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Another school shooting today, this time in Maryland. This time the “bad guy with a gun” was killed by a “good guy with a gun.” But, the bad guy was 17 years old, so even though there was someone there to put an end to it, I have to ask… Where are the parents?

No matter what side of the gun debate you fall on, the bottom-line here is not that the guy went out, used a gun, and shot a bunch of people. The issue is that this young man thought the solution to his problem was to go out and kill people.

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It’s hard to be happy all of the time.

People say I’m an optimist… and, by most accounts, including my own, I would have to agree.  Some days however, getting out of bed is not something that I look forward to. On those days, life is just a matter of having the determination to put one foot in front of the other.

I try to stay focused on parenting. That focus includes encouraging parents to learn from their mistakes and to revel in the challenge of raising kind, considerate children. I recognize that there are days when that seems pretty futile – and on those days I encourage them to just put one foot in front of the other.

My friends and I  have lost loved ones; parents, spouses, best friends, pets – and all of us know the chasm of emptiness that resides in our chests from those events.  Although I was trained to emotionally overcome those tragedies, that emptiness often lasts longer than I could have imagined. Those days are marked by trying to remember those people with love and putting one foot in front of the other.

My friend Randy’s grandma used to say “Life isn’t wonderful.”

When I think about that, I also think about how wonderful certain parts of life can be. When I remove my fears (about health, wealth, and our nation) I try to focus on the parts of my life that are, in fact, wonderful.

For each of us, those may be different. I have a loving family. My wife of forty years and I live in the house our children grew up in. Our family members are healthy and have healthcare (for as long as that lasts). We don’t worry about our next meal. Our kids are grown and earning their own livings (for the most part). I am, in fact a very lucky guy.

So why do I wake up depressed some days? Why does the world threaten me, when I should be threatening it?

Because shit happens.

Not every day is going to be perfect. Not every decision is going to be right, and not every interaction with another human being is going to go the way it should. Just because.

So what can I (we) do about it?

In my case, I’ve found that being generous – with time, gratitude or money – helps me feel better. To that end, sixty eight Southern Californians (including my son, Aaron) and I have decided to raise cancer-fighting money through an organization called Team in Training. This weekend we’re going to ride 100 miles around Lake Tahoe to complete our commitments (to ourselves and our donors). Our goal is to raise $250,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society with which they will fight the terrible disease. If you’d like to donate to the cause and increase the number of Cancer survivors, please feel free to contribute here.

But that’s not why I’m writing this.

I’m writing to say that, even though we can all find ways to feel good, there are just days when life sucks, when the day ahead feels daunting, and that’s normal. It’s OK.

I once gave a co-worker a post-it that said “Time heals all wounds.” She put it on her bulletin board and it got us both through some tough times. I’m old enough to tell you that, if you do the work required to learn, grow and change, it’s true – time will heal most wounds… certainly the ones that are emotional.

Another way in which my coaches and teammates have put this into perspective is to say “No matter how hard it is to ride your bike up that hill, someone fighting cancer has it much harder.”

So, today and this weekend, I’ll be remembering how lucky I am that organizations like LLS are fighting hard to add happier days to the lives of cancer victims….

…and I’ll be doing it by putting one foot in front of the other.

United AirlinerI’ve got a lot bouncing around in my head lately, and although it’s about our country, very little of it has to do with Washington. Fact is, I think it has something to do with what I see as the state of our “United” States.

Is Dr. Dao of the United Airlines incident a hero – or a victim? Did he behave in a manner in which I would want my child, or my neighbor to behave? Did the airlines behave in a manner I would expect from a successful service provider? Is the customer ALWAYS right? Did Dao respect authority, attempt to negotiate a reasonable solution, or did he behave like a child when confronted by burly law enforcement officers? Did he concern himself in any way with the needs of the other passengers to get to their destinations on time?

Nope. It was all about him.

“That’s OK, I’ll take the $800, let that crazy guy stay in his seat.” – said NO ONE.

But Dao wasn’t the only one thinking about himself.  It’s hard for me to believe that one person on that United flight saw what was happening and didn’t step up to say “That’s OK, I’ll take the $800, let that crazy guy stay in his seat.” Lots of people objected (you can hear them), but no one was willing to make a sacrifice and surrender their own seat.  Not one person.

Lost at AirportTravel is never easy.  Typically we have to deal with cramped spaces, tight deadlines, and people who aren’t…well…us.  I’m not judging, I’m just observing. I’ve been the person sitting in my seat watching someone else’s boarding nightmare  (wrong seat, no overhead bin space, etc.) – but that confusion and impatience has never broken down to a physical encounter and  I’d like to think that logic would prevail before it got to that. It’s important to understand that sometimes life isn’t fair and we don’t always get our way.

Despite the fact that what happened to the doctor will ultimately have a positive effect on the travel industry, his behavior does not warrant poor victimhood and the possibility of being paid millions of dollars for a problem he created himself. Yes – the situation was a mess, the Chicago airport police were unnecessarily rough with the uncooperative doctor, but he was refusing to comply – which, as most people know, is a sure way to piss off an authoritarian on a mission, right or wrong.

If a cop asks me to do something, I comply –because I understand that the situation is going to have a far better outcome if I do.

Good solutions have been offered for future problems related to seating availability. When people check in, ask them privately if they’d be willing to give up their seat for compensation or give them an option to include their willingness as part of their electronic boarding details. It’s much easier to get volunteers privately than it is publicly. And, by all means, do it before you load them on the plane and give them “ownership” of their seat.

Airliner SunsetWas this injustice? United’s reasons were lame, but after protracted discussions, time spent, and offers to everyone on the plane, United followed a procedure that led to asking the Dr. to give up his seat. When he didn’t, they were required (on behalf of all the waiting passengers) to do something about it. They may not have done the right thing, but reading the full story clearly shows that Dr. Dao could have also handled himself differently.

I was raised to respect authority. If a cop asked me to do anything, I would comply – not only because I had nothing to hide, but because I understood that the situation was going to have a far better outcome if I did. I also recognized that being a cop is a tough job in which the threat is constant and the risks are high – why would I want to complicate that?

I was also raised to be aware of the people around me – to move my car out of the road if it stalled, or let others go ahead if I couldn’t find my ticket.  Unfortunately, what I see in this event is that people no longer believe in the “collective.” For all the surrounding passengers it was all about me, my selfie, and my Schadenfreude.  Perhaps if the flight had been truly “united,” everyone would have worked together to solve the problem. 

Say farewell to doing things for the “greater good.”

As usual, this brings me to parenting. Do you want to raise a child who, when confronted with an unsatisfactory situation throws a socially disruptive tantrum and gets into a physical argument with you (which is typical in a toddler, but not so acceptable in a teen)? Don’t we want to teach our children to “use their words” and to express themselves without arching their backs and flailing about? Once flailing, when they smack their hand on the wall, is it our fault for upsetting them, or their fault for behaving uncontrollably?

Tantruming babyAs my dad used to say, “Every once in a while a blind squirrel finds a nut.” and in this case, thanks to Dr Dao’s childish behavior, the airlines will find better ways handle their seat-filling problems. Nonetheless, despite the value of this lesson, I’d still rather live in a world where reasonable people negotiate satisfactory solutions, and selfish behavior is not rewarded.

As we examine the events of the United flight, let’s think of them in the context of our own citizenship and our children’s behavior. Would we be proud that our child forced authorities to physically remove him from an airplane – or would we be prouder that he verbally appealed (or had the flight crew verbally appeal) to the rest of the flight (even in desperation) to find a more reasonable solution – even if the most reasonable solution was to deplane with dignity and get every concession possible from the airline?

What do you think?

Patriotic FamilyDo it by raising great children.  A “great” country needs great citizens… and building great citizens begins with focused and responsible parenting. Here are 5 ways that I believe patriotic parents can raise intelligent, inspired and involved citizens who are truly the key to making America great again.

TELL THE TRUTH

Kit KatIn most homes, truth is not a relative thing. Either your child wrote on the wall with crayon or he didn’t. Either your kid hit someone at school or not. And, by the way, “Who ate my Kit Kat bar?” These are issues that need to be addressed directly. What we do with the answers, is what parenting is all about.

Clearly, our goal is to encourage our children to tell us the truth, but how can we do that when they’re afraid they’ll get in trouble?

Justice ScalesMy parents allowed my sister and me a mechanism that would encourage discussion and value truth. If we confessed to having done something that was “trouble” worthy, we would be given an option to confess free of an anger-driven, unfair, possibly-painful punishment.   Once we opened the discussion with a mea culpa, we were allowed to explain what happened, why it had happened, and then we would have a conversation about why it wasn’t going to happen again. This openness allowed us to trust our parents and to recognize that they valued truth more than the idea of just punishing us. We were disciplined, but without physical or psychological pain.

It’s also important not to lie to others in front of your children. Remember, kids are always listening so when you tell someone on the phone that you’d help, but your car is in the shop (when it’s not), you’re teaching your child to lie. Some of us don’t even notice our “white lies” anymore, but it only takes a couple of questions from your attentive toddler to realize you’re busted.

TAKE RESPONSIBILITY

Moses and CommandmentsThematically, this is very similar to telling the truth – but this is about “owning up.” I can remember being taught that a game wasn’t worth winning if you had to cheat to do so. That ethic seems to be fading (“just win, baby”), but with young kids in sports it’s important to teach them that being honest about that “close call” (a hand ball, out-of-bounds, missed tags, etc.) is a very good place to start.

Situations often arise between siblings that require one or the other, and eventually both, to step up and tell the truth. Teaching our children to “own” their actions is crucial to their ability to take responsibility as they get older.

I suspect that everyone I know has at some point said something unflattering about another person… only to have that statement find it’s way to that person and back to them. I was told “Don’t ever say something about another person that you wouldn’t be willing to say to their face.” Although it’s not always wonderful, when those statements come back at us, there is a certain peaceful clarity to “owning up” and admitting the truth to that person’s face. Those situations often lead to wonderfully honest discussions.

DO UNTO OTHERS

Yep. The Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

When it comes to making friends and strengthening a society, the assumption that we’re all equal and that we all have feelings is probably a good starting point. This concept is obviously not very complicated, but teaching your child to empathize is not as easy as it might seem. Sure, you can ask “How would you feel if someone did that to you?” but the point of asking that question is to press your child to actually feel as though someone did it to them. This requires a little more parental focus – and this is an important lesson – so take the time.

GIVE BACK

There’s not much a toddler can reasonably do to “give back” to society, but there are certainly a lot of things that patriotic parents can do to model service to others. Whether it’s simply being sure to remember cupcakes for the class event (and involving your child in the process) or going with you when you perform charity work (participating in food, blood, or clothing drives), your children will benefit from your example.

Be a blood donor. I used to take my kids with me. Sometimes they sat on my lap, sometimes they just came along for the Oreos (my main motivation). Regardless, the process reduced their fear of needles and taught them the value of doing something meaningful for strangers. Easy. We get our blood for free.

STAY HEALTHY

Patriotic RunnersOur country is not going to be great again unless it’s populated by healthy people. The older I get the more I appreciate this fact. Eating and exercise habits begin when we’re young. I am a yo-yo weight kind of guy. Last year my weight was fine, this year I’m up fifteen. They say bodies are made in the kitchen and not in the gym. I believe that to be true – and habits for our children are formed in our kitchens.

Do what you can to teach your children about the value of healthy foods and exercise. At 60+ I’m still playing softball (not exactly a shape game, I’ll admit), but throughout our children’s youth they saw parents who made a point of getting off the couch and getting things done – whether it was coaching their teams, or planting gardens, or going to the beach.

This is the ultimate grass-roots campaign.  If you’re inclined to help build a strong society, filled with focused, happy, patriotic and productive citizens, these five things are the ways in which I’d endeavor to do it.  I’m not counting on any politicians to do this job – it’s just too important.

What do you think?

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.

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.

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.

 

HappyIsPerfectGrayThey say “nobody’s perfect,” and they’re right. Perfection is a myth.

Really.

The problem is, that if we look at Instagram, Facebook, or other social media postings, it might appear that a lot of people have really perfect lives.

What does that say to our kids? The digital natives who will follow in our footsteps as long as their GPS supports the direction we’re going. Will they feel badly about their “imperfection,” and with whom will they share those feelings?

I’m usually pretty comfortable with social media. I don’t really see it as a threat to people who understand how to interact face to face. More and more however, our youngsters are killing themselves because they can’t live up to the perfection that their propagandizing friends project.

Hopefully, your kid isn’t “different.” According to the Megan Meier Foundation (An organization whose mission is to promote awareness, education, and positive change in response to the issues surrounding bullying, cyberbullying, and suicide), “Among overweight adolescents, 61% have received mean or embarrassing posts online and 59% have received mean texts, e-mails or instant messages.” But, that’s not really a problem, ’cause there’s an app for that!

By downloading the app “Facetune” by APK we can slim ourselves down to meet that perfection standard without a problem. That’s right — why deal with reality, when we can show our friends something completely different?

Got a skin problem? No problem, there’s an app for that too! Use Facetune again, or go buy “Acne” by Modiface, both will clean up your skin as quickly as you can say microdermabrasion. Did you always wish you had blue eyes? No problem, you can change those in your photos too — no need to wear those troublesome contact lenses.

Today, it’s as much as an augmented free world, as it is a brave new one.

We’d all like to live in an ideal world, but that’s just not what life is about. So how can we condition our children for reality and keep their feet on the ground?

Give Them a Sense of Self

We can teach them that they are “good” by setting boundaries for them. Starting at an early age, it’s important to teach kids that following the rules (or living up to parental expectations) makes them “good” children. It’s often as easy as praising them (honestly) when they are behaving properly, or ambushing them with compliments like “I think you’re a good person,” or “I appreciate it when you neaten your room.” These doses of appreciation give kids an inner sense of “goodness” that strengthens them against the surface truths of social media.

When they get their first phone or online account, have an honest conversation with them about the pitfalls of social media, and teach them to be skeptical. By giving them some objectivity, we can teach them to question the images they see in their social sphere and gain a perspective from it. Make a confidentiality agreement and encourage them to discuss their observations with you. Understand the etiquette of social media and discuss boundaries with them. I was surprised to learn that it was bad when I “liked” something on the page of one of their “friends.”

Teach Them to Be Truthful

I was always uncomfortable keeping secrets. I would worry about being found out and getting in trouble. My parents gave me an out by saying, “If you ever do anything that you think might get you in trouble, and you come talk to us about it before we discover it on our own, we will not punish you.” That made sense, and it always resulted in an honest conversation about how to avoid doing it again. My parents called that an Armistice, and at its most basic, gave me, and my kids, the ability to believe in justice, and gave us hope that “cheaters never prosper.”

Give Them a Perspective About Others

I don’t know how many times my wife and I have had to say to our kids, “The only person whose behavior you can control is you !!”

There are many disappointments in life, and young people don’t make that any easier when they attack each other’s weak spots. When someone posts false information, or says something that causes a child to be humiliated, it’s important to help our children understand how to control the way they react to those feelings. The best thing to do is to teach our child to control their reaction, because the behavior of insensitive people is usually more their problem than ours. Why give the bully the satisfaction of knowing they’ve gotten to you?

Reaffirm your child’s goodness: “You are an intelligent, loyal, and friendly person. You tell the truth, you care about your family. That person has a real problem if they’re being mean to you!” Either your child will agree (as they cry in your arms), or they will confess as to why it is the other kid was really being mean. Either way, it’s a win-win.” In this way we script our children with a self-affirming pep talk that they can use to protect themselves from those who attack their imperfections at any time.

Be Honest and Loving at Home

Nobody’s perfect. Nobody lives perfectly, and, certainly, nobody parents perfectly.
As I believe my cab driver should know where he or she is going, so I believe our children should know that we are confident in our roles as their parents. Confident parents are able to listen to and value the opinions of their children. With teenagers, “My way or the highway.” is not a successful tactic. A child on social media is forming an identity — often right before our eyes. They are sensitive to the opinions of others, and, whether they like it or not, their parent’s opinions still matter. By being loving, fair, and firm, we create a home for our children that is safe and reliable. This place where they are valued and respected by parents who listen, and explain, gives them very solid footing out in the world.

Ultimately, making our children comfortable with themselves (and their reality) is the best way to protect them from the feelings of inadequacy that the “perfection” of others can cause.  Despite the perceptions that they may be getting from social media, it’s critical that we teach them that life is full of imperfection.  Showing them how we deal with it, keeps them from being threatened by the propaganda of others.

After all, happy is truly as perfect as any of us will ever get.

This blog originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

vectorstock_3042159We’re evolving – all of us – and so is our world, or should I say “our worlds” as each of us is surrounded by our own experience.

As society has shifted away from the “good ‘ol days” (a “Madmen” episode filled with smoke and sexism), we dads have had to pick up a bit more of the parenting load.

My father used to come home to a ready dinner, a relatively content wife, and two smiling, freshly-washed children.  And, even though my mom worked hard serving us and the community, my dad was the king of his castle.

That was that.

My pop worked hard, and when it came to imparting wisdom, he was compassionate, loving and focused. My schoolwork and social life were just not part of his purview. He and my mother had a good partnership; they found an odd balance between common sense and criticism, as in “How could you be so dumb as to not have thought of that?”

When I became a dad, I lived in a modified version of my childhood. As I’ve written before, we’re products of our parents; often dealing with the residue of their individual personalities and their generation as a whole as we navigate our lives, and because our society changes, so must our parenting styles.

I think I saw my father cry twice.  In my childhood, if a coach or player cried at a news conference, they would have been branded a “sissy” – which was, and probably still is code for “not a man.”  My kids see me cry every time we watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Sometimes I even cry because I’m moved by a commercial (you know the one, daughter grows up in the passenger seat of the car – drives off to college).

Although I wasn’t taking my kids to doctor’s appointments, or buying them clothes, I fulfilled my role as the “man of the house” (as a guy in my generation would).  I did “guy” things. I fixed stuff, changed bulbs, carried the “baby bag,” I had the cars serviced, fixed the computers, did the science projects, drove carpools, coached teams, wiped away some tears, and even shared some of my own.

vectorstock_1010664I don’t think it was women who kept dads from being more involved. I think it was society. An interesting source for this possibility is defined by the Masculinity Index, a measurement created by sociologist Geert Hofstede that “describes the degree to which masculine values like competitiveness and the acquisition of wealth are valued over feminine values like relationship building and quality of life.” On the scale, Japan is the most “masculine” country at 95, while the U.K. and Germany tie at 66, the U.S. scores a 62, France a 43, Spain a 42, and Sweden an 8. For me, however, it’s not so much about the “global” aspects of the index as it is the way it applies to my personal “world.”

In the early years of our marriage, I found myself perpetuating concepts born of my social “masculinity.” It would have been quite acceptable to describe my wife as a “ball and chain,” my kids as “rug rats,” and to believe that paying attention to injury made me a “pussy.”  My ego would be upset if JoAnn disagreed with me in public. Over the years, and through my wife’s brilliant use of logic (like “Am I a ball and chain?” “Are our kids a pain in the ass?”) I was led to evolve away from those old “standards.”

Today, there are many contributing factors as to why fathers are more involved. In addition to the fact that more moms are pursuing out-of-home careers, it has become professionally accepted for dads to prioritize their “Dadness” and carry their share of the load (a “share” that should be defined by each set of parents on their own). Happily, we dads have benefited by this change through being involved in every aspect of our children’s lives, as well as through the acceptance of our more sensitive “feminine side” (like being allowed to express fear, or truly appreciate musical comedy).

And we’re all the better for it.

Most importantly though, aside from the re-distribution of labor, I think the basic rules of parenting remain largely the same. Both parents are involved in the process of setting an example, and nothing teaches children more than the way, and comfort with which, roles are shared in the house. Each of us needs to decide what works best for our family.

In my marriage it was JoAnn’s job to give our children a soft landing place, and it was mine to teach them that the world outside our “nest” wasn’t necessarily a friendly place. Of course, we weren’t stuck in those roles; we traded off as necessary. But today our children know exactly what they’ll get from each of us. We’re both about appreciation and love, but JoAnn is their go-to for compassion, and I’m all about common sense – without the criticism.

You see, I am evolving.

There are very few things that I find “absolute” in parenting. What works for one family may not work for another… except for the three strategies I am about to share with you. These primarily concern multi-child households. They worked really well with our family and I believe they will work equally as well for yours!

Kid of the Day

Aaron3superman_83liteAny parent with multiple children will mention certain annoying issues that arise constantly, like who gets to hold the remote control, or who chooses the music in the car, or who gets to sit “shotgun.”

As kids get older, it’s harder to offer decisions based on chronological age, or current level of politeness. So courtesy of Jerry and Carol in the long proven tradition of handed-down parenting tips, I bring you “Kid of the Day.”

It’s quite easy. Get a calendar and mark the alternating days with each child’s name. Show it to your kids.

You will never have to do that again.

From the moment we implemented “Boy of the Day” our three sons managed that calendar with the absolute precision of Swiss watchmakers. In fact, they knew the calendar so well that they traded future dates and remembered them. Most importantly, neither JoAnn nor I ever had to decide who was sitting in the front seat again.

One Divides, One Chooses

RCEHalloweenI have an older sister. There was always a tussle regarding the fairness of a split when it came to a piece of gum, or Halloween candy, or generally anything we had to share. As a parent, I was witnessing the same bickering among our kids. Then one day someone said, “Why is that so complicated? Take yourself out of the middle! One divides and one chooses.”

Wow – so basic. One child, knowing that the other will ultimately get to choose his or her piece, divides the stick of gum, candy bar or can of soda as carefully and equally as possible. They both know that when the other chooses a piece, the person dividing is going to get what’s left.

It works like a charm. Occasionally, you might even notice the “chooser” selecting the smaller piece to reward the attempt at fairness by the divider.

Reciprocal Birthdays

Kids all love their birthdays. They get parties, presents, and lots of attention. But what about their siblings? They usually just get to eat birthday cake and help clean up the wrapping paper. Our friends, Carole Ann and Marco, shared this brilliant strategy with us many years ago:

vectorstock_1038990When your child is having a birthday, have that child give a gift to each sibling. Not a re-gift of something they got, but an actual gift of their choosing. Encourage them to think about what gift each sibling would really like, give them a price limit per gift, and teach them the joy of generosity. If possible, have them explain why they gave that specific gift to each sib. They usually know what to give much better than we would. In this way, everyone ends up looking forward to all the birthdays.

In each of these solutions the common threads are collaboration and harmony. These are wonderful opportunities to teach our children that there are ways to be “fair,” and that rules can be comforting. Our children are now grown, but if it came down to it they could probably tell us who would be Kid of the Day today.

None of these were our ideas. We were lucky enough along the way to have friends who shared their “lessons learned”. I hope these can be helpful to you and encourage you to pass them on.