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Pop Culture Parenting – Yoda Edition

Do. Or do not. There is no try.

Yoda

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

There’s so much I want to teach my kids. Certainly reading, writing, all that academic crap, sure. But more than that, I want to teach them how to be in the world, how think about things and not settle for mediocrity. I want to raise them to be the best human beings they can possibly be.

“Do as I say, not as I do” just isn’t going to cut it.

That means I have to BE the best human being I can be.

As my beloved bride will attest, I am decidedly not that. I have, to put it mildly, some work to do.

To that end, I present the first installment of Pop Culture Parenting. I’m taking movie quotes, song lyrics, characters from my favorite movies, TV shows and books, and extracting the lessons and character traits I want my kids to see in their Daddy and take on themselves.

Me being me, I have to start with one of my all time favorite movies, The Empire Strikes Back.

Go watch this. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

There’s so much good stuff packed in this short scene. In a nutshell, Luke doubts his ability to lift his X-wing with the force, but tells Yoda resignedly that he’ll give it a try. That’s when we hear the line.

“No! Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Man, that hits me hard.

We live with my in-laws right now, helping out with health problems and letting Little Bit get to know her cousin here. Especially since the Corona lockdown, there have been some . . . disagreements here and there. I work on having a better attitude and doing better. When my bride and I talk about it, I tell her, “I am trying, baby. I really am.”

As if trying gets me bonus points or something.

Trying is all well and good, as long as it leads to progress, to improvement. Unfortunately, that’s not how many people use the word. I see “trying” used a lot as a “get out of jail free” card, as if to say, I’m trying, so if I fail, it’s not my fault. It’s a way to blame external circumstances for our own failings.

I don’t want to do that anymore. Not just for my sake, but for my children as well.

I want my kids to learn personal responsibility, and not the avoidance of it.

When I was a kid, I’d screw up (as we all do), and my father would always sit me down and ask me, “OK, What have you learned from this.”

That is an important question.

That seemingly simple question encompasses so much of how I want my kids to live their lives. Examine your life. See how you can improve. Own your mistakes. Learn from everything.

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

The other day, I told her that I was eliminating “try” from my vocabulary. It’s do or do not. I’ll either do it well, or I’ll screw it up, own it, and do better next time. It’s definitely a process, but it’s getting better. I’m learning where my shortcomngs are in regards to patience and control are and getting stronger and better in those areas, bit by bit.

Man, this would be easier if I had the Force. And a lightsaber.

Becoming The Father You Want To Be By Using Mindfulness

Guest Post by Damon Dietz

Have you ever experienced that moment where the small stresses of life build-up, and it feels like you are going to explode? If you are a dad, I already know the answer. Maybe it happened when your son was having a temper tantrum in the dairy aisle at the supermarket. Or, when your daughter was screaming hysterically and yelling at you for serving her macaroni and cheese. “You know I hate mac & cheese” she screams, even though last week it was her favorite. 

It’s times like these where mindfulness can help save us from ourselves. What is mindfulness?

mind·ful·ness

noun

  1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something
  2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Why is this important? Because most people are always looking in the past or in the future. Very rarely do we look into the present moment.  Mindfulness is about experiencing and appreciating the present moment. 

If we as dads can become better at being mindful in the present moment, we can become better dads. Let’s talk about how we can do this. 

Listen More

The last thing we want to do when we are in the middle of a temper tantrum crisis, or when we are being yelled at that we are the worst dad in the world, is to listen. We immediately become defensive, and attempt to solve the problem at hand, which is primarily, “how can I make this stop?”

Instead, I impress upon you the importance of listening. When we really listen and focus on what is actually being communicated, and not the obnoxious method in which the communication is taking place, we become better dads.  We need to give our kids our full attention. Put down the cell phone. Stop multitasking. And listen. By removing the distractions, our kids might actually start talking and stop yelling and screaming. 

Meditate

I am a huge advocate of meditation. I am not talking about hours a day of eyes closed, deep breathing, chanting, and yogi type of meditation (though that’s fine if you have the time and that’s your thing). I am talking about being present in the moment. It is as simple as closing your eyes, and taking five deep breaths. And in that moment you think about nothing, except taking those breaths. 

Once you can make a habit out of taking five deep breaths daily, increase it to six. Then seven.  And so on. Soon you will find yourself meditating for a few minutes at a time. Your mind might wander. That’s ok. Bring your attention back to the breath. The idea is to stay in the present moment. Do this for as long as feels comfortable, but many experts agree that 20 minutes of daily meditation is ideal. Harvard researches have determined that that’s all the time it takes to see measurable changes in the brain that would help you become more focused, creative, productive, and less anxious.

If you don’t know where to start or prefer a guided meditation, check out headspace, one of the best apps for guided meditations.

Have Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. This was the toughest aspect of implementing mindfulness for me. I am not naturally empathetic. I am a problem solver. Most of my friends love that aspect of my personality. My kids? Not so much. 

Children yearn to be understood. It is the same reason why listening is so integral to developing a positive relationship with your kids. But it can be difficult to show empathy when you’re frustrated, but acknowledging your child’s feelings is an important way to connect. 

Final Thoughts

You will notice that when you start practicing mindfulness, your children begin to learn from your example. They will become more mindful, more grateful, and their behavior will improve as well. Mindfulness will help your relationship with your children and make you a happier and more positive parent. 

Bio

Damon Dietz is a writer, filmmaker, and professional speaker, who shares his knowledge of finance, health, and life from the perspective of a single, divorced dad over 40. He is a father to three amazing kids and thinks dads are kick-ass, even when the rest of the world thinks we’re idiots. You can read more of his musings at: www.damondietz.com

Image by skalekar1992 from Pixabay

Led By Little Bit

This picture is a snapshot of the rest of my life. My little girl will be leading me around from this day forward.

Let me clarify; I don’t have any intention of letting my daughter dictate what she gets, when she gets it, whenever she wants. I’m not going to be a parental yes-man. What I mean is this: everything I do, from this day forward, will be for the betterment and welfare of my daughter and my wife, in that order. (Before the comments start, I regularly tell my wife she is my second favorite person in the world. She agrees, and knows that’s how it should be. I’m her 4th or 5th favorite, I think….)

I also tell my wife that, as far as I’m concerned, I’m 3rd in our family equation. For her part, my wife is usually pretty good at seeing when I need some quiet and sends me on an errand or two so I can have some non-baby time. I try, though, to make sure that my girls are well taken care of before I do my own thing (which usually means playing Red Dead Redemption 2 at 2am when everyone else is asleep). This is tough for me, because I was an only child, as well as the fact that Little Bit came along later in my life (I’m almost 50, and she’s not quite 2), I was pretty set in my ways. I like to have a quiet cup of coffee in the morning, maybe read a little bit before bed. Those days are no more. My daily coffee is in a travel mug, even though I’m not going anywhere, because it’s the only way to have at least warm coffee in the mornings. Reading before bed, which used to be Tom Clancy or Jim Butcher, is now Dr. Seuss or Sandra Boynton (Ok, I kind of like the Boynton. They’re delightfully silly.) I do all this because, since the birth of my daughter, it’s simply not about me anymore. My life is led by what’s best ofr my daughter and my wife, and thus it shall be until the day that I die. And nothing makes me happier when my baby girl comes to me with a book in hand, climbs into my lap, and has me read “Green Eggs And Ham” 4 times in a row (although I kind of want to smack Sam-I-Am upside the head).

Take my hand, Little Bit. Take me on your next great adventure. I’ll be there o help and protect you as much as this old man is able.

On Frustration, Coffee, And Stoics

First things first: if one is going to start a blog, one should really add new content regularly. I have not done so. Why? I’m a stay at home dad with a toddler. Quiet time to write is not exactly in abundance, so I take the time when I can find it.

That being said, as I write this, it is just after 2 in the morning. I’ve just gotten back from my workout at the gym (good news – there’s virtually nobody there; bad news – it’s 2 in the freaking morning). The girls are asleep, and I can actually hear myself think for a brief, beautiful moment.

Why, I hear you asking incredulously, would anyone go to the gym in the middle of the night? Clearly, you say, I must be some fitness obsessed, steroid riddled muscle head. You would be wrong. I workout at ungodly hours for one simple reason: so I’m not taking time away from my wife and daughter, so I can be present in their lives as much as possible. I might ingest enough coffee to kill a horse, but it’s worth it to be sure my girls know that I’m going to be around for them when they need me. I want Daddy’s presence to be Little Bit’s normal.

It’s important to me to be sure my daughter’s sense of normality is good healthy. Mama and I want her to grow up with a better relationship with food than we’ve had (turns out, a balanced meal is not a taco in one hand and an equal amount of bacon in the other). I want her to see Daddy being healthy and strong, not pudgy and couch potato-y. And I feel like I have a handle on the physical side of my journey to better-ness. It’s the mental side I’m struggling with.

As mentioned earlier, we made the move to sunny California to help take care of my wife’s family. This involved a LOT of change all at once, especially for this midwestern boy. In my prep for being a stay at home dad, I noticed an overarching theme: a loss of identity and a lack of community. While stay at home dads are becoming slightly more common, it’s apparently still an odd concept for society at large. So, we dads can start to feel isolated and even looked down upon at times.

Couple that with moving cross country to a place where you know practically no one, and taking care of a toddler who’s not quite ready for longer outings without Mama’s magical milk making mammary on standby . . . well, you can see where one might have a rough day here and there.

In his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius wrote If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” I forget this so often. In any given situation, good or bad, rested or exhausted, I was never meant to be tossed by the whim of circumstance. I can choose my response to any frustration and see it as an opportunity to grow. So, when my daughter flails around like an electrocuted octopus when I’m trying to change her diaper, it’s probably better to think that I’m fortunate she’s alive and kicking, rather than being frustrated because toddler poop has become a projectile weapon. My lack of sleep means I’m exhausted, yes, but it’s also an excuse to have more coffee. Besides is there a better reason to wear myself out than giving my daughter a better outlook on life by watching Daddy make his life better?

And that’s what I want a big part of her “normal” to be; choosing to be positive and productive, even when she’d rather be sleeping. Which, lately, is never.

I’m going t crawl into bed now, wake up in the morning, fix my coffee and chase my toddler all day. Again. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sleepless In Sentimentality

My daughter is sleeping (FINALLY) next to me. The dog is curled up against my leg. I’m waiting for my wife to get home from work in a couple of hours. The house is blissfully quiet. I should be sleeping as well, but I can’t. My stupid brain won’t stop. (I’m sure my wakefulness has nothing at all to do with the Coke Zero I’m sipping on.)’

I’ve just spent the last hour or so trying to get Little Bit to sleep. It was a hard-fought battle. I tried everything. I tried reasoning with her. She’s got half my DNA, surely reason and logic should be innately effective. Surprising no one, my repeated refrain of “Sweetie, it’s late, you’re obviously tired, you should go to sleep now,” was met with the effective counter argument of continuing to scream in my ear.

Next course of action: singing. Those who know me know that my singing does less to soothe the savage beast than it does to send said beast scurrying away from the horrible sound. However, most of the time, Little Bit seems to like it. Fortunately, she doesn’t have much to compare it to other than Raffi and Elmo. Tonight, however, the mellifluous notes of my serenade did nothing to lull my little one to sleep. She did what most others do when I sing. She cried.

I thought of what my wife usually does to get the girl to sleep, She’ll usually nurse her until she’s full and falls asleep in a milk coma. There were two problems with that tonight. One, She already had a full belly from the bottle I had given her a short while ago, and two, I lack the milk-rich mammaries required for such an act.

All I could do was all I could do. I simply held my little girl as she cried and resisted sleep, assuring her that Daddy is here, and Daddy loves her very much, no matter how difficult or stubborn she was being (traits she gets from Mom, I’m sure. Not at all from Daddy). I gently rocked her and whispered my love over her until she finally calmed down enough to let me lay back onto the bed, her head resting on my chest, eyes finally starting to flutter closed. This is my favorite moment of any given day. When she is at peace in her Daddy’s arms, breathing deep and clear, this is when all is right with my world. (I’m sure there’s some spiritual parallel to be extracted here. I’ll trust you to find it. I’m too tired.)

After all the crying, the resistance, the refusal to sleep, the frustration of it all, I find myself surprisingly not stressed or frazzled, but content. And sleepy. But mostly content.

Still, I can’t wait for my wife to get home so the magic boobies can soothe Little Bit when she inevitably wakes up again. She’s so much better at that than I could ever hope to be. Surprising no one.