The father figure has undergone a significant transformation, no longer just a supporting role in raising children. In this context, active fatherhood emerges, challenging men to assume a more involved and present role. But are they prepared for this new reality? René Breuel, author of “It’s not easy being a father”, shares his experience in an honest and fun way, bringing reflections on this challenge.
René Breuel holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Fundação Getúlio Vargas, a Master’s in Creative Writing from the University of Oxford, in the United Kingdom, and in Theology from Regent College, in Canada. Furthermore, he is the pastor and founder of Hopera Church located in Rome. As the father of Pietro and Matteo, Breuel recounts in his book the charms and difficulties he faced when becoming a father for the first time, questioning his readiness and even his desire to be a father.
With good humor and empathy, the author shares his dilemmas, struggles and offers guidance to parents who are navigating the challenges and joys of parenthood. From the suspicion of infertility to the fear of losing one’s youth, through marital adjustments and the quirks of raising a child, “It’s Not Easy Being a Parent” is an instructive tale that provides laughter and important lessons.
René Breuel, in addition to his work as an author, is known for his contributions to vehicles such as the Washington Post, Times Literary Supplement, Christianity Today, Evangelical Focus and Ultimato. His previous book, “The Paradox of Happiness”, also received recognition. With an academic background and personal experiences, Breuel shares his journey as a father, offering a valuable perspective on this stage of life.
What inspired you to write the book “It’s Not Easy Being a Parent” and share your personal experiences as a parent?
I thought only new mothers had strong emotions. But when I took off the mask of a responsible husband and was honest with myself, I realized that I was afraid of becoming a father. I wondered if my youth was over. I thought a baby would hinder my personal growth. I didn’t know if the romance in my marriage would cool off with the arrival of a baby. He wasn’t sure if he was ready to be a father, or even if he wanted a child.Putting words on paper helped me discern the stages, process what I was experiencing, and sort out my inner life.
How would you describe the dynamics of active parenting and why is it important for dads to be involved in parenting?
For some reason, I thought parenting was all about getting out of the way and getting out of the way. Something like: You don’t know. Don’t even try. It will only get in the way. Leave it to mom. She knows. When I had kids, I realized it was an unhealthy myth. We have to be present parents. Whether the father or the mother, they make irreplaceable contributions. If we don’t pass on this parental blessing, our children will remain in a youthful emotional state and spend their lives seeking it out in professional achievements, approval from authority figures, and seeking status.
What were the main challenges you faced as a parent and how did you overcome them?
The challenge wasn’t learning to change diapers or not letting my son fall to the floor (he fell out of my arms once and survived!). It was my labyrinth of moods and fears and mechanisms for escaping reality. I was the challenge. I wanted to be an excellent father. I knew I could fail and start over in other areas of life, but this was one area I wanted to get right from the start. Reflecting on my emotions and writing the book was what really helped me the most.
How important is humor and empathy when addressing the dilemmas and ‘messes’ of parenthood?
It is fundamental! For example,I began to find the mess created by children strangely comforting. It was nice to join other families with children and not be judged if our baby was noisy. Even better was seeing other kids screaming while ours behaved like an angel and allowed us to judge others just a little bit. Who knew the cries of other babies would be calming? It’s like saying: It’s okay. That’s what babies do, they cry. Yours is not the only one.
How do you balance your responsibilities as a pastor, author, and parent? Is there any specific strategy?
I would say that the strategy is flexibility and self-irony!Balancing work and family is never easy, and in my case family and work often overlap. I share the “office” with toys and drawings during the day and I organize events and meet people at night and on weekends when they are not working. One practical idea that helped me was to create blocks of time, dedicating mornings to writing, afternoons to meetings, late afternoons to family time, and some evenings to events and pastoral gatherings.
How do you deal with social pressure and expectations regarding parenthood?
In my experience, the pressure was more internal, because I wanted to bethe best father I could be. The social pressure I actually felt was to lower my engagement and be a passive parent. Something like, men don’t think about becoming a father. You already know how it is: they talk about football and leave the reflections to the girls. Being a man is holding a beer, telling a joke and getting out of the way. You don’t want to become one of those sensitive guys in touch with their feelings. You’ll end up writing poetry and wearing turtlenecks. Stay away from it, bro.
What advice do you have for parents who are struggling and feeling overwhelmed on their parenting journey?
Welcome to the club! It’s not easy at all. And it looks worse from the inside than it does outside. For example, when my children cried at night, I imagined the neighbors forming a committee to check our baby-rearing and kick us out of the community of sensible human beings. But then I realized that it’s really hard for everyone, and I was calmer!
How has the experience of raising a family in a foreign environment influenced your perspective on parenthood?
When we moved to Canada right after we got married, we were happy to start our own family away from our parents. But after we moved to Italy and Pietro and Matteo were born, I could see the disadvantages of living away from grandparents, uncles and aunts. There are things only other people can offer: other points of view, varied sources of affection, and a sense of history, perspective, and family.
When I watched the nonnes pick up their grandchildren from school, often bringing a warm piece of pizza for the child to eat on the way out, the adult in me coveted the support network provided by grandparents who lived nearby, while my inner boy, I confess, I wanted that loving grandmother to notice me and give me a piece of pizza too.
How important is community and mutual support between parents in the journey of parenthood?
Happiness is a collective project. Throughout history, some philosophies have exalted the stereotype of the brilliant genius, but most people have intuited that this is an unrealistic notion, a myth. We need each other. A truly brilliant person is one who connects and loves, uplifting those around them. And that includes the challenges of adulthood and parenthood as well.
How do you encourage parents to connect and share their experiences?
This week a friend told me that there is an informal “Grupo da Pracinha” that meets at the end of the afternoon to talk, while the children play in the playground. I thought it was a simple and practical idea. He bought copies of “It’s Not Easy Being a Parent” to give to other parents. I was honored as an author, of course, but I also found it a good way to help them talk about the topic, identify their challenges and “complain about life” in a positive way, which ends up helping you to be a more engaged parent.
What do you hope readers take away from reading your book “It’s Not Easy Being a Parent”?
I would like to help them live this phase of life with greater intentionality, lightness and joy.If they decided to read “It’s not easy being a parent”, it’s because they care. Because they are trying. Because they are interested in the beautiful project of helping another human being to grow. You will make mistakes, of course. Everyone does. But then life teaches us. Something within us rises to the challenge. And something great is formed: a mother, a father. Our world needs these people.
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