Posts

Over the years our children have come home and said things like, “You know, Eric’s family watches TV during dinner.” To which we would respond. “That’s nice, but that’s not how we do it in our family.”

Our response served two purposes; one was to plant our flag with a solid “no,” and the other was to indicate that we make the “choice” to do what we do (as if we considered watching TV during dinner and decided it wasn’t for us). A side benefit, or course, is that we were also defining our family as a unit; essentially saying “You’re part of this family, and we have different expectations.

Our choices. Our values. Our family.

This may seem obvious, but these days one can’t take anything for granted.

Sadly, we are in a time when disrespect and bad behavior appear to be rewarded. Just recently I watched a video of a young girl on a subway defying a number of reasonable requests from a very calm policeman to remove her foot from the seat across from hers. For some reason (she said it was her “comfort”), she refuses to move her foot and, after repeatedly challenging and calling the cop names, he forcibly removes her from the train where he is berated by expletive spewing bystanders. Some claimed this was an unnecessary use of force, but why would anyone choose to simply not move their foot, let alone challenge a policeman (who is literally doing his job)?

After the officer told her that she needed to leave the train (prior to having to physically remove her), the girl actually said “I paid money to be on this train.” – as if she had the right to put her dirty foot on someone else’s seat because she now owned the train.  Nonetheless, after enforcing the law, the cop is criticized and this young girl is the “victim” even though she brought the entire incident upon herself.

Who raised this child?

If this seventeen-year-0ld was a toddler and you were her parent would you reward her for her disrespect and blame yourself for having high expectations?

That’s not how we do it in our family.

Ironically, even our role models no longer set a good example. Sadly, I have to put our current President at the top of the list. In a recent opinion piece “Don’t Let Dishonest Don Replace Honest Abe” Neil J. Young writes “With his daily doses of deceit, Trump is undermining the notion of truth and waging war on the foundations of American democracy. As Trumpism becomes normalized, we risk abandoning the norms that have long guided American public life…” The examples of verbal attacks, name-calling, and outright misrepresentations coming from the highest office in our land are a detriment to all of us – even if some of us believe that Donald Trump is accomplishing goals and doing a good job. In fact, these elements of his behavior (not including his sexism, regressive policies, and poorly chosen teammates) should be enough to discredit him as a leader.

Would this conduct be acceptable at your dinner table?

That’s not how we do it in our family.

What can we tell our kids about it? How can we explain that the man who should be a role model is, in fact, a self-obsessed bully. On a more immediate level, how can they deal with similar personalities they might encounter in their daily lives?

Again, I retreat to the closed system that is our family – our simple group that operates according to a set of “norms” characterized by our values; kindness, courtesy, and truth. We teach our children to take responsibility for their actions and not blame others. We teach our children to tell the truth, even if it means we have to disappoint them and sit through an uncomfortable discussion so that they better understand our behavioral expectations.

I’m writing because I believe our children will become exposed to a lot of “not how our family does it” behavior and that they will have to make choices…

I’m not writing because I think I’m a perfect parent or a guy who has all the answers. I just know that our children will become exposed to a lot of “not how our family does it” behavior and that they will have to make choices about their values. Values are seeds that get planted at home, and the most important influences our children have come from us – their parents. What we do at home is far more important than what anyone does in the White House. If we, as parents behave respectfully toward each other, navigate the world with compassion and treat the people around us with respect, we will raise children who do the same. In my book, “Raising Children That Other People Like to Be Around” I used the anagram SMART to simplify the parenting process – starting with S – for Set an Example.

There are times when the value of Truth is more important than popularity. There will be times when our kids think we’re unreasonable because we hold fast to honoring a promise and keeping our word, but in the long run these are the pillars on which we and our children will stand and survive.

That IS how we do it in our family.

EmSonogramIf I could tell parents one thing, I would caution against thinking or emoting on behalf of their children. I would tell them that their young children don’t care if they are a working mom, or a stay at home dad, or a traveling salesperson. Their children only know one type of mother or father – and they are it – whether they are single, divorced, gay, straight, working or not. They are the definition of “parent” – and they have a responsibility to do the job and not make excuses based on their situation or what they believe their child is feeling or thinking.

RaisingChildrenFinalFrontCvrWebI truly appreciate the reviews my book gets on Amazon.com. I think the feedback is instructive and important. A recent review notes that the reader was turned off by a perceived “traditional two parent perspective” and that my book “does not address modern families in their many permutations.”

When my editors and I sat down to finalize the content in the book, we were very aware that it was largely based on my experience as a father in a two-parent household. Far from NOT recognizing this situation, we saw the vastness of trying to speak to all types of parents. We determined that I should write what I know in a mindful and practical way.

I concluded, for example, that the S.M.A.R.T. principles laid out in the book (Set an example, Make the rules, Apply the rules, Respect yourself, and Teach in all things) are applicable to EVERY type of parent.
AskDadCleanNo matter the structure of your particular family, it’s absolutely essential that you set a proper example for a child – whether you are a father, mother, step mother, step father, uncle, aunt, best friend, or whatever. I find that parents often believe that a change in their circumstances (their marriage, their dating life, their employment) affects the way that they parent their children. But no matter what happens in our lives, as parents we must always remember that our children are looking to us as examples. If we handle life with grace, gratitude, and kindness, so will they.

In setting an example, we are asked to define our values. Those values don’t change because we live in a blended family, or because our dad is single. When we work to make the rules, it doesn’t matter whether we’re a two parent family or not.

IMG_2734Applying rules gets a little more complicated because we may not be the only ones guiding our children through the process. Nonetheless, it’s important that we think of ourselves as team managers. Although we can only be responsible for the way our children are treated when they are with us, it doesn’t hurt to communicate our expectations with everyone involved in their care.

If there is no communication between parents, I’d ask the parties to return to setting an example (of how to communicate like adults) and attempt to do what’s in the best interest of the child. If that doesn’t work, I’d suggest parenting as best you know how – because you’re the only person whose behavior you can control.

No matter your circumstances, it is unlikely that your child will respect you if you don’t respect yourself. Respecting yourself is transferrable no matter what type of family you’re living in. Mom is mom, dad is dad – we have our expectations, and if our children fail to meet them, it is up to us to let those children know how we feel about it.

BE FIRMMy wife’s mother used to say “People will treat you the way you allow them to.” This goes for your children too. If you let them get away with back talk, disobedience, or other forms of disrespect, you’ll end up with uncontrollable children. Period. So, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in a blended family, or a single parent, or a gay parent, or whatever – the need to believe that you are worthy of respect is absolutely crucial.

When it comes to teaching, the bottom line is we’re all teachers. Every person our children encounter has the ability to teach them something, whether it’s the mailman who is kind and reliable, the grocery clerk who reminds you that you forget one of your bags, their teacher, your best friends, your spouse, your significant other, or whoever. Our job is to teach our children to navigate the world and, no matter who else is offering lessons, it’s our responsibility as parents, or step parents, or half-parents, or foster parents to be confident in the things we teach them.

It’s true that I’ve had the benefit of parenting with a wonderful partner, and my children have benefited from the consistency of a two parent household. But there are plenty of children out there who have benefited from common sense values and principles – whether their parents read my book or not.

Believe in yourself. Believe in your children. You will not be disappointed.

Here are five quick tests:

vectorstock_11358

Do you…let your children boss you around?   (Do they say things like “Where’s my breakfast?”)

Do you…make excuses for your children? (“She would have said ‘Thank you.’ but she was too busy playing.”)

Are you afraid your child won’t love you if you say “No”?

Have you ever let your child tell you to “Shut up” without consequence?

Are you worried about whether or not your children “like” you? (and I don’t mean on Facebook.)

Wimpy Parenting is actually quite common, which is one of the reasons I wrote my book “Raising Children That Other People Like to be Around.”  I know that some of you may object to my use of the word “wimpy”, but, let’s face it, you know what I mean.  Besides, I grew up when sticks and stones could break my bones but words could never hurt me – so I encourage you to not be distracted by my language and hear the message.

Today, parenting has become a “profession” and, as a result, has become the focus of great examination and angst.  Sure, people always worried about their children, their health, their happiness, and their comfort, but today’s kids are coddled in ways that shortchange our children and teach them dependence rather than independence.  When I was young and bored, it was not my parent’s responsibility to entertain me.  In fact, my mom used to say “Go bang your head against the wall until you can think of something to do.”  Pretty concise don’t you think?

vectorstock_1943457I believe in simplification.  The more “power” we give our children, the more complicated our lives become.  If every decision requires a consultation like “Do you want to go to school?” or “Is it OK if mommy and daddy go out tonight?’ we are really complicating our lives.

It’s up to our children to fit into our lives – not the other way around.

Yes, having children changes many things, but those are things that we as parents change voluntarily (no more sleeping late (gotta coach the team), no more swearing (the echo machine is in the room), no more wild parties (that one’s self explanatory), etc.).

Ultimately, it’s our job as parents to lead, and it’s our children’s job to follow.

Being a Wimpy Parent takes its toll on you.  You can’t make plans.  You can’t go to restaurants.  You can’t live your life because your child or children dominate it – and what kind of life is that?

The most ironic thing about being a Wimpy Parent is that children want us to be in control.  They are not equipped to have the responsibility that we give them by letting them be our boss.  It’s just not fair – they have far less life experience than we and they are much more comfortable being led than they are being asked to make decisions.

Just try it.

vectorstock_745873Have the confidence to take control.  Team up with your mate, or parenting partner, or best friends, or whomever it takes to give you strength and start making decisions for your children.  Depending on their age, they’ll most likely resist a little, but if you stand firm you’ll find that a lot of the “noise” in your life disappears – and suddenly you have a peaceful home.

I’ve said many times that it’s “easier to lighten up than it is to tighten up” which means that your children can EARN greater decision making responsibility as time goes on, but being a pushover from the very beginning is no way to run a family.

Trust me.

Children are not as fragile as we might think.  They live through the curveballs with which we present them.  They change schools, they make new friends, their feelings get hurt, and yet they learn to love music, they laugh at funny things, and they love their moms and dads.

The process is designed to succeed.

Which brings us back to simplification.  We had four simple rules with our kids:

CasualFamily

  • Be truthful.
  • Be respectful.
  • Be generous.
  • Be kind.

Concentrate on teaching your children those values and they will most likely become people that other people like to be around.

 

I meant to write this post last week, but…

ExcuseMaking

…….the dog ate it.

As a world-class procrastinator, I’ve become pretty friendly with the concept of a decent excuse. But as the son of hard-working and “absolute” parents, I’ve also learned not to accept my own excuses in bulk.

When it comes to parenting, I believe that the more excuses we make for our children, the more excuses we will make for our children.

Over the years JoAnn and I have observed many parents who excuse a toddler’s behavior with phrases like “He was born that way.” or “She just hates that color red.”  We’ve also observed these same parents making a lifetime of excuses as their children grow older — “His teacher doesn’t like him” or “She accidentally put that candy in her purse, she wasn’t stealing it!”

This pattern of excusing can begin very early.  It can start in the crib when we put our children down for the night. But then the hall light is on.  Or it’s not on.  Or our music is too loud.  Or they miss us.

CryingBabyAll of these are excuses that we recast as explanations.  We’re trying to excuse the fact that our wonderful child is starting to run the show.  Along these lines, sleep training is often the first big parenting challenge.  Even if a diaper is recently changed, a good burp has been had, and a favorite onesie is being worn, rationalizing our excuse-making is easier than listening to some whining or crying.  And that’s the real problem with excuses.  They’re so easy to come up with!

Later on, “enabling” our children to behave poorly says that we approve of their behavior.  When parents laugh because their child has just mouthed off like an inebriated sailor, this tells the child to do it some more.

That may seem obvious.  What may not be obvious is the societal context.  These days, as long as an excuse can be concocted almost any behavior is deemed worthy of one.  What motivated the Boston Marathon bombers?  Was it their bad childhood?  Did they have to share a room?  Frankly, I don’t care.

SickKidReasons for excusing bad behavior may seem valid, but we should be aware how these can become scripts kids use when they simply want to get their way.  A tummy ache might become an excuse for two full days of watching television.  At some point, we have to decide when the excuse is no longer valid and get rid of that script once and for all.  Some problems, especially those that are health-related, should be evaluated immediately.  But if calling the doctor clearly isn’t necessary, we as parents have to see the difference between a valid reason and an all-too-easy excuse.  The default for JoAnn and me – and for our parents before us — was “no fever, no vomit, no mucus, – you’re going to school!”  Obviously, if a problem persisted we got help.  But we started with the belief that our family was generally healthy.  My mother used to say, “Children don’t get headaches,” and that was that.  It pretty much sent me back to the drawing board when I wanted to complain.

Children, of course, have good days and bad.  But even in the midst of a bad day we can remind them that they are responsible for their behavior.  An excuse like, “You didn’t get enough sleep last night” shouldn’t eliminate legitimate expectations.  In fact, it should allow us to be very clear about bedtime later that evening.  (By the way, children will never admit they are tired.)

JoAnn and I had a procedure in restaurants when our toddler was crying and people around us were glaring.  We’d check that his clothes weren’t bothering him.  A scratchy tag?  An allergic reaction to the new soap?  Then we’d attempt to busy him with food, a distraction, or even a pacifier.  If that didn’t work, we’d remove him from the environment and try to talk him down.  If that didn’t work, we’d be prepared to say, “If you can’t behave, we’ll have to take you home.”  If the behavior continued, we’d take him from the restaurant quickly and unceremoniously.

pancakesThis is when the sacrificing element of parenting comes in.  We had to be ready to leave our meal in order to teach this lesson.  JoAnn really taught me the importance of following through, even when piping hot pancakes with melting butter and maple syrup had just been put under my nose.

Grocery stores are also wonderful locations for “Lifus Interruptus” — when you have to interrupt your normal behavior to prove a point.  On those occasions when our kids just would not  leave the rolls of paper towels on the shelf, we would threaten to take them home.  If they continued the bad behavior, we had to carry out the threat, even though we’d just spent the last half hour filling the cart.

GradKidsThe essential truth is this. If you make excuses, your children will make excuses.  So be firm, be fair, be consistent.  Fewer excuses lead to higher expectations.  Higher expectations help children take responsibility and understand how they fit into the world – and that’s what makes them children that other people like to be around.