Sunday, 21 March 2004

Father's 'negative' stage

Dr Spock’s Advice To Children is less well known than his other works:

Between the ages of thirty and fifty, father often enters an awkward or “negative” stage. He shows it in a sturdy independence; a reluctance to keep himself occupied in the home with simple fireside tasks like French knitting or silver-polishing; a seeking after the company of young adults – usually of the opposite sex. He begins to practise deceit; he is difficult at mealtimes – pushing away his plate, complaining that the food is cold, or being messy; he comes home late from business and frequently refuses to undress himself before going to bed; he repeats undesirable words that he has heard outside the home.

What attitude should a child take? Scolding the thirty-to-fifty-year-old often makes him more aggressive. If father is of a really independent nature, he may even run away from home.

The child must ask himself: Is father getting enough to drink at home? Acute thirst often accompanies the “awkward” stage. See that there is always a bottle of squash about the house; it is advisable to keep it on a shelf that is on father’s eye-level, so that he need not bend down for it. Many fathers who do not drink enough at home form the habit of accepting drinks from strangers – and this can lead to tummy upsets, irritability and headaches.

Has father enough toys in the house? You may find that if you leave your electric railroad equipment laid out at bedtime (do see that the plugs and switches are of the “safe” kind!), father will enjoy two-train smashes, and may eventually graduate to simple shunting and point-changing. He will damage the equipment, of course, but insistence on his paying for new parts will help to develop a “money sense” in him. Then try leaving your floating toys in the bath, and leave a wiping cloth among them. Once he has exhausted the possibilities of submarines and divers attacking ducks and soap-rafts, father may even wipe away the “tide-mark” on the side of the bath, if he remembers to let the water out.

Encourage father to bring his friends home. You will find that, once he sees them against his family background, he will soon learn to discriminate. He will not ask the naughty ones a second time. Here, again, see that there is plenty to drink. Within reason, let them have a beano - soda-pop, lime juice, or even milk shakes are quite safe in moderation.

Leave all your building bricks on the lounge carpet so that father and his friends can all play together. You will find that eventually they will be fully occupied in building edifices that even children would find difficult.

Finally, ask mother to help you - she may have some other ideas on how to deal with father’s “awkward” stage.

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