The Importance of Parents Being There – REALLY Being There
By Allan Shedlin
Grampsy and Founder, DADvocacy Consulting Group
When I was finishing up my undergraduate college degree a musical opened on Broadway with an intriguing title, Stop the World, I Want to Get Off. As a person about to begin this new post-student adventure in the “real world,” I wanted to plead, “stop the world, I want to get on.”
As I survey current world conditions – having noted in prior Daddying posts that the world seems to be spinning faster and less steadily on its axis – I have a better appreciation for the title of that Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse Broadway musical.
We are living during a time when the ubiquitous and competitive media trips over itself in its obsession for rating gains and pumps out so many dramatic stories that there is insufficient time for us to regain any sense of emotional equilibrium before we are assaulted by the next horror. And as we have seen recently, it is now clear that stories being proffered as “news” are actually not even believed by those purveying them – and they persist.
The consequences, backed up by actual and credible statistics, are a mental health crisis that is hitting teenagers especially hard. The data document that many young people seem to be not waiting for the world to stop before they jump.
When parents think about their roles, protecting their children is likely at the top of their list. Right now, that role feels shaky, at best. With our youth needing protection, and parents feeling less competent to provide it, the mental health crisis is deepening. Soon, the word “crisis” may feel like an understatement.
In discussions with mental health professionals and with my frequent in-depth work with dads and father figures, I’m often asked for suggestions about how to help parents deal with these challenging times. My response is for us to spend time thinking about those things within the sphere of our control – rather than obsessing about what seems beyond our control. That tends to bring our focus to our closest relationships – those within our families.
My personal experiences, and my three decades of qualitative daddying research with children/youth and fathers/grandfathers, offer some valuable advice – advice offered by kids about the top-five qualities they want in their dads. All are also articulated by dads and grandads as the qualities and behaviors they want to develop:
Be there, really be there!
Take us as seriously as we take ourselves.
Be passionate advocates for us.
Show us you love us and be affectionate.
Provide us with security and protection.
During these times when there may be moments when we feel like the world might itself stop spinning, let’s remember that being a parent is not just who you are, it’s what you do.
So let’s not keep the dad and mom we want to be waiting.
Allan Shedlin has devoted his life’s work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, and five grandchildren, as well as numerous "bonus" sons/daughters and grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, school leadership, parenting coaching, policy development, and advising at the local, state, and national levels. After eight years as an elementary school principal, Allan founded and headed the National Elementary School Center for 10 years. In the 1980s, he began writing about education and parenting for major news outlets and education trade publications, as well as appearing on radio and TV. In 2008, he was honored as a "Living Treasure" by Mothering Magazine and founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, where he now serves as president emeritus. In 2017, he founded the DADvocacy Consulting Group. In 2018, he launched the DADDY Wishes Fund and Daddy Appleseed Fund. In 2019, he co-created and began co-facilitating the Armor Down/Daddy Up! and Mommy Up! programs. He has conducted daddying workshops in such diverse settings as Native American pueblos, veterans groups, nursery schools, penitentiaries, Head Start centers, corporate boardrooms, and various elementary schools, signifying the widespread interest in men in becoming the best possible dad. In 2022, Allan founded and co-directed the Daddying Film Festival & Forum to enable students, dads, and other indie filmmakers to use film as a vehicle to communicate the importance of fathers or father figures in each others' lives. Allan earned his elementary and high school diplomas from NYC’s Ethical Culture Schools, BA at Colgate University, MA at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an ABD at Fordham University. But he considers his D-A-D and GRAND D-A-D the most important “degrees” of all.