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I’ve lived long enough to see many of my divorced friends find new mates. It’s quite a relief actually – not because I think everybody needs to be a couple, but because their divorces have left scars that I’m happy to see healing.

ball_and_chain_wedding_topperIn many cases my friendship with these people began with deep discussions about their marital relationships, and their hopes and concerns for their families. In some cases, I learned that everyone’s good intentions had somehow been lost to an ego-driven selfishness. That selfishness could be justified by phrases like, “Well, she doesn’t care about me.” or “Nothing pleases her.” In some cases, this inability to be pleased, by either a husband or a wife, would lead to a deliberate desire not to please – and everything would go downhill from there.

Sometimes the couples were just incompatible. Years of therapy couldn’t help unravel the knots that had been tied. No one was willing to surrender their hurt in the name of healing, or if they did it was to no avail. So divorce ensued.

For some, the post-divorce period led to great introspection. “Was it me? Was I the problem? Why couldn’t I make it work?” Those who chose to heap blame on themselves continued to do so, until they were able to recognize that compatibility with another person depends a lot on the other person.

Then, not surprisingly, some of them found other people, and in almost every case they said things like, “She appreciates me.” and “He’s so grateful when I let him know where I’ll be.”

REGJEGFeetAnnivLiteAs I look at the ties that bind me to my wife of thirty-seven years, I have to admit that appreciation has always been one of the keys. We’ve always done things for each other, often with little expectation of payback. We’ve accepted that our marriage is not a 50/50 thing. It’s a 90/90 thing, and at any given point one of us may be working harder than the other. I make our bed (fluffy pillows and all), not because my parents hounded me about it, but because I know it makes her happy.

I used to tell people that the person who won the arguments in our relationship was the one with the most passion for the result. Our issues generally fell along traditional lines. I cared more about teaching our sons not to quit when they were having a tough time on the baseball team, and she cared more about who their upcoming teacher might be. I wanted them to learn to work with their hands, and she wanted them to dress adorably. In each case, we yielded to each other and accepted the other’s leadership. If either of us felt really strongly about something, we articulated our argument as best we could and hoped the other would see the light — even if it took a day, or week, or month. In the end, the truth would float.

Which brings us back to the divorced friends.

In each of the cases I’ve seen, their new relationships thrived because the individuals are grateful to have someone who appreciates them just for being around. Maybe it’s something one learns from being alone, or unappreciated, but it’s definitely an essential ingredient in a successful connection.

CasualFamilyI’m writing to remind us all that a little appreciation goes a very long way. So whether you’re grateful that your mate keeps the house stocked with toilet paper or spent the whole day dealing with your mother, take the time to say thanks and add another stitch to the ties that bind you together.

For an added bonus, teach your children to do this too.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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

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.

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.

In honor of the fact that JoAnn and I are celebrating our thirty-seventh wedding anniversary this week, I thought I’d reflect a little on what I think has allowed our relationship to survive.

WateringCan2People express their understandings of a marriage in many different ways, but my friends Andrew and Claudia put it like this:

Each person takes turns being either a watering can or a flower.  Sometimes we need to be watered, and sometimes we need to do the watering.

I know. It’s a simple metaphor, but it works. Sure, sometimes I don’t feel like doing the watering, or I feel as though I’m completely out of water. I’m sure there are times when JoAnn feels the same way. But after thirty seven years, I’ve learned it’s worth finding the emotional resources necessary to nurture my mate – even if it means having to change my own focus or ignoring something that has irked me. In the end, making that effort comes back to me as a peaceful life, a calm environment, and a mate who digs deep for me when I need her.
Being generous to someone I love seems a small price to pay.

I’ve known from the start that individual egos are the biggest enemy of a good relationship. Once someone begins to take umbrage, there’s a problem. Once the resentment begins to pile up, and both people become unwilling to water, the flower begins to wither. The key is making a conscious decision to break the cycle – essentially deciding that peace is more valuable than whatever is hanging up the conversation. I think JoAnn and I have done this (subconsciously) by creating an “ego” for our relationship, and considering how things feel (for each of us) before blowing into the china shop.

BlogLite21When we started out, we were just kids – seriously, we were twenty-four years old. In fact, now three of our four kids are older than we were when we got married. For whatever reason, on that day and for many days before it, we had a sense that we were right for each other.

For me, marriage wasn’t an emotional deal. I knew I “loved” JoAnn, but as I try to do with most things, I applied a little logic to my situation. My marriage theory was based on this thought: although I could probably approach any woman at a bar, introduce myself, have a fun conversation and end up having a “successful” evening, the fact is that I never approach that woman and I probably never would. Also, I knew that as a world-class procrastinator who never wrote a paper until the day before it was due, I figured marriage would create a series of deadlines to help me achieve my goals in life.

Both of those theories held true.

RGnJGGI also entered marriage with open eyes. When I told my father that I intended to marry JoAnn he said, “Son, you are going to meet three or four more women in your life whom you might find really attractive.” I sad, “What? Are you telling me you don’t like JoAnn?” And he replied, “No, I love JoAnn, I’m just telling you what’s what.”

There will always be opportunities that we believe might make us happier, but trying to catch every ball may cause us to drop the one that is most appropriate for us. By letting me know that there would be understandable and common temptation, my father was trying to prepare me to acknowledge those possibilities and move on. Like an addict, I resolved to live my marriage “one day at a time” so that a lifetime of fidelity wouldn’t seem so daunting – and when the temptation to consider others arose, I made it through those days. On Wednesday I’m getting my thirty seven year chip.

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Photo by Emily Greenberg

The hallmark of our marriage is that we’re kind to each other. We don’t yell. We don’t call each other names. We don’t keep score. This doesn’t mean that we don’t get angry, or leave each other space when one is feeling tapped out. It means that our kindness is defined by the swallowing of pride, of understanding and generosity. One of us will do the dishes when neither of us feels like it, because the dishes aren’t going to wash themselves. We take care of each other, and consider each other’s needs as equal to our own. It’s our agreement, and we both know we’re better for it.

People will object, “That’s easy for you to say, you married the right person.” But, the fact is we’ve spent years training each other. No one comes out of the box designed to cohabitate perfectly. We’ve learned to pick our battles. We’ve learned what isn’t going to change – and we’ve managed to get over it. We all have our nuances, things that can drive others crazy… or not. Our choice is to see those things as part of the process and move beyond them. Learning to trust and communicate about them, rather than suffering in silence, is one of the keys to moving forward.REGJEGLaguna

There’s an old expression – “Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?” I like being both, and my wife knows it – so she humors me (until I admit that I was wrong).

Marriage is not fifty fifty – it’s ninety ninety. Give more than half and it’ll make thirty-seven years go by in the wink of an eye.

When my wifeIMG_0857 JoAnn was pregnant with Emily, our fourth child, my mother decided that JoAnn needed a “day off.” She invited our family (three boys, ages fifteen, twelve and, six plus our newborn) and my sister’s family to meet her for dinner on Monday nights. “It will give you all a sense of family,” she said.

My sister has three kids. At the time, her oldest was fourteen, followed by two twelve-year-old twins – so even though they went to different schools, the kids were all pretty compatible in age.

IMG_0873We chose to eat “Monday Night Dinner” at a centrally located restaurant called the Souplantation, known as Sweet Tomatoes in Northern California and the rest of the country. Part of the plan was that each family had to scan the weekend newspaper to find the restaurant’s discount coupons. Our children did this with glee because they knew that it made Grandma very happy when they proudly presented their coupons when it came time to pay. In this way, they were contributing to making the meal possible.

IMG_0851Word of Monday Night Dinner became part of our vernacular. Our kids would speak of it often, and their friends were always curious. Grandma was very inclusive, and providing that her grandchild called her personally ahead of time and asked if it would be OK to bring a friend, their pals were always welcomed. Some even joined us regularly. They remain family friends to this day.

IMG_0864My parents had a very amicable divorce, so when my father heard that we were all gathering on Monday nights, he wanted to take part. That meant including his wonderful second wife (my stepmother) and their two sons. Once again, my mother chose the inclusive high road: “Greenberg – party of fourteen!”

Here’s the catch. It worked! Today our children, their cousins and their uncles are all very comfortable and loving with each other. They understand the concept that we are all family and that, idiosyncrasies included, we stand by each other and “show up.” There is a sense of unity and, although she passed away a couple of years ago, there is a reverence for Grandma Marcie that keeps her, and her goals, alive.

IMG_0902As I think about my mom today, I realized that she always did the right thing even if it caused her pain, embarrassment, or difficulty. This was the most important lesson she taught us all. My parents each had their problems, and neither of them was easy to live with — neither was ever wrong or capable of conceding — but they rose above their own frustration with each other to demonstrate for all of us how adults should communicate. This is why I credit “Setting an Example” as the most important thing that parents can do.

Swallowing anger and aggression is unhealthy – but my parents didn’t ignore their anger, they just did something positive about it. Both strong personalities, they chose to part company amicably and better appreciate each other without having to cohabitate.

IMG_0884So in addition to learning the value of a dollar (from coupon clipping), the need to ask permission to bring a guest, the importance of thanking your host, and getting to know your family, my children and I were treated to the concept that a peaceful life is more important than getting the last word.

Monday Night Dinner. Give it a try any day of the week.