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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.

Dadnaaronsleep_81liteMany parents lament the fact that their children are growing up. We all yearn for those cuter times when our children could be held in our arms. For JoAnn and me, those delicious hugs from our children are now marked by facial hair and fashionable feminism. Watching our children grow has always been the physical embodiment of the passage of time, but at this point it would sure be nice to slow things down.

Any of us who has ever attended a high school or college reunion knows what it’s like to confront the passage of time and yearn for younger days. The expression “you can’t go home again” has probably entered our thoughts.

But you can go home again – if you’re willing to accept that things change and that change is as capable of being good as it is of being bad.

VVSPostcard60scropI serve on the Board of Trustees for my former high school, Verde Valley School, a very small and unique educational institution nestled within the world-famous red rocks of Sedona, Arizona.

This rural school was founded in 1948 when Sedona was known mostly for its natural beauty. It was rumored in those days that we were in the “spiritual center of the northern hemisphere,” but for a hundred and twenty-six teenage students, hormones and natural beauty trumped spirituality on a regular basis.

What was unique about the school was its focus on anthropology and human relations. As part of the curriculum, each school year students were sent to be immersed in another culture for a month. As a thirteen-year-old freshman, I was embedded in the home of a Hopi family on the Second Mesa of the Hopi Reservation. The house had no heated or running water and the bathroom was an outhouse on the edge of the mesa. That was educational.

VVS_0024fix2Those of us who’d attended in the fifties, sixties and seventies would talk of the unique closeness of community, our memorable experiences, and the various “characters” we’d all met while there. And, because today’s school wasn’t what we’d experienced, we’d also mourn the loss of what we believed to be the school’s essence. We felt that we couldn’t go home again. That all was lost.

Returning last week for a meeting of the Board I had a chance to dive back into the ethos of the school – that elusive, magical quality that we had thought had been lost in the “modernity” of our once-rustic environment. Sure, the kids couldn’t ride in the back of pickup trucks anymore, and the school no longer needed its own student-manned fire department. But the energy to learn, the curiosity that oozes from high school students was all still there. Whether I was watching activity on the soccer field, basketball court, or riding ring (yes, the school has always had a barn – but now it’s called an “Equestrian Program”), everyone was engaged, respectful and grateful for this rare educational opportunity.

VVSChapel15cropSmallIn the students and faculty I saw similarities between the nineteen seventies and now. I realized that the surface changes, like coats of paint, did not affect the nature and mission of the school at its core.

I’ve concluded that we can go home again – if we’re willing to accept that life is change, and that evolution doesn’t happen at the expense of the past…it builds on it.

We’ve seen it in our children. The circumstances of their lives are different. They no longer live at home, they consider our advice optional, and their life landscapes are dotted by smart phones, video games, and all sorts of new and different elements affecting quality of life. At their core, however, they are the people we raised them to be. Despite our deepest fears, our children bring their own optimism and curiosity to their pursuit of happy lives.

I’ve actually said things to my children like “In my day, we used to have to go to a library and look this up – we didn’t have the luxury of Googling on the internet.” My dad spent a lot more time on horses than I did. His father was born before the automobile.

Change is inevitable. Teaching our kids (and ourselves) to embrace, rather than fear change is one of the best gifts we can give them.

GreenFamHawaii2014Like Verde Valley School, our children will not lose sight of their core. Things around them may be different. They may have to repaint or rebuild some buildings. They may be broke for a bit, or sad for a bit, but their ingrained values, curiosity, and willingness to be flexible will always serve them, as I have learned mine serves me.

Change isn’t easy. It requires faith and flexibility – but in the long run the humanity we give our children, and each other, will serve us no matter what is happening in the world around us.