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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?

NewbornWell. It happened.  We became grandparents at the end of December.

Of course, nothing went according to plan. We were expecting this grandson after The Holidays – in early January – right about now.  We were mentally preparing to attend a series of parties, eat without concern, and then buckle down into the New Year with excitement and anticipation for a wonderful new addition to our family.

As is often the case with parenting however… things rarely happen the way one expects.

New father holds son.The birth wasn’t easy.  August “Gus” Greenberg’s arrival required an emergency C-section, and a number of days in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), which one familiarly pronounces “nick-you.” This, of course, led to much angst for all concerned – but in the end our tough-as-nails daughter-in-law and our 8lb. 6oz. grandson are as hearty as we all expected and have been healthy and home for over a week now.

Throughout that time, we got to watch our son and his beloved wife perform as the perfect team. He had her back every step of the way and she was his #1 concern. Proof of this was the fact that he put his 6’3” frame on a cot in her room every night!

Once all of that initial concern began to fade I immediately went into a period of age-related navel gazing. I wasn’t the “parent” on the official documents. The new family wasn’t “mine” anymore. It became very apparent that the next generation was stepping up and I wasn’t in the middle of the action anymore. I had just been moved one table farther away from the dance floor.  Grandparenting.

beautiful grandmother admires babyMy lovely and patient wife JoAnn doesn’t seem to be as bothered by the age stuff. She’s on another planet – elevated there by the rapture she feels for this new baby boy. Although we vowed not to be too vocal, she’s being very generous with her experience and I believe our daughter-in-law appreciates it… at least I hope she does.

Times have changed, and frankly, it’s a miracle we survived our childhoods. Years ago I offered to lend the crib in our attic to a friend of mine who was becoming a father. When I came home, my wife put the kibosh on that plan. “Are you kidding?” she said, “We raised our kids in that crib!!” It turns out that our grandson will not be sleeping in that crib either. Apparently the slats are an unsafe distance from each other and like I said, it’s a miracle our kids (or any of us) survived our childhoods. Gus will have pre-warmed wipes, a sock that communicates his vitals by cellphone, and a car seat that looks like it was designed for the space shuttle.

Grandpa holds grandsonOur friends say that being Grandparents is the most wonderful thing in the world – and I believe them. I’ve held my lanky little blob of a grandson and stared into his calm and fresh face. I can’t wait until he offers up more than gas.

Meanwhile, there’s still been no decision on what he’s going to call us. Am I going to be Slick, Boompa, or just plain Grandpa? Is JoAnn going to be GiGi (Gardening Grandma), Grammy Jo, or something we haven’t even considered? Only time will tell – and ultimately we’ll be whatever works best for Mr. Gus.

In the bigger picture, Gus is a new bud developing on the Ben and Kelsie branch of our family tree. He has three uncles and an aunt, all of whom are going to help him to grow healthy and strong. He has an enormous fan club in St. Louis including his grandparents and great-grandparents. He is blessed in so many ways.

baby footDespite all this musing about getting older I have to say that this natural order of things is quite reassuring. As we travel from generation to generation this inevitable tide of reproduction and renewal is cause for hope and happiness. Sure, we screw up all the time, but in the end, the power of life itself seems to prevail. We are all truly blessed to be here right now.

By the way – have I told you that Gus is a genius?

I know a number of people who have toddlers that they describe as “difficult.”

CryingBabyThese children have been complicated from the start.  As tiny tyrants, they’ve spit out their food, pounded the table, or thrown tantrums unabated while their better-behaved siblings and/or parents sat by marveling at the insanity of it and not really knowing what to do.

In these moments of early hostage-taking, many paralyzed parents respond in an anything-to-make-it-stop type of way, resulting in positive reinforcement of both the bad behavior and the toddler’s “difference.”  Unfortunately, this emboldens the upstart and encourages future revolution. In essence, the rules don’t apply to this child – giving them a sense of being “above the law” – whether that law is civility, or just plain respect for others.

vectorstock_1943457Essentially, this child becomes a bully – a person who bosses their parents (or parent) around because their parents allow themselves to be bossed.

Which brings me to Donald Trump and the GOP.

When he first declared his candidacy, many in his party thought he was an anomaly, a child wanting attention that would eventually go away. But his behavior was nurtured by the encouragement of crowds and his misbehavior grew and grew. Name-calling, disrespect, lying, interrupting – all unacceptable practices in the public arena – were ignored, or excused.  So the bully got louder and stronger.

When Trump called Jeb a mama’s boy, Rubio “Little Marco,” and Cruz “Lyin’ Ted” the press and public were so appalled that they sat helpless and imposed no meaningful consequences. He wasn’t reprimanded by debate moderators, he wasn’t censured by the press, he was empowered and, ironically, his popularity grew! He continues to use the name “Crooked Hillary” when Politifact has shown her to be far more truthful than Trump is. What about those tax returns, the bankruptcies, the hypocritical accusations and all of the other special accommodations that are being made for him?  Is that just all O.K.?

TRUMPAngryIt must be because Donald’s a “difficult” child.  He’s used to getting his way and people are too afraid of his bad behavior to stop him. What’s worse is that, as an anointed leader, he’s giving voice to all the other insensitive, me-first children in our country.

I don’t think Trump can be saved. These are things we must teach our children when they are young.  There are remedies for behaviors like this in toddlers – separating them from the group, or stopping in the moment to address the bad conduct (and express a higher expectation).

My wife taught me that one can often avoid these attitudes altogether by regularly praising children for their truthfully good behavior. “I like the way you’re sitting quietly.” “I like the way you played with ____.” Let your children know what you expect. Children live to love their parents. Don’t allow them to push you around.  You are the adult. When you see bad behavior – at any age – firmly impose your expectations.  It will simplify your life. (Note: If your children are older and you believe their disrespect or rebelliousness may be dangerous to them and your family – seek professional help.)

Parenting isn’t easy. It requires both flexibility and strength. If we, as parents, are too flexible, our children will bend us until both we, and they, are broken.  Let us hope that this November, for the sake of our country, we can collectively stand up to this ill-behaved child and let him know what type of behavior is expected in our family.

Our son Ben recently called and said “We’re pregnant!”  JoAnn, my wife, was very quick to point out that Ben’s wife, Kelsie is pregnant and that they are having a baby.  After all, JoAnn asks, “Is Ben nauseous all the time?” “Are his ankles swollen?” “Is he constantly overheated?”

Well… no.

bkg nose pick

Ben – Expectant Father

Of course our son will never actually “be” pregnant, but it’s clear that this generation of fathers is being encouraged to share in the process and, to the extent that sharing “ownership” of the pregnancy seems kind of appropriate to me, I’m pleased to see Ben stepping up to the job.

I understand Ben’s desire to be included and I understand his wanting to take his share of the responsibility for the gestation that’s going on. I was an active father during JoAnn’s pregnancies (for our era).  No matter the hour, I forced myself to go get ice-cream, I consoled her when she was crying for no reason, and I understood the importance of remaining firm, supportive, and flexible.

Through four pregnancies I often joked “If I could carry that baby… I would!”  – which probably got old.

BoysAdmireBabyEm

Emily arrives!

To her credit, JoAnn never complained about me or the process.  I believe her positive and loving attitude helped define the cheerful nature of our children today. At this point, I don’t think either of us really cares “who” is pregnant – as much as we’re elated that Kelsie is!

Of course, we’re now involved in a different type of sweepstakes…

MyGrandma

My Grandma

…Grandparenting!

What will this baby call us? We’re working on it, because, after all, this is precedent setting, a high stakes decision that will define how our future grandchildren will know and love us. Our children knew their Grandparents as Nana and Poppie (JoAnn’s side) and Grandma and Grandpa (my side) – so those names are out. Various suggestions have been made (by people other than Ben and Kelsie) – like Gammy Jo and Don Ricardo, or Slick and JayJay. We’re open to suggestions.

A lot of our friends are already grandparents. They do a lot of babysitting and some of them do it every day. I’m not sure we’re going to be so “hands on,” but one thing is for sure, we’re entering a new phase where some little creature is going to capture our hearts and cause us to lose our minds. Neither JoAnn’s nor my parents were much for watching the grandkids.

JGGCornChip

Their Grandmother

My mother stepped in once in a while, but not on a regular basis. She was confident though, and that was good. One time, she was watching our oldest son, Aaron, and we phoned to see if everything was going alright. “If you trust the babysitter, you need not phone.” she replied tersely. The witness was asleep when we picked him up.

Grandma had made her point.

NathanWCar

My Mother’s Father

Although I don’t really remember my grandparents that well, they are legends in my mind (and the family lore). My father’s father opened the first children’s shoe store in L.A. My mother’s father was an immigrant blacksmith and inventor who sued Henry Ford (and won). I never met my mother’s mother (she died when my mother was three). My father’s mother and I were cordial – but it’s not like I remember her hugging me to pieces (as I anticipate I will do with our grandchildren).

Now I have to think about what my legacy will be? How will my grandchildren (and the family lore) describe me? Will I be the nut-bar grandpa who is remembered for playing the bass drum in a local marching band? Will I be the grandpa who never grew up and shamelessly burst into song whenever possible? Perhaps my most important legacy will be the one I share with JoAnn – that our children’s children will know that their grandparents prioritized their love, that they were in love from the start and stayed that way.

Family

These people.

What I can say is this:  We will be parents who support our children in their efforts to raise respectful and kind children. We will also expect our grandchildren to have good manners and to behave within our expectations. We will be calm. We will counsel our children with understanding and we will encourage them to use their instincts when making parenting decisions. We will help them when we can – and we will do so without adding strings (something my mother selflessly taught us).  We will help them keep their feet on the ground and their heads on their shoulders, and we will laugh with them as they learn to navigate the pathways of parenting.

Yes, this is going to be an adventure, and we can’t wait.

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.

 

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.

SantaMenorahSmallPeople have asked me how to address intercultural diversity and Christmas-related issues with their children. I’ll start with the message of goodwill toward others and work back from there.

I’m Jewish, but this December I will be happy to say “Merry Christmas” to as many people as possible. Some of them may reply with a Happy Hanukah, or Sweet Kwanzaa, or whatever else anyone wants to celebrate during this Holiday Season. But everyone will do so with a smile – and that’s what this time of year is about.

When people refer to a “War on Christmas,” I’m always amused. On one hand, who would ever want to declare war on such a wonderful sentiment as “good will toward men?” On the other hand, why does recognizing multiple holidays minimize the beauty of Christmas?

Our country was founded on an idealistic assumption of “inclusion.” It’s not easy. Our egos and fears often get in the way. But we are a land built by (and of) immigrants and we are all the better for it. We have many different people celebrating a wide variety of winter solstice related holidays.

coexistChildren are naturally curious about other people and their customs – especially at Christmas, when generosity is in the air. My uncle, who was Jewish, married a non-Jewish woman and we went to their house annually on Christmas Day. They came to our house to celebrate Hanukah. I was very young and it all seemed pretty normal to me. There was no animosity at either gathering, just food, laughs, and generosity. People explained that Christmas was about the birth of the baby Jesus, and I was happy to join the party.

I love Christmas. I know the words to the carols, I’ve sung “The Messiah,” I enjoy pine, peppermint, and crackling fires. My parents didn’t celebrate Christmas in our home, but they appreciated it and allowed it to co-exist with Hanukah. As a result, my children learned the same sentiment. My mother used to say “Christmas is like a fine piece of jewelry. You can admire it, but you’ll never own it.” On Christmas day, my brilliant wife used to leave a small gift from Santa on the floor of each of our children’s rooms about which I would say, “You must have really been good this year – you’re Jewish and Santa gave you a gift! That worked for all of us.

These holidays are about sensitivity and coexistence. Sometimes putting up with other people is not easy, especially when they wear different clothes, eat different foods, and celebrate different holidays. But ‘tis the season that is defined by generosity – both material and emotional – and what better time to teach our children what tolerance really means?

HappyHoswKwanzaaChristmas is bigger than a coffee cup, blue office decorations, or even the words “Happy Holidays.” So let’s just remember what this season is really about, and make a point of teaching that to our children.

We all know that there can be no “War on Christmas,” because love conquers all.

Wishing you PEACE ON EARTH and GOODWILL TOWARD EVERYONE.

vectorstock_969927I believe that most parents are good parents.  It’s my observation that a majority of our citizens are well-behaved, respectful, and law-abiding.  But I also see a society that devotes an immense amount of energy and resources to deal with the minority of adults who are products of “bad” or no parenting.

Laws have been created so that our society doesn’t run amok and, for the most part, I think they’re working.  Some argue that all regulation is bad, but I like knowing the other car is going to stop because there is a red light.

When I was young, there were no laws against sexual harassment. My parents taught me to hold the door and that ladies go first. If parents today could teach their children to treat everyone with respect, males and females, I don’t think we’d need to spend billions on behavioral training, and then spending even more to apply and enforce the rules when they misbehave.  But I’m an optimist.

Surgeons usually think surgery is the best solution. Psychotherapists usually think they can solve the problem with some very serious conversations. I’ve been focused on parenting for a while now, so that’s why I think these solutions can all be presented during the parenting process.

vectorstock_634418Why do I think that? Whenever I examine my morals, manners, and values it always comes back to my parents. My parents respected each other and the people in their world. Our house was not a place where women were considered unequal, although my father would only allow me to use bad language when he and I were alone (something I thought was pretty cool at the time).  I didn’t consider it discriminatory, I considered it polite. Ironically, I saw it as a sign of respect for my mother, not a measure of her frailty.

I’m also aware that those are the rules that I took into the world.  So whenever I hear of kids who went off the rails, or who behave as though the rules don’t apply to them, I have to look at their parents as the origin of the problem. In doing so, I usually conclude that parenting is also the solution.

Although my book is about raising children that other people like to be around, it’s really about asking parents to create respectful and considerate people that they like being around. Do you want to live with a whiny kid who can’t stand to hear the word “no”? Do you want to live in a chaotic world where bed-time is defined by the four year old in your house instead of the adults? Is it acceptable in your world to be bossed around by my child? No. No. And NO.

It is not my job to make my child happy. It’s my job to teach my kids how to make themselves happy, especially when things don’t go their way! That’s the best gift I can possibly give them.

So, what does this have to do with the high cost of bad parenting? It is very likely that:

  • A child who respects his mother, is not going to sexually harass a co-worker.
  • A child who has been taught to take responsibility is going to think twice before bilking people out of thousands of dollars.
  • A child who has been taught to respect other people’s property and points of view is less likely to paint graffiti, or burn crosses.

What does that take? Perhaps we should all take a parenting pledge:

CSDParentingPledge

When these principles are taught, I believe our children develop a sense of self-worth; a level of pride that protects them as they move forward, and helps them better understand others. These rules teach them that they are loved and protected, but the world does not revolve around them. This is, essentially, building your child from the inside out.

When typewriters were part of our daily lives I used to say, “Children are like pieces of paper in a typewriter. They need to have margins set, so that when it comes time for them to go outside those margins, they still remain on the paper.”

We can’t guarantee that everyone will raise their children with high expectations, but the more we expect of them, the better off we’ll all be.

NathanCaplanAMGLite2My Grandfather, Nathan, was an incredibly shy man.  In addition to being very short (5’4”), he was a quiet and kind immigrant who listened far more than he spoke. He came from Russia to pursue a better life, and made his living as a bicycle-riding handyman in Toronto before moving to Detroit, where my mother was born. Sadly, Nathan became a widower when my mother was three.

As a single parent, Nathan left many of the child-rearing responsibilities to my mother’s siblings, Aunt Pearl and Uncle Al. He never remarried.

NathanWCarLITENathan worked as a plumber and got involved in the fledgling automobile business as a mechanic and inventor. He was so shy, he would send my toddler-aged mother into his shop to shoo away the creatures that huddled around their warm stove overnight.

Ultimately, he invented the brake rest, as well as an improved bumper. When Henry Ford used the bumper on the Model A, my grandfather sued him and won.  He got no enormous cash payout as compensation, but remained proud, nonetheless, that he lived in a country where a poor immigrant could successfully sue the richest man in the nation.

When my mother was sixteen, she and my grandfather came west to join Pearl and Al who had started a small loan business in Los Angeles. My grandpa liked getting his hands dirty, so he ran a small trailer lot, like U-Haul, and tinkered in the back. He lived a very quiet life.

MarcieJannStepsHUFFMy mother, Marcie, was an active teenager.  She was a great athlete and an excellent student. When she entered U.C.L.A. she was living with my grandfather and taking care of him. One night when she got home from school, he announced to her that he was going to be taking dance lessons at Arthur Murray on Tuesday and Thursday nights. She looked at him and said “Dance lessons?” He just nodded.

The next night he said to her “You know, Masha, (his nickname for my mother), you can make plans for tomorrow night. I have my dance lesson.” In that moment my mom realized that Nathan was taking the lessons so that she wouldn’t have to come home to care for him at night. He was forcing himself to do something he had no desire to do, in order to allow his daughter the freedom she needed as a teenager.

My grandfather wasn’t rich. He didn’t buy things for his daughter. He didn’t take her out to fancy dinners, or on long trips – what he did was sacrifice. He put his feelings aside, because he knew that my mother wouldn’t leave him alone unless he found a way to be busy outside of the house. He pushed himself to do the right thing, even though it was uncomfortable and inconvenient.

This story of my grandfather reminds me that the job of parenting is often a selfless one. It’s often about the practical sacrifices we make, emotionally or physically, to do what’s right for our children.

Sometimes these sacrifices mean taking an uncomfortable path – saying no and going through the discomfort of teaching our kids to deal with adversity. Sometimes, it’s about the devotion of real time, leaving all else alone and putting down our phones to look our kids in the eye when we’re having a conversation with them.

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Pearl, Nathan, and Marcie

The days of doting offspring seem long gone, but it’s clear that children still care about their parent’s feelings, opinions, and concerns. It is our job to help our children grow, even if it sometimes goes against our nature to hold them, cuddle them, and protect them. We don’t need to take dance lessons to release our children from their obligation to us, but we do need to consider their lives, their ages, and their feelings as we continue to set for them an example of how thinking, loving adults behave.

If you sometimes feel overwhelmed by driving your kids to school, or signing them up for summer camp, or letting them walk to the park, remember that you’re doing the right thing.  You might also tell them about their grandparents. It will give them a sense of pride, and the foundation they’ll need to stand tall.