When Meindert V’s wife, Beatrice, was offered a once in a lifetime opportunity in her field, they didn’t think twice about relocating the family from Amsterdam to Switzerland. The biggest change her new job brought about was not the move itself though, but Meindert agreeing to take on the role of stay-at-home dad for their daughter, Alexia, still less than a year old then.
Like all the other guys I know, I felt I was supposed to be the breadwinner and work as much as possible so that’s what I did. I never considered that I could have another role
he tells me. “So when my wife proposed the idea to me, I was admittedly apprehensive. It was the first time I actually thought about what kind of parent I was and worried about what it would mean to be that person 24/7. The approach to parenting I took then was like everyone else around me, a mixture of bribing, coercing, and punishing to get the behavior I wanted. When I realized this was what all of my days were going to be spent doing, I knew I had to find a better way.” The week before they moved, Meindert enrolled himself in a two-day intensive course on parenting called “How to Talk to Your Kids”. Of the fifteen parents, he was the only father who attended, and quite possibly, he believes, the most transformed afterward.
The course entirely changed how he thought about and approached parenting. “It showed me how important cooperatively developing the relationship is”, he says,
You always have to look for a way to maintain connection rather than allow incidents to create separation. The way I had been going about it completely undermined this. I was trying to deal with a child by thinking like an adult, not taking the stages of development into account at all. Once you can begin to do this, it’s easier to let go of minor annoyances and makes life a lot more fun for both you and your children.
Meindert has since continued to pursue studies in child development, focusing especially on the relationship between fathers and daughters, and is passionate about sharing what he’s learned with other fathers.
I just recently, I held an event called ‘Beers and Braids’ which is exactly what it sounds like, he laughs, Fathers came with their daughters and were taught by a hairdresser how to braid their hair over a beer.
At the end of the day, they received a honorary diploma and a polaroid photo as proof of mastery. It was incredible to witness the chemistry between them interacting in a way they weren’t used to. I’d like to try a cooking class next and then open it up to see what the other fathers might have to suggest.”
Meindert’s own daughter, Alexia, is now 2.5, and together they’re riding out the infamous ‘terrible twos’. Having studied as much as he has now, he says, makes it much easier for him to stay patient with the intensity of her mood swings. He looks forward to Thursday mornings each week when he takes her to baby singing class because it is one day he can count on to be a joy for both of them and tantrum-free. “It wasn’t always this way,” he admits. “When Beatrice suggested I sign Alexia up for the class, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about it. I was the grumpy dad in the corner of the room for a few months, feeling a little embarrassed. My resistance was just a comfort zone issue though, which eventually I knew I just needed to get over it, to be more like Alexia, who doesn’t even know what having one is yet. Now I’m the baritone voice singing and dancing along with my daughter no matter how silly the song is, and it’s the highlight of our week together.”
Another game changer for Meindert has been co-creating a book of rules together as a family that is displayed prominently on the table in their living room. “For me, this is an example of how to keep all the relationships nurturing and collaborative,” he tells me.
And for me to be able to learn from my children as well. Giving them a say in how things operate in our family is showing them I value their voice.
The only thing they have to do is to be able to explain why the rule is useful and how it benefits us as a team. This is the mindset I want them to have. I always operate from the belief that my kids want to do good and make me proud, which makes it much easier when things go foul, when they throw a tantrum. It’s only a behavior, I remind myself, and I can wait for it to pass.”