Building A Happy Family – 3 New Lessons

Even though I’ve written a book about parenting, the process of building a happy family continues to evolve, and after raising four children over a period of thirty-six years, there are a few things that stand out as lessons learned.  Here are three new observations that have recently bubbled up.   I consider these to be simple tips for helping parents unify their families and raise happy children.

Be Idealistic

When our sons were young, perhaps nine and twelve, they were playing with our neighbor who had a go-kart. Both boys were salivating at the prospect of driving it. At that time, the neighbor made a point of telling Aaron he could drive the cart, but Benjamin (our second son) couldn’t. Benjamin came home (across the street) to tell me about it.

It was more the neighbor’s tone than not being able to drive that was upsetting Ben, so I called Aaron over for a chat. “Our neighbor is being really mean to Ben.” I said. “Being brothers is a package deal and I don’t think it’s right for you to ignore that behavior, even though you want to drive the go-kart. If our neighbor is going to be mean to your brother, then you can’t let him get away with it.”

At the time, I was holding my breath. I thought – gee, only an idealist would expect his kid to step up to this – but Aaron followed instructions and abandoned the mean neighbor kid.  The boys came into the house and busied themselves with something else. I completely forgot about it until twenty years later, at his bachelor party, Ben explained that he knew what being brothers truly meant the day that Aaron chose not to drive the go-kart.

Hey! It sunk in.

Promote Family

The house I grew up in had pictures like this on the walls.

We had a small area in the living room with some pictures of our cousins, and my parents had various pictures of themselves and loved ones (including my sister and me) in their bedroom… but that was pretty much it.  I always got the impression that my mom felt that putting pictures of ourselves around the house was narcissistic.

Once JoAnn and I started building our family, she began decorating our home with photos.  As our family grew, so did the collection. For a period of at least ten years, we took a family portrait every Thanksgiving so that we could send it out as a holiday card.


At the same time, we took individual pictures of our kids and those were used to decorate the immense set of shelves in our family room. It was (and remains) essentially an altar to our family and loved ones.

At first I thought having all of those pictures of us and our kids on display was egotistical (after all, I am my mother’s son). When I think back on it today, and I imagine that family room full of laughing children, I can see how our senses of unity and love were reinforced by the images around us.  So, these are the pictures our children grew up with.

More fun I think.

As a result, I encourage you to do everything you can to unite your children. Promote group activities. Take family pictures and put them where everyone can see them. Show your kids and the world that you are proud of your family – and they will be proud of it too.

 

Pay Attention

We have a grandson now, so I’m far more attuned to people with strollers. What I notice is that many parents are talking on their cell phones while pushing their toddlers through town. Whether or not the child needs attention, it’s probably clear to them that they’re not number one on their parent’s agenda.

There was a time when we made fun of this phone addiction with a family photo.

I know it’s hard to put the phone down, especially when it seems as though the baby is being entertained by all the things you’re walking by, but the fact is that children are aware of everything we do, and parents who are paying attention elsewhere are denying themselves and their children excellent opportunities for intimacy.

The same goes for the dinner table.  Try asking everyone to put their phone somewhere out of reach at dinner time. It’s hard, but it’s only thirty to forty-five minutes… set a timer if you have to, but without our phones, we actually look at each other and have conversations.  Now my kids yell at me when I get a text during dinner.

None of these things is particularly easy….well, maybe the photos thing is… but what they all require is an understanding that, as parents, our job is to show our children what family life should be, even if we’re cynical or tired or not in the mood.   We have the power to build our families from scratch. My family is different from the one I grew up in, and so is yours. Make that a difference that you’re proud of.

I find, and have found, refuge in this optimism, and I believe you can too.

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Post Inauguration Parenting – 8 Simple Tips

InaugurationAfter saying farewell to President Obama, one of the best parenting examples I could have ever wanted,  I, like many others am dealing with the inauguration of President Trump.  I am optimistic that the enormous responsibility the new President assumes will move his mind to important issues, and that he will consider the well-being of our nation in all the decisions he makes.

Regardless of how the the new President handles his position, many parents are asking what strategies might keep their children focused on kindness, inclusiveness, and generosity. Here are 8 simple tips:

  • Make your home an island of sanity. Be fair, be supportive, and listen. Show your children what respect looks like by respecting them and yourself.  Set the bar high and call them out when their behavior dips below it.  Create a cocoon where they are accepted and loved for their compliance.  Praise them for simple behaviors like when they wipe their shoes at the door, or share something with their sibling.  That security will envelop them, and will give them strength of character when they venture into the world.
  • Teach your kids to leave a trail of people behind them who have only nice things to say.  Lead by example.  We just came through the nastiest election in history, and if your kids don’t learn to navigate the world from you, they’re probably not gonna get it anywhere else.  Model empathy and respect for others. What you do matters.
  • Say this to your children a million times:  YOU are the only person whose behavior you can control.  Many times kids are frustrated by people who are mean to them, who disobey the rules, or tell lies.  Explain that we (our family) is not like that. Use those people as examples of what not to do and praise your child for being able to identify those flaws.  Make good behavior one of “our” family values, and use expressions like “Maybe that’s OK in their family, but our family doesn’t work like that.
  • Serve others, and ask your children to participate.  Several studies support the notion that doing regular chores or service to the community has numerous developmental benefits – and it doesn’t hurt to have a little help around the house!  Teach gratitude and service.  Show them that they are more fortunate than others.  Let your kids see you help a stranger, and show them that they owe something for their comfort.  Encourage your kids to pick up a piece of trash and put it in a nearby bin.
  • Stay involved. Monitor the progress of their homework. It’s a struggle, we know, but “executive skills” (organization of time) will pay off when they enter the job market. Teach them how to use their planners and check them every once in a while. Encourage them to ask for help. Be their teammate, not their boss.  Consider doing your work (or just reading) side by side.  If need be, minimize the distractions – outlaw TV and other non-homework related electronics. Great conversations often arise in these periods of parallel study and silence.
  • Allow your kids to struggle and even fail. This is one of the hardest challenges of parenting. Everybody makes mistakes…teach them to learn from theirs. As W. E. Hickson said: “If at first you don’t succeed… try try again.” This is how we all grow.
  • Say NO when you need to. Adversity is something we all encounter every day. The sooner we can teach our children to deal with it, the better they will perform in the big bad world.  Teach your children how to get you to say yes without whining or crying. Be strong.
  • Make sure they have time to get bored.  For children, play is work.  When they’re left to ponder, their imaginations kick in.  Limit their electronics during free time and don’t feel the need to entertain them.  “Go bang your head against the wall until you think of something to do.” Might be a good response to “I’m bored.”  It worked for my mother.

I trust these will be helpful. They actually apply no matter who the President is… because, as you know, Parenting is not a democracy.

Enjoy your children and lead them in the direction you would like them to go.

Happy New Year.

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Grandparenting

NewbornWell. It happened.  We became grandparents at the end of December.

Of course, nothing went according to plan. We were expecting this grandson after The Holidays – in early January – right about now.  We were mentally preparing to attend a series of parties, eat without concern, and then buckle down into the New Year with excitement and anticipation for a wonderful new addition to our family.

As is often the case with parenting however… things rarely happen the way one expects.

New father holds son.The birth wasn’t easy.  August “Gus” Greenberg’s arrival required an emergency C-section, and a number of days in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), which one familiarly pronounces “nick-you.” This, of course, led to much angst for all concerned – but in the end our tough-as-nails daughter-in-law and our 8lb. 6oz. grandson are as hearty as we all expected and have been healthy and home for over a week now.

Throughout that time, we got to watch our son and his beloved wife perform as the perfect team. He had her back every step of the way and she was his #1 concern. Proof of this was the fact that he put his 6’3” frame on a cot in her room every night!

Once all of that initial concern began to fade I immediately went into a period of age-related navel gazing. I wasn’t the “parent” on the official documents. The new family wasn’t “mine” anymore. It became very apparent that the next generation was stepping up and I wasn’t in the middle of the action anymore. I had just been moved one table farther away from the dance floor.  Grandparenting.

beautiful grandmother admires babyMy lovely and patient wife JoAnn doesn’t seem to be as bothered by the age stuff. She’s on another planet – elevated there by the rapture she feels for this new baby boy. Although we vowed not to be too vocal, she’s being very generous with her experience and I believe our daughter-in-law appreciates it… at least I hope she does.

Times have changed, and frankly, it’s a miracle we survived our childhoods. Years ago I offered to lend the crib in our attic to a friend of mine who was becoming a father. When I came home, my wife put the kibosh on that plan. “Are you kidding?” she said, “We raised our kids in that crib!!” It turns out that our grandson will not be sleeping in that crib either. Apparently the slats are an unsafe distance from each other and like I said, it’s a miracle our kids (or any of us) survived our childhoods. Gus will have pre-warmed wipes, a sock that communicates his vitals by cellphone, and a car seat that looks like it was designed for the space shuttle.

Grandpa holds grandsonOur friends say that being Grandparents is the most wonderful thing in the world – and I believe them. I’ve held my lanky little blob of a grandson and stared into his calm and fresh face. I can’t wait until he offers up more than gas.

Meanwhile, there’s still been no decision on what he’s going to call us. Am I going to be Slick, Boompa, or just plain Grandpa? Is JoAnn going to be GiGi (Gardening Grandma), Grammy Jo, or something we haven’t even considered? Only time will tell – and ultimately we’ll be whatever works best for Mr. Gus.

In the bigger picture, Gus is a new bud developing on the Ben and Kelsie branch of our family tree. He has three uncles and an aunt, all of whom are going to help him to grow healthy and strong. He has an enormous fan club in St. Louis including his grandparents and great-grandparents. He is blessed in so many ways.

baby footDespite all this musing about getting older I have to say that this natural order of things is quite reassuring. As we travel from generation to generation this inevitable tide of reproduction and renewal is cause for hope and happiness. Sure, we screw up all the time, but in the end, the power of life itself seems to prevail. We are all truly blessed to be here right now.

By the way – have I told you that Gus is a genius?

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Prescription For a Happy Thanksgiving

vectorstock_1052311There’s been a lot of complaining going on recently… the unknown (election), the weather (extreme), the world (wars, immigration, Brexit).

It’s so bad even Kanye can’t handle it.

But tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and earlier today I decided that the best way to make a Day of Thanks work would be to decide not to complain, kvetch, or even criticize anyone about anything.

Negativity breeds negativity.

So, let’s do this: Say only nice things to people. Greet your craziest cousin with a warm hello and loving embrace. Understand that your children may be a little goofier than usual because they’re seeing relatives they only get to see once a year.  Tell people how happy you are to be celebrating Thanksgiving with them.

I’ve found that my life goes through half-full and half-empty periods… and lately, although I have a very full life, I’ve been concentrating on the empty side which, frankly, does me no good at all.  Yes, I’ve had a recent surgery and a recent birthday, but getting older is a privilege – especially when you get to do it with a loving mate while surrounded by a loving family.

egbokYears ago, a couple of LA DJs (Ken and Bob) came up with the term EGBOK – Everything’s Going to Be OK. I’ve decided to adopt and embrace this philosophy for the coming period. Whenever something doesn’t go the way my loved ones or I expect it to – we’re just going to say EGBOK. It may sound a bit like denial, but the fact is that worry about things rarely makes them resolve differently… sometimes stuff just happens and there’s no real explanation.

My grandfather used to always spill his wine. I was taught it was good luck. Almost thirty-nine years ago, it rained on our wedding day. People said it was good luck, and it was. We had our first child when we were twenty-six years old. We were broke. We were scared. We were clueless. People said “Babies bring luck.” And they were right, because thirty-six years later I’m the luckiest guy I know.  Luck is where you look for it.

wishfulthinkingfingerscrossedLet’s start thinking about the silver linings and let’s use this Thanksgiving as an opportunity to do so. Let’s be truly grateful for every bite we take, because regardless of how one might want to look at this holiday, it’s really about hope – about the hope that we as people can live together in harmony, that, underneath it all we’re just human beings who like to be fed, who like to be together, who like to smile, and who need to be loved.

Since the first Thanksgiving, there have been mistakes made in the evolution of our country (slavery, internment of Japanese, the Red Scare), but the fact that we continue to celebrate means that we’re optimists; people who believe that we have much for which to be grateful, including each other and our incredible country.

Our Declaration of Independence offers this incredibly difficult and optimistic founding principle: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  This year we’re going to remind ourselves that we are rooted in a very solid foundation of optimism and inclusion – and that happiness is a choice.

Positive thinking breeds positivity.

img_7659Tell your adult kids you love them (even if they’re making fun of you). Smile knowingly at the rolling of their eyes. Hear criticism as passion. Start with dessert. Thank the person or people who prepared your meal. Try to stay off your phone. Tell stories from Thanksgivings past. Take a photo of the whole group.

Leave a trail of people behind you who have only nice things to say.

And remember… Everything’s Going to be OK.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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The Homework Heretic

A teacher has impressed thousands of parents by introducing a no-homework policy Taken from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10208920380439663&set=a.2192657828875.118537.1620033655&type=3&theater

It’s back-to-school time and homework is in the news. Mrs. Brandy Young, a brilliant second-grade teacher in Godley, Texas sent a note home to parents explaining that her students would have no “formally assigned” homework this year. The note went viral and people began sounding off on both sides of the issue.

Sometime between my being a child and my being a parent, a shift occurred in the homework world. In my early elementary days, kindergarten through third grade, we were never assigned homework. From my point of view, homework was something that happened to big kids (fourth graders) and it was definitely something I could wait for.  By the time my kids were in school, homework started in the first grade – which I thought happened because little kids wanted to feel more like “big kids” so they got “homework.” First grade homework was easy, and usually out of the way by the time I got home (thanks to my wife, JoAnn who has been shepherding our kids to success from day one).

Crying-at-Drop-Off-PreschoolWhen my friends and I hit fourth grade, homework was seen as a sort of badge of honor. Now, we were the big kids carried notebooks and lugged home texts with some understanding of our now more “grown up” obligation. When our kids hit fourth grade (after three years of homework), they were seasoned veterans who complained like pros and had mastered the art of misdirection – “Dad, tell us about the time you made that game winning catch!”

Ultimately, getting our kids to do their homework was not easy. We outlawed TV. We made them stay in their rooms. We taught them to use their planners. We checked their planners. We spoke with their teachers.  We tried it all.  Homework, and getting it done, was as much our work as it was theirs! And even with all that oversight, we still got notes about missing assignments!

Today, with all of that way behind us… well, almost behind us… our kids are “doing their homework.” They are employed adults who know how to get their jobs done, and understand that the work isn’t over ‘til the assignment is complete. They manage their own time, and appear to do it well.  Is their adult responsibility a result of the fact that they were given homework in first grade?  I really don’t think so.

I have always contended that children grow up to be just like their parents. If you’re a hard worker, and you do your “homework” – whatever it might be – then your children will grow up to do same. Homework, is about responsibility, and the best way to teach responsibility is to set a good example.

I agree with Brandy Young, second grade is too early to put our children on the perceived treadmill to success.  Homework time can be better spent with younger children doing things as a family – eating dinner, playing outside, and getting a good night’s sleep. Perhaps, by starting homework when kids are a little older we might avoid some of the acrimony that often comes from chasing down assignments and correcting, sometimes criticizing, our children’s work.

According to 2004 information from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, Japanese and Finnish students outperform U.S. students on tests even though they are assigned less homework.

ChildAirportWDadIt’s important that our children learn to meet deadlines. It’s important that they recognize the value of being prepared and “doing the work.”  Children under the age of eleven or twelve have a lot to learn from playing in the backyard or watching a meal be prepared – especially if they get to spend that time with someone who is teaching them to enjoy these things.

Ultimately, time spent shared with family is far more valuable than a few simple math problems.

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Tyrants, Toddlers, and Trump

I know a number of people who have toddlers that they describe as “difficult.”

CryingBabyThese children have been complicated from the start.  As tiny tyrants, they’ve spit out their food, pounded the table, or thrown tantrums unabated while their better-behaved siblings and/or parents sat by marveling at the insanity of it and not really knowing what to do.

In these moments of early hostage-taking, many paralyzed parents respond in an anything-to-make-it-stop type of way, resulting in positive reinforcement of both the bad behavior and the toddler’s “difference.”  Unfortunately, this emboldens the upstart and encourages future revolution. In essence, the rules don’t apply to this child – giving them a sense of being “above the law” – whether that law is civility, or just plain respect for others.

vectorstock_1943457Essentially, this child becomes a bully – a person who bosses their parents (or parent) around because their parents allow themselves to be bossed.

Which brings me to Donald Trump and the GOP.

When he first declared his candidacy, many in his party thought he was an anomaly, a child wanting attention that would eventually go away. But his behavior was nurtured by the encouragement of crowds and his misbehavior grew and grew. Name-calling, disrespect, lying, interrupting – all unacceptable practices in the public arena – were ignored, or excused.  So the bully got louder and stronger.

When Trump called Jeb a mama’s boy, Rubio “Little Marco,” and Cruz “Lyin’ Ted” the press and public were so appalled that they sat helpless and imposed no meaningful consequences. He wasn’t reprimanded by debate moderators, he wasn’t censured by the press, he was empowered and, ironically, his popularity grew! He continues to use the name “Crooked Hillary” when Politifact has shown her to be far more truthful than Trump is. What about those tax returns, the bankruptcies, the hypocritical accusations and all of the other special accommodations that are being made for him?  Is that just all O.K.?

TRUMPAngryIt must be because Donald’s a “difficult” child.  He’s used to getting his way and people are too afraid of his bad behavior to stop him. What’s worse is that, as an anointed leader, he’s giving voice to all the other insensitive, me-first children in our country.

I don’t think Trump can be saved. These are things we must teach our children when they are young.  There are remedies for behaviors like this in toddlers – separating them from the group, or stopping in the moment to address the bad conduct (and express a higher expectation).

My wife taught me that one can often avoid these attitudes altogether by regularly praising children for their truthfully good behavior. “I like the way you’re sitting quietly.” “I like the way you played with ____.” Let your children know what you expect. Children live to love their parents. Don’t allow them to push you around.  You are the adult. When you see bad behavior – at any age – firmly impose your expectations.  It will simplify your life. (Note: If your children are older and you believe their disrespect or rebelliousness may be dangerous to them and your family – seek professional help.)

Parenting isn’t easy. It requires both flexibility and strength. If we, as parents, are too flexible, our children will bend us until both we, and they, are broken.  Let us hope that this November, for the sake of our country, we can collectively stand up to this ill-behaved child and let him know what type of behavior is expected in our family.

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Our Son Says “We’re Pregnant!”

Our son Ben recently called and said “We’re pregnant!”  JoAnn, my wife, was very quick to point out that Ben’s wife, Kelsie is pregnant and that they are having a baby.  After all, JoAnn asks, “Is Ben nauseous all the time?” “Are his ankles swollen?” “Is he constantly overheated?”

Well… no.

bkg nose pick

Ben – Expectant Father

Of course our son will never actually “be” pregnant, but it’s clear that this generation of fathers is being encouraged to share in the process and, to the extent that sharing “ownership” of the pregnancy seems kind of appropriate to me, I’m pleased to see Ben stepping up to the job.

I understand Ben’s desire to be included and I understand his wanting to take his share of the responsibility for the gestation that’s going on. I was an active father during JoAnn’s pregnancies (for our era).  No matter the hour, I forced myself to go get ice-cream, I consoled her when she was crying for no reason, and I understood the importance of remaining firm, supportive, and flexible.

Through four pregnancies I often joked “If I could carry that baby… I would!”  – which probably got old.

BoysAdmireBabyEm

Emily arrives!

To her credit, JoAnn never complained about me or the process.  I believe her positive and loving attitude helped define the cheerful nature of our children today. At this point, I don’t think either of us really cares “who” is pregnant – as much as we’re elated that Kelsie is!

Of course, we’re now involved in a different type of sweepstakes…

MyGrandma

My Grandma

…Grandparenting!

What will this baby call us? We’re working on it, because, after all, this is precedent setting, a high stakes decision that will define how our future grandchildren will know and love us. Our children knew their Grandparents as Nana and Poppie (JoAnn’s side) and Grandma and Grandpa (my side) – so those names are out. Various suggestions have been made (by people other than Ben and Kelsie) – like Gammy Jo and Don Ricardo, or Slick and JayJay. We’re open to suggestions.

A lot of our friends are already grandparents. They do a lot of babysitting and some of them do it every day. I’m not sure we’re going to be so “hands on,” but one thing is for sure, we’re entering a new phase where some little creature is going to capture our hearts and cause us to lose our minds. Neither JoAnn’s nor my parents were much for watching the grandkids.

JGGCornChip

Their Grandmother

My mother stepped in once in a while, but not on a regular basis. She was confident though, and that was good. One time, she was watching our oldest son, Aaron, and we phoned to see if everything was going alright. “If you trust the babysitter, you need not phone.” she replied tersely. The witness was asleep when we picked him up.

Grandma had made her point.

NathanWCar

My Mother’s Father

Although I don’t really remember my grandparents that well, they are legends in my mind (and the family lore). My father’s father opened the first children’s shoe store in L.A. My mother’s father was an immigrant blacksmith and inventor who sued Henry Ford (and won). I never met my mother’s mother (she died when my mother was three). My father’s mother and I were cordial – but it’s not like I remember her hugging me to pieces (as I anticipate I will do with our grandchildren).

Now I have to think about what my legacy will be? How will my grandchildren (and the family lore) describe me? Will I be the nut-bar grandpa who is remembered for playing the bass drum in a local marching band? Will I be the grandpa who never grew up and shamelessly burst into song whenever possible? Perhaps my most important legacy will be the one I share with JoAnn – that our children’s children will know that their grandparents prioritized their love, that they were in love from the start and stayed that way.

Family

These people.

What I can say is this:  We will be parents who support our children in their efforts to raise respectful and kind children. We will also expect our grandchildren to have good manners and to behave within our expectations. We will be calm. We will counsel our children with understanding and we will encourage them to use their instincts when making parenting decisions. We will help them when we can – and we will do so without adding strings (something my mother selflessly taught us).  We will help them keep their feet on the ground and their heads on their shoulders, and we will laugh with them as they learn to navigate the pathways of parenting.

Yes, this is going to be an adventure, and we can’t wait.

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Being a Team Player

ChicagoWhiteSoxLogoI’ve been getting a lot of calls lately about Adam LaRoche. He’s the former Chicago White Sox player who retired last week after being asked to limit the amount of time his 14-year-old son, Drake, was spending with the team.

There wasn’t a problem with Drake. According to all media reports and interviews Drake is a fine young man who brought positive energy to the clubhouse. The problem was that Adam was bringing him to work every day – not just once in a while, or even three days a week, but every day.

LaRoche walked away from 13 million dollars because the team asked him to “dial back” the amount of time his son was spending with the club. It’s nice that he can afford to do that, but that’s not what bugs me the most about this story.

AtticusFinchThose of you who have read my book know that I consider setting an example to be perhaps the most significant part of the parenting process. You also know that I believe in respecting authority and accepting the fact that we sometimes have to compromise and do what’s best for the group – like sitting quietly in class when we’d rather be talking to our neighbor.

As parents, my wife and I have functioned as both benevolent dictators and team players. We’ve encouraged our children to participate in our decision-making and guided them through the process. If the ultimate plan was not logical to us, we made the decision we thought best and explained why. We taught our children to “get over it” and move on.

Adversity is parAskDadCleant of life.

As a corporate executive, I have tried to keep the values of my workplace consistent with the expectations and desires of my employees. Sometimes that’s been possible, and sometimes it has not. In many cases I’ve had to consider whether making an exception would be setting a precedent that I couldn’t apply to the entire company. If I let one person bring their dog to work, would I (legally) be BlogLite08able to say no to others? What if someone in the company had an allergy to dogs? If one of my employees wanted to quit their job because I couldn’t allow their pet (no matter how well-behaved), I guess that would be their right.

So, if I’m the White Sox organization and I don’t want to allow every player to bring their child to work every day, I have to make a decision about Adam LaRoche – no matter how wonderful his son Drake may be. I understand that my players travel a lot and miss time with their families, but I also hope that Adam understands my reasoning and respects my need to make that decision on behalf of the organization.

None of us really knows what happened behind the scenes in this case, but there appeared to be very little room for compromise.   The team politics, however, are just noise surrounding what I think is the biggest problem – and here it is:

I don’t want to teach my child that when things don’t go his (or her) way, she should just pick up the ball and leave. I want my child to learn how to solve problems instead of walking away from them. I want my child to learn to compromise.

As a known figure, respected ballplayer and father, I would assume that Adam LaRoche wants the same for his children and children everywhere. So, although he has the right to do whatever he wants to – both as a parent and a player – I am saddened by the example it sets for young fans everywhere.

Also… I sure wish I could afford to walk away from thirteen million bucks.

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Self-Respect – A Key Parenting Ingredient

JFKwCarolineTeaching our children respect for others starts with teaching them respect for us, and this can be done without sacrificing our children’s individuality or personal development.  First, we have to believe in the importance of our role as parents, and not defer our responsibility to anyone else.

Last year, while visiting the JFK Library in Boston, I appreciated the way he defined his responsibility as a parent:

Version 2 “I think when we talk about corporal punishment, and we have to think about our own children…it seems to me, to have other people administering punishment to our own children…puts a special obligation on us to maintain order and to send children out from our homes who accept the idea of discipline. So I would not be for corporal punishment in the school, but I would be for very strong discipline at home so we don’t place an unfair burden on our teachers.”

The prevailing attitude with regard to the role of teachers and the responsibility of parents was that the welfare of the entire class outweighed the problems of any single student.

Although children still need discipline, recent generations have seen the parenting pendulum swing from valuing the collective toward valuing the individual.  Today, when a child disturbs a classroom full of children, the focus is on determining why that child is having a problem (or even on whether or not the teacher is doing a good job) rather than on the disruption created for all the other students.  The good of the group seems to be less important.  Unfortunately, in many cases, parents side with the child and let their concern (or defensiveness) outweigh the fact that their child is disturbing the entire class.

parenting pays offSo, who’s going to teach your child the rules?  How can we make our kids responsible members of society?  How can we teach them to have concern for others in a world where role models include ego maniacs, bad sports, porn stars, drug users, or social freaks?  When celebrity is defined as success, and morality seems to be a moving target how do we teach our children to have high expectations of themselves and to respect others?

My parents raised me to believe that, under most circumstances, they had life pretty figured out. I was taught to respect their knowledge because it seemed to work for them.  They were hard-working, seemingly well-liked, and respected members of the community.  I wanted to be like them.  I suspect that most little children want to be like their parents.

AskDadCleanHow did you learn to navigate the world?  Who taught you to say “please” and “thank you”? Did anyone ever encourage you to give your seat up to an older person or to hold a door open out of courtesy?  Who taught you how to listen?  I’m guessing your parents did – and now it’s your job.  Here’s why:

  • vectorstock_634418Learning to keep quiet means “I am not the most important person in the world, and that I need to be sensitive to others.
  • Learning to say “please” and “thank you” teaches our children that courtesy is important.
  • Giving up one’s seat is a measure of courtesy and a lesson in anticipating that the feelings or needs of other (and older) people are important.
  • Clearing our table at a fast food restaurant teaches our children that the people who will need the table next are worthy of consideration.
  • Putting the shopping cart back at the market is a great job for an eight- year-old.

All of us are capable of modeling these behaviors for our children. Kids are keenly aware of how we, as their parents, treat those around us – and how those people treat us!  Developing relationships with local food servers, grocery store checkers, bank tellers, and other members of the community creates a template of belonging for our children.

vectorstock_745873To teach respect we must show respect for ourselves.  It’s not easy to live an exemplary life, but that’s exactly what being a parent requires.  None of us is perfect, but every day we each have little opportunities to show our children the high road.  Our children need to know that we have expectations of ourselves, and that those same expectations apply to them.   The fact is, children love being able to meet our expectations.  It lets them know where they stand.

Sometimes it’s hard to break the habits we’ve formed as adults.  I had to clean up my language for a number of years.  I had to cross at crosswalks.  I tried not to yell at other drivers… you get the idea.  During the time in which our children are most impressionable and their moral and emotional scaffolding is being built, we have to be conscious of the lessons we’re teaching them.

vectorstock_1023337Believe in your knowledge, and through your actions create the moral universe in which you want your children to live.  

In this way, your child will become your contribution to a better world.

 

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Three Important Parenting Questions

As JoAnn and I began navigating the parenting waters, we found that, in the process of defining our values, we were also determining some basic rules for running the family ship “our way.”   These were our first three basic questions:

4-Aaron_and_Kate,_Nick,_Melissa,_Jan,_Anna,_Adam-064 copy

  • Is it safe?
  • Will this create a habit?
  • Does this make sense to me/us?

IS IT SAFE ? – This one’s pretty easy. Don’t touch wall sockets, don’t put dirty things in your mouth (parents – don’t leave them lying around), don’t touch the stove, don’t go out the back gate or the front door, etc.  Children catch on pretty quickly to these, especially if you drop to a knee, use a “special” voice and look them in the eye when you tell them something is dangerous or a “no no.”

Doing our part as parents is important too.  JoAnn and I put all of our dangerous or fragile things (chemicals, crystal, fancy knick-knacks) out of reach of our little children and generally “baby-proofed” our house (plugged our electrical sockets, put clips on drawers). Beyond that, with the exception of a gate at the stairs, we didn’t put padding on our coffee tables or alter our physical environment. Learning to navigate our house, edges and all, was also our children’s responsibility. The object for us was to teach them to be careful on their own, so that we wouldn’t have to spend our time monitoring their every move.

WILL THIS CREATE A HABIT? – This one’s a little tougher. It’s more about our behavior than that of our children.

Greenfam1987liteEverything we do as parents can become an expectation on the part of our children.  If we leave their light on for two nights, they’ll expect the light to be left on forever. If we let them sleep in our bed for two nights in a row, then you can be sure that they’ll want to toddle their way into the bedroom on nights three, four, and forever. It’s especially important in this instance to weigh your glorious pleasure — at having this wonderful, warm, sleeping angel next to you — against the fact that it’s not going to be particularly wonderful to have your kids wanting to join you in bed whenever they want.

I know there is a movement today toward “Attachment Parenting” — but, seriously, from my male point of view, this is a biggie. I consider our bed to be a private place for my wife and me, a refuge for the original relationship that led to having those wonderful, but not-in-my-bed, children. There are many differing opinions on this issue, and it’s really up to you and your spouse to determine how you plan to deal with this. In my case, I am rarely happy when one of my children is not only taking up my space in bed, but also distracting JoAnn from her original bedmate – ME. That’s why our children have their own beds.

DOES THIS MAKE SENSE TO ME / US ? JoAnn and I will usually have decided whether or not it’s alright for our kid to play in a puddle, eat a dog biscuit, or bang the kitchen pans. Everybody makes their own decisions about these sorts of things. You’ll probably think that some of your friends are crazy, but whether they let the dog lick their baby’s mouth is entirely up to them. What happens in your house is entirely up to you.

I grew up in a house where there were a lot of odd “rules” – which, I suppose made sense to my parents. One of them was Eating Everything On Your Plate, another was Making Your Bed, another was No Sugared Cereals, and finally, No Soft Drinks.

These rules, especially cleaning one’s plate, filled every meal with a serving of potential conflict, which usually overshadowed anything pleasurable that might have happened at the dinner table.  JoAnn and I are quite structured in our parenting, which some might regard as “strict,” but we tried to avoid setting up arguments about things that were relatively unimportant (compared to proper manners), which left plenty of room for fun, and a feeling of safety in our house.  Remember how you felt as a kid.  My childhood dinners were a battlefield.  We agreed to avoid that.

GreenFamHawaii2014Peace at home starts with not creating things to argue about. If our children didn’t make their beds, they returned to their own messy rooms. If they didn’t eat everything on their plates and they got hungry later, it was their problem to feed themselves. We continue to teach them to avoid worrying about things we can’t control (like other people’s behavior, telephone lines near the house, and World Peace), and we try not to bring the fears of the world into our home (like discussing money problems or serious health issues in front of our children).

But that’s just us, and that’s what we agreed to in our plan.

It’s not hard to implement this simple three point checklist, and I hope it can be helpful in helping you set up your own expectations and family goals.  Most of this comes down to common sense – so don’t let the heat of the moment throw your thinking off.  Stay true to your adult hunches, it will make your life much easier.

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