bookmark_borderOur Gentle Parenting

It was probably a few months before he was born that I really started to read up on the various aspects of what being a parent would mean. We bought books, read them in-depth, made notes and held study sessions so ensure we absorbed every morsel of information we could.

Except we didn’t do that. We did attend a couple of courses – hypnobirthing (which wasn’t what it sounds like), and an NCT ante-natal course – all online of course as we were still in the end days of COVID. I did read a fair few articles as I tried to get a grasp on what being a Dad would be like though, with the aim of mentally preparing myself, particularly because I’m an older Dad and I wanted to get some shared experiences if at all possible.

One thing that we both, naturally, gravitated towards was the idea of gentle parenting.

As a child I was spanked once, I think. I don’t remember it, but it was talked about in semi-hushed tones with my parents for years as it was such an outlier. That said, I was brought up in the ‘children should be seen and not heard’ world so a lot of my behaviours were to be still and quiet, rather than act out and be wild. It likely explains why my ‘go to’ as an adult is still to be quiet and alone.

For our son we were both keen to make sure he was brought to up to understand his own emotions, to be able to process them and have some tools to deal with that himself. That is what we think of when we discuss ‘gentle parenting’. It doesn’t mean we aren’t strict, we hold boundaries where needed, and it doesn’t mean he gets to do whatever he wants, we have worked hard to get a good routine in place around eating and sleeping, and we are proud that he’s growing well, eating healthily, and sleeping consistently well. It has not been easy to get here but this was part of what we were aiming for.

For me, a feminist bringing up a boy, gentle parenting was especially important as I want my son to understand his privilege and help him learn how to conduct himself appropriately. I’ve written about this before and taking the approach that gentle parenting embodies was key in helping me understand HOW to raise my son to be a good man.

There are many definitions of gentle parenting but one of the early exponents of the phrase itself, said this:

“Gentle Parenting is a way of being, it is a mindset. It’s not about how you wean your baby, or what type of education you chose. It’s not new, it’s not trendy. Gentle parents come from all walks of life, all ages, all ethnicities and most don’t even realise that their style of parenting has been given a new name, it’s just the way they have always been.”

Sara Hockwell-Smith

Becca and I, when we were discussing the types of things we’d have to handle as parents, quickly realised that we were both of a similar mind and, without even having heard the term, were destined to be ‘gentle parents’. That’s likely as much to do with our upbringing and world view as anything, but it means we are able to be consistent with Jack as he grows, that we have empathy for everything he is going through (all the new things he is learning, so much going on every single day!), we respect his feelings and moods (some days he just doesn’t want to go out, so we don’t), we do our best to understand what is going on for a boy his age and factor that in to our thinking, and we hold boundaries through the routines we’ve worked hard to implement (he always brushes his teeth before he has his bath before he goes to bed each night).

It’s not always been easy, but we are determined to give him the best start to life that we can and we believe giving him the emotional capacity he will need as he grows, will give him confidence in himself, and he too will be able to show empathy, understanding, respect and hold boundaries with others when needed.

Throughout this amazing past 2 and a half years, I’ve learned so much about what it takes to be a good Dad, and more importantly I’ve learned so much about myself and all of that is down to gentle parenting. I know I have always been empathetic to others and saught to understand and respect other people but the depth of those emotions have grown since Jack came along and, I think, the more I can understand those feelings within myself, the better an example and father I can be.

And THAT’S why I believe in our gentle parenting approach and, so far, the proof is in the pudding and we have a thoughtful, kind, silly, curious little boy who likes hanging out with his Mummy and Daddy. We have tantrums that we deal with, we have behaviours (hitting) that we calmly assert aren’t acceptable and then ask why he’s hitting, and we talk about all of our feelings, sadness, happiness, love, and don’t shy away from any of our emotions as a family.

When I read about people saying gentle parenting is ‘soft’ and ‘taking it easy’ on the child, I’d suggest they think about how hard it is to remain calm, and consistent, every single day. How much effort it takes to figure out and understand what my toddler is going through, and how it translates to a boy who loves snuggling and cuddling, rather than a terror who is kicking and fighting when he gets tired.

Gentle parenting is hard, it is tough, but I firmly believe it’s the best way to raise a child, to give them a grounding that they can take with them as they grow and mature, into adulthood where the hope is that they’ll be able to handle themselves and their emotions in what is becoming an increasingly negative and hated filled world.

We give our son love, we make sure he knows he is safe and cared for, in the hope that he will expouse those simple virtues to everyone he comes into contact with as he makes his way in the world.

That’s our gentle parenting. What’s yours?

bookmark_borderDad friends

I am very very lucky. I live with, I married, I have a son with, my best friend. We don’t fight (occasionally disagree) and we talk a lot about our thoughts and emotions, call each other out when it’s needed, we support each other, we hug, we laugh, we kiss, we cry. We are good together. We are good for each other.

I am very very lucky. I have three very close friends that I’ve known for over 30 years, the type of friends that remain constant in your life even though you don’t see them all that often throughout the year. We mostly communicate through a WhatsApp group for our own little Formula One predictions game. I love them dearly, they’ve been with me through every major event in my life, marriages, divorce, deaths, and the birth of my son.

None of them are Dads.

My son is fast approaching 2 and a half years in age and this last couple of weeks it feels like the “terrible twos” have finally descended on us. He is a curious, active, emotional little guy. We encourage all of this, gentle parents that hold firm lines where we must.

As Jack starts to try to understand his place in the world, and starts to control more of his own actions, he is (rightfully!) pushing boundaries to help himself figure out what is acceptable and what is not. Which is a nice way of saying that he has developed a very strong will for some very specific things that he does not want to do.

One is changing his nappy, but that one seems like a soft pushback that he eventually caves to. More recently though bedtime has become a battle, with the act of putting on his sleeping bag being the line he will not cross.

Since he was about 8 months old or so, when he stopped co-sleeping with his Mum and I was able to do bottle feeds at night, he’s had a great bedtime routine. Dinner, some fruit, some milk, brushing his teeth, then a bath, then into his room to wind down before bed. Mum does his bath, I do bedtime.

For months now it’s been the same, after his bath he comes into his room where I am waiting for him, we play a little (as quietly as possible with a toddler who likes ‘getting dizzy’ and doing ‘big jumps!’), we read through books, we cuddle. I talk about what he wants to do, does he want to put the big light off himself or will Daddy do it? When he goes into his bed, does he want Daddy to stay in the room with him (“lie down”) or leave (“Daddy go ‘way”). Then around about the same time every night – I tend to watch for the signs he’s ready – we put on his sleeping bag, he pulls the zip up, then it’s lights off and into his bed.

But not recently.

I’ll admit I’ve not handled it all that well at times. Losing my temper more than once (not AT him, but he can tell I’m getting annoyed/angry) and it kills me that I’m struggling with this, struggling to process my own adult (exhausted) emotions whilst he quietly lies on the floor and fights and kicks if I try and pick him up, until he finally gives an inch and concedes he will go to bed but not in a sleeping bag. Which means he’s likely to wake through the night as he’ll get a little cold and so one of us has to go through and comfort him and get him back to sleep.

I work in the office 3 days, which means my days start at 5:45am. Becca works a Tuesday evening and Saturday and Sunday mornings, so we try and split the night time responsibilities depending on that. If Jack allows of course, sometimes he doesn’t want one of us at all so we ‘tag in’. It’s what he needs, that’s always our mantra no matter how hard it gets.

And boy has it been hard. I’ve been feeling so useless at times. On the days I work in the office I don’t see him in the morning, and have only a couple of hours before it’s bedtime and it’s pretty much the ONLY thing I have to do and I can’t even do that? What a failure! Useless!!

Which I know isn’t true. I know we are doing a good job bringing him up, I know this. I am not useless, I am a Dad who turns up for his son every day and night, I am there, I am present and helping him grow.

But… I’m the Dad, I’m the provider, the one who puts a roof over our heads, the one who protects his family… and so on. These views are draconian, patriarchal and outdated and, when I step back and look at my life as it is today, not even remotely close to how we live our lives, yet these are the entrenched ideals I have in my mind, the values I was brought up with.

I am not trying to be my Dad; god bless him but he always pushed emotions away (he was, like I am, an emotional man but I think he was brought up to feel shame if he showed them). I don’t do that, I want Jack to understand that sometimes I get sad, sometimes I cry, sometimes I will be distant but I will always be there for him, and I want Jack to know that all of those emotions are valid in that hope that when he starts to understand them and can recognise them in himself (he’s already feeling them) he won’t feel ashamed and will have the tools to figure out how do deal with them.

I am also the ‘male’ figure in his life, so my actions and comments towards others is something I’m very aware of, even though I am confident in the example I am setting him in terms of respecting people, being nice, being good (and being a bit cheeky too).

All of these thoughts and emotions and hopes and dreams swirl through my head as I hold my son, gently talking to him, trying to coax him into his bed whilst he clings tighter and shakes his head. I pull him tighter and reassure him that everything is ok, that Daddy is here for him, and that we will figure this out together, that I love him, and feel so lucky to be his Daddy.

All of this is in my head and, no matter how much I talk to Becca I realise more and more that I need some Dad friends.

I have no idea how to do that, but I sometimes feel like I need people with similar upbringings (so around my age) and similar world views to mine (no right-wing homophobes please) that have children. Essentially, I need my best mates to have kids except one is 55 and single, one has his two ‘children’ already (dogs), and the I think the other hopes to have kids one day but hasn’t managed to get to that point yet.

That said, I got to know some other Dads through the ante-natal class we did before Jack was born, we had our own little WhatsApp group, sharing 2am ramblings and gripes but that fell away after the first few months. I did reach out recently and posted a message to the group (the first anyone had in over a year) just to reach out but it was more a ‘hi, how are you guys getting on’ kinda thing. I didn’t want to dive straight into a chat about Dad worries and how everyone else was coping with them… don’t be that guy, right?

But that is the point, I should be that guy, I can’t keep all of this to myself. Men are notoriously bad for talking about their feelings and emotions, something that I do well here (because I am constantly aware I am writing to one reader), but still struggle with in real life. I don’t make friends easily, less so with men, so I’m unlikely to start an outpouring of emotions to someone I barely know.

But I will talk to my friends about this, and I talk to Becca about all of everything, but unfortunately the one voice I’d love to hear from is no longer with us. I channel him every day (more than I even realise I’m sure) but oh how I’d love to hear how he dealt with his exhausted Dad demons. My parents went through some horrible, hard, stressful times and it speaks volumes that, for the most part, I was completely unaware and happy, whilst they struggled to pay bills and dealt with miscarriages. Maybe I should’ve known a little more? It’s hard to say, and hindsight blah blah blah..

I’ve heard of some of this from my Mum, but now that I am a father too, I wish mine were here.

I will talk about these things to my friends and family and, as he grows up, I will continue to talk to my son, continue to be open with him, emotional in front of him, and make sure he understands his place in my world and how important he is to me. I hope that he will become my friend too.

It’s not easy being a Dad.

But I wouldn’t change it for the world.

bookmark_borderBack at it

I am nothing if not consistently repetitive; I’ve posted about running, couch to 5KM apps, jogging groups (jogScotland), completing an organised 10KM race, going to the gym for bootcamps and sticking with it through to lifting weights (140kg squat, 140kg deadlift, 90kg bench press PBs), to rediscovering cycling in a big way through COVID lockdown and on to 3hr rides up mountains (Etape Caledonia, and Tak Ma Doon (which featured in the recent World Championship road race)), and everything in between.

My periods of exercise are punctuated with injuries which stall my progress, and more recently the arrival of my son and my willingness to devote my life to his needs and put mine on hold which thwarted me doing much of anything for a couple of years.

But the cycle continues; exercise and get fit (even losing a little weight, but not a lot) and then pause and fall into old habits, then give myself a challenge to aim for to add some motivation and accountability.

In short, I’ve got my planning spreadsheet out and I’m aiming to tackle the 55 mile route of Etape Caledonia on the 12th May which, given how quickly life moves around here, will be here all too soon.

  • Step 1 – get my road bike serviced and the worn cassette and chain replaced (ohh and fit SPD-SL pedals)
  • Step 2 – make sure my hybrid bike is workable enough to get me to work and back a couple of days a week.
  • Step 3 – book time to do some longer, hilly, cycles in the coming weeks.
  • Step 4 – actually do the training

Step 1 is the easiest as all I need to do is drop my bike off at my LBS, Magic Cycles .

Step 2 shouldn’t take long as, even though my hybrid bike is 14 years old, it’s still a solid beast and mostly just needs a clean, a re-oiled chain, and some air in the tyres.

Step 3 is already done! I’ve opted to take some time off work as that fits best around the rest of my life commitments. So I’ll be up at 5am to get out on the bike by 5:30 and likely home by 8am-ish. Same for a couple of Sundays in April too as I start to increase my mileage.

Step 4 is sorta underway already as I’ve also restarted (for the umpteenth time) Couch to 5K. I’m halfway through and it’s fitting the bill in being a much quicker way to ‘get into exercising’ than cycling.

It’s a simple hack I’ve used in the past, go for the easiest exercise to start first and build momentum with that! I’m terrible for letting small inconveniences get in the way of exercise.

I love cycling but even just a quick hour on the bike means checking tyres, getting the right clothes on, helmet, bike shoes, bike computer, lights, gloves, water bottles, snacks and planning a route… Going for a run means putting on my trainers, headphones, starting an app and running, so far it’s doing the job.

I am trying to be sensible as I (re)build my fitness ahead of the Etape, hence why I’m starting now and not cramming in a few training rides late April; I’m lucky that I have a commute to work (by bike) that is almost entirely along cycle/canal paths so that’s good for getting my legs moving. It’s an hour, each way, but not many hills so the weekend and Wednesday mornings will see me taking on more challenging routes.

One advantage of where I live now is that there are plenty of hills to tackle so that won’t be a problem, well other than getting to the top of them!

I’m currently in the right frame of mind for all of this too, not something I’ve felt for a while so the faster I can build momentum and get back to regular exercise the better. I know I feel better once I’m done, plus as I mentioned, it means I can give my little planning geek a workout too.

I did, at one point, ponder an entirely separate blog for my exercising endeavours. I guess this is why we have categories but it’s still something I’m keen to explore. I have a separate instagram for my cycling/fitness and was gonna try and split the exercise focused posts here into a subdomain.. we will see, as ever, time is of the essence.