Thursday, August 30, 2012

Children and Chores in a Single Dad Family: Whether, When, How Much

While I didn’t originally believe it, there is a fair amount of research about single father parenting. Although my three children may not agree with the outcomes of this particular study, it tends to reinforce my resolve relative to some of my own parenting decisions.

Researcher Geoffrey L. Greif solicited single father members of Parents Without Partners to complete a questionnaire relating to the amount of responsibility their children have at home, specifically relating to housework. Greif received more than 1,100 responses, crunched the data, and had his results published. (Children and housework in the single father family. Greif, Geoffrey L. Family Relations: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies, Vol 34(3), Jul 1985, 353-357.)

Greif found a number of both common sense and thought-provoking correlations. Not surprisingly, the research suggested that the older the children, the more housework they did. Similarly, single dads of teenage daughters often received more help than those fathers raising adolescent boys. On the other hand, single father may also expect less participation in housework from his children than is expected from children in a two-parent family. An anecdotal reason for that may perhaps include a father’s belief that the family circumstance, created by either a divorce or loss, is already unfair to his children. Having a child (or children) responsible for housework would be like adding insult to injury. According to the study, such a belief is unfounded.

“It is suggested that fathers who believe they are helping children adjust by not having them carry an appropriate share of the housework are placing an unfair burden on themselves and giving the children the wrong message about home responsibility and life . . . ,” Greif concludes. Apparently, not giving children in a single father family any responsibilities at home isn’t very good for anyone, including dad!

Returning now from the world of academia to the real world where we live, you know, “where the rubber hits the road,” how much and what type of responsibilities are appropriate for the children in a single father household? Well, I’m sure there is more than one way to . . . get the trash to the curb, but here’s how I’ve handled it:

1.      Make responsibilities age-appropriate, simple and achievable for younger children to build confidence and more involved for older children.

2.      Household responsibilities should require no more than about a half an hour each day, but quite a bit less for younger children.

3.      Some tasks may be more or less preferable than others. As such, rotate duties when there are two or more children who have similar levels of maturity and ability.

4.      There will be times when the single father will have to remind one of more of his offspring to of his or her work. However, as much as possible, allow children to find their own time to do their work to create more skilled time managers.

5.      Lead by example. The single dad should have his own responsibilities around the house, which his children can readily see.

In practice in my house, my eight year old son feeds the cat, empties the litter (almost) every day, and empties the bathroom trash cans every week or so. Those were the same responsibilities my daughters had when they were the same age. Now, daughters who are in their early teens rotate dishes and laundry, which I had done myself when the girls were younger. For my part, I take care of the lawn and landscaping, all of the small fixes, and I still do most of the vacuuming. Of course, each of us has the responsibility for keep our own rooms clean.

Based on my experience and, apparently, on Dr. Greif’s research, this sort of plan not only keeps our space livable, creates senses of responsibility, accomplishment, personal worth, and family cohesion. I’m not asking for too much, though. I seriously doubt my kids will agree with any of this . . . at least until they have children of their own!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Mother's Day for Motherless Children

You remember Mother's Day as a young child in school, right? Whether you dipped your hands in green, blue, or yellow paint and stamped them on the front of a piece of construction paper or you bedazzled a tiny terracotta pot with beads and sequence before filling the pot with soil and planting a flower seed, your elementary school teacher had some crafty gift plan for Mother's Day. Heck, I fondly remember decorating an emptied and washed juice concentrate can with coarse brown twine to make a pencil holder for my mother one year a few decades ago.



For Motherless Children, I think, the annual Mother’s Day craft is a somewhat different experience.


On each of the previous Mother’s Days since my children lost their mother more than seven years ago, my children had always made their Mother’s Day cards and gifts for a close female friend of the family or for their dad, who appreciated them in a very unique way. My daughters are older now and no longer use construction paper and blunt scissors to make Mother’s Day cards, but this year my second grade son changed things up. He made a Mother’s Day card for his . . . Mom.


Recently, the kids and I made our summer visit to the Midwest and to the historic river city where his mother and I grew up. My daughters and son reconnected with their grandparents and many of their cousins, aunts, and uncles while enjoying a markedly more tranquil atmosphere. My daughters spent some very special time their mother’s sister and her family, while the The Favorite Son and I spent some great “guy time,” which included, among others things, a number of waterpark visits and a lot of chicken wings and darts at his Great Uncle Jimmy’s restaurant.


One day near the end of our trip, the boy and I stopped at a local hardware store and picked up some duct tape. The two of us continued on to St. Charles Memorial Gardens, where, after parking the car and making the short walk, I tore off a couple of pieces of the tape and placed them on the back of a laminated card. I handed the card back. Then, for the first time in eight years, my son gave his mom the Mother’s Day card he made at school. 






Friday, August 17, 2012

Tae Kwon Do and The Single Father

I originally wrote and submitted this essay to Master Mitchell Barron in 2009 as a requirement for my promotion to first degree black belt (Tae Kwon Do) at Northeastern Martial Arts Academy in Florida, New York.

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It seems like half a lifetime ago I was fortunate enough to attend and graduate from a high school that was just pretentious enough to have a Latin motto, “Esto Vir.”  Considering I was only thirteen-years old when I started at the school and considering Latin is a dead language except for doctors, lawyers, and zoologists, I had no idea what Esto Vir meant.  Eventually, one of the instructors at the school translated it for me: “Be A Man.”  I was reminded again and again that to be a man, one must take responsibility for his actions.  Of course, I understood those words, but it was not for many years that I fully comprehended their meaning.

            Later, as an undergraduate I attended a large land-grant university in the Midwest where I joined a social fraternity.  While my association with the Fraternity helped me to expand my social and networking opportunities, it also helped to cultivate my leadership skills.  Specifically, the Fraternity emphasized the importance of being a “Balanced Man.” It defined a The Balanced Man as one who is effective and successful in one’s professional life, but not at the expense of his family; someone who maintains his physical fitness, but not at the expense of his intellectual or spiritual fitness.  High ideals indeed. 

Early in 2003, I looked around and I saw that I had just about everything I ever wanted.  I had been married for almost eleven years to a beautiful and loving wife.  We had two wonderful daughters and we lived in a nice house in a great community.  I was a respected and successful middle-manager who was on his way up the corporate ladder at a New York Stock Exchange company.  I was so successful with my job responsibilities, in fact, that my employer asked me to relocate and take on a new task.  So, we bought a house and moved before the school year started that autumn.

            With the new house came the news that we would welcome another child to our family the following July.  Although we could not have known it at the time, much would change for all of us in advance of his arrival.  Just days before the ball dropped in New York City to welcome 2004, I received news that my employer had undertaken a corporate realignment.  A couple of months later, I was unceremoniously notified that my job would be eliminated in the reorganization.  For the first time in my adult life, I found myself without unemployed.  By far the most difficult news for me and my family, however, was yet to come.

            My wife and I planned a trip to Disney World that spring before our son was born.  We reasoned that our daughters were old enough to fully enjoy the trip and it could be a few years before we could take another vacation like that.  We also decided to get a puppy when we returned home.  Two weeks before our plane was supposed to leave, though, my wife complained of stiffness and noticed a peculiar swelling in her neck.  As it happened, the inflammation was the result of infected lymph nodes in her arm and shoulder.  The infection in the lymph nodes was caused by a metastatic cancer.  Our son was born healthy on June 19, 2004, but my wife succumbed to her disease just a few months later. 

            Even as Dick Clark welcomed that New Year in Times Square, my wife and I had discussed enrolling out oldest daughter in martial arts classes.  Both she and her sister had taken gymnastics at while the two of us spent time in the gym.  In January, my intrepid little girl put on her first do bak, wore a white belt tied probably by one of the junior instructors, and lined up for her first class.  Not to be outdone, our younger saw her sister and all but demanded that she stop her gymnastics classes and start Taekwondo immediately.  Four months later, I decided that martial arts might be a way to relieve stress, not to mention another excuse for me to spend time with my children – as if I needed one! 

            It has been almost six years since my oldest daughter paved the way for her sister, for me, and now for her five-year old brother, who is now able to attend classes with his sisters and me.  During that time, our family has undergone at least our share of changes and challenges.  My oldest, who started in first-grade at a Warwick Valley Central School District elementary school, has become a very responsible and beautiful young lady who is now a middle school honor roll student.  My second is a fifth-grader who loves to read, does very well in school, and has been a youth football cheerleader for two years.  Both she and her sister are Taekwondo bo dan’s.  In addition to his participation Taekwondo where he has earned a yellow belt, my son loves to play soccer and recently announced that he wants to change his name to “Luke Skywalker.”  Personally, I’m older and I suppose I have some additional perspective that corresponds to those years. 

No one can say what opportunities or struggles tomorrow will present to any of us.  Now, however, in addition to those values that I took to heart as a younger man – a personal philosophy that includes ideals like Esto Vir, The Balanced Man, and the many lessons learned as a husband, a father, a friend, and a coworker – both I and my children have relied and continue to rely on another set of guiding principles which begin, “Be loyal to your county.  Be loving and show fidelity to your parents.  Be loving between husband and wife...”

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Help for Platonic Female Friends

A year or two after I became a single father, I started to get calls from women to whom I affectionately refer as “Platonic Female Friends (PFF’s).” Although the callers were unrelated as far as I knew, the topic of the conversations were strangely similar. Each of the calls went something like this:


PFF: Hello, Matt. How are things?
Me: Pretty good, I guess. You know, the single dad thing is a little tricky, but good, thanks. How ‘bout you?
PFF: Good, thanks. And, yeah, you know, you seem to be doing okay, all things considered, and well, I have a friend who: A) is recently divorced and has children at home, or B) has recently become a widower and has children at home.
Me: I’m very sorry. I think I know what he’s going through.
PFF: Uh huh. Yeah. Well, that’s sort of the reason I called. I thought maybe you could talk to him and help him out. Can I give him your phone number?
 

To date, I have not received one call from any of my PFF’s single father friends. Can you blame them? A woman friend tells you that she knows a guy experiencing a similar situation and “seems to be doing okay?” At the very least, the guy might get the impression he’s not doing okay, at least in the eyes of his lady friend. Making that call would have been like admitting defeat and subordinating to some guy he doesn’t even know. The male animal just doesn’t work that way.
 

Anyway, those calls I received from my PFF’s suggested that there was a need for a sort of crisis-level guidebook for single fathers. So, drawing from my own previous experiences as a writer, a corporate ladder climber, a short-order cook, an amateur athlete and a dad, I started to write The Single Father’s Guide to Life, Cooking, and Baseball, including baseball metaphors to which guys will quickly connect, simple recipes that even a guy could follow, personal anecdotes which range from comical to solemn, and fifteen “Golden Rules” to simplify day-to-day single father family operations.
 

Now, those guys don’t need to call me. They (or their platonic female friends) could surreptitiously buy the book and no one would be the wiser.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Top 5 Financial Blunders Guys Make During Divorce

Okay, I get it. You’re a little upset. Maybe, ticked-off is more like it. You are or are just about to be unhappily divorced. To say you have an aversion to the woman who said, “I do,” is an understatement. That would be like saying a punch in the groin is a little uncomfortable. Through all of this frustrating, maddening process, remember the words of Yoda, anger “is the path to the dark side.”

As difficult, contentious, and unpleasant as your divorce process has been, however, you can create an exponentially worse situation by making one or more financial blunders. In an effort “to get even,” however, you can dig yourself a hole from which you may struggle for years to get out. 

1.      Stop paying bills – Ever heard of cutting off your nose to spite your face? So, you’re separated from your spouse and you’ve been the family breadwinner. You’ve always paid the bills, from groceries to gas to garbage removal. Now, you’re going to show her. No more free ride! You stop paying. If not only for the fact that your children need a warm place to sleep, food to eat, and a clothes on their backs, there is a legal term called pendente lite, which means, literally, “while the litigation is pending.” In a divorce case, a pendente lite order provides for the support of the lower income spouse while the divorce process moves through the court. If you’re the higher income spouse, you will eventually have to pay up, but you’ll likely accrue additional legal fees, fines, or judgments in the process. What’s worse, if you stop paying the mortgage, for example, and the house is foreclosed, then the marital assets are reduced. So, you’ll both get less and your credit is severely impaired.

2.      Make an extravagant purchase – Wow. You’ve had to put up with a lot of stuff, huh? For all the trouble, you want to treat yourself. You deserve it, right? So, you go out and buy a motorcycle, a boat, or a sports car. What’s wrong with that? Well, the truth is, nothing’s wrong with that . . . if you have the cash. If your name is Donald Trump, well it’s not really a problem. If your name is almost anything else, then you need to be a little more cautious. There may eventually be a time when you can buy your toy, but it will likely be advantageous to wait until the dust settles and you’re able to make a new budget before reducing a big hunk of your cash liquidity or taking on a big, new, monthly payment.

 
3.      Don’t hire a lawyer – You’ll only have one chance at getting the divorce settlement right, at least with the woman sitting at the other table in the courtroom. Unless you happen to be a divorce attorney yourself, you may not even know that the legal rules, procedures, and regulations even exist.  If you don’t know all that legal stuff, but your soon-to-be ex-spouse does, then you’re likely to get the short end of the . . . checkbook. If you have actually been admitted to the bar, well, you know what they say. “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.”

4.      Reduce your income/cut-back on work hours – You’ve got this great idea to save yourself some money in the divorce settlement. You cut a deal with your boss to temporarily reduce your hours or take a short-term demotion with a reduced salary. Then, when the divorce is settled, you get those hours or your old job back with the higher salary, right? Well, you aren’t the first guy to think of it, which the reason courts take an average of several years’ reported income as a basis for alimony and child support. However, things can really go the wrong way if the boss, with whom you cut the deal, is fired or the economy takes a downturn and your employer freezes pay rates. You could be stuck with that lower income.

 
5.      Max out your credit – The fact is, good credit saves money and bad credit costs money. Every financial decision you make rolls up, or down, to your credit. If you stop paying your bills – like the mortgage or the car payment, if you make a big purchase beyond your ability to pay, or if your income declines and adversely affects your payment history, your credit score also declines and the cost of money goes up. (Your ability to borrow money may even vanish if your credit score gets really bad!) The way the credit issuers look at it, low risk – low reward, high risk – high reward.  For example, a credit card may charge 2.99% interest for a person who has a credit score of 775. That would be equal roughly to $30 a year for an average balance of $1,000. That same credit issuer might charge 14.99% for the same credit card to a guy who has a credit score of 625. That same $1,000 balance would cost almost $150. Now, imagine your average annual credit balance is $20,000 instead of just $1,000. That money would cost an additional $2,400 a year!

So, the short answer is, don’t let your emotions cloud your judgment during what has been a very stressful time in your life. If you have any questions about the financial part of your life, I encourage you to seek out assistance through a credit counselor, a certified financial planner, a certified public account, and/or an attorney.
May the force be with you.

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Friday, August 3, 2012

The Single Father's Guide to Life, Cooking, and Baseball & Kathie Austin Photography

One of the best parts of producing The Single Father's Guide to Life, Cooking, and Baseball was creating and photographing the recipes I use to punctuate the single father's healthy lifestyle ideas that I included in the book. I was fortunate to work with the talented and creative Kathie Austin of Kathie Austin Photography, LLC in Vernon, New Jersey. For six days during the Winter of 2012, I cooked, Kathie photographed, both of us ate, and there were plenty of leftovers.
 Daddy's Chocolate Chip and Strawberry Cookie Pancakes




      Dad's Garden Harvest Tomato Soup





Check out these and other great recipes in Matthew S. Field's The Single Father's Guide to Life, Cooking, and Baseball, available from Arundel Publishing. Pre-order now; available everywhere on September 1, 2012. For product, portrait, or event photography, well, I whole-heartedly recommend Kathie Austin Photography, 973-296-8000.

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To make sure you're getting blog posts and news, connect with Matthew S. Field on Facebook at Matthew S. Field - Author and subscribe to The Single Father's Guide by adding your email address at the upper right side of this page.