To The Next Dimension – Happy Mother’s Day!

Have you ever felt loved? I mean, truly felt it like a cozy jacket you slip into on a crisp Fall afternoon, surrounding yourself in that feeling as the warmth it provides flows through your whole body? I felt that this morning. It was so palpable, I looked up and thanked God for being able to experience the moment, it was that powerful. I actually put my hands out to my sides awed by how strong my feeling was and thought “This is why we are alive. This is what it is all about.”

Love.

I think most people grew up feeling loved on some level and have no idea what I am talking about, have never really not experienced being loved and thus think the feeling is normal. They are immensely lucky and I hope they know that.

I also think there are people who never felt loved growing up and have no idea there is an entirely other dimension to this life. When you don’t know a feeling exists, it is terribly hard to imagine that feeling is out there. How can you imagine something you have never felt?

I fall into this second category. I grew up never feeling loved and not knowing the difference…until I met Gem, the woman I am lucky to be spending my life with, the woman who has added a new dimension to my life that only gets more profound the longer we are together.

I didn’t know love felt like this. I couldn’t imagine loving a woman like this. I couldn’t imagine loving our children like this. I certainly couldn’t imagine a woman could love me like this. Could not remotely imagine the purity of love our children express to us every day. I never knew this dimension to life existed, like I had been looking at the world in only shades of gray, but Gem bought me a retinal display iPad to view the world.

The world now exists in brilliant hues, colors so bright and beautiful that I wonder how I never saw them before. In college, Gem would exude excitement when she saw the Spring green of the trees come back after a long winter. I could tell it was pretty, but didn’t experience it, didn’t understand.  Now I feel the joy beauty brings me, experiencing the world on that other dimension she has always been a part of.

Stepping into this new dimension of life has clarified what it was I never had growing up.  It is so hard to grow up as a child when you don’t feel loved. It is so hard to build confidence, to believe in yourself, to feel safe, to feel anything good quite frankly, when love is absent.

That is why I have always hated Mother’s Day.

My mother was a pretty terrible mother and Mother’s Day is one of the hardest days of the year for me. I used to joke that it was really my National Day of Mourning. On top of all she did/didn’t do when I was a child, my mother doesn’t speak to me anymore, hasn’t for decades, and that still hurts every day; she is alive, having chosen to live her life without me. The way mothers are revered in our society only serves to remind me what I never had, like when you scrape a scab that was just starting to finally heal. I have spent literally a lifetime trying to recover from what my mother did and have often wished Mother’s Day didn’t exist.

But Gem deserves her own day, celebrating how amazing she is as a mother, how she embodies true love, how she helped me to be able to love and feel love, and how we created our wonderful family together. She is, quite ironically, everything good about Moms. She has renewed my faith in the entire concept.

Lucas, Dorit, and I are so lucky to have her in our lives, to be experiencing this other dimension of life. While I grew up in the second category, not knowing love, our children will grow up in the first, where love is embedded into their lives, intertwined into how they experience life, filling their souls that will hopefully last them a lifetime.

As parents, isn’t that the most we could ask for?

Thanks for taking us to the next dimension, Sweetie. Happy Mother’s Day!

Every House Has A Story

Today, my family and I volunteered to drive to one of the towns not far from us on Long Island most hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy and hand out cases of water and cleaning supplies. It was an experience I’m not sure we will ever forget.

Last weekend I had taken a bike ride to some of my favorite places in our community, the places I have loved and enjoyed so much because they are right near the water. The same places that were hardest hit by the storm surge from this powerful storm almost three weeks ago. By looking at many of the homes from the outside I couldn’t see anything wrong, but what I could see was all of the insides, the guts of their homes, lying on the front of their sidewalk, exposed for the world to see; broken sheet rock, splintered wood, ripped up pieces of insulation, rolled up rugs, furniture, and appliances.

What was left inside their houses?

Today, we found out. Almost nothing.

We picked up some water and some cleaning supplies and found our location for which we were responsible. The first person we talked to was Rachel, who had a young daughter. She described that the storm surge came over their five-foot fence and was lapping at their door even though they live on the second floor. They just got power over the weekend, but still, still, do not have heat.

Her sister moved in with them and brought her children as well. All of the children are now not feeling well, spending so long without electricity, without heat. They lost their car and don’t have a way to get to a doctor or to get laundry done or to get food or other supplies.

As we brought her another case of water, she broke down, tears dripping down her face, the overwhelming emotions too much to hold in even in front of strangers. When we got back to our car, I looked at my little girl and saw her looking sad. She’s so sensitive, like both her parents, and she was also overwhelmed, unable to handle the intensity of her emotions.

We got back into the car and all took a breath. We knew we had been lucky, but this was making it more real than we had even imagined.

We knocked on more doors, getting no answers, but also meeting people who were okay, who appreciated our help and supplies and who had things they needed to share and finally someone to share it with.

Then we met Eileen.

She is a mother of two who took me up on my offer of water.

“I’m a little dazed,” she said. Being dazed after almost three weeks struck me as disconcerting and I asked her what had happened.

She had an enormous pile of broken sheet rock and wood littering her entire front sidewalk, spilling over into the street. She went on to explain to me that she had finally gotten help ripping out the sheet rock and walls in her basement and first floor only to find out this morning from an architect that the foundation of her home had been so badly damaged by the storm surge that her house was going to be condemned.

Putting aside the money and effort that was completely wasted, I can’t imagine spending almost three weeks trying to figure out how to recover from this terrible disaster only to then find out that your entire home is going to be condemned.

I listened to her for a few minutes, gave her some water and cleaning supplies and she went to try and clean the things in her children’s rooms before the mold got to them, hoping the foundation would support her until she finished. As we left, she asked me to say a prayer for her.

I remember thinking, “She told me her house is being condemned, and I gave her water.” What we did today didn’t feel like enough, but it was better than nothing, better than showing up empty-handed.

I also hope it helped them to know people haven’t forgotten them, that as the press leaves and the attention moves on to something else, there are still people thinking of them and remembering them in our prayers.

It’s not enough, I know it isn’t, but I also know we can’t help everyone. We just need to try and help who we can and hope that it makes something of a difference in their lives, in their road to recovery.

ParentGuide News Publishes Jeremy’s article for Father’s Day

ParentGuide News published one of Jeremy’s articles for their Father’s Day special. The article, called The Father-Child Connection, focuses on how Dads can connect with their children even if they are working away from home every day.

Jeremy started with noting one of the most informative research studies he has ever read.

What I found most interesting were findings relating to which parent a child chooses to soothe him or her when hurt or awakened in the middle of the night. The study found that even when the mother worked full-time, 80 percent of the time the child would choose the mom to meet a physical or emotional need. But with a stay-at-home-dad, the children in the study were just as likely to go to the mother as they were to the father. This tells me that despite working full-time, mothers are able to develop bonds strong enough to soothe their children when they are upset— even when mom is away during the day. This made me wonder, “How can we working dads develop similar bonds with our kids?”

If Moms can do it, so can Dads.

Jeremy wrote about how he became the Night Watchman for his kids and how that changed his relationship with them tremendously, and his confidence as a father.

He ends the article with 5 tips for bonding with babies as well as other tips for building a strong connection with your children.

Additional Tips to Foster Father-Child Bonds

  • Change into “at-home” clothes after work. This sends a message that you’re in dad mode, not work mode.
  • Take over bath duty. Play with your kids while they’re bathing. Then dry them off and get the kids ready for bed.
  • Handle all diaper changes when you’re home.
  • Feed your children. If they no longer need your help eating, fix their plates, then sit, eat and talk with your kids.
  • Take over “tuck-in time” at bedtime as many nights as you can. Develop special nighttime routines that involve reading, singing or cuddling.
  • Be the one to soothe kids back to sleep when they wake up in the night.

The New York Times Motherlode seeks Jeremy’s help to resolve a quandary

The New York Times Motherlode section has been featuring parenting quandaries and asking experts to respond and give their feedback and perspective. This week Jeremy Schneider was chosen as one of the experts included in the quandary resolution.

The quandary involved teenagers coming over to a house to watch Glee. The mother, called Sylvia in the article, prepared the basement so the teens could watch down there. She had checked on them and they seemed fine, but she received reports from her daughter that a couple of the kids seemed “drunk” though the mother was not convinced her younger daughter knew what that really meant.

The next day one of her teenage daughter’s friends remarked that she thought two of the boys had been drinking–possibly before they even had gotten to the house (since there was no alcohol for the teens to drink in the basement).

The quandary was should the mother tell the parents of the two boys–especially considering the mother of one of the boys in question picked up her son after the Glee party. Jeremy’s full response was

Sylvia seems to have done quite a bit to prepare an environment for her kids’ friends so they could enjoy Glee together safely. There’s no way she can control what they do before or after they are at her house. Should she have checked in on them while they were watching the show–especially after her daughter reported them acting weird? Maybe. But her daughter confirmed that they weren’t drinking in the basement; should Sylvia kick the boys out for “acting strangely” in front of her daughter and her friends? If she had seen evidence of them drinking, there would be a stronger reason to contact the boys’ parents. But especially since one of the boys’ parents actually saw them immediately after the gathering, there is no reason to contact the parents.

She can sleep peacefully at night knowing she did well as a parent that night.

 

The Kids Are Away and Conflicting Emotions Are in Play


My Okapis are away (at their grandparents) and it is time for the parents to play.

If only it were that easy.

For my wife, it is very hard for her to be away from our kids. The same kids she gave birth to at the same time. The same kids she spent all day with for the first 4.5 years of their lives. The same kids she has taken to school (or camp) and picked up almost every single day since. She loves our children with every fiber of her being and the downside is when they are not around she feels an ache of missing them.

For me, the guy that has had to work away from home ever since they were born, it is not as hard. I am used to putting my family in a special place and locking it up so it doesn’t make me as sad when I am not with them. I wouldn’t be able to function if I felt the ache of missing them every day. In fact, I get excited, not that they aren’t around, but that I get to have more time with my wife. She was my first real love and everything good in my life started with her. It is so easy to have our husband and wife roles consumed by father and mother roles and it is nice we can get back to us.

Obviously, I love my Okapis, but I really enjoy the time when they are away (and even feel a little guilt writing that down for people to read). The truth is coming home at night is easier and less stressful (no worries over dinner and showers and getting them to bed on time). Getting ready in the morning is ummm…easier and less stressful. Basically, without our kids life is easier and less stressful.

Last night we went out with a good friend and had dinner and drinks at one (kind of crappy) place and then had more drinks and dessert somewhere else (that was much better). Wonderful conversation, good friends, tasty margaritas (at least at the second place) and delicious desserts (fried Oreos!). Then Gem and I came home and we watched another couple of episodes of Battlestar Galactica (we just started it over the weekend and are really getting into it). The whole evening was relaxed and lovely.

Then we went to bed and walked past their empty room and even I felt the ache of missing them. They’ve only been gone less than 36 hours, but I’m a jumble of emotions. A sense of freedom. We can do anything we want without worry. Go out to dinner, have drinks, stay out late, go into New York City. ANYTHING! But they’re doing stuff and experiencing things I don’t know about. I am missing more of their lives and that is sad for me. Are they okay? Are they going to sleep without us? How are they feeling?

My Okapis are gone and conflict is in the house. My wife is torn between her ache and her wanting to enjoy the time with me. I am excited about the time with her, the freedom, but feel a guilt about enjoying time without them, as if parents don’t need their own time. As if, when we pick them up this weekend, I won’t be one of the happiest men alive to see them again.

In the meantime, however, I plan to have a lot of fun with my wife and our friends, coming home whenever we want and making as much noise as we want.

Is This Really the Best It Can Be?

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

My wife, Gem, and I were trying to catch up after long days at work. After school she had taken our kids, eight-year old boy-girl twins, to get some clothes for the Spring (even though it snowed this morning) Concert.

“Dorit had so much fun trying on clothes,” she told me. Our little girl really does enjoy being “on stage” (just like her Daddy) whatever the stage happens to be.

“Imagine what it will be like in a few years,” I responded, thinking of my wife and teenage daughter going clothes shopping together, trying them on for each other, and cleaning out the store.

“No, this is the best it is going to be.”

“What do you mean?” I asked in shock. How could this be the best it could ever be for my Sweetie Girl?

“She’s not looking at her body. She’s not staring at the things she doesn’t like about herself, any imperfections she may see. She’s just enjoying playing dress up.”

“Oh God…” And I felt such sadness. My little girl is…I don’t know how to explain it.

She’s not perfect and, in fact, sometimes she makes me insane, seriously out of my mind crazy with the way she can so easily ignore me or blatantly lie (or as my wife likes to say “reframe the truth”) right to my face.
But God I love that girl with every fiber of my being. I love the way her smile lights up her face and reminds me she gets her beauty from her mother. I love how witty and smart she is and how she is the most emotionally intelligent girl I’ve ever met. I love how much fun she can be and the look she gets when she is focused and committed to doing something she has never done before.

And while it terrifies me, I love the way she looks at me as if all the love in the world begins in my face. I am her first love and I take that honor quite seriously.

I tell her every day how beautiful she is and how much I love her. I don’t just tell her when she is dressed up. I tell her when she is in her PJs and especially when she is naked getting ready for or just coming out of her shower. I hug and kiss her and tell her I love her every day before I leave for work, when I return home and when she goes to bed (please don’t worry, I do the same for my boy…promise).

In fact, I have read the research that shows that girls with involved fathers, girls who feel their fathers are invested in their relationship can actually begin menstruating older, start having sex later and are at a lower risk for teen pregnancies. Girls with involved fathers are also less likely to have eating disorders, to have low self-esteem and to actually be happier as adults.

I ask my little girl frequently if she knows how much I love her because the research is clear; she has to feel my love, my commitment to her for these benefits to come into play. If she doesn’t know how I feel, what I feel doesn’t matter very much.

But maybe I’ve been deluding myself, thinking I could somehow stop single-handedly what happens to so many young girls in America. Maybe I can not love her enough to prevent her from seeing herself as not good enough. Maybe society’s message of the unattainable model perfection is too powerful, maybe my little girl can’t escape that unscathed.

But I know I have a power of my own. The way she looks at me as if the sun and moon rise because of me is one of the scariest things I have ever experienced. How easy it would be to abuse that power, to hurt my little girl, and I am sure I have hurt her unintentionally. But as long as I am her Daddy, I vow to use my powers for good, to give her unconditional love that, if it can’t stop the inevitable, can maybe mitigate enough to lessen its impact.

And even if that doesn’t work, she will always have a hug and kiss waiting for her because she’s my Sweetie Girl. Society can’t take that away from us.

Do They Love Me?

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

You know that line from Fiddler on the Roof when he asks her after being married for 25 years??? “Do you love me?” They had an arranged marriage, but have been together so long they have grown to love each other. He knows it. She knows it. But he wants confirmation, he wants to put it on the table so to speak.

Lately, after 7.5 years in my life, I’ve been asking my twins if they love me, but for all of the wrong reasons and it is not working out so well for me…or them.

My kids do the same thing every night – or at least they are supposed to; eat dinner, take a shower, brush their teeth, put their clothes in the laundry, etc. And every single night they fight us on that – especially me it feels like. Inevitably, they start getting upset and crying and inevitably I get frustrated and start yelling, becoming the man and father I least want to be and most despise in myself.

I’ve been wondering why I am losing my patience so much. Certainly work is stressful, though much less so than it has been in the past year. I am not sleeping as much because I am waking up earlier to go bike riding, but shouldn’t exercising make me feel better? And our life is stressful, but no more so than it has been in the past several years. Basically, I don’t think I have a good excuse for behaving this way.

Except that I’m not really feeling like my children love me. My wife’s sister is staying with us and all of a sudden I feel like I’m ranked third or even fourth (sometimes they would rather be with themselves than with me) in my own house with my kids. Before I know it, they start acting out and I start getting so angry.

Even on the nights when I come home from work determined not to yell at them, something always seems to happen. It makes me feel so helpless, so hopeless, and I become so hateful of myself. Aren’t I a better man than this? I had always thought so.

Fundamentally, I think the problem is I don’t seem to feel loved by my on children. Maybe it is because my wife’s sister gets so much more attention and they would rather be with her than with me. Maybe it has a lot to do with my own childhood and not feeing loved there and it carrying over to my present – especially when you factor in Mother’s Day, one of the hardest days of the year for me because my own mother hasn’t talked to me in decades I can see how I would feel not loved and that when they pay less attention to me, it makes me feel less loved.

To make matters worse, when they behave badly it is confirmation to me that they don’t love me, that they don’t care about me. If they loved me, they would be behave better. If I loved them, I wouldn’t yell at them they way I do. It is becoming a vicious cycle with neither of us winning. If someone yelled at me frequently, I wouldn’t want to be with them either.

Beach Bonding

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

When I was kid some of my most favorite things to do were to go to the beach. My family would go every summer for two weeks – until we bought a house and then we stopped going at all (see, to pay for the house we had to rent it out to strangers so we couldn’t use it during the summer, if that gives you any insight into my family growing up).

I don’t remember an enormous amount from my childhood, but I remember many things from going to the beach. Riding my bike in the early morning to pick up a New York Times for my grandfather so he could read it at breakfast. I remember meeting a kid there, don’t remember his name, but we became fast friends. We would build these complicated houses made out of cards. He was also one of the first people I remember boogie boarding with (before they were called boogie boards, but I’m not old….no, no, no). I would spend hours every day out in the ocean, riding waves. A good day at the beach was one where I spent most of my time on the ocean and the time I wasn’t on the ocean, digging a hole (“Did you reach China, yet?” people would always ask me) in the sand. I don’t mean a little hole, I mean a hole where I could stand in and be completely unseen by the outside world because I was so deep, where the sound of the ocean became muted and soft). I would make myself a little bench out of the sand and hang out there when I wasn’t on the water.

I can remember the thrill of catching a wave and riding it all the way to the shore, then picking up my board, tucking it under my arm (awkwardly because it was bigger than I was) and heading back out beaming with pride, hoping people were noticing how cool I was (though there just was no way I was cool). I can remember surviving some of the nastiest spills, the swirling under water, not being able to breathe, not sure which way was up. Once I even came out of the water after a particularly impactful crash where I smashed straight into the ground from the force of the wave. My head hurt, but I was so proud of myself that I survived, and I was walking out of the water for a little break when my mother asked me if I was okay. Even though I went with my family, I have no real memories of them. None of my dad at the beach (did he really go with us? Did he just sleep?) and the only ones of my mother were her at the beach, reading. Rarely did they notice anything I did there and everything I learned to do at the beach, I learned by myself and did with myself or with my sister. When I told her my head hurt, she said my mouth was bleeding. I checked my mouth and realized the impact into the ground had knocked out one of my teeth. I thought that was awesome.

The beach has always been a special place for me. After several semesters at college, before the summer started and strangers took over our beach house, I would go down and spend about a week by myself. No phone, no TV. Just me, myself and I, some books and the beach. I would watch the sunset every night and play all day – even moved the couch outside once to sleep on the deck. I learned an incredible amount about myself during those periods. Looking back, I can’t imagine it is possible to be that relaxed.

This weekend was the first weekend of the summer where we got to take our Okapis to the beach (they’ve gone a couple of times, but without me). I bought them boogie boards and started teaching them about it (started off very small – just sitting on it where the waves hit the beach and feeling it move underneath them). Dorit seemed to like it, but the waves were very strong and it scared them both a little. But they love the beach, the sand, the water too much and as they get older, I think we’ll have a lot of incredible moments together at the beach. I really enjoyed watching Dorit’s face when she realized the board was moving under her and she was moving with it. She will enjoy the rush from the movement, the speed of riding a wave just like I did. I can’t wait to ride with them (assuming I even remember how to do it *sigh*), the three of us, floating in the vast ocean, Gem just a dot on the shore, studying the waves to see which one is the best to catch and riding it all the way in while Gem watches and claps for our little Okapis (who probably won’t be so little).

Sometimes, there are moments in being a parent that completes the circle of life. Teaching my children about boogie boarding, playing with them in the sand, envisioning how it will only get better, I am reminded of what I never had growing up. But more importantly, I am bursting with the sensation that this is what family is all about. Maybe I never had it, but Gem and I are creating it for our Okapis and their special memories of the beach won’t be tinged with sadness the way mine are. Their memories will be clearer, more robust, full of the fun, the excitement, the thrill and, probably most important, the connection to their Daddy.

Yeah, we had a lovely weekend. The beginning of a lovely summer, I think.

Best Part Of My Life, Daddy

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

On Sunday we went to the mall with my Okapis. While Lucas, my 3-year old son, got a haircut with Mommy and Abuelita, I got Dorit, his twin sister, all to myself. And it was lovely. One of the biggest frustrations I have during the week is not only do I not get enough time with my Okapis, I don’t get good time with my Okapis. I get the worst time of the day with them, the time when they are their most tired and that is the most structured. They need to eat. They need to take their vitamins. They need to change into PJs. They need to get nebbied. They need to brush their teeth. They need to go to bed. They need to do it within 1.5 hours of me coming home. I just don’t understand why it doesn’t become a lovefest every single night.

I also almost never get time alone with either of them. We keep meaning to change that, but keep running into challenges. Of course, the time I had with Dorit was lovely; we even got a chance to look at some clothes for her. She is ridiculously smart, very observant and does wonderful things with her tone of voice – not only does she pick up new vocabulary very well, she is astute enough to mimic the tone, as well, appropriately. I don’t get to see that side of her enough at home, but at the mall with all of that stimulation and the fact that she has been there more than I have because she goes with my wife – especially when it is cold or wet – it really comes out. I was having a great time when Lucas, my wife and her mother met up with us.

Then it was as if I had disappeared.

Before I knew it I was standing alone, and the transition from special time with Dorit to being invisible was jarring. I was so taken aback by the shift from being The Daddy to all of a sudden being what felt like nothing. I get special time with my Okapis – we call it Los Tres Amigos time, but I don’t get one-on-one time and was amazed at how special, how enjoyable it was and then, as I was just getting warmed up, it was gone.

I did recover and even got some nice one-on-one time with Lucas when we went to buy little basketballs to play with in our backyard. Then we quickly grabbed some lunch and afterwards, I was left behind at the table while everyone else started walking to the car. It was that same sensation of no longer being visible. I was carrying the loot we had purchased (my wife calls me “my pack mule”) and trying to catch up, when all of a sudden Lucas dropped back and wanted to hold hands with me. So my wife took the cup I was holding and I held hands with him. Then Dorit fell back so she could hold hands with me and I gave the bags to my mother-in-law. I went from wonderful individual time to a jarring sense of invisibility back to being The Daddy again, holding hands with my beautiful Okapis and loving every minute of it.

“This is the life,” I said to them.

“This is the best part of my life,” Dorit said.

“It’s the best part of my life, too, Sweetie Girl.”

And another weekend sadly came to an end in the Okapi household.

Pee and Poop…There, I’ve Said It!

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

While I have written many articles on what it feels like to leave my three year old twins to go to work or the challenges I’ve faced in helping them to sleep on their own during the night, I have been avoiding one particular subject that is a major part of our lives. The main reason I have avoided the subject is that I am so uncomfortable by the whole discussion. I have actually handled helping our twin 3-year olds learn to use the potty better than I thought I would – especially considering the issues and major levels of discomfort I feel, but that doesn’t mean I like talking about it.

In my family, no one ever went to the bathroom. In fact, in my own mind, if people knew that I went to the bathroom (as if they don’t already), they would see me as less of a person, as if going to the bathroom is a weakness, a flaw in my being, as if the whole world doesn’t do it every single day, too. I have worked hard to get comfortable actually going to the bathroom and trying not to care whether other people know or not. But talking about it with other people, well, that’s a whole other issue.

If it wasn’t for my wife, I would probably have made essentially no progress on this issue. Ironically (or maybe, fortunately), I married a sexuality educator and she has no issues about this stuff whatsoever. In fact, she has the opposite of issues in this area, she has strengths and skills that she is (unknowingly) teaching me. Of course, there is also something about changing diapers every day that is like trial by fire – you either get used to dealing with poop and pee or you crack under the pressure running and screaming to the nearest mental institution. In the early days we were always feeding and changing diapers, about every three hours or so (yes, that was about 12-14 diaper changes a day). The only way to stop changing diapers was to stop feeding them and, as you can imagine, we didn’t think that was a good approach to the problem.

Of course, as our children get older I am constantly challenged to grow as well. Once I got used to changing diapers and talking about pee and poop, then we had to talk about what kinds of poops they were. How many times a day is it happening? Then we started with helping our kids understand that we don’t use diapers, we use the…toilet. Ugh, I hate the whole terminology of this. Really. I am cringing as I write this – my fingers are afraid to touch the keyboard since I wrote that word.

The women in our family, their mother, Tia, Nana, and Abuelita, all would let our children into the bathroom with them to help show them how people use a toilet. It took me a long time to be able to do that. Long time like months and months, not weeks. I’ve tried to never let anyone know I actually go to the bathroom, to let someone (really two someones) come with me and watch was so far beyond my comfort level it made me anxious just thinking about it.

As in all of these situations, what helped me was the idea that my role as father is more important than anything I feel as a person. My children need to see their father go to the bathroom, too, that both men and women use the bathroom and that men use it differently than women. Who else is going to show that to my son if not me? I have to rise to that challenge even if it makes me terribly uncomfortable, because it is not about me, it is about them.

Interestingly, despite our best efforts, our children had refused to participate in toilet education. They didn’t really mind diapers (though they hated having them changed – if it was up to them, they would just wear them all day regardless of whether they were wet or dry, empty or full), they didn’t care about how they looked in them, they didn’t have much interest in being like us. We tried so many different techniques, including flat-out bribery and nothing was working. Finally, on the same day, but separately, my wife and I concocted a new plan (in case you haven’t noticed, parenting is so much about problem solving – one of the things I actually like about it). We were going to let Lucas off the hook since he often doesn’t respond well to pressure and focused on Dorit since she does and she likes the limelight, likes challenges and rewards. This approach worked and once Dorit got it, Lucas came along shortly thereafter.

Of course, with Dorit using the potty, I find myself sitting next to my little girl while she is peeing and/or pooping, encouraging her, congratulating her, helping her to clean herself, and even cleaning out the potty (more cringing) after she is done. How did this happen? What have I become?

I have become a man who understands that to be the kind of father I want to be, I need to be more than I am, I need to be what they need me to be. It is even more important because I don’t want them to carry my issues about this subject. I don’t want them cringing or uncomfortable about something that they will do several times a day. My children need their father to help show them how to use the toilet, they need both of their parents to show that using the bathroom, talking about pee and poop and toilet are okay, they are just words like any other.

What’s amazing is the more I say them, the more that becomes true.