Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Good Dad and the Power of Play -- Dr. Jennifer Baker


“The Power of Play” – that’s the theme for the Downtown Dads Spring Lunch Series. I’m very excited about this series for a number of reasons. Here a just a few:

1)    Dads tend to play with their children more than moms. Moms may actually spend more time with their youngsters than dads, but moms tend to be involved in activities like feeding, bathing, changing, clothing and comforting. A mother’s contribution is essential to helping a child feel safe and secure. And, of course, many dads do these things too. It’s just that dads tend to bring something to the equation.


2)   Unstructured play, essential to healthy child development, is disappearing from the American landscape.  Children still play, but today many of them engage in activities structured by a screen, designed to teach skills of some sort, or organized with rules and limits overseen by adults. The days of children making up their own games and activities with kids in the neighborhood are waning. Even if they wanted to do this, fewer opportunities exist.


3)    Play is important for developing curiosity, creativity, and imagination. According to Dr. David Elkind, author of The Power of Play, “These abilities are like muscles. If you don’t use them, you lose them.” Many of today’s toys are programmed to solicit a specific response or reaction from a child, limiting their creativity and imagination. Toys with multiple uses, e.g., blocks, Legos, etc. are good options because children use them in a variety of ways.



In the weeks to come, we’ll be exploring a number of ways dads can playfully interact with their children. Our lunches, podcasts and blog themes will all focus on this essential activity. As a way of introduction to this topic, consider the following points from The Power of Play.
·      
  • Support and encourage your child’s own self-initiated learning activities.
  • Join your child in his or her play.
  • Take care in choosing your child’s toys.
  • Encourage dramatic play, especially with preschoolers.
  • Read to your child as a way to stimulate imagination and support healthy language learning.
  • Play games with rules with your school-age child to help them learn social skills, develop strategies, take risks, and learn skills of observation and evaluation.

I hope you’ll join us in the important topic of play in one or more ways over the next five weeks. It’s bound to be a lot of fun.

Jennifer Baker is the Founder and Director of Good Dads. She is the wife of one, mother of two and grandmother of eight. She can be reached for question or comment at jennifer@gooddads.com.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Work Hard to Play -- Springfield Dad and Grandfather Kevin Weaver


There is hardly a person on the planet that doesn’t like the opportunity to play. Of course, the term “play” has varying meanings at varying ages. For instance, play to a two-year-old might mean whacking a bowl with a mixing spoon, while play to a 10-year-old might mean hours of meticulously building multi-thousand-piece Lego lands. A teenager? Often sports come to mind, while in the world of adults – at least for me – it has often meant long motorcycle trips or quietly fishing by the lake. To my wife? Drop her off at any local d├ęcor super store and she can happily play all day.

Just how important is play and playing with our kids? I don’t simply mean the battle over “going outside vs. staying inside game,” either. Is it about what our children are playing, or is it more about the fact they are playing and that we, as parents, are encouraging and engaging as well?  


I get being a young man who is also a young parent. In the very season of life I was trying to navigate my way through a career path, my wife and I eagerly also brought into the task of navigating the parenting path as well. The trend for “career first, family second” may be on the upswing, but that blueprint never crossed our life desks. We didn’t want to wait for kids, and the kids would have to eat . . . so, the balancing began. With long days and sometimes long nights of working, just seeing my kids, let alone playing with them, seemed a monumental feat.  I learned  playtime didn’t have to involve loading up the mini-van with a picnic basket and sports’ gear in a run for the local park for an entire afternoon. It’s a great gig if you can make it happen, but when you can’t, there’s hope.

While organized play was a huge part of our boys’ childhoods (and might I add the one non-athlete’s marching band camps and practices rivaled the rigor and fun of the two athletes baseball, basketball, and football endeavors offered), impromptu play proved to be their favorite. To this day, my grown sons rarely mention a thing about one of the many sporting activities or all-day family play outings, but rather they recall the five-minute, nightly, free-for-alls. They can give a true “play-by-play” about these encounters.

Kids are smart. Kids know. Kids are wise enough to know that sometimes dads work long hours and can’t coach their teams and can’t take an entire afternoon to go to the park. That’s when they’re smart enough to know that those minutes in which a tired, hard-working dad turns into a goofy Godzilla to make brushing teeth and going to bed more fun are some of the most meaningful play dates they will ever have.

For me, the bottom line was that I just wanted to connect with my boys whenever and however I could.  In the midst of all this, I learned something very important; the power of play can never be underestimated.  Sure, hard work is the foundation of an ethic that can move our kids to success.  If you can’t enjoy what you work for and find enjoyment in what your life has to offer, what’s the point?

So, my family and I chose to “play” and enjoy this adventure we call life.  And, more importantly . . . we do it whenever possible!  Looking back, it is one of most important ingredients to our family bond. 

Kevin Weaver, CEO of Network211 and father of three sons, lives with his wife KyAnne in Springfield, MO. He enjoys spending time with family, hunting and watching University of Kansas basketball with his boys! He can be reached at kweaver@network211.com

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Play with Others: The Cousins are Here!


(This post is from our archive and is shared again here with updated photos as a reminder of the joy children--and cousins--find in playing with each other. Of course, dads and moms are important in making this happen.) 

"The cousins are here! The cousins are here!" This is was what the Boy was shouting at dinner last night as my sister's family arrived. The Boy has the best time when his cousins come all the way from Missouri to Texas to visit. Since my sister also has a set of twins plus one, we have an unusual bond as parents besides being siblings. The difference is that at her house it’s all girls and at ours, it’s all boys all the time—with the exception of my lovely wife. Of course, with six children age 3 and under, bedtime was a bit more tricky then usual, but once we got everybody down the adults were able to kick back and enjoy some wine and tea to close out the evening.



Everybody, and I mean everybody, was up by 7 a.m. this morning, but in a house the size of ours that really isn't a surprise. I am just glad we made it that long.


Of course the Boy knows we have to go out and ride the bike at least once a day during the “30 Days of Biking,” even when the cousins are here. He figured the best way to accomplish this was to load up the bike trailer with all three toddlers and ride off to get some donuts. It sounded like a good idea to me, and so off we went. I am pretty sure that loading three small children into the trailer exceeded safety regulations, but they didn't seem to mind, even if the Boy was forced to sit on the floor. (It’s amazing why you’ll do when your cousins come to town.) We all had a great little ride and there was no complaining. WELL ACTUALLY, there was just a little complaining. All three passengers felt I should have been going faster when we came to an uphill section. I tried to explain to them it wasn't easy pulling 110 pounds of kids around, but this argument didn't quell their demand for greater speed.


As with all good things, the weekend finally came to an end and everybody was exhausted but very happy.  After a weekend full of fun and family, I am reminded of this Manifesto from Holstee.  "This is your LIFE.  Do what you want and do it often!"  I love spending time with family and will continue to do it as often as possible. I hope my boys will do the same.



*Minor Baker and his sister are now the parents of four children each, so there’s even more fun when all the cousins get together. This occurred a few months back when eight cousins, 20 months to 9 years of age, occupied the same house for four days. Many memories are made when the cousins visit. Minor can be reached for questions and comment at minorbaker@gmail.com.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Playful Dad -- Jeff Sippy, Springfield Dad in Training


I am a wack-o.  Wack-o is a layman’s term for what a professional therapist might diagnose as a bit up-tight, too anxious, overwhelmed, and sometimes controlling.  I don’t try to be.  It just happened one day or another after my first child was born, continued with the birth of my second and the third, the next 25 years, and 1,000 life events.  Trips to the ER, college tuition, sports, dating, and the death of my parents have just about done me in.  I used to be so playful and at ease about everything.  What happened?  I became a parent.  So I am a wack-o.       

It is not good to be a wack-o.  Being a wack-o is not the way to be a Good Dad, either.  Good Dads work hard and are responsible, model good behavior and character, and teach all kinds of things like right and wrong, how to drive, and how to catch a fish.  But Good Dads are not all work and no play.  Good Dads are relaxed and playful.  If you are not there yet, no worries!  Let’s help each other lighten up and brighten up.  

A playful Dad is a gracious dad.  A playful Dad understands that children make mistakes, get into trouble, go down the wrong path, are sometime ornery, anxious, and even uptight.  So are we!!

Do you ever wonder where uptight, anxious children come from?  They come from anxious, uptight Dads!  Our children learn from you and me.  Let’s teach them to be relaxed and playful rather than uptight and anxious. 
    

My three boys, Clayton, Aaron, and Jason are teaching me to lighten up and brighten up.  My boys are literally the life of my party.  They tickle me till I cannot breathe.  They pour ice water on me when I am in the shower.  They hide my dinner plate when I am not looking.  They tell me horrible, rude, offensive stories that would have made their Grandma Lita blush.  They don’t let up until I laugh out loud.   


Playful Dad goes with the flow.  They don’t try to make their children something they are not – from straight A students, to star athletes, to the best in the band.  Let them find their way on a pathway marked with playfulness, mercy, and grace.  Let your children pick the restaurant, where they want to go on vacation, and what they want to study in college.  Because of my boys, I have learned how to ice skate, play hockey, and how to sail.  We have gone white water rafting and climbed 14,000 foot mountains in Colorado. 
                                                     
                                                    

                        
I’m still a wack-o but I am less of a wack-o each day.  It is not easy being a Dad.  But it is easier, and more fun when we help each other and when we learn to lighten up, brighten up, and be a bit more playful.  If I can be a help or blessing to you I am always close by!

Jeff Sippy, a Dad-In-Training, is the father of three young men and the husband of Cindy. He enjoys sailing every chance that he gets. He is the senior pastor at Redeemer Lutheran in Springfield, MO and can be reached for question or comment at jsippy@rlcmail.org

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Love Changes Everything -- Missouri Father of Five -- Christopher Moss



Love is one of those terms that hold multiple definitions. Most people get their perception of love’s definition from personal experience; some good, some bad. And with society’s influence, it’s easy to water down the word love to simple romanticism. In our household, though, love is emphasized alongside mutual respect. It’s the foundation upon which we choose to build our entire lives.

With today’s “need it now” mentality, it’s important for my wife and I to refocus our kids’ perspective on love. One of the ways we do this is by teaching acceptance above tolerance; meaning we don’t judge by outward appearances, we stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves, and we give generously to those who can’t repay. “Acceptance” tells us that we are enough. “Tolerance” tells us our acceptance is attached to a predisposed understanding that one is somehow better than another. Love is acceptance, not tolerance. We believe when contingencies are attached to our love based on who we think deserves it, we begin to foster an “us versus them” mentality. In reality, we’re all on equal playing field when it comes to love. Each of us plays a part in showing love and mutual respect to those who need it most.

Within this spectrum, our children ask many questions:


Daughter: “What if Tommy says hurtful things about me to other people?”

We try to be as real as possible with our answers:

Us: “Sometimes people do and say hurtful things. How we react to them should let them know that we can be both loving and respectful simultaneously. At times, we may even have to remove ourselves from being hurt by others. It doesn’t mean we don’t care for them. It simply means we care for ourselves too, and enough to make sure we are treated the same way we treat others.”

I wish I could tell them that loving is always easy, but sometimes it gets complicated. Ultimately, I want them to know that love overcomes hurt. By choosing to love when we hurt, we allow ourselves to heal from the ill intentions of others.


As a parent, I make a multitude of mistakes. I have to ask for my kids’ forgiveness on a daily basis. Many times I eat my words, and the foundations I want my kids to inherit are object lessons from my failures. I guess that’s why we find love such an important attribute for their success. When they fail, I want them to know it isn’t going to affect their relationship with me. When they get older and life gets messy, I want them to be comfortable telling me it’s messy. I don’t want their guilt and shame to keep them from being honest. I want them to understand that love is bigger than their slip-up.

A quote from Steve Goodier best defines this kind of love: “But I give best when I give from that deeper place; when I give simply, freely and generously, and sometimes for no particular reason. I give best when I give from my heart.”

Love Changes Everything.


Chris Moss, with his wife Tiffany, keep company with five lively children. He currently resides on the outskirts of St. Louis, Missouri. Chris is the Missional Co-Founder of the grass-roots community organization The Serve Movement. He's a writer, a dreamer, and a voice for the underdog. He can be reached for comment or question at thechristophermoss@gmail.com or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/thechrismoss).

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What is Love . . . Really? -- Springfield Dad, Kevin Weaver


Nothing like the Valentine season to get people, even kids, talking about love. We all know that love means a myriad of things to a myriad of people. There are cultural definitions, with some languages having multiple words to express the levels of the emotion, unlike our English language which offers only one. And with just one little word to convey and explain meaning for such a big expression, no wonder it can be challenging to teach and show our kids what real love is. I mean, I love my wife and I love peanut butter. But, I can tell you that the love for my wife better bring a whole lot more with it than my love for the creamy, jarred substance. So, when our kids hear us using the same verb for so many, different things, how can we break it down for them? How do we show young children, and even grown ones, what love really is?

Obviously, the younger the child, the less complicated love can seem and the easier love can be to display. But, no matter the age, it seems that just taking time with our kids shows love in ways that mean more to them than we could ever imagine. And I know how a lot of dads are, the idea of spending time with their kids is great, as they truly love their kids…but the idea of initiating deep, loving, meaningful conversations is daunting. Sometimes, downright scary. How grateful most of us find ourselves when we realize that words are not always required to show our kids the great love we have for them.

I had, and have, a great dad. But, he was definitely from the generation of non-verbal expression within the family unit. That is, unless one of his young was in trouble. However, my own wife and kids have a hard time envisioning this, as my 76-year-old father is now one of the first to bear hug a family member and emphatically declare an emotional, “I love you!”

That stated, I don’t dwell on the number of “I love yous” I received growing up. Instead, I dwell time spent with my dad. He worked hard, and moments with him were great commodities. Some of my favorite moments, and moments in which I saw and felt love most expressed, were when we worked on my old car. More tools were passed than words, but standing side-by-side with both of our heads under the hood of that classic 1965 Ford Mustang, I felt it. I felt my father’s love.


Fast forward to my own days of dad-hood. No more perfect than any father before me, I had shining moments and colossal failures. But, one of the things that my now-grown sons remember to this very day, is either me coming home from work and simply throwing myself on the floor for them to climb around on, or me putting them to bed at night—on the nights I was home in time to do so.

I would like to think it was my stories they remember best, or my deep nuggets of shared wisdom, but no. They remember the climbing back and forth over me, the wrestling around, the being thrown onto lots and lots of cushions onto the couch, the tickling, and the laughing. (I promise no children were injured in the filming of our life story!) If one really investigated it, there were weeks when these loving memories were made in a matter of 15 minutes a day. I wish it could have been more, but I was young, they were young, and we all needed to eat. How grateful I am that love doesn’t always have to be expressed with flowery words, extravagant gifts, or costly trips. How grateful I am that love can sometimes be best expressed in just being there truly engaged.


I am now a grandfather, and am trying to show love in the same ways to my grandson and granddaughter as I did to my own sons. It takes me a little longer to get down and get back up, again, but the responses are the same. The minute I finally get my old football injury knees to bend, my grandkids are right there, ready to receive and exchange some love. Nothing could be sweeter.

Kevin Weaver, CEO of Network211 and father of three sons, lives with his wife KyAnne in Springfield, MO. He enjoys spending time with family, hunting and watching University of Kansas basketball with his boys! He can be reached at kweaver@network211.com


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

What I Wish Dads Would Say to Their Teens about Love -- Dr. Jennifer Baker


Many dads fear “the talk” relative to conversations with their kids about love and sex. I can understand this discomfort, but I wish dads would focus more on the characteristics of a healthy relationship than the biology of sex. Even if they leave the topic of sex to teachers and moms, there’s still a lot to be said about love and relationships.

“What’s that Boiling on the Stove?”
Falling in love is a lot like the boiling pot I remember in the biology lab where my boyfriend (now husband) worked when we were in college. I often visited him there and regularly noticed something bubbling in a large pan on the stove, but it was usually boiling so hard the contents were indistinguishable. When I asked about their make-up, I got an unexpected answer.

“Road kill,” my boyfriend responded, rather matter-of-factly. “Some of the biology students cruise the country roads early in the morning to find freshly dead animals. They bring them back here, boil the meat off the bones, and then reconstruct the skeletons to study.”  Not the answer I had expected, but falling in love can be a lot like that.

Chemical Cocktail
When we become attracted to someone, a.k.a. “fall in love,” a chemical cocktail invades our brain and temporarily transforms us. The neurotransmitters of attraction and infatuation (e.g., like dopamine, phenylethylalamine and norepinephrine) flood our neural pathways and lead us to be overly optimistic, discount potentially negative information, and cling to a euphoric state with unquestioned certainty that we’ve found our soul mate and the world will be blissful forever. Eventually the impact of these hormones subsides, and other hormones of connection and bonding (e.g., oxytocin) take their place. When that occurs we find ourselves in a more rational, calmer state of being. Until it does, however, we can make some very unwise decisions regarding our love life.

Problem Behaviors
What kinds of behaviors do we overlook or rationalize during our euphoric state? Lying, cheating, controlling, and blaming others for his or her problems are good examples. An inability to keep a job, having a perpetually negative attitude, big mood swings and substance abuse are also red flags. Failure to take responsibility for one’s children and believing others are out to get you are also danger signs often condoned in the “falling in love” stage. Looking back, most people admit there were signs of bad behavior early in the relationship, but they were overlooked under the influence of the “love cocktail.”

Slowing to a Simmer
Although it has been said that a “watched pot never boils,” as we can already see, it might be better to watch what goes into the pot before it comes to a boil . . . or wait until it slows to a simmer before deciding what to do with the contents.


“The Seven Principles of Smart Love”
Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, authors of Relationships and Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, identify seven key factors to consider before making a serious commitment to someone. They include “ 1) Seek a good match; 2) Pay attention to values; 3) Choose a real partner, not a “makeover” project; 4) Don’t try to change yourself to be somebody else; 5) Expect good communication and don’t run from conflict; 6) Don’t play games, pressure or manipulate someone; and 7) Have a bottom line.”  Let’s consider each briefly.

Seek a good match. | Pay attention to values.
Beth and Josh could have saved themselves much heartache and frustration had they taken seriously the need for common interests after the heat of early passion slows to a simmer. Given that having fun together is one of the things happy couples identify as key to their marital satisfaction, it’s helpful if they enjoy doing some of the same things. It is equally important they have some friends in common, friends who like both of them and will support their relationship. Finally, having similar values in terms of shared beliefs mutual respect, and commitment is essential.

Choose a real partner, not a “makeover” project. | Don’t try to change yourself…
It goes without saying that trying to change your partner, or changing yourself just to please him or her is not a good idea. First, you are unlikely to be successful in the long run, which will be frustrating for both of you. Secondly, most people have a deep need to be accepted as they are. If you are trying to change your partner, then your love is conditional. Moreover, trying to change a core part of yourself for your partner is likely to leave you feeling hollow, empty and very lonely over time. It is definitely not a good way to feel loved and stay connected.

Expect good communication. | Don’t run from conflict. | Don’t play games …
Some differences are inevitable and when they occur what matters most is the ability to communicate well and solve problems as a team. Most people would agree that screaming, yelling and hitting are unacceptable, but fewer are aware of the damage conflict avoidance can do to a marriage as the years unfold. One person said it well when she exclaimed, “We’ve been pushing things under the carpet for years and now we have a very lumpy carpet.” A “very lumpy carpet” results in bitterness and resentment that becomes harder and harder to resolve as trust and respect deteriorate.

Have a bottom line.
Before you allow yourself to become seriously involved with someone, establish your “bottom line,” that is, the standard for how you wish to be treated in a relationship. What are the things you need and want? What are the deal breakers? Setting limits is healthy for you and for the one you love. It is also fair and honest.

Take Your Time
Determining whether or not a potential mate is a “smart love” takes time. It’s wise to see the person in a variety of situations over a period of several months, before allowing yourself to become too attached. It’s prudent to allow the hormones of love to stop boiling so that you have a better chance of knowing what you’ve got, than you do when the relationship is still steamy. It’s even better to learn more about a person before you allow yourself to get emotionally engaged. There’s a lot of time for regret later on.

Falling in love is often the easy part. Staying in love is harder, but a lot less work and more fun if you choose the right person from the start.


Dr. Jennifer Baker is the founder and director of Good Dads. She is the wife of one, mother of two and grandmother of eight. She can be reached for question or comment at Jennifer@gooddads.com.