The High Cost of Bad Parenting

vectorstock_969927I believe that most parents are good parents.  It’s my observation that a majority of our citizens are well-behaved, respectful, and law-abiding.  But I also see a society that devotes an immense amount of energy and resources to deal with the minority of adults who are products of “bad” or no parenting.

Laws have been created so that our society doesn’t run amok and, for the most part, I think they’re working.  Some argue that all regulation is bad, but I like knowing the other car is going to stop because there is a red light.

When I was young, there were no laws against sexual harassment. My parents taught me to hold the door and that ladies go first. If parents today could teach their children to treat everyone with respect, males and females, I don’t think we’d need to spend billions on behavioral training, and then spending even more to apply and enforce the rules when they misbehave.  But I’m an optimist.

Surgeons usually think surgery is the best solution. Psychotherapists usually think they can solve the problem with some very serious conversations. I’ve been focused on parenting for a while now, so that’s why I think these solutions can all be presented during the parenting process.

vectorstock_634418Why do I think that? Whenever I examine my morals, manners, and values it always comes back to my parents. My parents respected each other and the people in their world. Our house was not a place where women were considered unequal, although my father would only allow me to use bad language when he and I were alone (something I thought was pretty cool at the time).  I didn’t consider it discriminatory, I considered it polite. Ironically, I saw it as a sign of respect for my mother, not a measure of her frailty.

I’m also aware that those are the rules that I took into the world.  So whenever I hear of kids who went off the rails, or who behave as though the rules don’t apply to them, I have to look at their parents as the origin of the problem. In doing so, I usually conclude that parenting is also the solution.

Although my book is about raising children that other people like to be around, it’s really about asking parents to create respectful and considerate people that they like being around. Do you want to live with a whiny kid who can’t stand to hear the word “no”? Do you want to live in a chaotic world where bed-time is defined by the four year old in your house instead of the adults? Is it acceptable in your world to be bossed around by my child? No. No. And NO.

It is not my job to make my child happy. It’s my job to teach my kids how to make themselves happy, especially when things don’t go their way! That’s the best gift I can possibly give them.

So, what does this have to do with the high cost of bad parenting? It is very likely that:

  • A child who respects his mother, is not going to sexually harass a co-worker.
  • A child who has been taught to take responsibility is going to think twice before bilking people out of thousands of dollars.
  • A child who has been taught to respect other people’s property and points of view is less likely to paint graffiti, or burn crosses.

What does that take? Perhaps we should all take a parenting pledge:

CSDParentingPledge

When these principles are taught, I believe our children develop a sense of self-worth; a level of pride that protects them as they move forward, and helps them better understand others. These rules teach them that they are loved and protected, but the world does not revolve around them. This is, essentially, building your child from the inside out.

When typewriters were part of our daily lives I used to say, “Children are like pieces of paper in a typewriter. They need to have margins set, so that when it comes time for them to go outside those margins, they still remain on the paper.”

We can’t guarantee that everyone will raise their children with high expectations, but the more we expect of them, the better off we’ll all be.

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The Hugs I Regret Not Giving

I don’t typically regret much. I believe what’s past is past. As I get older, however, the passage of time allows me to look back and consider life’s lessons.

FullFamBKGKSGWeddingOur children are now grown, for the most part. Our sons are certainly men, our daughter is a very self-reliant college girl, and our daughter-in-law is more mature than any of us. As a loving family, we remain intimately connected.   No regrets there.  Read the book.

But here’s the catch.

Cobylittle_5_93liteWhen I see a little kid whose front teeth are crazy, or a tot opining about why he or she likes a particular song, picture, or TV show, I feel like giving one of my kids a hug. It’s not that I miss my children’s love, or feel I didn’t get enough hugging when they were young. It’s just that I’m not over wanting to let them know how much I enjoy and have enjoyed them – from their goofiest to their most grownup.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI suppose it’s not so much the hugs I regret not getting, as it is the ones I still want to give. There is just something about the way a kid fits into your arms or contours into your shoulder that’s different from that perfunctory, semi-formal hug that populates our adult landscape.

I’m not looking for sympathy (although I wouldn’t mind getting a hug or two out of this).  I think my real objective is to raise the flag to all of you who are still raising young children.

Get and give those hugs. Now. Today. Tomorrow.

Dadnaaronsleep_81liteMaybe I’m writing this to recapture time. Maybe it’s about recognizing those cliché moments when we think, “Youth is wasted on the young.” It’s not so much that it’s wasted on the young, but that we waste it when we are young! I recently confessed to a friend that I’d always wanted a Porsche. Now I’d rather have a car that’s easier to get in and out of.

Enough moaning. Having recently been told that I am a didact, I ask: “What are the lessons here?”

Aside from the part about grabbing all the love you can (while your kids are still young and bite sized), I think it’s important to recognize that things change, as they always have and always will. The more we can accept those changes, the easier it will be to keep moving forward. It is, after all, our job to guide our children into adulthood.

EHGTiredAthleteAs parents, I’ve found that many of us don’t want our kids to grow up. But we really do them a disservice by keeping them too close and dependent. So for every wish I have to be hugged by my children, I also have a silent appreciation of the fact that they’re out in the world using the skills my wife and I have worked hard to give them.

I guess the next time I see an incredibly adorable toddler, I’ll just have to think, “Been there, done that,” and then offer a small prayer to hasten the arrival of grandchildren.

No pressure kids.

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It’s All My Fault

REGCollegePhotoWhen I went to college in the mid ‘70s, I made fun of people who sat in the front row of the class. I thought their eagerness to get good grades was a “kiss ass” thing and that real “free thinkers” didn’t have to conform to the rigorous judgments of academia. This attitude was reinforced by a set of shifting societal values reflected in films about anti-heroes like “Easy Rider,” “Midnight Cowboy,” and “Taxi Driver.” It was a time of upheaval with Vietnam and Watergate.

After college, many of my friends went to professional schools – law, medicine, business, dentistry, and they benefited from their earlier academic focus in very positive ways. Others of us dove directly into the workforce, where we worked hard, got ahead, and maintained a residual belief in the value of achievement.

Our childhoods had been simple. The government was good, the doctor knew what was best, and by working hard and respecting the system, someday we could earn our place at the top. There were three television networks, and the press extended simple courtesies to the private lives of public figures. In those days, making a porn tape (or film) was not considered beneficial to your career.

Things have changed, and it’s certainly not making parenting any easier.  But before we get to how we’re raising our children, here’s a little more backstory:

vectorstock_3612155Once, I had to go to traffic school.  I chose a “comedy” traffic school because six mandatory hours of humor seemed more attractive than any of the alternatives. One of the first questions asked was “How many of you are in here for speeding?” I raised my hand. “Why were you in such a hurry?” he asked the class. A number of people suggested possible answers, and then I got to offer this brilliant piece of logic: “When I speed, I only have to worry about half the cars.” The instructor looked at me quizzically. “Well,” I explained, “when I’m driving faster than the other people I only have to worry about the cars in front of me because all the others are behind me.”

The teacher gave me that “so you’re the wise guy look” and then an oafish guy in the back of the room bellowed “Yea!! That’s why I speed too! I don’t want to have to think about the people behind me!” Suddenly, I had empowered the least responsible repeat offender in the room, a guy who was happy to have a meaningful rationalization for his otherwise stupid behavior.

When we returned from lunch, the instructor showed us “Red Asphalt,” and made it clear that we were watching this extremely gory movie in retaliation for our (meaning my) flip attitude toward speeding laws.

By disregarding those highly focused do-gooders in the front row, I was really just trying to justify my unwillingness to compete. I was essentially saying that “I have a high bar, I don’t need others to define or measure it.” But what I didn’t recognize was that lots of people, many of whom didn’t have as high a bar as I did, would embrace my defensive discounting or my wise-guy interpretations in order to justify their own poor performance.

Multiple lessons learned: Don’t speed, and never empower the moron.

vectorstock_2874420Today, we’re living with these mistakes. Many Americans believe our government does not have our best interests in mind. Many people believe that they know more than their doctors, or their children’s teachers. The police are no longer perceived (or portrayed) as protectors (when, ironically, the vast majority of them are).

So what does this have to do with parenting?

Hold the bar high!

Sadly, we’ve seen those rebellious years reflected in a growing generation of children who do not respect authority, who believe rules don’t apply to them, and whose parents have avoided teaching them about adversity.  What’s worse is a friend recently told me his daughter didn’t turn in her homework because she didn’t want to seem “too smart”!

Although, it’s probable that our neighbors will help our children, we’re so bombarded with negative media, that it’s hard to believe that’s the case. Even though teachers have chosen a low-paying profession because they care about our children, parents regularly undermine their authority and empower toddlers to ignore them. Although children are quite resilient, some parents believe they don’t have the authority to impose an expectation of high standards on their kids.

It’s time we examine our priorities.  Praise real achievement.  Encourage our children to understand their surroundings, and give them a sense of community and purpose.  It’s not all about them.. it’s about US.

vectorstock_745873I wrote “Raising Children That Other People Like to Be Around” to give parents a sense of their authority, and to encourage the understanding that what our society fails to give our children is now completely our responsibility. It occurs to me that the more negative we are in our homes, the more negatively our children will perceive the world. My choice is to encourage comfort, satisfaction, and optimism. They’ll learn about all the other stuff later.

I’ve written this so you won’t have to spend any more time wondering how the world could have gotten so screwy. My suggestion is to ignore the world, make your home and family a happy place, and just blame me when things don’t go right.

It’s OK. I can take it.

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A Legacy Of Love

NathanCaplanAMGLite2My Grandfather, Nathan, was an incredibly shy man.  In addition to being very short (5’4”), he was a quiet and kind immigrant who listened far more than he spoke. He came from Russia to pursue a better life, and made his living as a bicycle-riding handyman in Toronto before moving to Detroit, where my mother was born. Sadly, Nathan became a widower when my mother was three.

As a single parent, Nathan left many of the child-rearing responsibilities to my mother’s siblings, Aunt Pearl and Uncle Al. He never remarried.

NathanWCarLITENathan worked as a plumber and got involved in the fledgling automobile business as a mechanic and inventor. He was so shy, he would send my toddler-aged mother into his shop to shoo away the creatures that huddled around their warm stove overnight.

Ultimately, he invented the brake rest, as well as an improved bumper. When Henry Ford used the bumper on the Model A, my grandfather sued him and won.  He got no enormous cash payout as compensation, but remained proud, nonetheless, that he lived in a country where a poor immigrant could successfully sue the richest man in the nation.

When my mother was sixteen, she and my grandfather came west to join Pearl and Al who had started a small loan business in Los Angeles. My grandpa liked getting his hands dirty, so he ran a small trailer lot, like U-Haul, and tinkered in the back. He lived a very quiet life.

MarcieJannStepsHUFFMy mother, Marcie, was an active teenager.  She was a great athlete and an excellent student. When she entered U.C.L.A. she was living with my grandfather and taking care of him. One night when she got home from school, he announced to her that he was going to be taking dance lessons at Arthur Murray on Tuesday and Thursday nights. She looked at him and said “Dance lessons?” He just nodded.

The next night he said to her “You know, Masha, (his nickname for my mother), you can make plans for tomorrow night. I have my dance lesson.” In that moment my mom realized that Nathan was taking the lessons so that she wouldn’t have to come home to care for him at night. He was forcing himself to do something he had no desire to do, in order to allow his daughter the freedom she needed as a teenager.

My grandfather wasn’t rich. He didn’t buy things for his daughter. He didn’t take her out to fancy dinners, or on long trips – what he did was sacrifice. He put his feelings aside, because he knew that my mother wouldn’t leave him alone unless he found a way to be busy outside of the house. He pushed himself to do the right thing, even though it was uncomfortable and inconvenient.

This story of my grandfather reminds me that the job of parenting is often a selfless one. It’s often about the practical sacrifices we make, emotionally or physically, to do what’s right for our children.

Sometimes these sacrifices mean taking an uncomfortable path – saying no and going through the discomfort of teaching our kids to deal with adversity. Sometimes, it’s about the devotion of real time, leaving all else alone and putting down our phones to look our kids in the eye when we’re having a conversation with them.

PearlnMarcieNZaydieLITE

Pearl, Nathan, and Marcie

The days of doting offspring seem long gone, but it’s clear that children still care about their parent’s feelings, opinions, and concerns. It is our job to help our children grow, even if it sometimes goes against our nature to hold them, cuddle them, and protect them. We don’t need to take dance lessons to release our children from their obligation to us, but we do need to consider their lives, their ages, and their feelings as we continue to set for them an example of how thinking, loving adults behave.

If you sometimes feel overwhelmed by driving your kids to school, or signing them up for summer camp, or letting them walk to the park, remember that you’re doing the right thing.  You might also tell them about their grandparents. It will give them a sense of pride, and the foundation they’ll need to stand tall.

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Are You a Free Range Parent ?

I never thought I’d use a new-age term for happy chickens to address a parenting-related issue, but I suppose over-cautious parents are as oppressive to children as cages are to chickens.

The organization known as Free Range Kids is “fighting the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.”

I’m right there with them.

When I was a kid, free-range parenting was called… parenting. My folks came to about half of my little league games. I rode my bike to the park a couple of miles from home, and I rode it back as the sun was setting. My mom didn’t drive in front of me to light the way. My dad didn’t pick me up from practice on his way home from work. The whole event was a solo effort, and I was happy to be able to accomplish it on a regular basis.  I was nine years old.

When my wife, JoAnn, and I were raising our toddlers, my mother told JoAnn that it had been hard for her to let me, as a second-grader, walk the two blocks to school.  She explained, in that loving Mother-in-Law kind of way, that she made a conscious decision to overcome her own feelings because she knew that the lesson of independence was a valuable one – for both of us!

People say “but the world has changed.” That’s true. Here are some facts:

  • “Crime is back to the level it was when gas was 29 cents a gallon” – Christian Science Monitor.
  • “Crime is back to the level it was before color television.” – The Week Magazine.
  • “2014 violent crime rate down another 4.4%” – USA Today.

So why do we seem so focused on the negative these days? We are soaked in so much bad news that some of us believe it’s unsafe to allow our children to venture out into the world without immediate and constant supervision. What a drag…for everybody!

As parents, it’s our long-term mission to teach our children how to navigate the world without us. In the short term we need to allow them various learning experiences that can both teach them problem-solving methods and build their confidence. This can’t happen when we’re always paving their way. Life involves interacting with the world, and, in most cases, the world isn’t in our backyards, or under our ever-watchful eyes. So, what are the basic skills your child should have in order to be granted their independence?

From a common sense point of view I think all children should know the following:

  • Their name, address, and phone number.
  • YOUR cell phone number
  • Rules regarding communication with strangers
  • To call the police or ask a kind stranger for help if they feel lost or afraid.

I would prefer to teach my child that world is not a terrible place. At the same time, I’d like my child to be aware of his/her surroundings and believe in his or her ability to navigate safely. I can do this by observing things when I’m with my children. I can say things like “I wonder what that guy is doing over there.” Statements like that encourage children to be aware of the people around them, even they’re watching someone feed a parking meter or paint a sign.

It is sometimes difficult for parents to let go, but it is inevitable that our children will grow up, so the sooner we can teach them how to handle responsibility the better it will be for all of us. I like to avoid complicating my life. I have learned that the more I can trust my children, the easier it makes my days. By allowing our children to roam the neighborhood, learn about their surroundings, and achieve a sense of independence, we are teaching them a bigger lesson about themselves.

In my book I wrote, “It’s easier to lighten up than to tighten up.” This applies to giving our children responsibility. Start firm. Allow them to play in the yard. As they get older, allow them to go to a friend’s house, on foot perhaps. When they ride their bikes, give them a perimeter I was allowed to go three blocks in any direction. When they want to go farther, you can allow it based on their behavior.

No one says that Free Range Parenting means dropping your child at the park and making them fight their way home. Like all everything in parenting, it’s a process that begins with baby steps and ends with your child walking a path that he or she will blaze for him or herself.

If the free-range lifestyle makes better chickens… imagine what it can do for our children!

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Kanye’s Silver Lining

YeKanye2015-grammys-seatingp, we almost saw it again, Kanye West deciding that his musical opinion trumps all others – and that he is the true arbiter of all musical “art.”  Part of the good news is that we didn’t see it – at least we didn’t see the rude part where he almost pre-empted Beck’s acceptance speech with a rant of his own.

The good news is why he chose not to interrupt.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Kanye said “the reason he decided not to crash the stage was out of consideration for his daughter, North, and his wife, as well as his clothing line.”

There you have it – a father deciding to behave properly in order to set an example for his daughter (perhaps Kim is a good influence, and I don’t really care about the clothing line part).

As I’ve pointed out, and as I advocate in my book, “Raising Children Other People Like to Be Around,” the most important thing that we parents can do is set an example for our children – and I’m glad to be seeing that sense of responsibility seeping into Kanye’s Konsciousness.

KanyeBeckPhotoIronically, the on-the-record comments made by Kanye reveal an interesting sort of artistic intolerance – paralleling the issue that has maddened him so. One of the key elements in art is the ability to allow oneself to be moved by the art of another – regardless of that artists race, religion, or other influences. Art is deeply personal, and, for me, is defined by the way it affects each of us individually.

When groups of people are brought together to “judge” art, it’s always a slippery slope – starting with the criteria for judgment, and the qualifications of the empaneled people. Kanye’s beef is clearly not with Beck, a talented and proven artist, it’s with the Recording Academy. I’m not sure of the demographics of that voting body, but we’re all aware that there are always an incredibly diverse and talented set of nominees in all categories and that singling out the “best” is not easy. Randall Roberts of the LA Times wrote a really good piece about it.

KanyeandNorthCouchAt this point, Kanye’s real job is to teach his daughter, North, how to protest injustices without being a whiny brat. Problem solving 101 – don’t piss people off or they stop listening. Progress is made when both sides listen. Tantrums are not a successful way of demonstrating displeasure.  Our primary roll as parents is to teach our children how to deal with and overcome adversity – not just how to complain about it.

I write this with hope that parents can understand that there are often legitimate reasons for their children to have tantrums, but that it’s our job to teach them how to complain more effectively – which usually means teaching them that tantrums will get them nowhere and quiet communication will work far more effectively.

Kanye has shown a flash of understanding – let’s hope that he can channel his energies toward a positive solution to his problem, and, in doing so, demonstrate for his daughter that true power shows its strength through tolerance

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Ballet Dads

EmBasketballCULiteWe’ve got three sons and a daughter. They arrived in that order. By the time our daughter Emily was born, I had coached and/or refereed multiple seasons of Little League, Muni Basketball, and AYSO.   When our daughter arrived she showed great promise as a tenacious, though tiny, basketball player. Then things changed.

Suddenly, she was more interested in ballet than ball. She liked the outfit (always important), her friends were doing it (also important), and, generally, it didn’t involve boys (very important at age seven). Although I wanted to take her to her classes, they happened mid week after school – so I was out. Ballet became a ritual for mother and daughter and, as usual, I became the videographer.

EmBalletStillAltOur local coffee shop is in the same mall as a small dance studio. Last Saturday morning after I went to the gym, I swung by the mall to pick up a coffee for my wife. Walking out, I was amazed to be facing three middle linebackers, each carrying a small, pink backpack, and holding the hand of a tutu-clad mini-ballerina. The group was apparently headed to some kick-ass Saturday morning dance class. The daughters were skipping with their burly dads in tow. It was probably the cutest thing I saw all day.

I imagined the waiting area conversation during class. “My daughter’s tour jeté kicks your daughter’s tour jeté’s ass!” “Yea… well my daughter’s Arabesque puts your daughter’s to shame. She may have her mother’s looks, but she’s got my legs!” and so on. I’m clearly kidding about this, because I’ve been in these situations and generally speaking men don’t talk about dance.

Despite rumors to the contrary, men are actually capable of talking about things that matter – once they get sports and hot moms out of the way. There is, to some extent, an immediate bond between men who take their daughters to ballet. They are men who will venture with pride into the world of women, as beginning ballet continues to be, men who have learned to confront a tight hair bun or a blistered foot with confidence and love.

Men who know what it means to sign your dancer in, and out.

IMG_2706Saturday I envied the Ballet Dads with their little pink partners headed toward a room ruled by strict manners, classical music, and constant counting. I knew that despite everyone’s best efforts some edges would fray as personalities rose up, and the leaping got out of hand, and the relevés left the rails. I wondered how these dads would talk to their daughters about the “mean girl,” or the really strict teacher, or whatever would come pouring forth as they got in the car. I knew that those dads would be prepared, because mean girls, bullies, and tough coaches exist in everyone’s world – boy or girl, mom or dad.

This is the stuff that parenting is made of. Showing up. Being there. It’s about being a Ballet Dad and putting your whole heart into it. Teaching your child how to cope with hurt feelings, how to redirect frustration, and how to avoid being diminished by the behavior of others.

It doesn’t matter if you’re the Dad or the Mom, on a dance floor or on a ball field, the things children need to be taught are all the same: kindness, respect, generosity, and fair play.

This weekend we get to watch the Super Bowl. Let’s raise a glass to the all those Dads whose daughters will fall asleep in their laps during the game.

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You CAN Go Home Again

Dadnaaronsleep_81liteMany parents lament the fact that their children are growing up. We all yearn for those cuter times when our children could be held in our arms. For JoAnn and me, those delicious hugs from our children are now marked by facial hair and fashionable feminism. Watching our children grow has always been the physical embodiment of the passage of time, but at this point it would sure be nice to slow things down.

Any of us who has ever attended a high school or college reunion knows what it’s like to confront the passage of time and yearn for younger days. The expression “you can’t go home again” has probably entered our thoughts.

But you can go home again – if you’re willing to accept that things change and that change is as capable of being good as it is of being bad.

VVSPostcard60scropI serve on the Board of Trustees for my former high school, Verde Valley School, a very small and unique educational institution nestled within the world-famous red rocks of Sedona, Arizona.

This rural school was founded in 1948 when Sedona was known mostly for its natural beauty. It was rumored in those days that we were in the “spiritual center of the northern hemisphere,” but for a hundred and twenty-six teenage students, hormones and natural beauty trumped spirituality on a regular basis.

What was unique about the school was its focus on anthropology and human relations. As part of the curriculum, each school year students were sent to be immersed in another culture for a month. As a thirteen-year-old freshman, I was embedded in the home of a Hopi family on the Second Mesa of the Hopi Reservation. The house had no heated or running water and the bathroom was an outhouse on the edge of the mesa. That was educational.

VVS_0024fix2Those of us who’d attended in the fifties, sixties and seventies would talk of the unique closeness of community, our memorable experiences, and the various “characters” we’d all met while there. And, because today’s school wasn’t what we’d experienced, we’d also mourn the loss of what we believed to be the school’s essence. We felt that we couldn’t go home again. That all was lost.

Returning last week for a meeting of the Board I had a chance to dive back into the ethos of the school – that elusive, magical quality that we had thought had been lost in the “modernity” of our once-rustic environment. Sure, the kids couldn’t ride in the back of pickup trucks anymore, and the school no longer needed its own student-manned fire department. But the energy to learn, the curiosity that oozes from high school students was all still there. Whether I was watching activity on the soccer field, basketball court, or riding ring (yes, the school has always had a barn – but now it’s called an “Equestrian Program”), everyone was engaged, respectful and grateful for this rare educational opportunity.

VVSChapel15cropSmallIn the students and faculty I saw similarities between the nineteen seventies and now. I realized that the surface changes, like coats of paint, did not affect the nature and mission of the school at its core.

I’ve concluded that we can go home again – if we’re willing to accept that life is change, and that evolution doesn’t happen at the expense of the past…it builds on it.

We’ve seen it in our children. The circumstances of their lives are different. They no longer live at home, they consider our advice optional, and their life landscapes are dotted by smart phones, video games, and all sorts of new and different elements affecting quality of life. At their core, however, they are the people we raised them to be. Despite our deepest fears, our children bring their own optimism and curiosity to their pursuit of happy lives.

I’ve actually said things to my children like “In my day, we used to have to go to a library and look this up – we didn’t have the luxury of Googling on the internet.” My dad spent a lot more time on horses than I did. His father was born before the automobile.

Change is inevitable. Teaching our kids (and ourselves) to embrace, rather than fear change is one of the best gifts we can give them.

GreenFamHawaii2014Like Verde Valley School, our children will not lose sight of their core. Things around them may be different. They may have to repaint or rebuild some buildings. They may be broke for a bit, or sad for a bit, but their ingrained values, curiosity, and willingness to be flexible will always serve them, as I have learned mine serves me.

Change isn’t easy. It requires faith and flexibility – but in the long run the humanity we give our children, and each other, will serve us no matter what is happening in the world around us.

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Weddings and World Peace

TeddyNAliWeddingMy wife, JoAnn, and I started this year on the perfect note – we went to a wedding on New Year’s Eve. Essentially, we doubled down on hope.

After all, what is more optimistic than two people sharing their love on a day that marks the beginning of a new year? We celebrated the beginning of Teddy and Ali’s life together, and then, when midnight hit, the afterburners kicked in and we went whole hog into New Year optimism and happiness.

One week later, we are faced with the insanity that is the murders at Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

While watching the wedding ceremony, I realized that marriages are happening every day, in every time zone, in every culture — and focusing on these loving events is a very real antidote for the hatred that seems to be spreading over our troubled world. Certainly there are parents in every culture, Islamist, Jewish, Christian, Catholic, Buddhist, or others who bask in the happiness of watching their children find and wed their loved ones. Surely, these parents want their children to survive, to thrive and to create families. Who can attend a wedding and not want the world to be a better, more peaceful place?

coexistSo, how distant must the zealot Paris murderers be from the values of family, the love of community, and the meaning of life? What world are they living in… and where are their parents? How can their ideology be more valuable than human life?  The God of the Old Testament asks Abraham to sacrifice his son as a test of faith.  As Abraham prepares to do so, God releases him of the obligation, because what loving God could possibly ask a father to kill his son?

What can we do against an enemy with no moral compass?  I’m afraid we must expose them as the murderers they are.  And how can we do that?  Short term, we can unite in our opposition to their behavior, we can punish the people who fund them, and we can rise in defense of those whom they most brutally oppress.  Long term, however, and most importantly, we can teach our children to recognize hate-speech, bullies, and bad behavior and to oppose it when they see it.

We advise newlyweds to compromise, to listen to each other, and to “never go to bed angry” (to which one young wedding attendee replied, “Just stay up all night fighting!”). We counsel them to communicate about their differences in order to find peace. Yet, we seem unable to do this on a larger scale.

So, let’s start small.

vectorstock_1023337My resolution this year is to ask each of us to think about the weddings that happen around us every day, and to resolve — like all brides and grooms — to work on our relationships, to find a middle ground, and to contribute to making our world a happier home for us, our children, and our children’s children.

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Five Easy Resolutions Every Parent Can Make

vectorstock_634418These are difficult times in which to raise children. We’ve become a culture that mistrusts authority, that believes individuals are often more important than the society, and that everyone deserves special treatment. As a result, it is up to us, as parents, to raise children who will respect authority, tell the truth, and be kind to others. Here are some simple tools to help accomplish those goals:

  1. Accept that nobody’s perfect – neither you nor your child.

Murphy must have been a parent, because having kids certainly teaches us that if it can go wrong, it probably will go wrong.

Give yourself a break. I’ve made my share of mistakes. I’ve been emotionally weak and “lost it” more than a few times. I’ve gotten our kids’ names confused. I’ve ignored complaints in an attempt to toughen my kid up, only to find that the sprain was actually a fracture. It’s all part of the “live and learn” process – and it’s pretty clear to me that there are very few fatal errors that a loving parent can make.

Quilt2In the “History of the Eagles,” Joe Walsh points out that events sometimes seem terrible (breaking a bone), or ill-timed (getting fired), or tragic (losing a loved one) – but as we look back on those events, we realize that they are all part of the perfectly woven quilt that is our life. Chances are, you’re doing a better job than you think you are and someday you’ll look back on your process and see just how well it worked.

  1. Let your children learn from their own mistakes.

As our children got older, we gave them more responsibility and let them earn the right to make their own decisions. The early decisions were basic trust issues — being allowed to stay home alone, or go to parties with friends — but as they got older, the decisions become more serious, like where to go to college or whether to go to Mexico for Spring Break. Generally, by the time they got to their late teens, the groundwork for good decision-making had been laid. But it’s hard for parents to let go.

BeardedMeNMarcieI can clearly remember having my parents try to “guide” me toward “good” decisions when sometimes I just wanted to do what I wanted to do. I remember saying to them, “You’ve taught me how to make decisions, so if I make bad ones, it’s probably your fault.” They weren’t too happy with that one – but I thought it was pretty effective.

It was in those years that we learned to trust each other and taught each other some wonderful lessons – as my children have done with me. When my son Ben told me he wanted to major in History, I explained that I would prefer that he be an English major. Without missing a beat he said “Dad, History is English. It’s just stories that have already been told.” Case closed. Later in his life, that same son quit a job before having another lined up… a major mistake from our point of view. After a few months of unemployment, he was remorseful, but then he got the perfect job. (See the Joe Walsh sentiment above.)

  1. Be proud of your work.

Our water heater died the day after Christmas. I called our appliance source and they sent out Mike The Plumber to install a replacement. Mike didn’t mess around. He knew his job, and explained that he was replacing all my flex connectors with real copper pipe because “that’s how it should be done.”

During a break we had a personal conversation in which Mike revealed that he is a single dad raising an eleven year old son. As he spoke, he mentioned that he was sorry he couldn’t give his son more time, but he also told me of the projects that they had done together, all of which were opportunities to bond while demonstrating dedication and a solid work ethic. Mike is clearly a sensitive dad. Though he confessed to having been too tough at times when he thought it was necessary, I could see in him the same pride in his family that he had in his work. I gave Mike a copy of my book, and I inscribed it as follows: “Proud fathers raise sons who are proud of their fathers” —- because setting an example is the most important thing parents can do.

  1. Express gratitude with your kids every day.

SunsetBeautySometimes things feel as though they can’t get any worse. Sometimes your kid is sick, your car won’t start, your coffee spills, your computer won’t boot. That’s when it’s best to remember the things that are working right – starting with “I don’t think things can get much worse – so we’ve got nowhere to go but up!”

It’s easy to say there are lessons to be learned from failure — and there are — but there are also simple successes to be noted regularly. Things like “we’re lucky to have each other, and a roof over our heads, and the strength to believe that tomorrow will be a better day.” Try appreciating electricity, music, hot water, airplanes, or antibiotics sometime.

  1. Teach responsibility.

Avoid blaming, or searching for people or things to blame. It’s up to us to teach our children to “fess up” and admit when they’ve made a mistake, dented a car, or caused pain to another.

vectorstock_2268588My parents had a brilliant tool for this. They called it the “Armistice.” When I needed to admit that I’d broken something, or when my mother came to me in search of a confession, I could ask for an Armistice. Asking for an Armistice meant that I would not be summarily punished. Instead I would have the opportunity to admit my stupidity and help define my punishment. Inevitably my parents were kinder to me than I was to myself – but the lifelong lesson-learned was that I could step up to tell the truth and face reasonable consequences. Being truthful, and unloading the anxiety, has made my life, and that of my children, much easier.

With these five steps I believe we can bring our families closer, encourage our appreciation for each other and ease the passage of time.

Here’s wishing you a 2015 filled with wonder, love, and amusement.

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