[A FATHER’S VOICE] Fighting the Instinct To Help My Children

When we started selling our house and looking for a new one last year, I drew upon my years of therapy training and experience and my well-honed instincts and sat down with my almost four-year old twins and explained to them that we were looking for a new house. Every weekend we were going to be having open houses as well as looking for our new home; I didn’t want my children to get stressed out by what they were seeing, all the strange people, all of the talk of a new home. I wanted them to understand what was happening all around them.

That was easily my biggest mistake in the moving process.

My children – especially my little girl – became so stressed, so anxious, I’m not sure she has been the same since. She became afraid to go to school in the morning, afraid every time we left, afraid we were going to move without her, afraid she would be all alone, afraid she would not have a bed to sleep in. She became afraid to go to sleep at night and began having trouble sleeping through the night, waking up with nightmares. It was horrible and I felt terrible. I knew my talk had actually made everything worse for her instead of easier.

Fortunately, once we moved and they saw their new bedroom, saw that Mommy’s and Daddy’s room was right across the hall, that they had a wonderful playroom, that the backyard was nice, that the house was safe, things got a lot better. But I vowed to be more careful about what and when I explained things to my children.

Recently, my wife, Gem, started working for the first time since our children were born 4.5 years ago. While it is only part-time in the beginning, it is a major shift for our family. A shift we have intentionally not talked to our children about. As anxious as that made me, “Mr. Talk About Everything to Be Prepared,” it has worked out much better than our move.

I remember my wife and I sitting at the dining room table brainstorming how and when to talk to our kids about this. We rehashed the tough move and the effect it had on them, nervous about making the wrong move, hurting them again despite our best intentions. Finally we decided we would basically follow their lead. We wouldn’t bring it up with them. We wouldn’t make a big deal out of this. We would go with the flow.

We did talk about her starting a new job in front of them, trying not to hide anything from them, but also not sitting down for “A Talk,” either. On her first day, I stayed home from work and spent the day with my children. On her second day, their Nana came up from Philly for her weekly visit. On day three, their Tia (Aunt) spent the day with them. Tia was going to be their primary caretaker when my wife and I weren’t around, and they absolutely love her, so that made my wife’s absence a little bit easier to handle.

When Gem told them she was going to work they took it in stride. A couple of weeks later Gem even brought them to her office so they could see it, see where Mommy is now spending her time away from them – the way they have visited my office countless times in the past 4.5 years.

Of course, the adjustment has been significantly harder on us and has made me wonder how families manage to do any of the things that need to get done, like groceries and other errands, when both parents work. It is terribly hard and overwhelming — so much to do in an incredibly short period of time. What’s worse,  now we both miss our children; now we both have little heartaches for the time we don’t see them and the things they are learning without either one of us around. More and more of their time is spent without either of us now, and it wears on us both.

But at least, while it has been rather stressful on us, our kids have been spared much of the stress and anxiety – in part, certainly, because we spared them from “A Talk.”

Image credit: Penny Matthews

1 thought on “[A FATHER’S VOICE] Fighting the Instinct To Help My Children

  1. This is a really great, and powerful post. You and your wife are obviously very knowledgable, and considering your profession, skilled at communicating within your family. My concern about your post is that it might give cover to those parents (dads) who are afraid to discuss difficult issues with their kids. You said that you will watch more closely “what and when I explained things to my children.” I would like to suggest that the thing that needs to be watched is “how” things are explained to our kids. And the conclusion that it might have been better not to mention “the move” at all, does not necessarily follow from what you described – in other words, you might have gotten a better result, if it had been discussed differently. I only bring this up because your model of “Mr Talk About Everything” is probably a much better model for most fathers to follow. Just a thought.
    Thank you for this very provocative post.

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