Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Why the Daddy Network?

The basic premise of the Daddy Network is that to have better kids, we need to be better parents. Yes, the Daddy Network is about fixing parents.

Most fathers (parents) in the Acton-Boxborough community care deeply about the well-being of their children. We have excellent schools because education is important to us. We have great extra-curricular activities and sports programs. We freely donate our time to coach sports and volunteer for Boy Scout activities, chaperone field trips, etc.

But there are two areas we neglect:

1.    When it comes to the social lives of our kids, something very important to them, we give our kids a safety speech and send them off to "who-knows-where" (we all know that it is not always where they say they are going).

2.    When it comes to dealing with the problems of youth, such as problem grades, disobedience, defiance, alcohol and drugs, we have limited skills to draw on, generally what our own parents did, and apply these limited techniques over and over again, with diminishing results. We then feel inadequate and stress over the resultant family friction.

The Daddy Network started due to a lot of exasperation and a small glimpse of inspiration when I was dealing with a problem with a child at home. Instead of "sucking it up" and“keeping it to myself”, I opened up about the problem and asked another parent "what would you do"? It took a while to get past the "it's not my place" and "I don't want to advise you", etc. to finally get some suggestions. And they were helpful, on two levels: The actual advice was from outside my experiences, which brought freshness to the problem, and I had started, unknowingly, a moral support network.


Over the weeks and months that followed, I did not hesitate to call parents of my kids friends and ask them for advice. They soon asked me for my opinions, too. Then I started to realize that we each have 1, 2 or maybe 3 great parenting techniques. As we talked about problems that were common to us all, I was exposed to many techniques to help be a better parent (remember, better parenting makes better kids).


Let me give one example of this in practice: I was speaking to another father about his 17 year old son. The father told me the craziest story, and I remember his story very clearly: "My son snuck out last night, took his bicycle and went to visit his girlfriend.” I asked “How did you find out”? The answer will surprise you: “He told me about it the next day". I replied, “What??? He admitted he snuck out?” "Yes, he always tells me". Huh? How? Why? This was way, way outside of my personal experience. "So you punished him, took away his bike, what did you do?". He replied, "I gave him a lecture about safety, but no punishment". At the time, I did not fully understand the power of this approach, but it really got me thinking about (and wishing for) this type of open relationship with my children.

You probably were like me, thinking “this is crazy”. Well, his experience morphed into what soon would became my #1 parenting technique, which I called "amnesty". My boys knew that word, understood its usefulness to them, and used it as a noun. Here is a real life example: "Dad, I have an amnesty". I replied, "What is it, tell me about it." My son replied: "I found this pocket knife in our neighbors yard". Hmmm... "You know, it our neighbor 'found' your bike in our yard, would it be his? And would you be happy with him"? "Not my bike, NO!" "OK, so you know you made a mistake, so what should you do now"? My son returned the knife (I think he just left it in their yard where he found it). And there was no punishment. This is key. If there is punishment, they will avoid the amnesty and the honesty that goes with it. And that is far more instructive than any punishment. I share "Amnesty" with all my friends, and it will change your relationship with your kids forever. It has for me.

But that is just the point of the TDN. I would never have "amnesty" if that other parent did not *share* his story. The more we share, the more we all benefit, and the better parents we become.

How do we share? This is a bigger question than it seems. Many people are reluctant to open up about their family problems because they are uncomfortable and feel it makes them look less than adequate. Well, get over it! Have enough self-confidence to say "I am having a problem with my child and I don't know how to deal with it. Perhaps you have some ideas". Practice this in the mirror, it will be useful.

The start, as in all problem solving, it defining the problem. That takes work. "My son/daughter is disrespectful" may not be the problem. Talking about it with others will help shed light on the issue until you have identified the real problem and find an approach you feel good about. Warning: This could take more than one discussion. This is not a quick fix, "go to your room", solution. It takes time, patience, and love, which can all be ground down in the midst of the struggle.

TDN is not a list of quick fix solutions to apply. It is about tackling problems one-by-one, with advice and support from other parents, with an emphasis on the fathers, who need to engage more and play a bigger role than a simple disciplinarian. My personal take is we are happy to spend 3 hours on the ball field, and sometime, many times, family problems will also take 3 hours, too. Just like cheating or copying homework does not help you learn, quick fixes do not help us as parents really learn how to be better parents.

Communication is Key

Part 2 of TDN is communication with other daddies (parents). Share your email and cell phone number with the parents you come in contact with. Write your cell phone number on the back of your business card and give it to parents when you drop off your kids. Encourage them to email or text you. I found that if I wrote the first email or the first text, other daddies would start to do the same, but many were hesitant to be first to do so.

If your child is going over to a house in TDN, and you are not sure if you are getting the whole story, email or text the parent. Be direct and you will get better answers. If you are worried about drinking at a house, don't write a text that says "my daughter is coming over, will you be home"?, if what you really mean to say is "I am afraid there will be drinking there. What do you know"?

Remember, our kids are all using text messages and Twitter and Facebook to work around us. If we do not communicate with each other, we are at a significant disadvantage, and they will exploit this weakness.

To summarize, The Daddy Network is a moral support network to share parenting skills to make us better parents. And better parents do make better kids.

A quick post-script on lectures: Keep them to 140 characters. Yes, texting makes has trained our kids to have short focus spans. After a long winded 20 minute lecture, I found myself saying, “In 140 characters, if you keep coming home at 2:30 AM, I can't get sleep, can’t goto work, and can't pay for your college tuition. Be home by midnight."

If you want to contact me to discuss how to build your own Daddy Network, email me at frank@maysoft.com  Include your phone number if you want me to call, or we can just exchange ideas over email.