Parenting – The Shared Adventure

What happens when two strong individuals come together to raise a child?  Are they able to surrender control?  How do they deal with sharing tasks?  Who gets to be right and who gets to be wrong?  How can they make positive communication a habit and avoid criticizing each other.  Most importantly, how can they make their baby a project that will bring them together rather than drive them apart?

Thinking about this, JoAnn (my wife) and I recounted some of our experiences as new parents. And even though JoAnn has a Masters degree in Education, I found that our mutual common sense had been an additionally important guide.

vectorstock_920433We thought of the process as a SHARED adventure, and imagined that we had been dropped into the jungle together with machetes, but no compass or map.  From there, we’d decide to chop our way out based on our gut feelings.  If one direction didn’t work, we’d reassess and try another knowing that we were making the decisions together and we’d ultimately  find our way out.

First, we had to accept and embrace our rookie status.  As rookies, we could look at each event as a new adventure.  Changing a diaper, cleaning an umbilical cord, putting the baby in and out of the car seat – these were entirely new experiences to be shared, discussed, and dissected in a loving and mutually helpful way.  We were both equally interested in pleasing the other and protecting the baby.  So accepting that a slip of the hand, or an accidental pinch with a buckle was “nobody’s fault” made us equally confident.

The early tasks were simple. The baby was either hungry, playing, tired, or asleep.  In the first months there were worrisome little things; rashes, crying, maybe a cold or fever, but generally speaking we saw our job as welcoming the baby into the world and helping to make the baby comfortable.

Around four months, there are actual biological changes occurring in babies that make them increasingly aware of the surrounding world.  Suddenly, they have opinions.  They cry when we leave them alone and they start expressing themselves.  When these control issues arose, JoAnn and I counted on each other for collective intelligence and strength.  It’s human nature to want things to go your way, but with babies, you don’t really have as much control as you’d like.  In our case, we knew we had a bigger picture.  We wanted to fit our babies into our lives, rather than change our schedules to accommodate them.  We wanted our babies to understand that we were determined, as a team, to do what was best for them – within the framework of our reasonable expectations.  Having a plan allowed us to roll with whatever came our way.

As parents, we were both equally new to the task, and we each brought our own skills.  Once problems popped up, we would discuss them.  If we felt marginalized – we’d bring it up!  If one of us had disengaged, the other would reconnect!  As rookies, how else would we learn?  The shared adventure allowed even the most ridiculous moments to bring us together.

AMGBabyAtHatchcoverOnce, as an infant, Aaron was listless and had a fever.  The doctor gave us some liquid medicine.  Unfortunately, Aaron was determined NOT to take the medicine.  We filled the dropper and, over a period of ten minutes, both JoAnn and I tried approaching him in every possible cute and innovative way.  He would have none of it.  When the dropper would come near, he’d clench his lips and turn his head from side to side.  Although this made a nice purple horizontal line on his cheeks, we were stuck.  How were we going to get this serum into our very willful baby?

We talked about it a bit and, despite Aaron’s tears and objection, we knew we had to give him the medicine.  We put him on the floor and, while I held his flailing hands, arms, and legs down, JoAnn locked his head between her knees and forced the dropper between his lips.  Once she squirted the medication into his mouth he froze, stopped crying, and made a “What the heck was that?” face.  We had been pushed to an extreme we had never anticipated.  We had just used  physical strength to overpower our child in order to do what was right.  We stared at each other, emotionally spent.

vectorstock_745873It wasn’t fun. It was a real challenge. But we both knew it was part of our job.  We laugh about it now, but at the time we never thought we’d have to get physical with our children.  We knew we’d done what had to be done.  We’d done it together, and that’s what mattered.

As parents and partners, we have to do our best to give up our critical ways.  We have to understand that the process is unpredictable, a set of lessons to be learned. We must never forget that the process has enough flexibility to allow for mistakes. What’s really important is learning from those mistakes by sharing them, talking about them, and even laughing about them.

Posted in Book Excerpt | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Necessity is the Mother of Happiness

None of us should expect to be happy all the time.  We can, however, choose to be happy most of the time, and being happy is not only a matter of perspective, but also a healthy long-term strategy. Although the expression is “Necessity is the mother of invention.”, I have learned the importance of “inventing” my own happiness.

Stan_Freberg_Presents_the_United_States_of_America_Volume_One_The_Early_YearsIn the 1960s-era comedy record “Stan Freberg Presents – The United States of America” Columbus is imagined saying to a group of Native Americans, “Say, I’d like to take a few of you guys back with me, to prove I discovered you.”  The Chief, shocked and confused says, “What you mean discovered us? We discovered you standing here on the beach!”  Finally they agree, “It’s all how you look at it.”

We all encounter upsetting things every day. Your call doesn’t get returned.  Your car breaks down.  Your best friend breaks down!  But hiding underneath each of those events there’s always little piece of good news.

CarBeingTowedMy friend Mitch got into a car accident.  He survived without injury, but his car suffered some serious damage. Mitch took the car to a mechanic for diagnosis and rehab.  His mechanic said, “I have bad news and good news, which do you want first?”

Being an optimist, Mitch said, “Give me the bad news first.”

“Okay,” said the mechanic, “Your car is totaled. But here’s the good news. You’re going to get a new car!”

“But I’ll have to pay for it,” Mitch said. “The insurance won’t cover the cost of a new car.”

The mechanic remained cheerful: “Yeah, but you’re still going to get a new car!”

In retrospect, the mechanic was right.  Mitch did get a new car and weeks later, after the sting of the accident had worn off, he was actually driving around on a nice set of wheels.  Although things seemed bleak at first, there was actually a positive outcome.

HorseAsianCleanThe parent of a Japanese American friend of mine once told us this story.  A farmer’s  horse had run off.  Hearing this news, all the people in the nearby town came running to the farmer’s home: “This is such bad news.  How are you going to plow your fields?  How will you make a living?”  The farmer simply said, “Good news? Bad news? It’s just news.”

The next day the farmer’s horse returned – followed by two wild horses that the farmer put in a pen.  “What good news for you!” cried the people of the town “You are so fortunate!”  Again, the farmer said “Good news? Bad news? It’s just news.”

InjuredArmStickThe following day, the farmer’s son was thrown and broke his arm while training one of the wild horses.  The townspeople bemoaned the situation: “Oh no!  What will you do?  Your son cannot work. You will not be able to harvest. This is such bad news!”  The farmer was sad about his son, but again he replied, “Good news? Bad news? It’s all just news.”

The following week the country went to war and all the young men were called to join the army.  But the farmer’s son couldn’t go because he had a broken arm….

News.  It’s all how you look at it.

As parents, our job is to teach our children how to be happy — which is why pessimism and worrying out loud are not particularly good family activities.  No matter how cynical we may have become (and a certain degree of cynicism is unavoidable), it’s our job to be idealists – to believe that picking up one piece of trash is part of cleaning up the world, or that helping a friend in need (or even a stranger) could actually save their life.  The beauty of this is that it WORKS !!!

Here are five ways to help your children find their happiness:

  1. Be Positive – Encourage them and affirm them – avoid criticizing.
  2. Share good news – Focus on the positives in your life and the lives of others. New babies! Fun visitors! Good fortune!
  3. Don’t carry bad news – Try to avoid repeating hard luck stories.  We all know people who love to gossip about other people’s problems.  Try not to be one of those people.  Share concern, offer solutions, but don’t carry that stuff around with you.
  4. Have faith and root for underdogs – Teach your kids to find the good in everyone and everything.  It’s there.
  5. Show them the silver linings – I was very small when I started high school, about five feet.  I cried about it a lot, but there was nothing I could do.  At some point, a ball got stuck on the other side of a chain link fence.  I was the only person whose hand was small enough to fit through and recover the ball.  It sucked to be small. But it also had benefits.

My feelings got hurt in situations that had nothing to do with me.  My heart got broken by misunderstandings – and repaired by honest communication.

Happiness is a choice, and I’ve seen that many of us complicate our lives by reacting emotionally to situations that have not yet played out.  I learned these lessons by wasting a lot of emotion.   We’ve all been there.

It’s all how we look at it.

Posted in Personal Updates | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Lazy Dad is Not All Bad

Relaxin Dad“Lazy” isn’t a word that is often associated with “better,” but I must confess that I am, and have always been, a lazy father.  Sure, I’ve coached a lot teams, driven a bunch of carpools and changed my share of diapers – but I’ve always done it the easiest way possible – MY way.

Doing things my way isn’t as bad as it sounds.  I do listen and I am concerned about the opinions of others – especially those of my wife – but I generally have a plan, and having a plan makes navigating the day-to-day much easier.

I consider myself a pretty flexible person.  I’m open to new music.  I can stop and smell the roses, I can let my kids play with the hose for hours on end.  There’s plenty of room for improvisation in our family, but I see it as my job to be sure that we all play at the same tempo and in the same key.  In that way there is harmony in our home.  By teaching our kids to play harmoniously within our behavioral expectations, JoAnn and I have simplified our lives.  Being able to rely on our children, their judgment, and the way they behave has made our job as parents a lot easier.  

 Here are three tips that will help simplify your life as a parent.

LEAD WITH AUTHORITY

ExcuseMakingFrom the start we listened to our children, but we did things our way.  Our kids had no choice about bed time, or when it was time to leave the park, or about sitting in their car seat, or about wearing a helmet when they rode their bikes.  Those issues  and many like them were not open to debate.  In fact, in our family “Because I said so!” became “This is not a debate.”

TEACH THEM TO ACCEPT NO

Once your children learn that no means no, you don’t have to expend a lot of energy explaining or debating things.  That’s just the way it goes. “No” is often a really good answer.

At some point we all have to learn to live with “no”.  The sooner we can teach our kids to accept the tough lesson and move toward “yes”, the less complex our lives will be.  We all come up against situations in which we do not get our way.  In school, it’s often a teacher who doesn’t cut us slack, or who doesn’t “understand our problem.”  Then it’s our boss, or a banker, or whoever is offering pushback and keeping us from attaining our goal.  Learning to live with authority teaches our children to operate within a system and to problem solve in order to get what they want.  Starting these lessons at home, where the “authority” is also a loving one, is the best way to ease them into a not-so-friendly world.

LET THEM ENTERTAIN THEMSELVES

I’m also not a parent who thinks it’s my job to entertain my kids.

vectorstock_127571Once I’m satisfied that they are in a safe environment (which might be slightly less safe than the environment JoAnn would call safe), I’m happy to lay back and let them figure things out for themselves.  Sometimes acclimation time is required, but my objective is to get them accustomed to entertaining themselves – whether it’s flying imaginary airplanes, conquering dragons, or playing in the dirt.

Being “bored” is a problem that children should learn to solve for themselves.  JoAnn’s mother had the perfect solution when JoAnn would mope into the room and say “I’m bored.”  Her mom would say “Why don’t you go bang your head against the wall until you can think of something to do.”  Quick, efficient, and effective.  Translation – your boredom is not my problem.  Lazy?  Some might think so – but it’s an important part of a long-term plan.  The more problems my kids can solve for themselves, the fewer I have to solve for them — and that will be true throughout their lives.

So, yeah… I’m lazy.  I don’t want to do more work than is necessary to teach my children how to navigate the world.  As I note in my book, “Raising Children That Other People Like to be Around,” being calm, avoiding panic, and having a plan teaches our children that they can rely on us, so that ultimately… we can rely on them.

 

Posted in Personal Updates | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Great Birthday Gift for Toddlers

vectorstock_1038990There are few better opportunities to teach our children about the feelings of others than their birthdays – and the way we celebrate them.

Birthday parties thrown for one-year-olds are clearly done for the benefit of the parents and posterity.  Get lots of pictures, be sure you feed the adults, and hire a clown (or enlist your most energetic relative).

The rules for two-year-olds are pretty much the same.  Line em up.  Get pictures and video (because they’re talking now).  Hire a clown who makes balloon animals.

Aaron3redhat_83liteAt three years old, the party scene gets dicier.  If your child is in pre-school, invite everyone in the class (certainly through kindergarten).  Doing this teaches kids that we are sensitive to everyone’s feelings – even the ones they don’t “care” about.  To model this sentiment, we even invite the kid with the weird parents.  We teach this lesson because we should – not because we agree about a specific kid or not.  Hindsight has taught me that these idealistic positions are absorbed, learned, and applied by our children later in their lives, so don’t be afraid of teaching your kid to do the right thing even if you’ve grown a little cynical about it yourself!

After that third birthday, our messaging about gifts and courtesy becomes more complex.

KiddieInviteI recently read about parents using electronic invitations that include preferences and suggestions about gifts for their children.  I understand the value of adults “registering” for wedding and baby gifts, but doing the same for children hadn’t really crossed my mind – because at a certain point you realize that spending more than twenty bucks on a gift for a little friend is slightly insane.  Nonetheless, I understand the concept of wanting to get gifts that will please a recipient.  This is a multi-faceted issue and just buying a pre-defined gift may cause us to miss some very important teaching opportunities.

One of the hardest things about being a parent is walking the fine line between “You are wonderful and deserve everything you desire.” and “You can’t always get what you want.”  We all know that Life is not perfect – and neither are parents, or kids, or relatives, or friends.  So, does it make sense for us to try and create a perfect world for our children?

As early as three or four years old children can be taught that giving gifts requires some creativity and forethought.  This can actually be a fun exercise.  Go to CVS, set a price limit, and tell your child to pick something for their friend.  You’ll be surprised what they find (and you can always explain why Epson Salts are not appropriate).

TantalizerSometimes birthday kids don’t know what they want, but there can be value in getting things they don’t want (or think they don’t want)…especially when a month after their birthday they’re home sick and they find the unopened game in their closet that captures their imagination for the next two days.

Yes… I have personal experience with this -  “Tantalizer” – the best game ever!

Teaching our children to receive a gift gracefully is a necessity.  This is a real opportunity to demonstrate for them that even if it’s not what they wanted, people’s feelings are more important than “things.”

The sooner kids learn to deal with disappointment, the better.  (I know some parents say that they don’t want their children to feel the sadness they felt as young people.  But I believe that creating a world for them where no one says no, or where they are empowered beyond reason is actually doing them a significant disservice.)

SingleGift2Life is not always going to go their way.  Learning to be positive about receiving any gift, even if it’s not what they wanted, will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

Even the wrong gifts are good gifts.

Birthdays are wonderful celebrations - especially when we remember to keep gratitude, inclusion, and grace on our guest lists.

Posted in Personal Updates | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple from the Start

dropoffpickupYesterday, I had the very entertaining opportunity to participate in morning drop-off at a local pre-school. In my capacity at the door, I observed several parenting styles at work – some I thought were quite efficient, and some I observed adding unnecessary complication to the parents’ lives.

KeepITSimpleSTart2On this blog and in my book — Raising Children That Other People Like to be Around – I’ve mentioned that my goal as a parent is to keep the process as simple as possible. This is the “KISS principle” – a common business acronym for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” In parenting, because I believe nobody who’s doing their best to raise their children is stupid, my version of K.I.S.S. is Keep It Simple from the Start.

What I saw at the pre-school door was very interesting. In one case, a child was crying and didn’t want to go to school. His mom showed great patience and stayed very cool. She tried to enthuse him about the art project she had prepped the night before. No interest, more tears. She asked him if he was upset because he hadn’t had a chance to push the elevator button when they entered the building.  “No” he whined. “Well, maybe.” she thought.  She offered to take him back to the elevator and let him push the button, but that didn’t work either.  Throughout this “negotiation” five or so other parents walked their kids in, dropped them off, and left for their next event.

It occurred to me that this poor mom was going to be there all morning, unless she could reason her unreasonable toddler into his classroom.

Everyone has their own style, but JoAnn and I never had the patience to let our very young children make their life decisions. I believe that, by being in charge, we not only made our children more comfortable, but created a predictable environment in which we could schedule our lives by having reasonable behavioral expectations of our kids.

Crying-at-Drop-Off-PreschoolI don’t mean to imply that our children never had problems… we just tried to anticipate those times by preparing them.  On the way to school, we’d talk with them about the day ahead, or we’d enlist the aid of teacher at school who, in addition to being trained for this, would be prepared and ready to draw our child into the day’s activities.  Sometimes, JoAnn’s solution was to have me walk the kids in because they didn’t have as hard a time separating from me (mostly because they knew I wasn’t going to stick around). We usually only had to do these things for a day or two in order to break the behavioral pattern of resistance.  Click here for some other good suggestions.

At the root of this all is my belief that toddlers are not prepared to make every decision for themselves. In fact, too much responsibility often makes them more anxious than knowing a routine and following its procedures. The secret benefit that we parents derive from this is that we can count on getting to work on time or meeting our friends for coffee.

Rules and expectations create comfort in children. They know what’s expected of them, and when they comply they know that they are being good. If we deny them the chances to achieve this for themselves (and to please us), then they often decide to get our attention in more demanding and inconvenient ways.

Waiting in LineConcessionLineFixMy best adult experience analogy for this is the difference between waiting in line at the bank – with a single line from which each person goes to the next available teller — and waiting at McDonald’s or a concession stand, with five or six lines each moving at its own pace. I hate being in the slowest line at the ball game. I stand there and find myself frustrated by the lone guy two heads in front of me who’s ordering for five people, while the lines on each side of me are moving closer and closer to their burgers and fries. I want the system to be fair, and in the structured, simple bank line it is!

SusiesLipsSo, do yourself a favor. Make decisions for your children. Let the Force be with you.
Let them relax into your expectations.
Guide them in their lives and be confident about it. In the end, give them a KISS by Keeping It Simple from the Start.

 

Posted in Personal Updates | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Parents = Happy Kids

RaisingChildrenFinalFrontCvrWebI wrote “Raising Children That Other People Like to be Around” because, after 36 years of marriage and 4 children, I believe that being good parents requires us to set a good example – and having a good relationship is the first, most important step in creating a model for loving interaction.  So here are some simple tricks that I have found helpful in keeping my marriage a happy place.

GREET EACH OTHER WITH LOVEMY Phone

No matter how my day is going, when my Caller ID tells me my wife is calling, I’ve learned to answer my phone with “Hello Beautiful” or “Hello My Love.”  It’s much better than “Yea?” or “What?” — and like most things we say out loud, the more we say it, the more it becomes so. 

AVOID THE CULTURE TRAP

ball_and_chain_wedding_topperThe Battle of the Sexes is a long-running and humorous one, and I have to be honest when I say that we men have a non-malicious, humor-oriented way of denigrating our women… just for the fun of it.  I’ve heard that women do the same – and none of us take that stuff too seriously (I hope), but — like “Hello Beautiful” — if a man calls his wife the “Ball and Chain” or constantly comments about his “henpecked” state of affairs, sooner or later the verbal images will create a new reality. 

Early in our marriage I was telling JoAnn a joke that characterized the wife as a “Ball and Chain.” She simply asked – “Am I a Ball and Chain?”  “No.” I replied.  She continued, “Is there anything in your life that I keep you from doing – besides maybe having sex with Keira Knightly (which would require a lot more than my consent)?”  “No.”  “So, I don’t think you need to perpetuate that stereotype in this relationship.”

Point taken.

feeneyWhat’s important in this story is that JoAnn was not and is not a ball and chain.  I’ve never had to complain her nagging me, condemning my need to play sports, or going to bars with my friends.  She was and remains secure enough to know that my life with my friends is an important component in the success of our relationship.  That’s the give in this give and take.

REMEMBER: YOU CHOSE EACH OTHER

Relationships are deliberate.  We find someone, we enjoy their company, we like them more than other people, we love spending time with them, and all of a sudden we’re in an exclusive relationship and things are going really well.  We share values, we share jokes, we share feelings – all of which may be subject to change.

The work of having a relationship goes on forever.  There are many good reasons you chose each other. As often as possible, remind yourself of the things you appreciate about your spouse.  Mention them every once in a while.  Compliment each other – essentially saying: “I must have really good taste, because I chose you.”  Create opportunities for flatterey.

AMGBarMDecisionCUPeople change, jobs change, children show up, money is steady, and then it’s not. Lots of things happen that seriously affect day to day life.  Staying in touch, having actual conversations, and getting things out are the best ways to keep your relationship alive.

We all have our own little secrets, but our spouse deserves to know 90% of what’s on our minds – if not “in the moment,” then a little further downstream before it becomes a burden, or a resentment, or a complete misunderstanding.  JoAnn and I have had many conversations that revealed two completely different interpretations of some interpersonal event.  Those conversations are always instructive. Some of them end in apologies and some end in laughter, but they all end in relief.

GIVE YOUR MATE THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT

He or she didn’t really mean to say that.  He or she doesn’t know you’ve had a tough day.  We all have a little alarm that detects slights, insults, or accusations, and I believe most of us have a knee jerk reaction to those things. TURN THAT KNEE JERK THING OFF.   It took me twenty years to learn that sometimes I’m erroneously making an assumption about what my wife is saying, and that it’s probably better for me to keep my fat yapper shut than it is to engage. 

THINK OF YOUR SPOUSE AS YOU DO YOURSELF

This one can be difficult, because it’s really a combination of “all of the above.”  The absolute secret of a successful marriage is to care as much about your spouse as you do about yourself, and to be willing to sacrifice something you really want in order to make your partner happy.

I’ve noted before that marriage is not 50/50, it’s 90/90 – if you both accept that you may be doing most of the work at any given time when, in reality there is probably an ebb and flow to it, you can comfortably dedicate yourselves to the common good.  Ironically, working for the common good in a relationship is actually a mater of self-interest. The more you do for your mate, the more likely it is that your mate will want to do things to please you.

REGJEGWeLoveULiteMy parents fought constantly… and it made it very hard for me to feel comfortable or emotionally safe when I was with them.  I vowed that I wouldn’t repeat that mistake – and I have worked hard to create a relationship where the “love” part outweighs the “being right” part.  People are always surprised when they hear that JoAnn and I never fight.  We disagree, we discuss, sometimes we fume a little – but we always find resolution.

These suggestions are about building a frame of mind.  It’s not easy to surrender at the back door – but if you can, you will always cross a peaceful and loving threshold, and that’s worth it.

Posted in Personal Updates | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Blue / Pink Thing

The Blue Pink Thing is a simple term for the obvious (and not so obvious) differences between the genders.  If you’re raising both boys and girls, I’m sure you are already aware of the Blue Pink Thing.  As John Gray put it, “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus,” and those differences manifest at a very early age.

BKGCopFixLittle boys turn pencils into guns.  Little girls like to dress up and practice twirling.  As toddlers, our boys could spend five to ten minutes doing a puzzle and then it was on to the next thing.  Our daughter, on the other hand, could sit with a puzzle for forty minutes.  She clearly exhibited much better focus at a far earlier point than the boys.  Our sons plowed their way through high school meeting their obligations and having a single, unchanging set of buddies.  Our daughter’s peer group changed like fashion… one day you were in, the next day you were out.  Once the boys went away to college, where they had to co-habit with people their age, things began clicking into place – like the need to wash clothes, dishes, and sheets.

Our daughter, Emily, has been sensitive and on-the-lookout since she was about seven years old.  She was keenly aware of her shifting friends.  Even in middle school she was providing therapy for those with less fortitude.  She saw it as her job to know where everyone in the family was and how they were feeling at any time.  To this day, she communicates with each of her brothers from college at least once a day.

EmilyFrillyShoesliteCropI suppose that hyper-connectivity can be attributed to our cell phones, texts, Instagram and emails, but, even in circumstances as simple as actual conversation, we have noticed differences.  The boys, when younger, weren’t interested in long conversations about their emotions.  But Emily could dissect every element of her feelings, and even invoke historical events we had long forgotten.  For example, “Benjy’s bedtime was nine o’clock when he was my age. Why is mine eight thirty?”  I couldn’t have remembered Benjy’s bedtime if I was pumped with truth serum and undergoing a polygraph test.

As many of you know, I believe our most important job as parents is to set an example, and Emily is a beneficiary JoAnn’s excellent relationship with her mother.  In fact, that relationship motivated us to go for “one more” when considering the hopeful addition of a female child to our family.

As JoAnn describes it, her mother was stern – but never shrill or out of control.  JoAnn’s mother was always encouraging and used “expectation” as her strongest ally.  “How could someone like you become involved in a situation like this?”  She’d say.  She had the highest possible expectation of JoAnn (as she did for herself), and somehow she and JoAnn made it through JoAnn’s teen years without all the familiar mother-teen daughter arguments.

EHGJGGBeachAs I watch JoAnn and Emily together, I see a similar bond has developed.  JoAnn and Emily are collaborators.  They discuss clothing, television, Emily’s friends, and, I’m sure, her brothers and me in loving confidence.  Many people tell us about their rebellious teenage children (especially daughters), who withhold information, sit quietly in the car, and go straight to their rooms when arriving home from school.  Although Emily is occasionally guilty of some of that behavior, I believe that, from the time she was young, she has always been able to confide in JoAnn who has always listened to, and respected, what Emily has had to say.

Additionally, JoAnn has never judged Emily for her thoughts or ideas.  That relationship hasn’t changed, only the subject matter.  Emily is not afraid to speak with us about her friends.  She knows we’re not going to call their parents (unless they’re doing something really destructive), and, if we were, she knows we would discuss it with her first.  She also knows that we’re not going to dive into her problems and intercede, so our discussions with her (and this is primarily JoAnn’s territory) are often consultations about the best way to handle her own situations.

The boys and I had our own unique relationship.  We washed cars, played catch, watched sports, told jokes and talked a lot about life.  My father had always been “instructional,” so I spent a lot of time just trying to teach them various skills and toughen them up …be brave, don’t cry, “walk it off.”   We were not immune to discussions of emotional issues, but those conversations were often intertwined with a task.  When they happened, they were quick discussions of problems and potential solutions – very male.

Throughout it all, JoAnn and I were always consulting with each other so that if an issue arose, we’d likely be on the same page.

GradKidsToday, our kids are still willing to discuss their issues with us.  Not because we did anything miraculous – but because we understood that they were growing, changing individuals and as such could not be expected to stay the same – whether that related to hair styles, friendships, or even doing things we thought were crazy (like parachuting out of airplanes).

I was about twenty when my mother questioned a specific decision that I had made.  I was pretty sure of the decision, so I said to her, “You taught me how to think.  I’m using the brain you programmed to make this decision.  I think you did a good job – now you have to believe in it.”

When the kids were young, JoAnn and I would discuss our “position” prior to our conversations with them.  We’d bounce the issues around, and usually determine an opinion or course of action together.  Then, depending on how it unfolded, the issue would be discussed with our offspring.

Through this process, they have learned to trust us, and see that we trust and respect each other.  We have high expectations of them, and they know that our expectations of ourselves, with regard to honesty, truth, and respect, are equally as high.  That formula allows them to seek and respect our opinions.

Shotguns4EmilyLite

It should be clear to any parent that raising boys and raising girls is often a different process.  The basics are the same, the rules should remain solid, but the day-to-day communication of objectives, and the application of opinion, guidance, and critique often need to be handled differently by gender (at least if you want your messages to be heard).  As a flexible, understanding parent, this won’t be anything that requires a special translator, or different family meetings, it’s just a heads up to you fellas out there that raising a girl requires more conversation and patience than putting your boy through his paces.  As you can see from the funny photo though – we’re still kind of old-fashioned.

In the end, teaching them all to be loving people is really what it’s about.  If you can do that… you’ve got it made.

Posted in Book Excerpt, Personal Updates | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment