In the beginning there were deadbeat dads... But with a little help from a changing patriarchal society (thank you feminism, you've done your job well), all that's changing. Enter The Dad Beat. Now also available at

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Introducing the new date

I’ve had the good fortune to meet a woman and fall… well, you know. I’m pretty excited.

The question is, when to introduce Maia to the new… er, date? Partner? Lover? Well, perhaps a combination of all three. It’s a pretty frightening thing for me, because I’ve heard the horror stories from friends who mostly say that you want to keep the two lives separate for as long as possible to avoid complications and hurt feelings.

I’m pretty careful with my daughter and if you read this thingamablog ever, you know I care deeply about my kiddo. But let’s face it, if you’ve got a good line of communication going with the child, you talk about how you feel, how the kiddo feels, and share regularly, how the hell are you going to avoid telling them about the most exciting new thing in your life? For us grownups, forging a new relationship can be better than Christmas and Disneyland combined, so how are you going to hide that?

Ok, so I’ve known this person for a month, which is only long only by the yardstick of the life of certain insects, but I’m not all that concerned that this time. Maia has been introduced to one girlfriend in the past four years, and that time it was as a friend. This is different.

I’m guessing that if you introduce your kid to a new girl much more often than that, there’s a bit of a problem, and it’s going to lead to other problems down the road, including: fear of abandonment, lack of trust, self esteem issues or even, god forbid, resentment toward you, the parent who couldn’t create a sense of stability. If you're one who attracts drama, your child is not going to benefit from it, no matter how much of a rush it gives you.

The difficult question is how to introduce the new partner. I’d been thinking about it for a few days, when I picked my daughter up from daycare after work. Finally I just blurted out: “Maia, what would you say if I told you I had a girlfriend?”

She didn’t miss a beat, “Good.”


“Well, what would you think about meeting her?” I asked.

“A new babysitter!” she said, though I still don’t know why.

“Well, no, I don’t think she’d be your babysitter. Not for a while anyways.”

It felt a little too easy, which always makes me worry. So I went on and without a script was a little lost.

“I think you’d really like her. She, uh, she’s a dance teacher.”

“Is she going to be my dance teacher?”

“Umm, no. No I don’t think that would be a good idea at this point. But she’d probably love to dance with you,” I reassured her.

Maia usurped my conversation and we moved on to other things, but now the seeds had been sown. I felt good about it.

The tough part about dating as a co-parent is keeping the schedule sane. I’ve got Maia half the week, so most adult socializing gets taken care of on the off days. And we visit friends with kids on the Maia days. Great. Now there was a person who I wanted to see on the occasional Maia day, too.

Now, Maia’s a pretty heavy sleeper, but I still somehow felt like a kid again (which is good) to be sneaking around her back while she was asleep. But I didn’t want to risk her stumbling onto a PG (or worse) rated scene with someone she’d never met. Nor someone she had met. No more than I want to walk in on my own parents. Woah. Cough. Nope.

One night last weekend, Maia had planned to have a friend over for a sleepover. The opportunity seemed ripe. I asked Maia if I could have Kelly over for a few hours, too. She agreed.

Before our guests arrived, I had a little talk with Maia.
“Hey, Maia. You know, Kelly’s my good friend, right?”

“Uh huh.”

“Can you please look at me?”

“Okay, Daddy.”

“She’s a really good friend of mine. So, I’m going to ask you to show her the same respect you would any of my friends, okay?”

And then she did one of those things that just make the whole parenting gig worth every headache and sleepless night. She held up her pinky finger and said, “Pinky swear.”

And in the end, the most stressed out person that night was me, and it seems, so far, knock on wood, that I had little to be stressed about.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Embracing feelings and teaching positive expression

One of the greatest aspects of being human is the myriad emotions we have. So why is it that so many of us smother our anager, sadness, jealousy, etc? As children, many of us were scolded for displays of anger. Though we were only reacting to our frustrations, rather than teach us to acknowledge our emotions or even to embrace them as signals of our true self, our guardians would react to our expressions with like anger.

I think this cycle, this perpetuated hiding of emotions and feelings is dangerous. Adults who as children were not carefully and lovingly taught to be aware of and acknowlege their feelings are, as adults, often unable to see beyond their reactions to stimuli, and tend to either overreact with paroxysms, lashing out at those they say they love, or not react at all, perhaps out of fear.

We parents have the opportunity not only to teach our kids about feelings and how to identify them. We can learn, too. Since deep inside of each of us is a bundle of complex emotions, often confused, desperate to get out, but afraid of the reactions we'll cause in people. Sharing emotions is a frightening thing to do most of the time. That can be made worse by shutting down the expressions of those we love.

By being aware of our own boundaries and learning to share them with those around us, we can begin to guide our child by not attaching our own negative reactions to their feelings. Allowing the expressions, the feelings of our children out into the open is an important step to open communication.

Next comes guiding the mode of the expression. I find that with my daughter, her feelings sometimes come out as negative conversation, particularly when she's tired. If she's frustrated with being out shopping, she may tell me she doesn't like clothes we're trying on, regardless of whether or not she does. She might look at someone and flat out say that she doesn't like them, even though she doesn't know the person. These comments are entirely out of character with her typically positive nature. And although she's tired/hungry - those aren't the feelings. A tired person needs sleep. A hungry person needs food. But the feeling inside - frustration, anger, sorrow - is what must be addressed. Negative feelings that go unaddressed lead to negative behaviour patterns, which later in life become exacerbated with time and hurt and negative reactions from those around us.

Learning to acknowledge the feelings that churn inside us is the first step to self awareness. When negative expressions of feelings come up with Maia, I use boundaries as much as possible to communicate that the way she's expressing herself is or might be hurtful. I think it really important that the feelings themselves are always shown to be wonderful, though the method of sharing them needs addressing. So the anger, jealousy, resentment, sadness and so on, needs to be addressed, as well as the mode of expression of that feeling. I don't presume to know always the feeling behind the expression of the feeling. For example, if a child calls another child a name -- minor infraction though it may be, I believe it needs addressing.

Children with little guidance in the realm of feelings will have difficulty expressing how they feel in an instance like this. Instead they will assign blame. "She won't play with me", "He keeps taking my truck" and so on. Kids who have been taught to identify feelings first will begin with the feeling. "He hurt my feelings", ie. "I feel hurt/angry/sad", etc.

To people out there who think this is all just a bunch of sissy bullshit and a waste of time, I have an observation. Parents of children who are emotionally intelligent spend a great deal less of their time struggling with their children, less time disciplining them and more quality time with them. Why? Because children who have been taught to acknowledge their feelings, that their feelings are important and to respect the feelings of others of their own volition are self guiding children. Kids whose feelings are left up to their own governance are, well, a lot like the kids in The Lord of the Flies. Nuts.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Happy kids are cute. Posted by Picasa

Sad kids are cute.  Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Raising epicureans: Eat out and eat better

Finding the right place to eat with your kids can be as hard as getting a four year old to enjoy a nice cool bowl of gazpacho. A lot of the better restaurants out there – and I’m a bit of a foodie – don’t put much thought into the little patrons. Things get harder still at ethnic restaurants that specialize in spicy foods. So if you want to continue eating well (IE. NOT MCDONALDS OR ANY OF ITS COMPETITION) you’ve got to do some thinking for the restaurateur.

Depending on the age of your kids and their personal tastes, eating at restaurants that cater to people with a colourful palate (IE, in Vancouver, Ouisi Bistro, Bin 941, Monsoon, Tapastry, Banana Leaf, The Reef and many others) can be easier than it might appear. For starters, these restaurants all share something in common: They’re interesting to be in. The atmosphere and the music at these places are stimulating for people young and old.

By contrast, many restaurants that pretend to cater to kids, with menus chock full of crap food like macaroni and cheese and chicken fingers, have dull interiors and duller music which serves to further deaden our senses. (Read: Earls, Nandos, Milestones, and any restaurant that calls itself a family restaurant.)

So what does the epicurean parent do for a night out with the sprouts and ankle biters?

Well, I should have named this site “IMHO” – because that’s about as scientific as we’re going to get here. IMHO kids will eat much more than they’re given credit for. And at a restaurant with a solid pedigree you can bet that the food is better than most of the mangled concoctions we slap together at home. As a kid, I absolutely detested pork chops and steaks because my experience of these was the frozen, thawed and over-cooked type. Only later did I learn that pork tenderloin is one of the most gob-stopping of all dishes. And the sauces we pair our food with are an expression of the chef’s personality and creativity.

By which I mean to say, chances are a kid will enjoy the Beef Wellington at Bin 941 in spite of how many times in the past they’ve hidden morsels in napkins at home or surreptitiously smuggled half chewed mouthfuls off to the bathroom.

Part of the trick is getting them to try things in the first place, and IMHO this is the culture that you present to your child. Are you adventurous regularly, or do you feed your kids mac ‘n’ cheese for lunch five days a week? Good eating is a culture, just as being adventurous and spontaneous are ways of life. Hand in hand with this goes the excitement you bring to these experiences. If your demeanor at a restaurant is uptight, why would your kids enjoy the experience?

My favourite way to dine with or without kids is to order a bunch of different dishes – tapas style – and share. This way you can be sure there will be something for everyone, while everyone gets to try some different things, and s-t-r-e-t-c-h that palate.

Always order a few safe bets. A side rice dish or simple pasta plate are good choices for starch dishes. Mild fish like Tilapia, haddock, mahi-mahi, sea bass, orange roughy, flounder, basa, cod, and catfish are all good bets for picky kids.

One of the biggest mistakes with kids is assuming you’ll know what they like or telling them what they do and don’t like. Let kids be adventurous and they’ll learn to keep trying new things. If you order only safe bets every time, you’re encouraging over-pickiness. I prefer ordering dinner for picky kids and letting them choose dessert. Kids who are adventurous should be given more latitude to choose for themselves, as they clearly don’t need the nudge to keep on trying.

The best advice I’ve read about getting kids to eat their food is to encourage them to have three bites of everything at each meal. Once this task is done, they’re free to have more of the things they like. But pick your fights carefully: You can always fall back on not making them eat, but not inviting them to share dessert if they refuse to eat. As always, you’ve got to follow through with every consequence you set, so make it fair.

Top Ten Cool Kid Friendly Restaurants in Vancouver:

  1. Cafe de Soleil - It's got a stage with a kids play area! Oh, and great granola muncher food, too.
  2. Cactus Club - A chain with cookie cutter waitresses, but lively, affordable and tasty food. Did I mention the cookie cutter waitresses?
  3. Sophie's Cosmic Cafe - Garage-sale décor. Popular Kits breakfast brunch hangout. Beer and wine. 2095 W. 4th, 604-732-6810
  4. Guu - Popular izakaya with modern Japanese tapas and comical young staff. 838 Thurlow, 604-685-8817; 1698 Robson, 604-685-8678; 105–375 Water, 604-685-8682
  5. Havana - Large patio, weekend brunch, new Afro-Cuban food, lively atmosphere. 1212 Commercial, 604-253-9119
  6. Vera's Burger Shack - Friendly joint serves six-ounce, fresh ground-beef patties. 1935 Cornwall, 604-228-8372; 1030 Davie, 604-893-8372; 1181 Denman, 604-681-5450; 2188 Western Pkwy., UBC, 604-221-8372; 15989 108 Ave., Surrey, 604-582-8372
  7. Naam - Funky natural-food joint with open-air patio and painfully slow service. The miso gravy makes it all worth while. Nightly music. 2724 W. 4th, 604-738-7151
  8. Las Margaritas - Casual atmosphere, great patio, excellent margaritas. Classic mexican fare. 1999 W. 4th, 604-734-7117
  9. Bin 941 - Not typically for children, but the staff are always spot on, the food doesn't get better (not at this price, anyways) and the busy vibe will keep the kids distracted. Not for the claustrophobic.
  10. Elbow Room - A tongue in cheeck brunch spot that serves attitude and insults with omelletes. Great food and prices. 560 Davie St. 604 685 3628

Top Boycotted Restaurants (Because they don't love our kids):

  1. Zen Cafe, Vancouver - They charge you for a spare plate for your kid and don't offer ANY kids' options! And really don't care what you think.

Email with your nomination.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Apartment Hunting with Children - It's not all white elephants

Unless you're comfortable living in the neighborhood of a Chernobyl-like nuclear meltdown, searching for rental accommodation is a guaranteed pain in the keister. In Vancouver in particular, where prices soar above those anywhere else in Canada , finding an affordable, attractive rental for your family will be a challenge that at times can feel insurmountable. Within a week of giving notice at your last home, you'll no doubt begin to feel a surge of regret: “What if I don't find anything?”

Read on for some pointers and tools that will help alleviate some of the stress most single parents feel looking for suitable accommodation.


1. Plan ahead. Start looking before you give notice. Think about what areas of town are you'd like to live in, what kind of place is realistic and what you can afford. Reading the classifieds and the resources listed below, and going to look at available places will give you a good idea of what the market is like at any given moment. Also, if you're looking for co-op housing, you'll need to begin your search and the application process months (and in some cases, years) before you expect to sign a lease.

2. Compile a list of essential information that landlords will ask for: Employment history, banking history, proof of income, references from past landlords, other references. Always bring this information with you to viewings.

3. Contact friends to let them know you're looking. Sometimes this will be the quickest route to finding a new place, and friends are sometimes the best references.

4. Use several resources in your search. You'll find different websites specialize in different types of accommodation – some list co-ops; others are for university students. Some attract low income families; still others feature luxury condos for in-town movie execs. See below for a thorough list of mostly Vancouver-based resources.

5. Always ask specific questions before going to see the home. Important ones include:
  1. Is this a basement apartment (they !#$%ing seldom seem to say it outright in the ads!)
  2. How many square feet is the place? (kids and tiny homes don't go well together)
  3. When is it available? (Little point in going to see a place that isn't available for 3 months)
  4. Is there a yard? Is the yard secure?
  5. Do you require a lease? How long?
  6. Do you mind huge house parties with strippers and Columbian drug cartel types? (just kidding)
6. When going to viewings bring the following: A street map, snacks and drinks for the kids, all pertinent info (see 2 above) and a cell phone.

7. If you have particularly rambunctious or noisy children, consider leaving them at home or with a child minder. There's no question that most landlords are on the whole predisposed to childless tenants. Certainly an absent child will serve you better than a noisy one.

8. Don't lie about having children on your application.

9. Stay calm. Even if you're running behind, you're bound to find something if you exhaust all the resources below. If you find yourself in a bind, and still don't have something as you're nearing the end of the month, consider taking something you don't like but which doesn't require a lease - that way you can start the search again as soon as you've recovered from the first disaster!

Use these links to get you started on your search in the BC region. For those outside this area, use Google and type "apartment rentals" followed by your city/town name in the search field. You should find numerous links there. Good luck.

Co-op Housing

Rent BC

My Ideal Home Rentals

Apartment Guide

Co-op Housing

Canadian Co-op Network

Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada

Low Income and Subsidized Housing

If you have more suggestions and links to add to the list, please contact me at

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Parenting Teens: An entirely different ball game

The meat: Parenting teens is difficult. Their brains are in flux and their attitudes seem to stink. Here are the new facts and a few tools that will make your job easier and more rewarding.

Well, it’s mother’s day. Hooray for moms the world over. Thanks for putting up with us, deadbeat dads, abusive husbands, insane children… we don’t deserve you, really.

So here it is again: Thanks, Mom.

Remember that time we fought over a case of beer on the front lawn, because I was only 18 and you were only trying to uphold the law? In a rage, I snatched it from you and smashed it on the walkway to our home. What a lethal combination: a mom drawing a line and male adolescent hormones!

If you’re a parent of teenagers, you are probably familiar with behaviour similar, if not as extreme, to this. Actually, the culprit is increasingly thought not to be hormonal so much as it is mental. Apparently, the human brain continues to grow throughout adolescence, and the result is that adolescents are more susceptible than their parents to long term damage caused by violence, binge drinking and drug use. What’s dangerous about this is that we learn much of our behaviours (smoking, drinking, drugs, violence) from the adults around us.

Here’s an explanation from an article at South Coast Today:

This year in the scientific journal Nature, researchers presented a series of time-lapse images depicting brain growth from age three to 15. The images showed a tangle of nerve cells sprouting in the part of the brain that sits above the eyes, then a period of "pruning" after puberty, when about half of the new fibers are cut away to create an efficient network of circuits.

All this action happens in a part of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex, an area responsible for what neuroscientists call the "executive functions." Those functions are practically a laundry list of the qualities adolescents often lack -- goal-setting, priority-setting, planning, organization and impulse inhibition.

Scientists also found that adolescents, or at least adolescent rats, suffer more profound long term effects from everything from smoking to drinking to exposure to violence.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina recently decided to test the sensitivity of the adolescent brain to binge drinking by subjecting rats to an alcohol bender. Four times a day for four days, they gave both adolescent and adult rats 10 grams of alcohol per kilogram of body weight. After the rats had sobered up, the researchers looked for brain damage and found more in adolescent rats compared to adults.

Without going into the science of it, we can safely assume that this new information might lead us to new approaches of parenting. For example, if we’re falling into a negative routine with our teen kids, having the same arguments, and keep feeling that no one’s winning because resolution never occurs (and this is normal), it’s time to look more carefully at the way we’re communicating with our kids. As parents, we set the stage for our child’s development, not the other way around. When we don’t do our homework, chances are we’re learning by trial and error, and that can take a long time. And who wants to mess up that many children?

An excellent article from Focus Adolescent Services gives the best advice on parenting adolescents that I’ve ever seen. Here’s an excerpt, with a link:

There are three major areas that are crucial to the parent-adolescent relationship -- connection, monitoring, and psychological autonomy. First, a sense of connection between a teenager and parent provides a backdrop against which all other interaction takes place. If the parent-child connection is consistent, positive, and characterized by warmth, kindness, love, and stability, children are more likely to flourish socially. Adolescents who describe their relationship with their parents as warm, kind, and consistent are more likely to initiate social interaction with other adolescents and with other adults. They are more likely to respond to others positively and with greater empathy. They are more likely to be self-confident in their relationships with others, and to be more cooperative with others. Also, teens with these kinds of positive relationships with their parents on the whole struggle less with depression, and have higher self-esteem. Relationships characterized by kindness and devoid of unkind words or acts appear to be important to healthy adolescent development.
Read the rest of this great tool here.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Five B's: The Easy Way to do Bedtime

Somewhere early on with my daughter I made a not all that astute oberservation about the bedtime ritual: It is a ritual. And like most rituals, there can be a soothing, gentle and even fun quality to bedtime. Or it can be like sacrificing a lamb. Not fun, unless you're twisted.

The Important Stuff

The five B's are simple and can pretty much go in any order, though I usually follow this one:

1. have a BATH
2. BRUSH teeth
3. go to the BATHROOM
4. read a BOOK
5. drink a BOTTLE ("BUBBA")

With young children (0-3) you've pretty much got to walk your kid through it – unless you're some sort of Montessori “my child was swimming at 8 months, reading by 16 months” sort of delicate genius. Between 3 and 4 you’ve got to be regularly training the babes to do some things on their own, such as putting pajamas on, having a poo/pee, and choosing a story. While they’re doing this you can be getting the bottle ready, tidying up the kitchen/bedroom if you’re like me there’s only a 50/50 chance that the bed’s been made up.

The Details

1. Regarding having a bath, here’s what I think: Why bother? My daughter’s four; if she doesn’t want a bath, I give her the option of having a shower with me in the morning. Let’s face it, it takes less time that way and she comes out cleaner. Some dad’s don’t feel comfortable having a shower with their kids, and that’s fine, too. Do the bath thing. Just don’t leave a child who can’t swim alone in the tub. Bathtime is a good time to play with your child. It’s also a great time for your child to play alone. So you may want to bring a book, just in case.

2. Brushing teeth at least twice every day is a no brainer. Unless you like blowing hard earned dough on your kid’s braces and your dentist’s new Lexus, make sure they do it. Do it for them until they’ve got the idea. Once they’re doing it themselves, look closely at their teeth from time to time – are they clean? If not, help them improve. As for flossing, well, you know.

3. My daughter always used to want me to be there when she went to the bathroom. By about age 3, she was going alone, and would often not even bother to tell me when she was dropping the kids off at the pool, but then would call out, at the top of her lungs, “I’m READY!” After badgering her for months to wipe on her own, I finally started answering the “I’m ready!” with “Ok, go ahead.” Maia would go silent for a moment, and then say, “Come on, Dad. I’m ready. Wipe my bum.” To which I’d answer, “Nah. You do it. You’ll like it – it’s fun.” Though I did teach her a few times the technique of wiping that I use, she seemed to figure it out on her own.

Here's a link that deals with newborns -- from butt wiping to soothing. Handy stuff for new parents.

(NOTE for parents of girls: I once watched Maia wiping after a poop and she was going from the back to the front. Major no-no. Wiping poo from cute little butt to “pooty” (ie. Vagina) can cause a urinary tract infection.)

4. Reading is a no-brainer, too. If you don’t do it, you risk having a child who can’t read well later on. This can kill their self-esteem and they’ll probably end up the kind of parent who doesn’t read to their kid. Also, take your time. Ask your kids if you’re reading too fast. They’ll tell you when you are.

If you have one child, I recommend that you each select a book. Kids often pick something fluffy. You should be picking something fun but educational and appropriate to their reading/listening level. If you want to read crap to them, expect them to be reading crap when they’re 35 and managing a McDonalds.

If you have two or more kids, let them each pick a book.

5. Bottles. Bubbas. Sippy cups. Milk. Soy milk. Rice milk. Breast milk. I know a woman who, last time I spoke to her, had two kids, 7 and 4 I believe, and was still breastfeeding both. That may be “fucking weird” as some have said. Perhaps it’s the right thing. I don’t know. What’s right for you as a parent is what your conscience tells you. The truth. We balance our child’s health with our beliefs and the norms of the culture we own. I feed Maia a bottle of warm cow milk at bedtime. I usually ask her if she wants some beer milk too, just for kicks.