Night Buddies - Adventures After Lights Out

Your Kid Did What? 4 Reasons Parents Make the Best Writers

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It seems as though in the last decade the number of parent bloggers has skyrocketed, and for good reason. Who doesn’t have a great story of their kid to share, or advice to up-and-coming parents who don’t fully comprehend the craziness, joy, and exhaustion being a parent can bring? And apart from the blog world, there are plenty of parent-turned-authors out there as well (including me!). If you’re a parent who has ever thought about picking up that pen, here are 4 reasons I think you should go for it.

You have a lifetime (and your child’s lifetime) worth of unique experiences to share: Some people don’t want to start their blog or write their book because they think it’s all been said before. But that is not true. Every child says a different funny thing, every person’s background and family life and thoughts are unique to them, and make for a unique story to be told. If you write honestly about your own experiences, you won’t be copying anyone by writing them down.

Writing can be a great way to document your child’s youth: There is so much writing can help you remember about your life than a photograph can. You’ll be able to look back on all sorts of fun memories you and your child share, and they will be able to someday read what you wrote and remember their childhood!

You can see the world through a new (younger) set of eyes: Writing from a child’s perspective can be one of the best things for a parent to do. You’ll have to work that much harder to understand their emotions and thoughts, making you more empathetic as a parent. Whether you’re writing a novel from a child’s P.O.V. or a blog post from their eyes, taking the time to put yourself in their shoes will make you a better writer and parent.

You can share the experience with your child: Basically, it’s another opportunity to bond! Coming up with blog posts together, like an arts & craft DIY or a book review will give you and your child a creative outlet to connect with, and will help them grow their own writing and creative skills. For me, writing my book was all a collaboration with my son, since the main character is one we came up with together when telling bedtime stories. A family who creates together, stays together!

Do you have a parenting blog, or a book you wrote that stemmed out of your parenting experience? Leave the name in the comments below, and we can all share each other’s experiences!

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Theology of Parenting: Is There a Religious Take on the Work of Raising Children?

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A recent article on the Atlantic explored the idea that there could be a theological take on the work of parenting that has been largely ignored or pushed aside in the male tradition many religions have been formed by. As a father, taking on an active parenting role that was traditionally held by women throughout history, it was interesting to read two female theologians discuss how their religions (Judaism and Christianity) impacted their work as mothers.

One woman, Danya Ruttenberg, said, “I figured out that my tradition actually had a lot to teach me about love and the holy and navigating hard feelings, and finding more patience when your patience is used up,” which directly correlated to lessons she needed when raising her young children.

On the other hand, Bromleigh McCleneghan recognized the disconnect in what religious scriptures taught versus what real life consisted of as a mother. “Women’s work with bodies and fluids is not just ‘not holy,’ but profane. Not just ‘soft,’ but really not a part of spiritual life,” she claimed. Ruttenberg agreed.

What I find to be most interesting about their conversation is the disconnect between what many religious people practice, which is building strong family lives (meaning have children and raise them well) and the lack of instruction or discussion in theology when it comes to doing just that. For instance, Ruttenberg brought up the fact that a certain Jewish prayer is meant to be said while standing and silent—but how is a mother supposed to react when her child is crying, disrupting the silence the prayer requires?

After much research, because the majority of texts were silent on that subject, she “finally found one text that says you should indicate to your child without speaking that they should stop, and if that does not work, you just walk away from the crying child.”

I think most parents would agree with me in saying that is not what would be considered the best way to handle their child’s (especially a very young child’s) crying.

What the article ultimately comes to is the idea that gender roles, especially when it comes to parenting roles, need to be looked at in a broader scope when it comes to theology. “Holiness” and children don’t need to be lived in different rooms, and the sooner we can come to accept the two to be intertwined, the more we open up space for women (or men taking on parenting roles) to be involved in theology and religion as more than caretakers who stand by while men (or non-parents) do the deep religious work.

What do you think about Ruttenberg’s and McCleneghan’s take on theology and parenting? Do you believe the two works are able to be lived out simultaneously? Let me know in the comments!

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Are Parenting and Creativity At Odds With One Another?

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Recently I came across an article from the Parenting Herald which explored the idea that being a parent and doing creative work are somehow at odds with one another. As a single father and author, the fact that there are studies and articles going around saying that my two identities should be at odds with one another intrigued me.

The one quote I found to be the substantiation of this particular article’s argument can be summed up in this quote:

“The point of art is to unsettle, to question, to disturb what is comfortable and safe. And that shouldn’t be anyone’s goal as a parent.”

What I wonder, though, is why a person would need to apply the rules of their art to their parenting?

For as long as art has existed, we have thrown around the idea that an artist must be someone who suffers, a tortured soul of sorts, who can only make sense of this world by making art to ease their suffering—but only until another work of art needs to be made, of course. And while a number of suicides, a chopped ear, and other instances have validated this image of an artist for a long time, I know many writers, painters, musicians, and other artists who are very happy in their life, and make art for the enjoyment of making something beautiful.

These people also tend to be very happy in their home lives, and make excellent parents.

The way one parents and the way they make their art are separated, in the same way that a parent who works in finance doesn’t use those same skills and the “work” mindset into their parenting life.

One argument that I did believe worked in the article by the Parenting Herald was that there is a lack of energy in a parent to be able to produce art. Parents minds are often so utterly consumed by their children and their “day jobs,” that they struggle to find the time and energy required to create a work of art—which in itself is a time-consuming and energy-draining activity.

But I would also argue that those who aren’t parents struggle in this way; not having enough time is the most commonly used excuse to not make one’s art. The amount of truth behind that excuse varies from person to person, but the fact is, any artist needs to make their art a priority in order for it to get done. No matter your day job, if you have a sick parent or if you have five kids, if art is important enough to you—if it is a vital aspect of your identity—you will need to find time in your schedule, even if it is no more than five minutes, to make it.

As a father and an author, I can say that the struggle to find said balance is difficult. But I came out the other side with three published books, and a son who lived a happy childhood, and I never once found my two identities to be at odds with one another.

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Book Review Tuesday!

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Last week on Twitter and Facebook, I posted a different children’s through middle grade book each day using the hashtag, #BoysWhoRead, to encourage anyone who wants their kid to become more of a reader to buy or rent (from the library) some of these books! In case any of you missed out on a day, here’s a list of all the ones I recommended.

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I Funny: A Middle School Story, by James Patterson. Do you like an endearing, but absolutely hilarious character? Then you’re going to love this read! You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll finish the book wishing you never had to put it down.

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Ungifted, by Gordan Korman. Were you ever put in the gifted program in your school? Better yet, is your child in the gifted program, or wishing he/she was? Then you should try this book. It’s funny, sweet, and filled with many good lessons to be learned for any kid who feels like they are struggling to fit in.

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The Loser List, by H.N. Kowitt. Kids can be cruel, and Kowitt takes that to heart in this story. It’s a book about everything that happens between nerd and cool in middle school—and you won’t want to miss it.

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The Rules: Trust No One. A mysterious town, a sarcastic twelve-year-old, and a bond between two brothers that nobody could break—this novel will have your heart racing as fast as you’re flipping through the pages. Plus, this is an indie book, so it has a special place on this list and in my heart.

 

Remember, if you want to share your book recommendations with me, and with other parents, just post it on social media with the hashtag, #BoysWhoRead! I can’t wait to see what you have to say!

 

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Tough Talk Tuesday: How to Talk to Your Children about Terrorism

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Following last week’s devastating attacks in Brussels, I began to realize that in today’s world, terrorism is no longer a topic we can avoid talking about—even with our children, who we long to protect from such atrocity. Likely they know bits and pieces of what has been going on, from learning about 9/11 in their history classes and seeing news of ISIS all over the media, but how do we approach these topics in a more personal way?

Of course, the conversation you have with your child will depend on their age, but seeing as I focus on writing for children around the age of 9, this article is going to focus on that particular age range. Here are some ways I thought of to best handle such a far-reaching and emotional topic of conversation.

Start by asking what they’ve heard. Many times, information will be spread around their school by other kids who may have overheard their parents discussing the attacks, seeing their parents watch the news, or from posts on social media. The problem with this is that often times the information will be scattered, unclear, and maybe exaggerated to a point where your child could feel more scared than they need to about the situation. A good way to start your conversation would be to come to a clear point about what they know about an attack, and about terrorism in general, and then set the story straight if any of their information is incorrect.

Don’t diminish their feelings about the situation. Whether they know an exaggerated story or the full truth, likely your child is going to feel scared about what they know. Don’t tell them not to worry about it or that their fear is misplaced—it is better to be honest with them in saying that other people are scared by what’s happening too, and that their feelings are understood.

Show them the “good side.” Much of what your child knows at this point in life is that there is bad, and there is good. This has been emphasized in the TV shows and movies they watch, the books they read, and the stories they’ve been told; there are bad people, but the good people win. After they know that feeling fear is normal, let them know that there are police, community leaders, military, and a government working to protect all of us. Show them pictures of people lighting candles, laying out flowers, and coming together after a tragic event. Remind them that there is good in the world, and that the stories they know about good winning are true.

Finally, be an open book (only about the necessary facts). Answer their questions. Why does this happen? Is it going to happen to us? Be honest—give them the information they need, and only that. Don’t go into detail about all the bad things terrorist groups do, don’t show them any gruesome pictures, and don’t scare them into believing that an attack can happen at any moment. End every one of your answers by reminding them about the good side, and the good people working to keep them safe. This is an uncertain area of life, but your children need to be certain that they are loved and protected.

When I think about what children need to know about terrorism, I think of the video below:

There are bad guys everywhere, but the flowers and candles are here to protect us.

 

Have you had a conversation with your child about terrorism? Let me know how you would handle it in the comments below.

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How Parents Can Reduce the Risk of Cyberbullying for Their Children

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It was bad enough in the days where children were bullied at their schools, but today an even bigger problem we face is the bullying that happens to them under our own roofs—via the Internet and social media. The hell kids can be put through by their own peers no longer is limited to school hours, but all hours of the day, to the point where some children have ended their own lives to stop the pain. Sometimes, as parents, it is easy to feel helpless to stop this bullying trend, whether your child is being bullied or is the bully himself. But there are measures you can take to minimize the risk of cyberbullying taking over your child’s life.

Limit the hours your child is allowed to spend on their devices/social media. Yes, every kid has their own phone these days. Yes, it is likely they will need to be on the Internet for homework, and for socialization in general. Not allowing them to have a device (cellphone/tablet) at all may actually hurt their social lives and make them more susceptible to bullying, but limiting the hours they are allowed to use them will keep them from making their lives revolve around cyberspace. Tip: Don’t let them take their phones with them to bed at night; this will save them from losing sleep over what someone has said about them on the Internet.

Monitor you child’s online presence. You have a right as a parent to look at your child’s text messages, their Facebook, their Insatgram, etc. Don’t allow them to block you from anything, and you will have a better understanding of what they are dealing with. If you see any harmful comments, document them and delete them from your child’s eyes. If they’ve already seen it, a dialogue will be opened to you to have with your child about cyberbullying and how they should best handle themselves in their situation. An ignorant parent is not going to be able to help their child through this rough time.

Emphasize the importance of living offline. If you are constantly on your phone, tablet, or laptop, that will encourage your child to do the same. If you stress to them that what is online isn’t real life, and spend more time going outside, seeing friends, and spending one-on-one time, phoneless, with your child, they will do the same. When their entire life does not reside online, the effects of cyberbullying will not be as harmful to them, because they can see that what is on a screen is not real life.

Love them. No matter how much you work to help your child avoid cyberbullying, the fact is that everyone is made to feel worthless at some point in their lives. But loving your child unconditionally, and in a way that makes them feel secure, will help them to know that they are not worthless, no matter what anybody behind a screen says.

Has your child ever dealt with cyberbullying? How did you help them through it? Let me know in the comments!

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Does Being a Good Parent Poorly Affect Your Physical Health?

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Recently, Quartz released an article citing a study that proved being an empathetic parent actually wreaks havoc on physical health. Specifically,

“Researchers surveyed 247 pairs of parents and their adolescent children on how often and to what degree parents could understand their children’s feelings and respond with appropriate concern. They also took blood samples. Empathetic parents and their children were both better off psychologically. Children of empathetic parents also showed lower levels of inflammatory markers. Their parents were just the opposite. Their samples revealed this low-grade systemic inflammation.”

So basically, empathetic parents enjoy the pleasure of a job well done, while reaping a host of physical challenges that come with working hard. And who says parenting isn’t a real job? The study went further to analyze children with depression and their parents to conclude that empathetic parents (or caregivers in general) develop chronic inflammation and elevated stress hormones over time.

What does this mean for parenting? Is there such a thing as being too empathetic as parents? Should parents hold back from giving their entire self to their children to avoid risking such physical damage?

I’m going to say no—and I think most would be in agreement with this stance. As parents, the best things we can do for our children is to give our all, whether that puts extra stress on our bodies or not. HOWEVER, that isn’t to say our children don’t need us to be healthy, as well.

Before we all turn into Cinderella’s evil stepmom to keep inflammation and elevated stress levels at bay, how about just taking a few deep breaths when you feel overwhelmed? Take a bath when your children are at a friend’s house for a sleepover, indulge in a glass of wine after their bedtime, or pick up a habit such as meditation, exercise, maybe even writing, to let off some steam.

When it comes down to it, parenting is a difficult job, but the benefits to your children of being an empathetic, involved parent far exceed the risk of the physical health drawbacks outlined in this study.

What are some ways you practice self-care as a parent? Do you think it’s important in helping you be an effective, empathetic parent? Let me know!

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Is There a Way to Parent…Without Having Children?

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Colin Beavan

Writer Colin Beavan and family in NYC

In his new book, “How to be Alive: A Guide to the Kind of Happiness that Helps the World,” Colin Beavan (otherwise known as the No-Impact Man), defines what he calls “social parenting,” which means that taking on a position of mentorship over children is a form of parenting them—and it doesn’t require the tax on our planet that comes with bringing more people on the earth to populate it.

Beavan writes that “How we choose to parent may impact the world more than any other choice, because it determines so much of what we leave behind.” And I couldn’t agree with him more. There are millions of children who lack any form of parenting, whether from their parents our adults outside of their bloodline, and those children suffer because of it.

The idea of social parenting is about opening up the strict idea that only parents, or grandparents, or stepparents should be allowed to offer guidance and support to the children of this world. Volunteering to help at-risk youth, teaching swim lessons, coaching sports teams, or even stepping in to babysit the children who live next door when it seems their parents are busy is a way to be a social parent, and hopefully impact the lives of children in a positive way.

“When you open up to the fact that all the world’s children are each of our children, saying it is selfish not to have a child makes no sense, because you already have children,” Beavan says.

Some people can’t have children. Some people choose not to have children. But this doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from the reward of nurturing a child, and it doesn’t mean that the children we already have in this world who need support shouldn’t benefit from being nurtured.

Overall, I don’t see many gaps in Beavan’s thought process—but should we call this “parenting”?

Being a parent is a day-in, day-out, 24/7 job. They don’t have children for just a few hours, or just a few years of their lives. They don’t just get to do the job of coaching them and lifting them up—they also have the responsibility of providing for them, punishing them when they’re wrong, picking up after them, and loving them unconditionally. Being a parent is not something to be taken lightly, and I wonder if the concept of “social parenting” is dedicated enough to earn that title.

Certainly, it takes more than just a set of parents to raise a child. Even children with two loving, supportive parents can also benefit from adults stepping in to mentor them in different areas. A child can have both parents and Beavan’s idea of “social parents”—in fact, I think they should have both.

I can’t argue with any of what Beavan writes, about the benefit social parenting has on children and adults alike. But let us not take away from the enormous amount of work and responsibility that comes with raising a child full-time. The job of parenting deserves to not be taken lightly.

What are your thoughts on Beavan’s “social parenting”? Let me know in the comments!

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What Traveling With My Son Taught Me About Being a Parent

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[This post originally appeared on The Good Men Project]

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As a children’s author, I’ve been asked many times, by friends, colleagues, and readers, what is the best piece of of advice I have for parents raising their children today. To tell you the truth, I don’t always know if I have an answer for them. What we pass down to our children—morals, values, passions—is a monumental thing. So here is what I say instead:

I don’t know if this is the best piece of parenting advice out there, but if you don’t travel with your children, you’re missing out on what made up the best memories I have of my son’s childhood.

My son John is a traveler. It all took place from the time he was three, ’til he was six and his mother moved to Cleveland, ’til he went to Germany for his junior year in high school, ’til he left for the University of Edinburgh and never really came back. Has since lived in London, Germany, Russia, Spain, Belgium, and Vietnam, and has traveled to many, many other places.

What we did together as father and son was collect waterfalls. I’m sure we saw every worthwhile one in North Carolina where we lived and saw most of the warhorses in the contiguous U.S. I took him to the Canadian Rockies and the bottom half of Alaska, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. We drove about 500,000 miles, rode planes and buses, and wore out three cars. Our red Mazda RX-7 Turbo was a real hot rod for its day and was central to our peregrinations.

Looking back, I think we missed Hawaii, Florida, Delaware, and Rhode Island. That was it. We carried baseball gloves to play catch with at the ends of days. We went through a huge number of books on tape in the cars.

This isn’t to say that our travels were all idyllic.

Once we blew a tire in Kansas in the middle of nowhere; blew it all to pieces. We put on the donut spare and limped into the nearest town right after the tire store closed, and we had to spend the night. I can tell you that Kansas is a very dull prospect (Dorothy was right.)

Another time I picked 6-year-old John up from his mother’s Cleveland house for a three-day adventure to Canada to see Niagara Falls—but it didn’t occur to me to take passports, other ID for John, or court orders. We got stopped at the border, taken into an interrogation room, and I was immediately under suspicion of being a non-custodial father trying to kidnap his son by crossing the border. The fact that I talked my way out of that one, and we still got to see the falls, is a miracle I can’t understand.

There is memory after memory; the times we got sick of each other and the times we clung closer together. Traveling with your children certainly helps them to discover the world, but it also helps you as a parent to see the world again from their perspective—exciting, big, beautiful, and just downright cool.

So what’s my advice to any of you fathers out there? Hop in the car. Don’t forget maps and a GPS. Let your son or daughter hop into the passenger seat next to you.

Go! Go somewhere, anywhere, and make the kind of memories you’ll fall asleep dreaming about when you’re a much older man.

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The Benefits of Growing Up with a Dog

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My son John with dog, Henry.

My son John with dog, Henry.

It happens the second you pass by the window of that pet shop, you’re holding your kid’s hand, rushing them ahead before they can look into the eyes of the puppy barking at you to stop, but before you can do anything they’re looking up at you with bright, sad eyes.

“Dad, can we get a puppy?”

Before you say no, thinking about the vet visits, dog food prices, holes being dug in your backyard, I want you to take some time to consider the benefits to you and your child if you say yes, and let that puppy steal your family’s hearts. As someone who has bred St. Bernard’s, and someone who raised my son with a puppy sibling, I truly believe that these benefits could be worth your while.

Dogs can teach your children responsibility. I know, I know. Your child offers to take care of the dog, but you know the majority of the responsibility is going to be on you. But this doesn’t have to be the case. While you will have to be responsible for taking the dog to the vet, and double-checking that it is fed, groomed, and walked regularly, these tasks can be assigned as chores to your child as an agreement upon getting the dog. Your child will learn responsibility in taking care of another life, and will teach them the importance of keeping their word. Whenever they want to skip out on a walk or are going to be late to their friends house if they have to pick up after the dog, you can remind them of the agreement they made.

Dogs can be loyal companions to only children, children with disabilities, or any child struggling with loneliness or fitting in. Petting and interacting with dogs has been proven as a stress-reliever, and will provide comfort to children no matter their circumstances.

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Owning a dog can lead to a more active, healthier lifestyle for your child. Dogs require getting out of the house for walks every day, running around playing ball, and overall getting up and outside rather than sitting and playing video games all afternoon. The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne even claims that owning a pet leads to lower levels of obesity, lower risks for cardiovascular diseases, and fewer minor illnesses and complaints than those without pets.

Overall, owning a dog will lead to general happiness in your child’s life. They’ll always have a happy animal to cheer them up when they’re in a bad mood, give them the feeling of being needed and wanted, and for the rest of their lives they will have memories of the furriest member of their family. I know my son will forever cherish his memories with our St. Bernard, and I will always cherish my memories of the two of them together.

So my recommendation, take a moment to look into the shop window. Go visit your local animal shelter. Maybe just do a trial run with taking care of a friend’s dog for the day. However you go about it, don’t say no to the idea of owning a dog just yet.

Did you grow up with a dog when you were a child? Is it something you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments!

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