When I Grow Up I Want To Be…

When I grow up The other day I was watching a movie wherein a mother told her daughter that she could be anything she wanted to be when she grew up. That got me thinking to myself what I’ll tell my sons one day when they say, “When I grow up, can I be…?” I don’t think I’ll answer it the same way.

To me, telling your children that they can be anything they want to be sets them up for failure. Why? Well, mostly because it’s not true. Not everyone can be an airforce pilot,  a surgeon, a rock star, famous rapper, an NFL player, or teach at M.I.T. In fact, precisely the opposite is true: the fact that not everyone can do it is why it’s such an accomplishment.  In an effort to set my children up for success, and after much deliberation, I decided to take an approach that would give them the autonomy and agency of self-discernment.  Combined with a realistic methodology of exploring their options.  I decided that I would answer this question with another question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Then, no matter what the answer, I will be as supportive as possible. Want to be a firefighter? Let’s go to the local fire station and meet some of the guys. Let’s check out the fire engine. Want to be a policeman? Same thing. Want to be a rock star? Let’s get you some guitar, bass, or drum lessons.

guitar practice

I can guess what you’re thinking: “How is being supportive of their goals, no matter what they are any different from telling your child that they can be anything they want to be?” I’m glad you asked (if you did)! The fundamental difference between the two is that one is purely verbal and emotional in nature, while the other is objectively goal-oriented. Imagine if Jimmy Paige had asked his dad if he could be a guitarist when he grew up, and his dad had just said “Of course, you can be whatever you want”, and hadn’t actually encouraged his son to get lessons and practice?  The face of rock as we know it would be different.

The difference between a professional and a layperson has less to do with raw God-given talent and ability, and more to do with practice and countless hours of dedication. It’s been said elsewhere that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master. Leaving eight hours a day for sleep – that’s 625 days of solid, 16 hours a day, no weekends, no holidays, no breaks – practice. So, when my sons ask for my input on the direction their lives should take, I will answer that question thusly: “What do you think would enable you to pursue happiness? What would be most fulfilling? What are you good at? Let’s take these into consideration, and come up with a few ideas.”

    Ultimately, what my children end up doing when they grow up isn’t up to me, but I have a lot to do with their ability to pursue their dreams, no matter what they are. Considering the myriad of pitfalls, false starts, and other detours that they will inevitably deal with, it’s going to take patience and perseverance for them to achieve their fullest potential. So, as their father, the best thing I can do pursuant to this goal is to be present, loving, and supportive.

happy

In my experience, the happiest people are those who love what they do, and what I want most for my children to be is happy. That’s why I’m a full-time dad, because to me, there is no better job, and nothing I would rather be doing! Until next time, fellow fathers.

~Tom

 

 

 

How to Change Your Baby’s Diaper

baby in diaper

Let’s face it: diaper duty stinks! See what I did there? All dad jokes aside though, changing a stinky diaper isn’t the most glamorous part of daddy doody (I can’t help myself!). However, there are a few tips and tricks that make this less than pleasant task a bit more bearable.

I was a bit concerned about my ability to do this before I actually tried the first time. As an only child who had no nearby relatives with young children, I had virtually no exposure to diapers or diaper duty. I found myself googling “How to change a baby’s diaper”, “How to change diapers”, “How to change a boys diaper” (once we knew that we were having a boy), and any number of other phrases to prepare myself. However, like most websites today, it was either poor content, ad-heavy click-through sites, or had a dialogue similar to the way that women talk to each other. I decided to write an article with the information that we as dads need to survive, distilled down to its pure, unadulterated form.

Note: This article was written for baby boys.

What You’ll Need

list

To change a baby’s diaper, you’ll want a changing table, diapers (obviously), baby wipes, a trash can, baby powder (especially in the summer months when it gets humid), a strong stomach, and a cold drink. I prefer to keep all the supplies on the shelf underneath the top-level of the changing table for easy access (except for the drinks).

Steps to Take

directions

1.) Get the new diaper out, open it, and position it at the bottom (the side of the table your baby’s feet will be on) of the changing table. Make sure the wings with the adhesive are towards the top, and the belly side of the diaper is towards the bottom (this will save you time and frustration later).

diaper layout

2.) Make sure your wipes are nearby, open, and that you have one fed through the top, ready to go! Nothing puts a damper on your day than having to pick up a baby with a poopy butt because you forgot to have wipes ready after you’ve already stripped your kid.

wipes ready

3.) Place your baby on his back and remove his pants. Once you get some time off the bench, you can just pull them down around his ankles (however, if it’s a particularly messy one, or you’re not adept at this task yet, I’d highly recommend taking his pants all the way off to avoid getting any poop on them).

4.) Unfasten the old diaper. If it’s just a number one, you can proceed to step 8: if it’s a number two, proceed to step five. If you have a strong stomach, and your nose works, you’ll already know which of the two you’re working with.

stinky

5.) Hold your baby’s feet together with one hand and in a smooth downward motion, use the belly side of the old diaper to wipe as much poop off in as few strokes as possible. Don’t move the old diaper yet! Just let it sit there for the time being.

6.) Grab some wipes and clean your baby. Pay special attention to the folds of skin of his crotch, his thighs, and his scrotum (behind the scrotum is a particular place I find poop likes to hide). Whether your baby is circumcised ot not, grab a fresh wipe to gently clean the area under the foreskin. Put the used wipes into the old diaper that he’s still laying on.

7.) Slide the whole poop package out from under him. Roll it up with the used wipes and use the adhesive strips (the back) to seal it off and throw it away. The hard part is over!

diaper rolled up

8.) Pick your baby up and slide him onto the new diaper. Grab some baby powder and give those cheeks a dusting.

9.) Fasten the new diaper and put your kid’s pants back on (nothing irritates me more than a kid running around in a shirt and diaper)!

10.) Enjoy the cold beverage of your choosing, and congratulate yourself on a job well done.

Accidents Happen

accidents happen

It’s worth noting that this is an ideal scenario, and accidents can and do happen. At some point, you’re going to get poop on your hand. Other times, your kid’s going to have a “blowout”; the term we use when they poop so much that it literally comes out of /the diaper. It’s not uncommon for blowouts to occur during the night hours, leaving you with a nice surprise to walk into first thing in the morning. There’s always the chance that your little one isn’t feeling particularly cooperative, and he’ll kick or reach under himself to grab the diaper, gleefully yelling “Poopy!!!”I could tell you horror stories that would keep you awake at night, but I’ll save that for another time. It’s important to remember that, like all things that seem like burdens with respect to child rearing, there will come a time when your services are no longer needed. Believe it or not, you’ll actually miss these times. I try to remind myself of this when my sons seem to be trying to kill me with poop.

When all else fails, wash your hands, shush yourself and try to remember that it happens. When done correctly, it sounds something like, “Shhhhh-it happens.”

 

 

 

Until next time, carry on fellow fathers.

 

 

Autism Pieces

Does My Child Have Autism

At some point during your journey as a father, your child is going to do something that makes you wonder if he is developing “normally.” I use the word loosely, because every child is different, and every new pairing of DNA results in a unique combination of genes that has never existed before nor will ever exist again. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself wondering at times if your child is developing typically, or if it’s time to seek out professional help. Read on to learn this father’s experience with the fear of autism, what we did, and how it turned out.

Why We First Started Looking for Signs of Autism

woman holding a childMy wife is a very loving person with a classic “Type-A” personality, and tends to be more of a worrier than I am. She has dealt with anxiety most of her adult life and it manifests itself in different ways at different times. I tend to be more laid back, and more of a “go-with-the-flow” kind of guy. I prefer to let our son learn about his surroundings organically, by exploration, while she would prefer a controlled environment designed to expose him to cause and effect. I don’t believe that either preference is superior to the other. They are different and they both have their strengths and weaknesses. Her method has the advantage of being structured, and therefore there are no surprises. My method is more adaptable and its “off the cuff” nature makes it more suitable for “real world” scenarios. Neither approach is ideal for all situations all the time. That’s why, in this father’s opinion, it takes two parents to raise healthy children; to set them up for success and empower them to achieve their fullest potential. (Read my article https://mistermommy.com/the-importance-of-a-father/ for a more complete take on my opinion about the critical role that fathers play in their children’s lives.)

One of the benefits of having a Type-A person as a partner is that you’re less likely to be blindsided by the inevitable

blind spt

curve balls that life throws you. I can’t tell you the number of times my wife’s foresight has saved me headaches and strife. However, this level of foresight is often at the expense of our collective peace of mind and her serenity, especially when it manifests as what I’ve coined as “vicarious health anxiety” for our children. Many people talk about postpartum depression, but many women also deal with postpartum anxiety, and women who have preexisting generalized anxiety are more likely to see an increase in the number and severity of symptoms postpartum. I mention these conditions because if you notice your partner experiencing things like constant worry, sleep problems, racing thoughts, unfounded fears, etc – something may be going on that they need help with.

Google Is Not Your Friend

Google is evil

If you Google anything your child does, and scroll down far enough, you’re likely to see a foreboding word somewhere on the page: Autism. My wife first began wondering if our older son TJ was on the spectrum when she Googled milestones. As new parents, we didn’t really know what the typical child should be doing and when he should be doing it. She wanted to make sure that he was hitting the milestones that he should be so we could check in with the pediatrician if he wasn’t. For our son TJ, the first milestone that she questioned was eye contact. Infants generally start making direct eye contact between 6 and 8 weeks. She wasn’t sure if he was actually making direct eye contact, and if he was, if he was doing it as often as he should. So she then googled “infant lack of eye contact.” The first result that comes up is “Avoidance of Eye Contact: An Early Sign of Autism,” so she read it – this was her downfall. If you Google something that your child does that’s even remotely atypical, be it a particular finger placement, a tendency to play with toys a certain way, or only certain toys, I can guarantee you that you’ll see autism spectrum disorder somewhere on the page.

My wife then started to monitor TJ’s eye contact. While he was breastfeeding, he often times wouldn’t look into her eyes. She described him as “looking over her shoulder.” This concern led to more googling. If you find yourself or your partner doing this, you should stop, close/turn off the computer, and talk to your pediatrician instead. She read more about symptoms of autism, and then started to wonder about other things he did or didn’t do. Since children with autism often have trouble with communication and social engagement, things like his general aloofness and lack of separation anxiety (Rowan, his younger brother, literally cries if he’s put down for five seconds) became concerns.

Additionally, TJ didn’t have a word that he knew by a year old (not even “mama” or “dada”). This was probably one of our biggest concerns. All the literature that we read on childhood development clearly indicated that most typical children have a word that they use regularly by one year of age. All of these things, when combined with my wife’s anxiety, led to months of her going back and forth and wondering if he could be on the spectrum. Her fear was so strong that I began to worry, too.

Feeling Inadequate

inadequate

This left me in a very challenging position as his father. A small part of me felt almost angry at her for even letting herself think that something was wrong with him; not because of any sense of paternal pride, but because I was helpless to stop the runaway train of worry, concern and emotion that was robbing her of some of the most joyous times of parenthood. A larger part of me wanted to do emotional damage control in order to prepare for every possible outcome. What would our lives be like if he was autistic? How would our relationship with each other change? Would we rise to meet the challenges that having a special needs child presented together and emerge a stronger, closer couple? Or would our marriage deteriorate into a bickering, sniping, resentful cohabitation headed for ruin? The largest part of me hoped our son would be alright. These scenarios played out in my mind, and I found myself trying, impossibly, to emotionally prepare for all of them.

Of course, I wanted him to be okay. I also knew, from my own research, that the exact cause of autism wasn’t known. Often times, I would find myself making the mistake of trying to “reason my wife’s concerns away.” I would say things like, “If he has it, he has it. It’s nothing that we did or didn’t do as his parents that caused it. Or, “Even if he does have it, it’s done now. It doesn’t change anything.” The second one almost caused a blowout between us on several occasions, because my wife thought that I meant that it wouldn’t change anything for him. What I meant, but failed to adequately articulate was, “It doesn’t change anything about the way we feel about him; the amount of love we had for our little/ man.” In hindsight, the predominant feeling I had was sadness. Sadness for my wife, sadness for TJ, sadness for myself. I found myself cringing inside when TJ would do something “strange” and I would see the inevitable look of concern flash across her face. To my chagrin, I learned during a good conversation that we had after TJ was professionally evaluated that she had begun trying to mask the visible signs of her worry to forgo my reaction.

Early Interventionearly intervention

After months of doing our own research, alternating between being cautiously optimistic, and feeling like our son’s future was fated to be filled with specialists, therapists, and their ilk, we decided to have him evaluated. We made an appointment with early intervention when he was around 18 months old. (click here to access a statewide database of early intervention resources from the CDC). Three professionals came to our house for his evaluation. They talked to him, played with him, and talked to us. They made us feel at ease. After about 30 minutes, we had our answer:

“TJ does not qualify for additional services.”

At first, I heard the “not” in that statement, and my already heightened papa bear instincts seized upon that negative. I was filled with trepidation. I cleared my throat, and asked “What does that mean?” They happily elaborated: TJ was a bright, inquisitive, young boy, and that he didn’t need early intervention. His aloofness was just his personality. His lack of separation anxiety? Chalk that up to confidence. His quirky finger placement was just a quirk. His general interest in and preference for things instead of people? He’s a typical boy. His lack of vocabulary? By the time of the actual evaluation he had started using words and had about 50-60 he would use regularly, so nothing to worry about there. Now, he’s a 28 month old toddler who talks non-stop. We tried to count at one point and he has hundreds of words in his constantly growing repertoire.

What Should I Do If I’m Concerned About Autism?

Let’s play the odds: The odds are, if we’re just looking at the numbers (not any of the other variety of risk factors) that your child does not have autism. According to the most recent data from a 2018 analysis released by the CDC, 1.7% (or one in 59 children) is on the spectrum. That means that 98.3 percent of children do not have autism.

Ask yourself if you’re judging your child’s behavior with an impartial eye (something that, as a father, I find all but impossible to do). Are you playing up (or down) behaviors based on what you’ve read? Are you seeing behaviors that aren’t really there, or aren’t what they appear to be? This is your child. You owe it to him to give him the best start in life possible, and part of that is an unworried, present parent.

If you’re truly concerned about your child’s development, then there are resources you can utilize. Your pediatrician is always there to talk to, and you should feel comfortable enough with him or her to speak freely and share your concerns. Pediatricians are not experts in the autism spectrum, however, so if you are still concerned or your gut is telling you something, you can have your child evaluation at any point by Early Intervention. Early Intervention assists children and their parents with developmental milestones and provides services if there are developmental delays. The CDC maintains a searchable statewide database of Early Intervention providers that can evaluate your child for free, with no insurance necessary. Click here to access it.

I asked my wife if there was anything she knows now that she wished she had known then, anything that she would tell other parents that were concerned about their child’s development. She said that she wished she really had understood that kids do weird things all the time, and that there is no definitive checklist for autism. Take hand flapping, for example: developmentally typical children and atypically developing children at young ages will often hand flap when they are excited in order to express themselves. In other words, just because your child does one or even several things that may indicate that she may have autism does not mean that they actually have it. Try to look at your child as a whole and wait and see how their developmental trajectory plays out.

… And Remember

…your child is still perfectly them! They haven’t changed at all. Labeling something doesn’t change the nature of it, nor does it have any bearing on the future. All labels do is allow people to easily categorize things to sort them. It’s important to define something for what it is, but don’t let this definition limit the potential outcomes of a given situation. If your child has autism, it’s not their defining attribute. It’s just one aspect of a myriad of things that make them who they are.

Just one part of many

Morning

Mother’s Morning Out: Just For Moms?

Our 27 month old, TJ, started a program called mother’s morning out (MMO) last week.  It’s run by a local church, and it provides a chance for mothers to, put simply, get a few hours to themselves for one, two, or three mornings during the week.  A Google search will reveal just how prevalent these programs are, and just how gender specific the search term has to be.  For example, googling “Father’s Day Out” returns a bunch of cheesy Father’s Day websites.  There isn’t a single reference, resource, or pointer to anything related to programs such as Mother’s Morning Out.

So, fellow father, you may be wondering what to do if you find yourself in need of a couple hours’ respite in the morning, and mother’s morning out is your only option.  Read on to discover what you should know, what to expect and how to prepare for this misleadingly named parent’s program.

 

So, Is Mother’s Morning Out Just For Moms?

TJ going to MMO

Let’s dispense with the foreshadowing and get right to the point; MMO Programs aren’t gender-specific. Yes, fathers are just as welcome at these quaint,mostly church-run, parental refuges. To my delight, I wasn’t the only father there when my wife and I dropped TJ off for his first morning at “school”,  which is what we call it when talking to our son.  I was definitely in the minority, though.  There were about three other men there, at least one of which was obviously a grandparent.

    

My older son, TJ, was so excited
to go to MMO on the first day!

Mother’s Morning Out Isn’t Daycare

Daycare

The biggest misconception I have found among not only fathers, but all parents, is that Mother’s Morning Out programs are the same as daycare.  While there are some similarities, they are not the same thing.  There are two main differences; namely: time and cost.  Most MMO programs are one, two, or three day(s) per week, and about two hours per day only.  Daycare is an all day child care service that is typically five days per week for eight hours per day.  The cost difference is reflected in this, as well.  The MMO program that my family uses costs about $20 per day.  In my area (a suburb of Philadelphia), the average annual cost of daycare is $19,575.  Furthermore, many daycares require a contract that you’ll have your child attend their daycare for a given period of time. To get a more accurate comparison, however, let’s break that data down a bit.

     Money MattersFor simplicity’s sake, let’s round the annual cost of daycare to a whole number; $20,000.  Per year, this equates to about $10/hour ($20,000 / 50 weeks (leaving two weeks for holidays) / 40 hours per week = $10).  So, in terms of the cost per hour, daycare is actually about half as expensive as a typical MMO Program. However, when you consider the fact that mother’s morning out programs are only between one and three days per week and don’t require a contract, they are by far the more affordable option.

Is Mother’s Morning Out a Religious Program?

Is MMO religious

Mother’s Morning Out Programs are typically run in a local (Christian) church. That being said, they maintain a secular environment for the children who attend them.  It makes sense; an age when most children are still not toilet-trained is not an appropriate time to teach them about religion, spirituality, and matters of the spirit. When it comes to those most important aspects of life, I prefer to steer the ship.  The Mother’s Morning Out program that we use respects those boundaries, and focuses instead on more age-appropriate matters, such as:

  • Sharing
  • Listening
  • Respect
  • Playing
  • Cleaning up

Since attending MMO, TJ has been more patient with his little brother, Rowan, more receptive to my instructions when play time is over, more willing to take a nap, clean up, follow directions, and an all-around more well-adjusted boy.  I noticed this difference almost immediately after his first day.  It’s a funny quirk of some children that they do things first or more willingly for strangers than they will do them for their own parents. I call it “performance behavior.”  However, once TJ “performs” for someone else, he usually incorporates it into his repetoir of normal, routine, behavior.

Mother’s Morning Out: Affordable, Effective, and Educational

Mother’s Morning Out is the clear winner in this dad’s opinion. From the cost and lack of a contract to the effective methods used to socialize your child, MMO provides the most value for your dollar.  Unless you need all-day childcare, and you don’t have a trusted friend or family member to provide this, MMO is a far more practical solution than daycare.  It provides an educational socialization opportunity for your little one, as well as providing you some time to catch up on some blissful sleep (or dishes, cleaning, and changing your other baby’s diapers).

 

 

Bonding with Your Child

Father holding his child

You just got home from the hospital. Hopefully everything went well, and Mommy is home too. If this is your first child, prepare to feel a bit like a third wheel (if it’s not, you already know the drill). Below I list some of the best ways for a father to bond with his child, and hopefully feel less like a third wheel. My hope is for dads to feel more like the critical member of the family they were intended to be.

Skin to Skin Contact

father holding his newborn

Ever wonder why one of the first things doctors do immediately after delivering a child is hand them to their mother (well, besides the fact that she has the food, and who wouldn’t be hungry after going through an experience like being born)? It’s because of a phenomenon that occurs when your baby touches their parent’s skin. It’s called “skin-to-skin” contact, and it means so much to your baby. However, dads can get lost in the shuffle during this crucial window. I recommend setting time aside specifically for this every day. You will find that you have skills of your own to bring to the table that your child’s mother doesn’t, or isn’t as good at. For me, it was “gliding”. It was a term we coined for sitting in the glider with our firstborn, TJ, and rocking him to sleep. He wasn’t as good of a sleeper as Rowan is. I spent many nights with him: his little body laid across mine, tummy to tummy, patting his diapered butt with my hand while gliding him to sound sleep. If you had told me that I would actually miss those sleepless nights, I would have scoffed. Little did I know just how right you would have been!

Talk to Your Child Father reading to his child

This one can seem silly sometimes, because until your kiddo learns how to talk, it can feel like you’re talking to yourself. However, many studies have shown that a child hearing their parents voices has tons of benefits for them. Your child’s brain is like a dry sponge; ready to soak up any knowledge it’s exposed to.

I felt a little awkward as I was trying to think of what I should say to my son when he and I were alone during the day. I soon realized that it didn’t really matter what I talked about, it just mattered that I was talking. While you’re getting a bottle warmed up for your little one, talk to him or her! Narrate the process, even though they won’t be able to understand what you’re saying. Say things like, “Okay, I am going to go get you a ba!” Or, when you’re changing your child’s diaper, say what you’re doing out loud. I was very animated when I would change my son’s diaper. If he had gone number 2, I would say, “Oh! Poo tanky!” (Poo stinky). To his delight, I would then pretend that I got knocked out by the smell. If he had just peed, I would say, “Oh, phew! It’s just pee!” while wiping my brow in an overly exaggerated expression of relief. Sometime around six to nine months, your child will start babbling and making sounds like, “Goo! Ga! Ba! Da!” To encourage them and the development of their language skills, I recommend that you always mirror their sounds back to them.

Before long, he or she will start making connections between the sounds you make and what you’re doing. TJ’s first word was “Ba!” for his bottle. His first name was “Da Da!” for daddy. I still fondly recall walking in the door from a long day at Starbucks (where I worked at the time), and TJ, for the first time, saying “Da Da!” while crawling excitedly over to me as fast as his little fat legs and arms could carry him. It made me feel ten feet tall.

Play Games

Peek-a-boo!

Hide and seek is a classic and fun way to make your child squeal with laughter. Peek-a-boo is also a go-to for infants. Or you can play, “Where is it?” and hide a favorite toy or stuffed animal and let your kiddo look for it. I used to pretend that I forgot where I put something of his and let TJ look for it for a while sometimes (an easy way to buy yourself some down time during those super-tired days). Another favorite is “Play Cars”, which is TJ’s name for laying on the floor with Da Da and just… playing cars. Play time is when a lot of early childhood development, physical, psychological, and emotional occurs. One thing I’ve learned is that children (at least mine) don’t really care what you’re doing with them, as long as you’re paying full attention to them.

Have fun!

Dad and child having fun

When you’re going to be a stay at home dad and you don’t want to lose your mind, you’re going to have to find a way to make it fun for yourself and your kids. Children are very perceptive, and have an uncanny ability to intuit things that haven’t been explicitly said. If your heart isn’t in it, they will know. When you’re distracted, they will know. When you’re unhappy, they will know. Don’t worry about being the “most fun dad” or the “best dad” or anything like that. After all, you’re without a doubt the most fun dad that your children have, and the best dad they’ve ever had, too!

What are some of the ways that you bond with your child/ren? Leave a comment below. If you found this post and mistermommy.com helpful, please share it with your friends and family using one of the social media buttons below!

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