I’ve been reading about the new middle-school craze–the Choking Game, which involves strangling (one’s self or someone else). The goal is to produce the light-headed feeling that happens when oxygen to the brain is cut off and the “rush” that happens when the choke is released and the oxygen flows back in. As one who, over the course of many years in the martial arts, did plenty of choking (and was choked at least as often), I can say that there is a tiny bit of truth there–you do get a little light-headed before passing out, and you do get a rush when the blood comes back. But I was reminded of two movies that dealt with exactly the same search for a choke-induced high.
Dear Mr. Dad: I have two grandchildren, ages 4 and 6. I love them dearly but really don’t enjoy babysitting. They run around, climb on the furniture, break things, and generally wreak havoc in my house. It takes me a good hour to child-proof the house before my daughter drops them off and then another hour to put everything back. I’m exhausted! How can I be a good grandma and enjoy time with the kids?
A: Let’s start by defining “good grandma.” I’d say that taking two little terrors into your house and keeping them entertained for hours on end without getting paid for it—more than once—is a good start.
Another important ingredient is the desire to be a regular part of their lives. The foundation you’re laying now will hopefully blossom into a close, nurturing relationship as your grandchildren get older. The trick is to find a way to turn those frustrating and infuriating visits into something more fun—for you and for them. They can definitely feel how tense you are when they’re around and they probably aren’t much happier to be at your house than you are to have them there.
One solution is to do your babysitting at your daughter’s house instead of yours. That way, you’ll save a few hours on the childproofing, and any property damage will be covered by your daughter’s homeowner’s policy, not yours. The downside is that children usually like spending time at their grandparents’ house. The rules there are often more lenient than in their own home, and they get to do things they wouldn’t do with mom and dad around. There’s something about sharing that feeling that helps strengthen the grandparent-grandchild bond.
You’ll need to establish some simple ground rules. Your grandkids are old enough to understand the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. For example, at grandma’s house, there’s no jumping on furniture or touching things without asking first. Explain to them that you have to repair anything they break or damage, and that’ll cost you time and money. Remember, though, that kids sometimes break things accidentally, so keep anything valuable well out of reach. You can’t reasonably forbid them from touching everything in your house—that’s just not realistic.
As a workaround, do you have a room in your house that you could designate as a play space where the kids won’t have to worry about breaking or destroying anything? It doesn’t have to be fancy: a few pieces of child-friendly furniture, a table, some chairs, and a good assortment of age-appropriate toys, coloring books, arts and crafts supplies, blocks, and so on. If money’s an issue, you can probably get most of these items used at garage sales or on Craigslist.
Before each visit, think about what you’ll do while they’re there. Build in a good mix of indoor and outdoor, active and quiet, group and solo activities. Give them some choices, but don’t forget to include activities you enjoy. For example, my mom loves to draw and paint and she makes doing art a regular part of many of her visits with her grandchildren. My 7-year old’s maternal grandparents are avid bird watchers and they’ve taken her on many backyard outings. Do this now. It’ll be a lot harder to convince a tween or a teen to go to a museum with you if they’ve never done it before. But if it’s been a regular part of their routine, you may actually be able to get them to stop texting for a few minutes and enjoy the artwork.
Dear Mr. Dad: A good friend of mine, Rich, is a single father of a 4-year old boy, Max. Before becoming a dad, Rich had never spent any time around kids, and he has no idea what to do. He’s very serious and says it just isn’t any fun getting down on Max’s level and playing. At the same time, though, he feels bad that he isn’t spending enough time involved with Max. Any suggestions I can pass on?
A: The best “cure” for what you’re describing is for Rich to get out of his work clothes the moment he comes home. Did you ever watch Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood? If so, do you remember how he started every show? He’d come in, take off his nice jacket, hang it up, and put on a sweater; take off his dress shoes and put on sneakers instead. No question that what you’re wearing affects your behavior (think of Superman and other superheroes who change out of their work clothes and into their costume—can’t very well go around saving the world in a fancy suit and tie).
Once Rich is in play mode, it’s time to start rolling around on the floor. It may feel weird for a while, but he’ll eventually get used to it. And even if doesn’t like that kind of play, there are plenty of other ways for him to spend quality time with Max. But the most important thing is to jump in. Rich may be feeling the need to entertain Max all the time and that could be what’s keeping him away. The reality is that all Max really wants from his dad is to be together. It hardly matters what they’re doing, just as long as they’re doing it together.
If you’re looking for some specific ideas, check out the winners of our Seal of Approval program at mrdad.com/seal. Browse the lists–there are some really terrific games/toys/activities that Rich and Max will have a ton of fun doing together.
Dear Mr. Dad: I’ve been divorced three years, and have had a couple of serious relationships. My 11-year-old son, who lives with me half time, has met these women and a couple others, and seems pretty indifferent when the subject of my dating comes up. My ex thinks it’s reckless and harmful for my current girlfriend to be in contact with him. For now, I’m respecting her wishes. Still, I worry about this pattern continuing. For the record, in three years I’ve had a woman stay over exactly once when he is with me.
A: My advice is to keep kids and new partners apart until the relationship can be truly considered “serious.” Of course, that means different thing to different people. The problem is that kids form attachments very quickly (even if they, like your son, seem indifferent), and the last thing your son needs now is yet another breakup. I know it’s a tough situation–you don’t want to feel that your ex is running your dating life. But think about it as something you’ll do for your son. The fact that you’ve only had one girlfriend spend the night means that you won’t have to make any big changes. Could you confine your dating to the days your son is with his mom? When I was a single dad, I tried to do exactly that. That way, when my kids were with me, I could be there 100 percent for them, and when I was with a girlfriend, I could be with her 100 percent (or close to it).
Dear Mr. Dad: My 16-month old daughter still wakes up at least three or four times every night. My husband and I take turns getting up with her but we’re exhausted and fed-up. How can we get her to sleep through the night?
A: Welcome to the wonderful nighttime world of toddlers, all of whom get up a few dozen times every night. Usually, they just look around and go right back to sleep—just like we adults do. Sometime, though, they don’t. When that happens, there are a lot of ways to get children back to sleep in the short term, and, long term, to get them to sleep for longer stretches at night.
Dear Mr. Dad: My 18-month old son is suddenly obsessed with TV. He watches at least 3-4 hours per day. My wife doesn’t see the problem since it allows her to get stuff done around the house, but I’m worried. How much TV is too much?
A: Great question—one you have every right to be concerned about. Watching too much TV is a growing problem in our society—especially for children. Studies are all over the place, but they generally show that American children watch two to six hours of television per day. Plus they spend a few more in front of other screens, watching DVDs or playing video games.
Dear Mr. Dad: My seven-year old’s birthday is coming up and he’s been asking for all the latest tech gadgets. Can’t kids these days have fun without electricity? Got any suggestions?
A: I have to confess that I’m something of a gadget-loving techie. But I’m also tired of fancy electronic toys and games that get used once and tossed–and I think kids are too. Feeling nostalgic for “the good old days,” I put out the word that I was looking for low- and no-tech games and activities. I wasn’t expecting many suggestions, but the response was incredible. So here are a number of simple, wholesome, no-batteries-required, and sometimes-free ways you and your kids can have a ton of fun this summer and beyond.