A baby is a blank slate

The thing that I have noticed most since having a child is that humans really are blank slates.  We have no instinct whatsoever.  This is so that we can adapt to any society that humanity makes.  We could be living in the worst imaginable society and we would adapt to it and even justify its existence to others.  That also means we could be living in the best possible society.  Society is what we make it.  It’s ridiculous that so much of our society is based on what has come before us.    That we do things because that is the way it’s always been done.  This is the worst excuse to do anything because it means we are doing it without thought or reason.  People even talk about human instinct as if it exists.  If we have an instinct it is to adapt to whatever society we are in.  That’s all.  Humans aren’t greedy we are born in a society that prizes greed so we become greedy.  Whatever we teach our children, whatever our society teaches the next generation is what society becomes.  With that in mind we can build a better society.

Different kinds of parent

Based on observation, thoughts and a little idealism

There is an amazing park near our house.    A good park makes me feel like I’m living in some Utopian society or at the very least like society is moving along in a positive direction.  A bad park though is a bleak and depressing place.  It makes you wonder what is wrong with the world that they can’t provide a nice playground area for children.  Fortunately I live in an area that has gone to the trouble to provide a good park.  I go to this park with my daughter regularly and enjoy people watching.  Since this is a nice park is seems to bring out the best in people.  By in large I see very happy families.

I live in Japan which is famous for its absent fathers so it really warms my heart whenever I see fathers spending time with their family.  It’s interesting to see the different types of father.  There is the father that has a one year old child and brings a soccer ball along.  The father who stands back and watches stopping the child every now and then if they are doing something dangerous.  Another father is playing with their kids.  Another one is there helping the children navigate the playground equipment.  Then there is the father on his mobile phone the whole time.  There are probably more but these are what I’ve observed at the park.

The soccer ball bringing father is the most curious one for me.  Maybe at home the infant goes crazy for the soccer ball so the father brings it along.  I guess I should clarify the situation.  There are two types of soccer ball bringing father.   One brings a soccer ball and other stuff and instead of being in the playground  are out on the ground.  That soccer ball bringing father has crossed over to the playing with their kid father.  So what about the soccer ball bringing father who isn’t playing with his kid?  For a long time I wondered why would they bring a soccer ball.  Then I realised that they aren’t bring the ball for the child.  It’s for them.  You can see these fathers doing ball tricks in the park while the child runs around doing something else with the mum.   No one seems to actually be watching these ball tricks.  The father is apparently just there at the park.  I have a number of theories about this father.  The first theory is that the father is being given some rest time.  A bit of unwind time to just chill and rehash his old hobby.  My second theory is that he was always in a soccer club growing up and doesn’t really know how to play with a child.  My third theory is that this father is overwhelmed and has no idea how to be a dad.

The get in there and plays with the kids father and the playground navigating father are two aspects of the same style.  These fathers are obviously motivated to interact with their children.  Perhaps it’s to show them the world or perhaps it’s just because they find it fun.  Maybe its just because there sure that’s what they are meant to do at the park.  The plays with their kids father is the most enjoyable for me to watch.  These fathers are clearly having fun.  You can see them pant and sweat.  You know that they are exhausted but the smile on their face is almost as big as the smile on their kids face.  This is the happy family ideal you see in commercials and TV shows.  This is the style of parenting I most idealise and aspire to.  Perhaps I’m a victim of mass media or perhaps I’m just the type of person to get in there and do it.

The stand back and watches father is the strangest to me.  Probably because it is the opposite to my style.  I wonder how they do it.  How do you become the parent that just sits back and has the children play?  I’m not asking in a critical way.  I’m genuinely curious.  My wife recently pointed out that I’m a 100% attention dad.  When I’m with my daughter I’m with her the whole time.  There is no break.  It’s exhausting and makes me wonder how do parents become the watchers while the kids do their own thing.  Perhaps that is the key.  Perhaps just watching is enough.  I actually tried to ease off the amount of attention I give my daughter.  I found that she could handle it some days but other days she’d just be grumpy wondering why her biggest toy wasn’t playing with her.  I just find standing back and watching boring.  Seeing these parents impresses me though. Their are obvious advantages to it for both sides.  The child learns to play by themselves, an extremely important lesson, and the parents can rest.  I wonder though at the cost.  How do those children see that father?  Do they see him at all?  Is it the same as being an absent father or is standing there enough.  Do they remember that as dad taking me to the park and think of their dad fondly?  Watching the interaction with one watcher dad and his child I noticed that he would say “No, that’s dangerous.” and the child would immediately say “No, It’s not.” and go ahead and do it.  So does this way lead to a more independent child?  Perhaps it just means that dad is going to have a tough time when the kids are teenagers.  Bringing it back to my way, am I raising a dependent child? One who won’t be able to just entertain herself.  I guess we are always trying to get the best outcome for our child playing fortune teller but making it up as we go.

The mobile phone dad is the least attractive to me.  The dad that isn’t really there.  Is this the same as the watcher dad though?  If just being there is enough to leave a pleasant and positive feeling towards the dad then perhaps this is perfectly justified.  Perhaps this is the busy dad that is making time for his child but can’t escape work.  Far more preferable to the dad that can’t make it to the park.  The one that makes the phone calls at home while the mum and child go off to the park.

In conclusion, there are many parenting models.  This isn’t an academic paper so I certainly haven’t talked about all the models or even presented it in an unbiased manner.  You may naturally fall into a model based on your own personality.  Really though I suggest to parents to think about the type of parent they want to be.  Discuss it with your partner.  Find out what each of you think parenting means.  Hopefully your ideas match.  Parents are instrumental in a child’s development.  It’s important to think about how you are influencing them and what you can do to feel at the end of the day you did a good job.

Travelling with a baby

Earlier last year I went to Korea with our baby girl.  She’s one and a half now so I guess I should be calling her infant instead of baby.  I went with my parents and my sister but was obviously the primary carer.  At the time I was going to write a blog about travelling with a baby but couldn’t think of anything particularly special to write.  My main feeling at the time was that it wasn’t really that different to daily life.  I did notice that I was a lot more worried about what I would feed baby but since I generally feed our baby what we are eating it ended up not being an issue.  Besides you can always go to the supermarket to get what you need.  We regularly stopped in to get bananas, milk and bread since those are baby’s favourite snacks.  Something to always keep in mind is; ‘what can baby do while I am there?’  One of the things I made sure we did while I was in Korea was devote a day to doing something baby would enjoy.  We found a kids land in one of the malls.  It was an amazing centre.  Overall she had a pretty good time.  It helped that I had my niece and nephew along.  They were a great help in keeping baby amused.

Last month we went to Australia.  It was a sixteen hour journey to get there; usually it’s a ten hour flight from Tokyo but we had to get to Tokyo first and that took six hours.  Baby handled it well.  She seems to like planes, this is her fifth time flying to and back from a place so she’s already a seasoned traveler.  I would give the following tips to anyone wanting to fly with a baby.  For starters its not like driving in the car or catching the bus.  You don’t have to buckle up except for on take off and landing.  Generally the trips are quite smooth so you can comfortably let baby walk up and down the aisles (or crawl).  Take a toy or two though since it can really help fill the time.  We did both a day flight and a night flight.  They’ve both got pros and cons to them.  If you are flying a night flight you can get the baby to sleep at their usually sleeping time and then hopefully sleep yourself or watch some movies.  That’s the dream anyway.  Day flights you’ve got to entertain baby for a significant part of it.  This doesn’t sound ideal but if you are like me and can’t sleep on planes it means you get to go to sleep at your usually time in a warm bed.  Not such a bad thing.  One thing I learnt which doesn’t seem to be well known is that you can designate a bag as a baby bag when getting on the plane and they don’t take out liquids.  You know as long as you aren’t crazy about it.  So flying with a baby isn’t so daunting.  I’d do it again.

As in Korea I found that going around Australia wasn’t so different as home life.  I had my standard baby bag with everything I need for an emergency; nappies, water, food, clothes and a toy.  Every place I met up with friends at in some way involved something that  baby could do.  Usually a playground with a swing.  This was a bit difference to my Korean visit since I didn’t know anyone there.  In Korea we mostly went to historical places and shopping.  Two things that aren’t exciting for babies.  In both these cases I just made sure baby knew we hadn’t forgotten about her and played with her on the go.  One huge difference I found was distances.  When you are travelling you tend to go that extra distance to do something.  Instead of doing a twenty minute car trip its more like an hour car trip.  This can make a bit of a difference for the baby’s experience.  Especially if they aren’t such a big fan of cars.  In my personal experience buses and trains are better for babies then cars.  You can give them more attention and they can share the experience with you.

Parental Support in an Ideal World

One of the hardest parts of my day is going to work.  This isn’t because of work though.  It’s the hardest part because I have to leave my daughter behind.  Both my wife and I work meaning that at one point during the day we have to leave our daughter at day care.  While this is a reasonable solution its not the best case scenario for my daughter.  The best case scenario would be for both her parents to be with her full time.  She loves us both and her happiest times are when she is with the two of us.  This blog is about what society and the government should do for parents to create an optimum world.

My proposal is simple.  When you are having a child you should be given two years paid parental care to look after your child full time without worrying about money or work.  This may sound impossible but it’s not at all.  The whole thing would need paper work of course to ensure that the child is getting the care the service is providing and not just paying a drunk or gambling addict a living in wage.  There would need to be checks and measures the whole way through the process.  Most importantly though there would need to be advance parental education and counseling throughout the process.  During pregnancy or while awaiting the adoption papers future parent/s would sign up for the parental leave support network.  They’d begin parental education and for the next two years be full time parent/s.  After all we are already full time parents we should be recognised as such.  This programme would need far more than the baby bonus or parental pay that is in use at the moment.  Parent/s would need enough money so that feel comfortable but not enough to bring the government to its knees financially.  This money would have to come from taxes but given what the tax is for I’m sure there wouldn’t be much to complaint about it.

Possible arguments against this policy; it would create professional parents; the sheer amount of money it would cost.  it would destroy the day care industry; it would result in a population boom.  Starting with the first argument I would say that this isn’t such a problem if they are good parents.  After all, the reason for such a policy change would be to better educate and care for our children thus creating a better future.  However, if this is really such an issue in getting this kind of policy through then it can be limited to the first two babies and everyone after that is on your own time and money.  The second issue I have partly covered.  Money can always be found.  There are numerous ways enough money could be generated for this; have companies fund part of it; higher taxes; implement a mining tax, a fast food tax, commercial support, fundraising, funding cuts to the military, etc.  The third issue with the policy isn’t really an issue.  After all it is a small price to pay for a better world.  People in those professions can still be utilised though.  Parents would still need breaks.  Day care would just turn into a few hours care.  The need would still be there just the format would change.  There would also need to be people to teach the parenting education modules so a new industry would arise.  The final problem, that of the population boom. While it may create a temporary population boom the increase in focus on educating parents would eventually result in the population plateauing as educated people tend not to have so many children.  People would want to do other things with their lives.

So that’s my proposal.  A two year full time parental leave from work supported by the government and the people.  It would improve our society in more ways than I can imagine.

A Good Dad

What being a good dad should mean.

This is going to be a little ranty.  I’ll try and reign it in.

I am regularly told I am a good dad.  This is of course true.  I am a good dad.  However, the reasons I am being told that I am a good dad worries me.  The three reasons that I’m told I’m a good dad that worry me are;  I am able to hold my baby without it crying, actually even with her crying I’m told that me holding her at all is amazing; I am able to feed her;  I take her out of the house to do things on my own.  If these are signs of a good dad I would hate to see what an average or bad dad would be.

Let’s have a closer look at these and why they worry me starting with the first one.  Maybe I am being some dreamy idealist but being able to hold your own baby without it crying is a basic ability.  That’s just being a parent.  If you can’t do that as a dad you had better have a really good reason like not having any arms.  That’s a good reason.  “The baby has always cried whenever I’ve held it.”  is not a good reason.  Obviously you’re not actually being comforting if that’s the case since that is generally the purpose of holding your baby.  What’s even more worrying is the follow up statement.  So many times I’ve been told that men don’t hold babies.  This can’t be right.  This has to be a monumental error in generalising.  If not then I really feel sorry for the mums and the babies in those families and seriously wonder what is going on with society.

Onto the second thing I am often complimented on.   Being able to feed the baby is also a basic part of parenting.  You really don’t want your baby to become so reliant on the mother when it comes to keeping him or her alive.  If something happens to mum you want to be able to easily take up the slack and help out with the baby.  That’s what being a good dad is about.  Being able to feed the baby is just part of that.  The more you do it the better you get at feeding time and baby gets used to the idea that you are also a feeder.  As an added bonus it gives mum a chance to have a break.   The bottom line though is that It’s really just a matter of doing something that you have to do.  I honestly can not imagine being unable to feed my baby.  This would cause my wife so much extra unnecessary trouble and I would feel like a useless tit.

Onto the third worrying point.  This one actually really annoys me.  I honestly think this is more a problem with society than dads.  I’ll be out with my baby at the park or in the public baths or at a restaurant and someone will come up to me and ask “Oh is the mum just in the toilet.”  The reason this annoys me should be fairly obvious.  Are dads looking after their children on their own so rare that any dad with their child is automatically assumed to be just babysitting for a few minutes until the mum comes back?  I doubt it.  I’ve been out and about in Japan many times seeing dads looking after their kids on their own.  I strongly suspect although I can’t verify it that this is purely a problem of perspective.  People going around assuming that dads have nothing to do with child rearing.  This does nothing but propagate the opinion and leads some of the more easily socialised males to become useless dads.

It’s great that we are encouraging dads.  Giving a compliment when they are getting right into the thick of it.  It’s really about standards though.  Is the bar for dads so low that it’s amazing that the dad does anything at all?  This isn’t the message we should be sending.  If you see parents that you think are doing a good job say so but don’t propagate this image of dads as being some useless appendage to the family unit.  Our society still view mums as the ones that do everything.  What truly amazes me is that people’s eyes just glaze over when I mention that I’m that one that spends the most time with our baby.  Since this never seems to get any kind of reaction I assume people just think I’m bragging or they just can’t comprehend it and ignore it.  I’m happy to be called a good dad but say it for the right reasons and don’t forget to say that the mum is doing a good job too.  The bar for them is set so high that the smallest things can trigger condemnation.