IMG_1768I’ve been traveling on business a lot lately, which means I’ve been spending a lot of time finding my way through airports and figuring out menus in restaurants.  Every airport situation is different – but traveling through them involves a very specific and common set of solutions – find your flight, determine your gate, go through security, get some coffee, and wait to board.  It’s a process, with which I am familiar – just like going to the market, or eating in a restaurant, or visiting the pediatrician.

Something that I continue to notice on this trip is how totally consistent little children are.  No matter where I’ve been – London, Oslo, Munich, Hamburg, Lviv (in the Ukraine), or even L.A., it doesn’t matter how up-tight or logistically focused their parents may be, kids just seem to be dancing, singing, and passing the time in their own little wonderful world.

Mother And Baby At Airport.It is heartwarming to know that kids all over the world seem to be essentially the same.  For toddlers, everything is fascinating.  People bustle by, a cell phone rings, a big person is plays peek-a-boo – so much action, so much distraction…their heads swing around from sudden interest to studied stare.  It’s truly a pleasure to watch as they interact with the world and soak in new things.

As a parent, what’s clearest to me is how their unbridled curiosity and playfulness makes them completely dependent on us to protect and to guide them.  We are, after all, the people who make them safe – upon whose presence they can depend so that they can drift through their day soaking up one experience after another.  This means that we’re the ones who know our way around an airport, who know where to get food, who know where the bathrooms are, etc. etc.  Most importantly, even if we don’t know our way around, we know how to read the signs and use the tools we have to be able to solve those problems.  We have been through the process.  Our life experience is what makes us qualified to be parents…and it’s what our kids are counting on.

ChildAirportWDadThe same is true for our children at home.  As much as we might believe they know what we might expect, or that they appear to “want to do it themselves”, we are the ones who know best.  Communicating this – whether it’s about bedtime, diet, hygiene, or courtesy, lets our children know that we have answers – that if they stick with us (as they must at the airport) they will be protected by our knowledge and hopefully, good nature.  It is in this way that they learn the process from us.

Letting children make their own rules is not doing them a favor.  Imagine one of those toddlers wandering around the airport – hungry, tired, in need of a bathroom – how would she find her way?  Most likely she’d be crying for her mommy or daddy because she doesn’t know the process and doesn’t know what to do.  When mommy or daddy arrive, this little girl isn’t going to check their qualifications – she’s just going to be happy to see the person (or people) who can offer her the security of knowing.

DFW TaxiIf you got into a cab and the driver admitted being lost, you wouldn’t have a very comfortable or relaxed ride – would you?  Now imagine that your kids are in your cab – and remember that you need to believe you know the process and behave as though you know exactly where you’re going so that they can, while buckled into their seats, relax and continue soaking up the world around them.

Raising children is just like being at  the airport – it changes all the time, but you’ve been there before and you can figure it out.

Image   Kids develop mature self-esteem when they have a sense of self-worth and value. Self worth can guide independent thinking, and independent thinking can lead to smart decision-making. 

For me, helping my children develop a sense of themselves has meant giving them personal “grips” onto which they can hold when the winds of social conformity start blowing their way.  Our first encounter arrived in the form of an earring.

When Aaron was in the 6th grade, one of his friends, the child of good friends of ours, came to school with an earring.  Since JoAnn and I were friends with his pal’s parents, Aaron was sure he could convince us to let him pierce his ear and start sporting a stud.

He was wrong.  In fact, our conversation led to the following position statement (from me):  “Until you are eighteen years old and, as long as you are living in my home, I own your body.  You may not deface it.”

Aaron agreed, and he surrendered to the fact that his father was really strict and that he was going to have to return to school unadorned, which he did the next day.

Believe it or not, he survived.  He returned to school and his friends still spoke to him.

Here was my thinking. First, I gave him an out, not an absolute “no.”  He could make the decision for himself when he was eighteen.  Second, I wanted to show him (by forcing the issue) that he could return to his peers without an earring and still remain popular.  Finally, my theory was that he would ultimately distinguish himself by being a guy who didn’t have an earring.  Ironically, six years later he pierced his ear two weeks before his eighteenth birthday.  He expressed concern to JoAnn that I would be angry, but, at that point, I considered his decision “age appropriate” and I met him with humor.

Jewelry notwithstanding, Aaron has a strong sense of himself.  He survived all those years without an earring and I think the process gave him a perspective about trends.  On the other hand, it’s completely understandable when children want to do what everyone else is doing.  On one occasion, we were attending a formal party that our children were also attending.  I couldn’t help but notice that the children, specifically the boys, were getting pretty rowdy and their misbehavior was beginning to creep into the consciousness of the adults.

As I watched them, I remembered my feelings as a child (when it was all about having fun) and tried to blend them with my reaction as a parent (cringing at the thought that someone might say “Those kids were really wild last night — especially that Greenberg boy!”).

I decided to flag down my son, Ben, and drop this on him:

 “It’s OK to be an idiot – just don’t be the biggest idiot.”  I think he really appreciated that.  Recently, Aaron phoned to tell me that he was afraid he had been the “biggest idiot” at a holiday party.  He’s a grown man now, so it isn’t my problem – but it’s funny (and gratifying) how the old admonitions can stick.

   

Essentially, if you have a plan, and you know what your values are, you can stay calm and never need to get overexcited in the first place.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-vienna/latest-parenting-trend-ctfd-method_b_3588031.html?utm_hp_ref=email_share

ignoranceinactionMy mother had a poster by her favorite chair.  It read, “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.” – Goethe

It appears that, despite proven facts (as opposed to other facts), Jenny McCarthy continues to believe that vaccinations are bad for our children… I wonder how she feels about Polio?

http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/17/opinion/perry-jenny-mccarthy-autism/index.html?hpt=hp_t4

JusticeYour un-armed child is walking down the street in your sister’s gated community.  A neighborhood vigilante decides that your child is “up to no good”.  The vigilante decides, against the advice of law enforcement (who are on their way) to confront your child.  Your child reacts to this approach and a physical engagement occurs in which your child ends up dead from a gunshot wound.  Do you believe that the vigilante is innocent?

RaisingChildrenFinalFrontCvrWebWe are days away from the release of my book, so I thought I’d share a little more…

Everyone is capable of creating a wonderful family, and “Raising Children That Other People Like to be Around” is structured around five simple principles for which I have had the audacity to create the anagram “S.M.A.R.T.”  There are five letters so that they can be counted on one hand, and I used the word SMART because it’s positive and easy to remember.  The principles are the most important behaviors that influence the way our children see us – and, as they become adults, the way they see themselves.

As parents, our job is to:

Set an example.

Make the rules.

Apply the rules.

Respect ourselves.

Teach in all things.

Children make us life-long learners – not only by sharing the events of their lives, but also by keeping us in touch with ourselves, the things we believe in, and the ways we react to those events.

The book describes a process, referencing anecdotal information that affirms or teaches a specific lesson, regardless of the age of the child.  There is no doubt that many of our children’s adult strengths are the result of lessons learned when they were toddlers.  With some solid concentration in the first few years, you can set yourself up for a very pleasurable life-long parenting experience.  After all, if you pour the right foundation, and create some solid scaffolding, the buildings you build are going to stand up to almost any storm.

“We made them from scratch,” we say to each other, and this book is the closest I can come to giving you our recipe.

Em's GraduationFor JoAnn and me, it sometimes seems as though every minute we have is devoted to our children. But after all the teacher conferences, sporting events, carpooling, and homework supervising, the loving memories seem too fleeting.  As we look back on all those years, we can barely remember many of the details because, as JoAnn says, “The days crawl, and the years fly by.”

 

AMGBabyTubToday, I am grateful that our eldest son is celebrating his 33rd birthday, so I thought I’d share this excerpt about gratitude.

When JoAnn and I got married, a wise friend said that marriage is not 50/50 – it’s 90/90.  Essentially, he was telling us that we’d each often feel as though we were giving (or doing) more than half of the relationship’s work and, if we could accept that fact, our marriage would sail along smoothly.  After over thirty five years, JoAnn and I agree that the theory remains accurate.  The workload shifts; sometimes I’m doing more and sometimes she’s doing more.  That’s just the way it is.  It also means that there is no clock punching, no keeping track, and no ongoing score sheet, and it’s a real opportunity to give to our parenting partner and let them know that someone else is there helping to carry the load.   While raising children, the same sort of understanding is required – because, as parents, we do the majority of the work and the gratitude doesn’t come until much later

In the beginning, we carry virtually 100% of the load – we change diapers, we feed, we entertain, and we worry.  Our infants and toddlers, on the other hand, spend almost all of their time observing, smelling, tasting and learning.  Although those things don’t help the laundry get done, or the sheets get changed, the impact of that effort on their part is quite substantial.  Besides, Nature has made babies cute so that we don’t mind working our tales off for them.

That’s just the way it is.

AMGBabyAtHatchcoverParenting demands a tremendous generosity of spirit, and, as our children get older, we are able to teach them to help us so that things aren’t quite so lopsided.  At a certain point, we can enlist their aid by saying things like “Please help me clean up your toys.” or “Sit still while I put your socks on”.  Narrating and naming these tasks is an important part of the process, as we are actually teaching our children how to do these things for themselves.  “First you prepare the sock, now you put it over your toes…” etc.  At some point, probably when you’re in a hurry, your child will want to do it for himself.  If you’re in a hurry, try to explain that he can do it next time and reward him for his patience.  If not, guide him, encourage him, and reward him with praise (and maybe even a phone call to someone else who would be proud).

Whenever possible, and sometimes out of the blue, we make our children aware of the world around them.  “Isn’t that an interesting building?”, “Look at those pretty flowers.”, ”We’re so lucky to have…” a nice home, a safe school, warm clothes, food, good health, and so on.  In many cases, these are comforts that we can (and do) give our children, and maybe even nice things that we sometimes take for granted – like loving friends, new shoes, a hand-me-down jacket, or a trip to the ice cream store.

BoysAdmireBabyEmThese little lessons are all part of our instructional responsibility.  Being grateful creates for each of our children their own lucky place in the world.  “I’m very lucky.” becomes part of their self-description.  They know who they are, they know what they appreciate, and it gives them the strength to build a strong emotional scaffolding and a solid sense of self respect.

Today, as all days, we are grateful to have each other.