This week's blog is something a little different, we know there's plenty of men out there finding it hard to co-parent and if I'm honest I'm one of them.
So this week I wanted to give an honest, and raw account of a recent experience I had, trying to co-parent over video call, as well as sharing some things I've done that have helped, and hopefully together we can find ways to get through this thing they call co-parenting.
So, myself and my little girl's mum are pretty much on the same page when it comes to parenting, although I would say I'm perhaps a little more neurotic, our most frequent disagreements are often due to the fact that I spend a lot of time trying to shield my daughter from danger, after all my job is to work in an offshore environment as part of the safety team shielding people from risk, and making sure they make it back to their families, so when you're doing that for strangers it's hard not to do the same for your child.
Strangely I seem to receive a disproportionate amount of photos of my toddler standing alone at the edge of lakes etc. Being part of a safety team offshore I found it really difficult not to say something when I got a photo of her wearing a life jacket about to go on a pedalo without the crotch strap clipped in, (I know absolute barrel of fun me, but when you get forced to watch videos of what happens when things go wrong with life jackets you can't help it) but as a single dad you find yourself in the dilemma of should I comment to keep my daughter as safe as possible or do I keep my mouth shut in case her mum gets annoyed and stops sending pictures.
I try my hardest to keep her away from sugary junk food, as I am overweight and I know it's predominantly down to the fact that I'm addicted to sugar (but hey at least it's not heroin!!)
Whereas her mum is a bit more relaxed with these things, and I know a lot of that comes down to the fact that I'm a first time dad, and this is her mum's second rodeo, so I guess you start to learn to relax a little, I've definitely forced myself to take a step back in situations as I don't want to raise an anxious child, and as she's getting older I'm almost encouraging her to take a few more risks, after all I took plenty of risks as a child and have done most of my life, but finding that middle ground when you're a protective dad is hard.
Our other difference when it comes to co-parenting is how we approach confrontation or difficult situations.
I'm a bit of a bull in a china shop when it comes to confrontation, I don't seek it, and would much prefer to live a peaceful, drama free life, but when it comes conflict or disagreement I like to face it head on, and get it resolved there and then, I like to investigate how we got to that point and the root cause, I then like to try and fix it and move on, this can often lead me to act like a dog with a bone and not able to drop something until it's resolved, which I understand must be difficult for someone who needs time to cool down.
My little girl's mum is the opposite, when conflict arises she puts her barriers up and goes on the defensive, I know this is because she would like to avoid conflict, but this can often feel like you're hitting a brick wall and being stonewalled and it feels especially difficult when the blame falls flatly at your door for any conflict or disagreement, the harsh words are aimed and then the closed sign goes up and shutters come down.
That said, over the past few months there has been a change and it all started with an apology, One day I got an apology from my little girls mum on the phone for something she had done, this was something I felt I had never really heard throughout our relationship, and then she did it again a few days later, and at that moment I felt my walls coming down and I no longer felt I was on a war footing. I started looking at my own behaviour, I started to respect her boundaries and realise if people don't want to resolve issues they don't have to, it's entirely their choice regardless of how it makes me feel, sometimes people need time to cool down.
I also think she's started to understand that my worries although valid are more based in the fact that I'm not there all the time and as a separated parent this can make you feel a bit helpless, especially if you're on a ship a million miles away in some ocean, I've also realised that my anxieties can be un-intentionally translated into criticism of her parenting. From this understanding it has allowed me to try and hold back a bit on my over protective nature and also from the other side it has meant my little girl's mum rolls her eyes a bit more at my worries which I prefer as appose to her feeling attacked and tempers flaring.
This doesn't mean everything is always smooth sailing and obviously when raising a child these two different approaches can still make it difficult when it comes to toddler conflict resolution (*read tantrums)
A perfect example happened recently whilst working away, I called for our video call and during the call our daughter was just staring at the telly and not really talking, I asked her to stop watching for a second so we could chat, this led to her having a huge argument with her mum and she got very rude, at this point the differences in our way of handing conflict reared their ugly head.
Her mum's way of dealing with it was to go into the kitchen and ignore her, and I know all the parenting books tell you that if you respond to tantrums then you give the child a reaction and they feed off it, but at the same time I'm a little old school and I think sometimes a child needs boundaries this allows them to feel safe, they need to know who is in charge of the ship and not have to sail the ship alone, they need to know what's wrong and what's right and they need that guidance, and I don't think they always get that when you take the "don't engage, it only encourages them" approach.
If we're honest I think they just need a good telling off every now and again, I think most of us growing up had that moment where we would get the look from one of our parents that meant we'd crossed the line, that doesn't mean your child is living in fear or that you can't be understanding or sit and listen to their problems, I want to create an environment where my daughter can come to me in the future with any problem and we'll fix it together, I always tell her if she owns up to something or comes and tells me when she's done something wrong then she'll never be in trouble because she was honest, but at the same time she also needs to know how to respect other people and if she speaks to people horribly or unkindly whether that's an adult or another toddler then she'll be in trouble.
I'm not saying that the ignoring the tantrum approach is wrong and I actually agree with my daughter's mum in certain aspects of it, I think sometimes you're fighting a losing battle if you try and argue or try and discipline a toddler at the peak of their tantrum.
Which gets us onto the video calls, when my daughter kicked off I instantly kicked into authoritarian daddy, I put on my stern voice, I did the whole, "excuse me young lady, you do not speak to your mum like that" thing. But in reality I was literally speaking to a brick wall the phone had been put aside facing the ceiling some time ago and I had just been left feeling helpless, even more ostracized from the family unit and just uselessly talking into the void, when you're effectively a YouTube video on mummy's phone your words have very little impact in situations like that, so here's the Lads to Dads top tips on how to make video calls as fun and rewarding as possible:
1. Set aside a regular time and stick to it.
One of the most frustrating things for a non-resident parent can be timings, perhaps you've just finished work and you rush in so you can speak to your child and then there's no answer and instead you get a text saying it's too late and your call will disturb bedtime, or maybe you're really missing your child and instead of the child answering you get the resident parent saying, not tonight we're busy or "you're calling too often" this can leave the non resident parent feeling really down, rejected, lonely and frustrated.
One of the things I wish I'd done right at the beginning, was decide between us, set days and times. Get this down in writing, this will help build a routine it will make sure both parents stick to the plan and most importantly it gives your child some structure.
2. Location, Location, Location
Another thing that can be incredibly frustrating is the location of the call especially if you have toddlers, as a non-resident parent you can often find yourself being there but not really being there, which can leave you feeing even more distant. Often I will find myself tumbling around the settee while the kids jump up and down on it just staring at a blurry all over the place image or 9 times out of 10 I'm just handed to a toddler who does her best to hold the phone to her face, but often I get a forehead, part of her nose, maybe a flash of her hair and eventually put down on the floor with a nice view of the ceiling.
If the resident parent can't find 5-10 mins out of their day to hold the phone up so you can have a decent chat with your child I recommend trying to come to an agreement to sit up at the table or in a stable place where the child sits for a short time and chats, the sooner you get this in place, the better, as it then becomes a routine for the child and it will save a lot of arguments and frustration.
This one should go without saying but always check you have a good signal and battery life before your call, this is where setting aside a regular time and day comes into play because you then know that, on that day and time you need to make sure your phone is charged and you're in a good signal area, believe me it will save a lot of hassle and broken calls on zoom or whatsapp.
We hope you've enjoyed our article this week and we hope that this guide has been helpful, if you have any tips or insight on the things that have made video calling easier for you please do share them in the comments below.
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