It’s been an interesting few years. Families and parents have faced extreme pressure to navigate the changing world and how that affects their children’s lives. Social distancing, vaccination status, racial tensions, and political divides create so much uncertainty when it comes to teaching children about building relationships.

Socializing your child with those their age was much different before 2020. Take the pandemic out of the equation, and it can still be overwhelming to help your child build relationships with other children.

I had a very long parental leave to be home with my son. He was born a year before the pandemic and I remember feeling a sense of discomfort going to kid-gyms, parent-child groups, open play groups, swimming lessons, etc., but I felt it was important to get him connected with other kids. I felt socializing was a very important part of my parenting role, but the discomfort made it very hard. I had doubts and fears that kept coming up. I’d think things like:

    • “I’m the only dad here”
    • “Everyone already knows each other really well”
    • “How do I manage my child’s behavior?”
    • “Do I need to manage my child’s behavior?”
    • “What do I do if he hurts someone?”
    • “Will other parent’s judge me?”
    • “Will they judge the relationship I have with my son?”
    • “Am I being to masculine with him? Teaching him things that could be toxic?”
    • “How do I focus on getting to know the other parents while also making sure I watch my child?”
    • “This feels like a lot, and I feel like a weirdo!”

Rather than face this barrage of doubts and fears, I did outdoor things with my son. We walked on the trails together, went tobogganing, biking, had picnics, and spent time with the dogs at the lake. These have been really nice things we shared in our time together, but after a while I noticed something else; I was avoiding contact with other children and parents. I was avoiding the discomfort, the perceived awkwardness and judgement.

This isn’t a blog that is trying to say “I was doing this bad thing, you’re probably doing this bad thing too; so stop doing that bad thing” or “look at my life of triumph and try to be like me because I’m such a success”. It is not that. I still struggle with this today. This blog is about noticing and being kind to yourself through the discomfort you feel.

I noticed I was having great times with my son on our own. I noticed that we were creating a great bond with each other…and I also noticed that he was not getting as much time to be around other children. I noticed a strong sense of overwhelm in social settings with other parents; that’s okay because there is a lot you have to pay attention to. I noticed I was very sensitive to judgement: that’s okay because parents can be very judgemental of other parents; either out of their own stress, trying to figure out this whole parenting thing, coping with their own discomfort, or having fundamentally different personalities and values. But what I really noticed was that when I saw my son playing with another child, having fun, and building friendships, that something strong, good and significant grew inside me. It was something I really wanted for my child and was very important to me. It was this good feeling that grew in me that I kept myself connected and committed to. I noticed that after time the overwhelming feelings shrunk, I felt familiar with the space, and it felt okay to just say “Hi” to other parents.

I wanted to share this story because there has been a perspective that has helped me a lot. It comes from an approach called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and it can be a way to take in experiences and look at them from various perspectives. Its namesake is that we accept all feelings we have and their significance, and that we work to commit to the experiences that are important to us.

What are the things that are important to you? That if you are connected to them you feel a great sense of reward? These things are not universal, and I am so grateful that everyone has different things they value. What are the things you know that you tend to move away from? These are not bad things, or you are not failing as a human because you feel these things; they are just there. And most likely there is a good reason for them to be there.

This link takes you to a video that breaks down most components of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. It provides a way of looking at an experience, much like I did with my son, that can help us be more aware of what happens to us in any given experience.

Helping socialize my son is still very important to me. Applying the principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy has helped me notice how rewarded I feel when I see my son connect and play with other children. That positive feeling is a strong guiding force when I notice a large sense of discomfort socializing with other parents. A discomfort that I am really kind to myself for. I still avoid, I am still awkward, and I still go for hikes with just me and my son; but I also make sure I notice the feeling I have when he plays with other children; and that often outweighs everything else.

About The Author – Michael Birkett

Michael found Dad Central when he entered into fatherhood for the first time. He currently works as a Child, Youth, Couples and Family Clinical Counsellor in British Columbia for a non-profit organization and his own private practice. His clinical practice has been for over 10 years that was primarily in the Yukon Territory, but he found entering into fatherhood required more support and community, and Dad Central provided that pivotal role

Michael has worked closely with the Carcross Tagish First Nation, and the Champaign Aishak First Nation. There he facilitated Men’s social programs such as the Log Cabin Project; where he built cabins in remote areas with the fine men of these Nations. He has also been trained as a Peacemaking Circle Keeper; where complex community problems are collaboratively worked on together. His focus has stemmed from a connection and the teachings of nature that has come from his own personal values, the knowledge gifted from these Nations, and his vision for the future with the people he works with.

Michael hopes to be a part of the community of fathers that connect, lift, and support each other to be strong, kind, loving and loved fathers for their families. He also hopes to share his struggles and vulnerabilities in the most challenging role he has ever taken on.

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