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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