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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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

This is a great time of year for sports. We’ve just seen a great French Open, Stanley Cup Final, and NBA Final.

DodgerStadiumWhether you’re an athlete or not, sports offer real opportunities to teach values, focus, and tenacity.  As parents, even just watching sports with our children provides us all with many teachable moments.

Fairness
Sports is one of the few places where decisions are made instantaneously, and rules are applied absolutely. If a player’s foot is on the line, the ball is turned over. If the puck is thrown to the opposite end of the ice, it’s brought back for a face off in the offensive end of the rink.  If a ball bounces out of bounds in basketball, it changes hands.  A strike is a strike – and the umpire is always right.  Im many cases, we, as players disagree with these calls – but learning to live with them is an important part of the “game.”

Heroes Being Parents
Some people have criticized Golden State’s Steph Curry for bringing his two year old daughter, Riley, to his press conferences. Not only has this highlighted him as a calm and loving parent, but Riley’s managed to melt everyone’s heart and remind us all that even if we’re basketball’s MVP, our primary responsibility on Earth is to love and guide our young ones (as he does so well).

Meritocracy
EmBaller2
On the playground, away from parent coaches and organized activities, participation in sports really comes down to an outright meritocracy. As children, athletics often present us with our first opportunities to prove ourselves and our abilities. Ironically, athletics also present us with the realization that we may not be chosen first, or that our friends aren’t necessarily very nice when they’re competing. These are real feelings, and the sooner our kids learn to deal with them – to focus their frustration, and hone their competitive instincts — the better they will be able to deal with this type of adversity as they get older.

Handshakes
StanleyCupThin
One of the things I like most about hockey is the post-game lineup for handshakes – especially after a particularly hard-fought series (as we saw this week in Chicago). Despite the brutal competition and apparent anger that arises during the games, the winning team is forced to stop their immediate celebration in order to congratulate their opponents on their valor and the quality of their play. This goes for every player and coach on the team – who all dutifully line up behind their captain and share the humanity that lies at the base of their competition. The Stanley Cup is full of tradition, much of which my children have taught me to enjoy.

Chooser or Chosen?
When it comes time to pick teams on the playground, you are either a chooser or a chosen. Typically, the best athletes are given the honor of choosing and it’s clearly in their interest to select the most able player available. It doesn’t feel very nice to be chosen last… but it happens, and it happened to me as well as many others.

VVSBasketballHeightLineI recently attended a gathering of elementary school friends who came together to honor one of our classmates. This classmate had been a stellar athlete in our childhood – he was definitely a “chooser” – who, after thirty years as a coach, classroom teacher, and principal recently accepted the position of Superintendent of Schools for our childhood district. During our verbal tributes, one of our classmates pointed out that Steve, our honored friend, had always chosen him, despite his self-professed lack of athletic ability. In response, Steve explained that Stephen (our other classmate) had thanked him many years earlier “for always choosing me, so that I didn’t have to be last” and that having heard that  Steve was so touched that it changed his lifetime approach to teaching his students a more sensitive way to chose teams.

Being a “good sport” is something our children will carry with them for the rest of their lives.  Using sporting events is a wonderful way to create some perspective about the importance of winning, and to motivate conversations about competition, and fair play

Although sports is no longer the exclusive domain of Dads, this is a great occasion to wish a Happy Father’s Day to all the brave guys (and gals) who teach kids to deal with “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

louis-ckLITELouis C.K. jokes that airline passengers often complain about slow Internet while sitting in a tube hurtling through the sky at 400 miles per hour.

I am often frustrated by bad cell coverage, when 20 years ago I couldn’t call anyone from the car.

Sometimes I feel like I’d be a real dummy without my smart phone. My need for instant information is important.

Yep, I’m living my life “on demand.”

When I want to ask a question — I ask Siri or text a friend. When I want to communicate with my family, I go on our group text. If I want to see a movie, I order tickets. If I want to hear a song, I buy and download it right now. If it’s your birthday — you’ll get some virtual love from me — maybe even some virtual flowers.

This Thanksgiving I think I’m going to slow it all down.

I have the impression that we’re all so busy living our lives that we don’t stop to appreciate the fact that we have lives at all. Sure, many of us take time to have conversations, or practice the calm that can be our religion. But too often, I find myself moving from one event to another with barely time to grab a coffee or a sandwich. I believe this goes for my children as well.

Gratitude is a key element in defining a child that “other people like to be around,” and November is a wonderful month for laying of that gratitude groundwork. In two weeks most of us will get to look around a table and give thanks for the miracle that got us all here.

My wife is an excellent cook. I know this because I’m not getting any thinner. I also know this because we’re usually sold out at Thanksgiving. Yep — everyone comes to our house, and we wouldn’t have it any other way because

Thanksgiving is perhaps my favorite holiday. It has no religious undertones, it reprises our Pilgrim predecessors who, in one of their last acts of magnanimity, invited some natives over to celebrate how lucky they all were to have corn.

So what’s Thanksgiving about today? It would appear to be about thanks (after all it’s in the name), but mostly I think it’s about teeing up Black Friday and maybe a four day weekend. Sure, there are sporting events, and even the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but where is the thanks? How do we express our gratitude?

Here are some simple options:

  • TGivingTablePut all cellphones away before, during, and after the meal.
  • Take a moment — ask everyone to be quiet – and to focus on the wondrous things for which we have this chance to be grateful.
  • Ask each member of the group to describe one thing for which they are grateful.
  • Remember those who came before us (our families, not necessarily the Pilgrims) and create a sense of continuity with past Thanksgivings.
  • Thank everyone who contributed to the remarkable meal. (I hate to have to write that, but there are people who “forget” to do this).

Other options for “feeling” the day:

  • Volunteering-is-Great-for-TeensParticipate in a program with your kids and serve Turkey dinner to the homeless. (Many churches run these programs.)
  • Initiate a team project at home – include your kids in dinner prep, or gather toys or clothes to be given to charity.
  • Bathe your animals (just because it’s an act of giving (and not an easy one))
  • Call or visit a relative or close friend with whom you haven’t spoken in a long time.
  • Do something nice for a stranger.

We are surrounded by miracles every day — from pasteurization to pacemakers, from instant messages to innovative ideas. The gifts are all there, it’s just up to us to see them…

… and to say thanks.

emorylogoWe have a daughter at Emory University, home of our country’s most advanced Ebola treatment epicenter. People ask us if we’re worried and frankly, we’re not. We’re not good with panic.

Teaching our children to remain calm, find the facts, and react correctly to changing developments are among a parents’ most important jobs. But we must also remain calm ourselves!

DFW TaxiI’ve mentioned a number of times that, as a father, I compare myself to a taxi driver guiding his children through life. In their early years, they ride in the back of my cab and I show them the best ways to get from place to place. They don’t’ have much input with regard to the route, but they’re certainly welcome to make observations and to discuss things we see along the way.

As the kids get older, they may chime in about traffic, and we can share some route-based decisions. I know that someday they will be driving their own vehicles, so I teach them to navigate while I’m still around as their safety net.

CautionSignEven though there are times when the cab is almost out of gas or the tires may burst, I avoid making them aware of those problems because it’s my job to make them comfortable enough to look out the windows and learn about the world.

As a parent, I always want my child to feel safe even if I’m a little worried (which is just about as much fear as I would show my children). I also know that the world is full of scary or dangerous things, some of which require everyday attention — like swimming pools, electricity, sharp edges, and plastic bags – while others are more conceptual (like disease, war, fire, and death).

Knowing that we’re not always around to offer reassurance, I believe we should give our children the following tools to comfort themselves:

  1. Be skeptical. Teach them not to believe everything that people tell them. Research the facts to avoid repeating dumb things. Ask your kids if they can give you an example of someone telling them something crazy that they knew was untrue. Tell them the story of Chicken Little.
  2. Know your source. Identify the people who like to spread news, especially bad news, and weigh the value of their information. Explain the concept of “drama” because most of what bothers tweens is drama – not substance. Teach them to avoid “bandwagoning” – becoming one of the dramatists.
  3. Pause to educate. Delay your reaction until you can find the facts. There are many places where information about the threat (or non-threat) of Ebola can be found. If your child asks, sit down at the computer with and find the facts.
  4. Remain calm. Teach them the dangers of panic. The world was full of smokers when I was young. One of them was a good friend who, while driving, lit a cigarette and accidentally dropped the match in his lap. His panic to find the ember and put it out was so extreme that he steered his car right off the road and into a tree. It was the panic that got him, not the match.
  5. Offer reassurance.. If something scares your child, use your strength and knowledge to teach away their fear. When I was little, I was afraid of the dark. My mother asked me if I wanted to stay afraid, or learn more about the dark. I wanted to learn more and, with my agreement, she told me to get in my closet and get comfortable. Once in the closet, she said “I’m going to close the door until there’s a sliver of light – will that be OK?” I meekly said “Yes.” And she closed the door to the sliver. She reminded me that I was safe, nothing had changed, and that there was nothing in the closet that could harm me. Then she asked if I thought I could sit in the closet with the door closed. “I guess so.” I said, and she closed the door the rest of the way. Once my eyes grew accustomed to the absolute darkness I could see that nothing had changed. There were no demons, and I was no longer afraid. My mom suggested that I just go to sleep… it would be a good way to kill some time if I was stuck in a dark place. Years later on a tour of Alcatraz, I was put in a solitary confinement cell for twenty minutes. Easy peasy. I took nap.

ignoranceinactionEbola is scary and it’s being talked about almost everywhere. When there’s danger, realistic precautions need to be taken. But there is a difference between teaching preparation for a tornado or an earthquake perhaps and worrying about a disease in a far off place.

My mother used to quote Goethe when she’d say, “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.”

Remember, panic is more contagious than Ebola – and probably more harmful.  Do your kids a favor, teach them to stay calm and check the facts.