When I was a kid, any time I was out in public with my parents I would have to call them by their first names. This was because there were so many other children around yelling “mom” and “dad” across the grocery store that I was competing for attention. It seemed like every time I said “mom,” my own mother wouldn’t look up, but four other women around me would turn in my direction.
These days, according to The Wall Street Journal, kids are calling their parents by their first names even in the privacy of their own homes. Long gone are the days of calling friends’ parents Mr. and Mrs., as well. Some parents feel that being on a first name basis is a sign of friendship between parent and child, yet others think it’s disrespectful. We want to know, Would you allow your child to call you by your first name? Take our poll, and then share a comment below — it could appear in a future issue of Parents.
Joe DeProspero has two sons and a wife, and he is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” Author of the dark comedy fiction novel “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt,” Joe is also writing a parenting humor book. He will be posting twice monthly and his previous posts can be found here. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be found on Facebook and on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
“When I was a kid…”
The very phrase evokes an eye roll before the sentence is even completed. It’s undeniably preachy, and above all else, it’s what your father said when you were eight and what you promised yourself you’d never say. But we do say it, don’t we?
“When I was a kid, the Internet didn’t even exist!”
“When I was a kid, we could only talk to people on this foreign concept called a land line.”
The list, as they say, goes on. But clearly, as time marches forward, the forthcoming generation simply won’t be able to grasp how much easier they have it now than those who came before them. And if you’re anything like me, you not only want your children to appreciate their current amenities, but you don’t want them to get so engulfed in those amenities that they lose appreciation for the natural highs in life that have existed far longer than Wi-Fi.
My father hosted a party last weekend for the family. The weather was impossibly perfect, especially for swimming. I was marveling at my 5-year-old’s rapidly expanding ability to hold his breath underwater for increased periods of time. After the pool, my brother-in-law and I sanctioned a wiffle ball game for our 5 and 6-year-old sons, while our younger children held hands and babbled incoherently to each other, skipping mindlessly through the grass. We played with towels wrapped around our waists, intermittently taking a timeout for a bite of whatever was coming off the grill. As the sun began to set, a cake was brought out with candles lit to commemorate the birthdays of me and my sister. With the buttercream still stuffed into their cheeks, all four of the children grabbed empty tomato sauce jars and began gleefully hustling around the backyard, in hopes of capturing the highest number of fireflies. And it was at this moment when I saw my nephew poking holes in the lid — so his illuminating prisoner could breathe — that I realized something important…
No one was on their phones.
I’ll be the first to admit that I often feel an unhealthy, obsessive connection with my iPhone. After all, it has a great deal to offer. It helps me connect instantly with practically anyone I know. It contains a calculator, a camera, a flashlight, a compass, maps, games, music, email, and of course, access to an Internet that has the answer to practically any question I could conceivably ask. But it can’t stand behind you to help adjust your swing. No kid ever pleaded with his mother to let him swim in an online swimming pool. And I’m pretty sure catching virtual fireflies would be pretty boring. In other words, I won’t pretend that smartphones and tablets aren’t a part of my children’s landscape, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t put them in situations where they could thrive, or merely eat a burger without having to post a selfie of him eating said burger on Instagram.
So, here’s hoping that when my children (and all of our children) are in their 30s and 40s and beyond, that they aren’t reminiscing about how many likes their Facebook post got, but instead sharing memories marked with human connection, social interaction, and time spent with arms wrapped around the ones they love.
Perhaps I’m falling right into the “when I was a kid” trap I vowed I wouldn’t. Or perhaps I’m subconsciously trying to have my sons experience childhood the same way I did. Maybe it’s both. But regardless, I feel that it’s every parent’s duty to “referee” their child’s relationship with technology. At a certain point, it will be out of our hands, of course. But if we don’t show our children the beauty of the natural world, can we trust an iPhone app to do it for us?
Thanks for reading, and feel free to join the conversation below or tweet me here.
A friend of mine, an involved father in every way and a sometime stay-at-home dad, was shopping for clothes in the kids’ department of a large department store recently with his wife and two daughters. When his daughters, 8 and 5, needed to try on clothes, he did what he’d always done, and what many of us would have done—followed them into their dressing room Except this time, something different happened. A manager came and asked him to leave the dressing room area, saying there was a complaint from a mom about his presence.
My friend, shocked, complied, not wanting to make a scene at the store, though he did ask the manager what would have happened if he was a single father. She said she wasn’t personally bothered but that she was acting only on the other woman’s complaint. (Why a store manager can’t exercise judgment and must blindly comply with a complainer’s request is another story.)
That’s all the information he got, and all the information I have, but he and his wife were outraged, and so am I. Was that woman objecting because she worried something inappropriate would go on between father and child in the dressing room? That would mean she saw a father with his daughters and immediately assumed he had horrible things in mind. Or was she concerned that a man might somehow see her daughter changing clothes in her own dressing room, even though the dressing rooms were all private? Aside from the supernatural abilities that would require, this assumes he would even have interest in doing so.
What happened, it seems clear to me, is that the other woman saw an involved father enjoying time with his children—enjoying shopping for clothes with his children, which so many dads don’t (guilty as charged here)—and immediately thought, “Pervert.” And not just thought it, but acted on it.
Part of me wishes my friend fought back and stood up for himself, and by extension for all dads implicated by such treatment. But I fully understand why he chose to comply rather than have his daughters witness what would likely have been an ugly argument.
The incident remains baffling and enraging to me. Yes, the statistics on child abuse are horrifying and unacceptable and I mean in no way to be dismissive of this reality. But I fail to see how that connects to what happened in the dressing room. While not everyone has experienced humiliation on par with what happened to my friend, so many dads have had strange interactions with people when they are out and about with their kids, ones in which strangers clearly have some suspicion. In less insidious cases, it may not be suspicion of abuse, specifically, but an implication that a man’s place is at work and not home with his kids, that there is something unusual about a dad breaking traditional gender stereotypes. A stay-at-home dad I met at the Dad 2.0 Summit earlier this year talked about the questions he frequently gets from strangers about why he is at the park on a random weekday with his kids.
We hear lots of welcome support for involved dads and the amazing changes that are taking place in modern fatherhood. But we can’t ignore the inescapable fact that some people look at involved dads as weirdos—or, worse, as suspects. For shame.
I am just back from five weeks of paternity leave, and now that I’ve hung up my weekday dad jeans, I thought I’d offer some reflections on my experience as a temporary stay-at-home dad with that little cutie you see in the picture (and her two bigger sisters). I started my leave when my wife returned to work after her own maternity leave, so it was a period of transition and new routines for all of us, which we’re dealing with again now that I am back at work.
The experience was, not surprisingly, as much—or more—about my older kids as it was about the baby. And that was just fine with me. It was amazing to spend the extra, relaxed time with my older kids, and I did still have plenty of bonding time with Sophia, the baby. Being able to pick up or drop off my older ones at school, or cook dinner with them, or just be around for the late-afternoon homework-dinner-bath mania was important and memorable to me, as I hope it was to them. As my leave neared an end and my 7-year-old asked if I could teach our babysitter some of the recipes we cooked for dinners, I knew it had had an impact. Same with my 3-year-old, who regularly asks in the mornings, heart-breakingly, whether we’re staying home with her, even as she sees us getting dressed and ready to leave for work.
Still, I realized I do not aspire to full-time SAHD status. While I do wish I could have more time at home with my kids and spend more of their waking hours with them, I am not the guy who would become a full-time dad if I won the lottery tomorrow. I cherish the balance in my life between home and work, kid activities and professional pursuits. Needless to say, it’s a personal choice and I mean no judgment on those who choose otherwise—quite the contrary, I love hearing about the choices so many men have made to be SAHDs—but it’s important to know what is right for you.
I was (happily) shocked at how many dads I saw out and about. I don’t remember feeling the same way the last time I took a paternity leave like this, seven years ago. My memory from then is of feeling like the only dad around during weekday work hours. Not this time: Dads—and grandpas—were present with their kids/grandkids everywhere. It was great to see and made me feel like less of an outlier.
You can’t be partly on leave and partly working. Like being “half pregnant,” it just isn’t possible. For the first half of my leave, I did a decent job of staying away from email and really unplugging, at least when I was with my kids. But when my team here at work experienced upheaval, I found myself drawn back in and wanting to be back at the office to help, and truly felt torn between work and home. It led to the more-than-a-little absurd afternoon when I dropped my oldest at gymnastics and drove on the highway for the sole purpose of getting the two younger kids to fall asleep—at which point I pulled over and called into a meeting. In the middle of the call, my 3-year-old woke up, noisily, understandably demanding to know what we were doing and when we were going home.
Life happens whether you’re on leave or not. Duh, no surprise there, but I still found myself extra resentful when my basement flooded and I needed to spend several of my precious paternity-leave days dealing with the fallout. Not that I expected all bliss and sunshine, but really? A flood? Of course, the stay-at-home parent inevitably also must take the lead on shopping, cooking, waiting home for the repairman, and all things homemaking, regardless of the fact that my leave was intended to be about spending quality time with the kids. When it came to day-to-day tasks, I was more than happy to do them, and still got plenty of great moments with the little ones. But at times, like when I was sloshing through my flooded basement, my focus had to be elsewhere temporarily.
People seem to assume I took leave for my wife, to ease her return to work. Several people made comments to this effect. But while helping her was a nice benefit, it takes a very mom-centric worldview to make the assumption that that was my primary motivation. I took this time to bond with my baby, and to prolong the time that she spends full-time with a parent before our nanny became her primary caregiver during workdays. I took the time to be a full-time parent for a short period and spend more time than I otherwise could with my older girls. I took it so that I could have some time when they, my daughters, were the center of my day. Yes, it helped my wife and put her mind at ease, but she would have been fine without my taking leave, and this was not among the top reasons I took the time off.
I am Stoller Man. Yes, it’s true: I earned a new nickname (and a new beard, but that’s a different story). Perhaps it’s my new superhero identity. It came from a moment of absent-mindedness, when I stopped at the bakery with Sophia asleep in her stroller, and in my haste to get out before she woke up, forgot my order on the counter after paying for it. I returned to find this note:
All in all, I feel like paternity leave accomplished what I wanted from it. Despite the intrusions I mentioned above, I was able to focus for this period on spending quality time with my three children in a (mostly) relaxed environment where they were my main concerns. Not to imply that it was all peace and bliss–I do have three children, after all, and we had our share of tantrums, yelling, fights, and frustration. But I wasn’t seeking some fairy-tale existence: The point was that I was there. And, of course, happy as I am to be back at work, I miss the girls during the day. When it comes to work-life balance, finding that happy medium remains an elusive goal.
Parents, we get it. You sometimes feel guilty. You want to be there to drop us off at every little league practice and watch us perform at every dance recital, but sometimes there’s just no way for that to happen. As agonizing as it can be to miss what you see as a major moment in your child’s life, take it from me on this one: it’s OK if you’re not always there.
How do I know this? I’m the product of a workaholic father, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My dad works in academia and all of my life has put in long hours at the office, sometimes working on weekends on never-ending projects. From time to time he missed a swim meet because he was travelling or maybe he couldn’t make it to an orchestra concert because of some work thing or another. Sure, I missed him when he couldn’t be there, but that’s not what first comes to mind when I think about my dad. In fact, until I sat down to write this post I hadn’t thought of any of his absences in years.
That’s because my dad was there for me then, and is still there for me now. We currently live 1,000 miles apart, and I still get a goodnight text before bed every night, emails reminding me about the current countdown to Christmas (it’s “our thing”), and phone calls telling me that I’m loved. He’s one of my best friends, and his work schedule, no matter how hectic it may be, didn’t affect our relationship, but it did teach me a few lessons along the way.
Find your own work-life balance
No book, TV show, news segment, or Parents.com blogger (Hi!) can tell you what works for you. It may take some trial and error, but eventually you’ll figure out a mix between work and family that allows you to get the best of both worlds. In the meantime, don’t stress it.
Memories can be made anywhere, anytime
One of my favorite stories to tell about my dad is how dedicated he was when I struggled with math in school. Even if he worked a long day, he would spend hours with me at our dinning room table working practice problems until the concept finally clicked with me, even if it meant he’d be putting up with my teenage attitude and calculus book-throwing episodes (I’m still really sorry about that, dad). This beloved memory didn’t come from a planned family trip or a scheduled performance, but just from us being together for some one-on-one time.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
We’re all human, and one of the unfortunate side-effects is that we all have bad days. Getting caught up in the negativity of making a mistake or missing out on your child’s big game won’t do anything to change what’s already happened. Instead of worrying, focus on what you can do to be the best parent that your child needs right now. Is he hopelessly bored? Be his playmate. Stressing about a science project? Work through it together with him. There will be lots of moments for you to be there for your child, so don’t worry about one missed opportunity. Or, as my dad would say, “Take it easy, greasy. You’ve got a long way to slide.”