Zach’s stepdad, went with the lads one day to check out the fort. They were really proud of their construction and wanted to show it off. Sean was curious and wanted to see what they’d done and, as a dad, he likely wanted to check the situation out for safety. Sean liked the fort, but he also thought it was a little bit untogether. He could see how it could be improved. Sean is a teacher, so giving kids ideas about how to do things better comes naturally to him. But, – and this is the part I like – he kept his advice to himself. Later he told Meghan, “It was hard to keep my mouth shut because I kept seeing ways they could have made their fort better. But I didn’t want to interfere because it was their thing.” I think this was a great call. Kids need to have their own things that adults don’t interfere with, especially as they get older. So much of what children do these days is structured; adults are often involved as teachers, supervisors, coaches and, in some cases, participants. But kids need to have aspects of their lives where they are in charge (within reason, of course); where they choose what to do and how to do it. Not only do they learn from the thinking, planning and decision-making that go with being “in charge”, it also gives them a sense of their own power and control over their lives. That’s important. Learning how to run your own life is one of the most important tasks of growing up. Free play is one of the best ways for kids to get practice in being in charge of little parts of their lives. Outdoor play in places like kid-built forts is particularly good because adults are least likely to be in kids’ hair — giving directions, correcting and doing the planning. I’m not saying parents shouldn’t supervise and, at times, correct. I’m just saying that kids need their own “things” and their own “spaces” where they can learn how to be themselves. Making the thousands of little decisions about when to step in and supervise and when to stay out of your child’s way is one of the trickiest parts of being a father. And honestly, there is only one way to figure out how to do it right – trial and error. Letting kids build forts and organize their own play spaces is a good way to practice that trial and error, just as it is a great way for kids to practice being responsible for themselves. … More Letting Kids Do Their Thing
Welcome to The Directive. This is a regular assortment of father related news stories, information, and fun stuff. If you have anything you would like posted here, please send it our way. Do you work with Indigenous families? We are hosting Into the Circle with Native Child and Family Services on June 13 in Toronto. … More The Directive: May 4/2017
by John Hoffman A few months ago, a book called the The Collapse of Parenting got a lot of press. Maclean’s magazine did a feature story on this book that included this tagline: “It’s time for parents to grow up. If anyone can be called the boss in modern, anti-hierarchical parenthood, it’s the children.” Nice….Not. I … More Parent Critics
Welcome to The Directive. This is a regular assortment of father related news stories, information, and fun stuff. If you have anything you would like posted here, please send it our way. Into the Circle: Joining the Journey of Indigenous Fatherhood. This is professional development training for anyone working with First Nations families and fathers: … More The Directive – Apr 4/2017
by John Hoffman Are you a smoker? Thought about quitting? No doubt you have. I have never been a smoker myself. So I don’t feel qualified to give people advice about how to go about quitting. However, few would argue the point that the health-related reasons for quitting are compelling. And when you become a father there’s another big reason – setting a good example (and being healthy) for your kids. But, as we all know, smoking is an addiction, and addictions are hard to break. So anybody who wants to quit usually needs more than just willpower. Fortunately, there are now some great supports and products to help people quit including nicotine patches and nicotine gum. And there is now a great Canadian resource called Dads in Gear for fathers who want to quit smoking. Dads in Gear is about more than just quitting smoking. It’s also about healthy lifestyle and plain old being a good dad. But quitting smoking is a primary focus. One thing I really like about the site is the personal stories about quitting. I particularly liked a video where a young dad named David talks about his reasons for quitting and how he went about it. I really admire his honesty and his very direct way of speaking. David tells a story about how three guys he was working with – all smokers – had all come to work one day without cigarettes. That day was going to be day one of quitting for them. David was all like, “I’m really going to try with you guys.” But in the back of his mind he was thinking there was no way he could really do it. “I am not going to be able to come to work without a pack of cigarettes,” he said. “Because it goes hand in hand. You go to work and you bring your smokes. You make sure you have them before you start your day.” What’s interesting is that, of that group of four, David is the only one who ended up quitting. And it was the thought of his family, particularly his baby son that motivated him. “I didn’t want to be a father that smoked,” he says simply. David wanted his son to grow up in a smoke-free environment, unlike himself, who grew up in a house where both parents smoked. But the thought of his family kept him going; that plus the fact that, as he puts it, “I really didn’t want to smoke.” David says he never used non-smoking aids to stop the cravings. “I just thought about my family. I felt like I would be a failure to them if I’m trying to quit smoking and then, here I am having a cigarette.” At the time the video was made, David had been cigarette-free for eight months. Ironically, he doesn’t feel like he’s an ideal role model. He’s afraid that his story might seem to make it sound like quitting smoking is easier than it really is. “It was really, really hard at times,” he says. But, the thought of his family kept him going; that plus the fact that, as he puts it, “I really didn’t want to smoke.” I have to think that this kind of personal story – unscripted, just a guy saying it in his own words – is more effective than some expert rehashing all the health risks of smoking. Most smokers already know the risks. Dads in Gear has other personal quitting stories as well. The site also has information and videos about healthy eating, active lifestyle, things to do with kids and information about Dads in Gear groups in different towns in BC. It’s one of the best new resources for fathers that I’ve seen recently. And if a guy who wants to quit (and most smokers do and have tried at some point), becoming a father is as good a motivation as I can think of. Dads in Gear is there to help.
Welcome to The Directive – a regular assortment of news, research, and facts about fatherhood. Please share this info with others you thiknk may be interested. T-shirt Design Contest Fatherhood has a lot of different meanings. Dad Central Canada is looking for those ideas to be promoted on a t-shirt that will be sent out across … More The Directive – Mar 27, 2017
by John Hoffman Like many other Canadians, I have become part of a support group for a family of refugees from Syria. I came a little late to this party. I started out doing volunteer driving for various folks last summer. But recently one of the support groups here in Peterborough lost a couple of … More The Joys of Being With Kids: How some Syrian children are helping me rekindle some of the best feelings of fatherhood