Our first born son told me last night that he wants Mummy and Daddy to split up and live in separate houses. I was taken aback by this. His reason for this shocked me. Later in the night once both our sons were asleep I told my wife the story.
Last night we had our very first parent and teacher interview. They are so much different from “back in my day” when my mum and dad went on their own to meet with my teacher to discuss my progress. Off memory, they were once a year. Now I believe many schools have them twice a year. The most important change that I see however is that they are now three-way conferences; teacher, parent/s and child.
Our son’s teacher displays progress charts on the walls of the classroom. These have the smiling faces of each child showing their progress and levels achieved over disciplines such as mathematics (recognition of numbers, ability to count to 50, or 100, or higher, simple addition, etc.) as well as English (knowledge of sight words, level of ability in reading, etc).
A few times throughout the year parents have been invited into the classroom to check out these progress charts and our son has ranked in the top group in four of the five disciplines in mathematics, and in the second group for one, whilst he has been in the top groups for most of the word related disciplines as well. When the teacher relayed this to us last night, it did not come as a surprise to me.
When she told us that his writing was the thing we most needed to work on, well, having seen his hand writing and spelling, that also did not surprise me. What did surprise me however were the events that happened next.
The Evening Family Routine
Working from home I get to cook dinner each night. Routine is, whilst dinner is being cooked, the television goes off and our son who is in kindergarten needs to do one book from his Kumon class. The books are supposed to take 15 minutes to complete. For some reason, our bright son takes an hour to do the books at home.
We (more often than not) all sit down together at the table and eat dinner together. After dinner I start packing the dishwasher whilst my wife sits with our son to get him to finish off his Kumon (if he has some pages to go) or to do some of the homework that has been set.
It’s then up stairs for both boys to have a bath, get ready for bed, brush their teeth and then my wife reads with the older one while I read to the younger one before sitting with him for up to an hour whilst he falls asleep. That works for us, don’t criticise my technique. Besides, I get to have some quite time to read the news online and network on social media.
Last Night’s Disruption to the Routine
Yesterday our just turned 3-year-old didn’t have a day sleep and he sorely needed one. After leaving the parent and teacher interview he was in a very bad mood and had a tantrum as my wife buckled him into his seat in my car. When we arrived home I went into the kitchen to cook dinner whilst my wife decided that Master 3 should go straight to bed and she was going to make this happen.
After leaving him in his room to quietly read through some picture books, she made her way downstairs and asked the older son to sit at the table to do some writing based on the extracurricular activities that the teacher gives out each term (semester). This is know as the Extension Homework Activities Grid. On his term three sheet there is a writing activity to do which involves taking a photo that the child appears in and getting the child to write what they were doing in the photo.
Seeing that working on his writing skills was the thing we all agreed would be the thing he works on until the end of the year, my wife thought that now was as good a time to get to work on this discipline. She found a photo for him, gave him some paper and a pencil, instructed him as to what he needed to do, and then she high-tailed it out of there to continue putting the younger one to bed.
Although I was busily cooking dinner, I was multitasking by watching what my wife had set up for him and then watching his progress as he wrote his story. The only thing was, he wasn’t writing anything. So I walked over the the dining table and asked him if he needed help. He told me that he couldn’t do it. I told him he could. I didn’t act sternly towards him, but in a gentle and encouraging way.
Then I got down on bended knee so that I could be on his level without bending over and hurting my back. I looked him in the eye. I know how to read him. As his father it is my job to be able to read my kids to know when there is something more to the situation. I know that this has traditionally been the role of the mother (you know, all those eyes in the back of the head memes and clichés used on television adverts), but in our house, the role of this modern father is to be in tune with his kids to the nth degree.
A Little History – The Back Story
I need to take you back to last Saturday before continuing with last night’s shock announcement that our son wants us to get divorced.
Although he showed no interest earlier on in the year, our son decided that he wanted to play football (soccer) seeing that many of his friends at school are playing an organised sport on the weekend. With only six weeks to go before the end of the season, and with registrations closed months ago, we were lucky that a player on my wife’s soccer team is high up in that club’s administration. As a result, for a token fee he was able to join in and get a uniform to see out the season.
The morning of his second week in was a terrible one. We woke up to rain. I contacted my wife’s team mate to see if the grounds were open and she told me they were, but expect many parents of the younger kids to not bring their kids to play in the rain. My wife told our son that playing in the rain would build character. Being on the tail-end of a cold I haven’t been able to shake for weeks I wasn’t too keen on standing in the rain, but for my kid, I’d do anything.
The light rain turned into a downpour as we got into the car, and as we travelled to the field we passed another soccer field that is normally full of kids playing at that time of the morning, but whilst there were about 50 cars in the parking area, everyone was still in those cars because it was pissing with rain. Pissing.
On arrival at our fields, I took the older one out of the car whilst the younger one refused to get out. Seeing that I would be basically standing about 5 metres from the car, I left him in there waiting for a break in the weather. We got to the ground about two minutes into the game and as he ran down the small embankment, I yelled out “here’s another one for the match.” Within a minute he was substituted into the game.
I watched him stand there in the rain getting soaked. He wasn’t having fun. He didn’t move to the ball like he did during week one, and no one was passing the ball to him. I could hear him calling out “kick it to me, kick it to me” but that wasn’t happening. He looked over at me and then burst into tears. Then he ran off the field and told me that “you don’t play soccer in the rain. Mummy is wrong. Why does Mummy always tell me to do things that you don’t have to do?”
I had a change of clothes in the car for the boy and he got changed in the back of my car before we jumped in and headed to the shops for a coffee (me) and babycinos (for the boys).
When Parents Disagree
My wife and I don’t always see eye to eye on all parenting matters. That’s normal in a relationship. And sometimes parents use their kids to play each other off against the other parent. That’s not fair to the kids. It’s not fair to the other parent. But it happens. I do it to my wife. My wife does it to me. We need to work on this. We need to eliminate it from our arsenal. We acknowledged this last night, especially in light of what happened.
I was pissed off with my wife. I went into bat for our son; notice I didn’t say “my son?” That’s important.
I called her on the mobile as she was driving to work. I told her that I want to start making the decisions when it comes to the kids as well. She holds the balance of power in our relationship and she knows it. I have mentioned it to her often. I have even written about it and there’s a well documented difference in opinion that we have played out amongst family and friends that she is the benefactor of the decision.
Extracurricular Learning Programs
One area that I believe that she is too hard on our son is in the area of out-of-hours educational programs. Before he started kindergarten, and although he attended preschool where they said his development was at or above the level of the other children who were going to be starting “big school” the following year, my wife enrolled our son in a school readiness program. I wasn’t a huge fan of it, but it was only two hours a week during the school terms. In hindsight I think that this was a great program for him to do because he truly was ready to start kindergarten on his first day. I’ll give her that one.
Since starting school my wife has insisted on him doing some private tutoring to make sure that he is at the top of his class. He attends a group tutoring lesson twice a week after school which goes for 45 minutes (although it has dragged on to 60 minutes in the last three weeks). I am the one to take him seeing that one of the lessons is on a day she works until 6:00pm and it’s just convenient for me to take him both days, so I do.
In addition to those two classes per week, he has to do an hour of Kumon books each day. That includes Friday, Saturday and Sunday which are days that I hold sacred to not having to do school work once the bell rings to end school on a Friday afternoon. Knowing that he was already doing so well, and not wanting to burn him out, I have been asking my wife to cancel the program for a few months now. She said that she was going to, but instead she changed the days he went so that she could take him instead.
I was annoyed. So I took to the private Facebook group that we have for parents of the 2014 kindergarten kids at our son’s school and asked these question;
“How many hours of homework do you get your kindy kid to do each day? How much on a Saturday and Sunday as well? What education programme is your kindy kid doing outside of school?”
The most common response was 10-15 minutes each day, Monday to Thursday only. Many suggested that they did nothing more than the homework set for the week by the teacher that is given on Monday and due in by Friday. One of the mums who did mention that she had her child do an hour each day Monday to Thursday added;
“We believe that Friday to Sunday is family time and fun time…”
So do I.
Back to Last Night
I was still down on bended knee, eye to eye with the boy when I decided to tell him about how refusing to do the work that Mummy sets out for him causes arguments between her and I.
“You don’t want Mummy and Daddy to argue, do you?”
“Because then you will live in different houses like (insert friend’s name)’s mum and dad do.”
“And why would you want Mummy and Daddy to live in different houses?”
“Because you will let me watch television when we eat dinner.”
Wow. Just wow.
My wife had discovered recently that she thought he was being manipulative after he made a similar comment to her playing her off against me. I know that he’s been trying to get into my subconscious over the last few months in the hope that, should his mother and I go down the same path as the parents of his friend and split, he’d get to come and live with me.
I have been hearing the “I love you Daddy, you’re the best dad in the whole world” line for a long time. Kids will say things like that. Especially when you say something to them that pleases them, or you buy them stuff they want. But I have also been hearing some “trash talk” from him about his mother, and that’s often after she’s been the “bad cop” and taken things away from him or simply said “no” for the thousandth time to one of his requests.
He went on to tell me more about what his friend had suggested were benefits of having Mummy’s house and Daddy’s house and yet it is in that (former) relationship that often the tables are turned and the dad is the stricter of the two parents banning television during dinner time, and various other times of the day.
The ironic thing about this is that he was told this by his friend the night that his friend slept over when I was looking after the boys and I banned the television from being on during dinner because I wanted them all to eat without being distracted. Also, I actually prefer to have the television off during dinner so that we can sit down as a family and each talk about what we did each day.
Admittedly, I don’t have a problem with him watching television as long as it is not all the time. I’d maybe even suggest that he’d be allowed another hour’s television each day, as long as he’s watching things that won’t make him brain-dead. But I also want him to engage with his imagination more and play outside or even in his room with his toys.
Parents Need to be on the Same Page, Or Argue Away From The Kids
We argue too much. We argue daily. My wife has a very stressful job (don’t we all) and she often takes on the problems of her patients. She often thinks she has to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders. She doesn’t.
She wants everything to be perfect. The kids to be 100% healthy. The kids to be well behaved. The kids to be at the top of their game. I feel sometimes that she’s been reading Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua.
I’m more of a laid-back type of parent. Not blasé, more relaxed. More it’s too early to see how things will play out rather than qué será será ‘what will be, will be’ because I know that we WILL have to be active in his educational life, or he will be left behind.
But not now. Not in his first year of school. My wife’s call of “if he is left behind in kindy, then all hope is lost” was more than hyperbole to her. I think she fully believes it.
So where to now? Well seeing that our son is enrolled in Kumon’s mathematics tutoring group, and seeing seeing that he is already at the top of his game at numbers, we are going to be focusing on building those disciplines which were pointed out by his teacher as his weaknesses.
We will focus more on his reading and writing; both his spelling and his ability to write so that all the letters are the same size, and so that the letters look like the letter they are supposed to be.
I am reminded of the episode of The Simpsons back in series two called Bart The Genius. After switching exams with the class brain, Bart is mistaken for a genius when the school’s psychologist identifies his bad behaviour and disruptiveness as him being bored moving at a slow pace. I think that our son is getting bored doing the repetitive numbers over and over again, and he needs to be challenged on some other level doing other things to build his love of learning.
And speaking of psychologists, as of yesterday I am now enrolled in university studying a Bachelor of Behavioural Studies (Psychology) so that I can better understand my children, and so that I can learn more about how the mind works so that I can apply it to the things I write about.
Doing this part-time means that I will graduate from my course at the same time as our first born son graduates from primary (elementary) school. That’s something I am doing for his future and his brother’s future. I want them to know that their father can continue studying and learning and earn a degree in something; something that I am currently lacking.
And I am hoping that it will help me understand my wife a bit more…
So do your children play each parent off against each other? Do you feel your children are manipulating things in your household to serve themselves more?