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ImageParenting is a long process, and there’s no question that mistakes get made along the way.  Sometimes we just react without thinking.  Sometimes we just don’t want to be bothered with thinking things through.  Sometimes we act selfishly.

Parents are people, too.

Once, after staying up late to finish an assignment, Ben asked if he could sleep late instead of going to school early the next morning.  Usually his carpool picks him up at 7:30 but, in a bid to sleep late, he explained that his first period class was a “joke” (Phys. Ed. – working out in the weight room) and that he had no other classes until 10 A.M.

My reaction was very unsympathetic: “You have a commitment!” “Is school a “joke” to you?” “You don’t just miss school because you’re too tired to get out of bed!”

I felt pretty good about being firm.

JoAnn thought I had been unnecessarily rigid.  (Yes – this information was shared with me in one of those mirroring moments!)

That’s how I went to sleep.

The following morning, when I was up preparing to meet my obligations by going to work, Benjy too was getting his stuff together and waiting for his carpool.  Here he was, being the good son that I expected him to be, and here I was, the ogre father, forcing him to go to school and attend what he considered a boring and unnecessary class followed by sitting for two periods in study hall until his next class came along.  I knew it was the right thing for him, but I couldn’t help having sympathy for the sleepy lug before me.

The best I could do was encourage him to make the most of the study hall and tell him that I loved him.  I also made a point of telling him that I really appreciated the fact that he was going to school early and that undoubtedly something good would happen to him as a result of being at school early.  It was the best I could hope for.

He went quietly off to school, and we never discussed the matter again.  It was just another day for him, one that started a little earlier than he would have liked.  I vowed to be a little more careful about being a knee-jerk naysayer.

But how do you balance your feelings of guilt with your need to maintain a position of strength or authority?  It’s tough; and a lot depends on the age of your child.

Younger children usually don’t even know we’ve made a mistake.  They see us as a force of nature, like rain.  Today we made them go to school; tomorrow we may let them have ice cream.  Our power can’t be controlled, just lived with and prepared for.  If we’ve hurt their feelings, we apologize for hurting them, but we also need to explain clearly what motivated our behavior so that the lesson is not lost on them.

For example, Benjy and Coby are five years apart in age, which means that there was a period of time when Benjy, and all of us, had to be very patient with Coby because he wanted to be noticed.  One night, I’d had it, and I yelled at Coby for interrupting Benjy.  At the time, Coby’s storytelling skills needed a little practice.  He’d tell a five-minute story and it would go nowhere.  After a few of those stories we had a tendency to tune out.  This particular evening, Coby was trying to interrupt so that he could tell yet another story when I reached the end of my rope.

I looked at him and stated firmly, “Be quiet!” and Coby dissolved into tears.  Then, we both had a period of cooling off.  Later that evening I went into his room and calmly explained to him why I had gotten so angry.  We agreed that he would try to listen more and talk less and we sealed our agreement with a kiss.  My father had been very tough on me, but, what I will always remember about him was that he would apologize or explain himself to me after most of his outbursts.

Admitting we might have been wrong, or actually being wrong is something that occurs more often as our children get older.  This is because, as they grow up, their knowledge and communication skills improve.  As a result, our communication with them becomes more sophisticated.  Issues that used to be black and white have new angles added to them.  Absolute bedtimes become curfews with fifteen-minute grace periods.  Answers like “no” become “we’ll see.”

We go with our gut and believe in it.  When we’re making a minimum of ten decisions a day, we’re going to second-guess a few of them and we might actually regret one or two (in a decade).  Sometimes trying to compensate for those mistakes out of regret just compounds them.

We’ve learned not to change our decision-making criteria today because of a bad choice we made yesterday.  That’s like anticipating an umpire who called a bad strike will call a ball the next time the pitcher throws one straight down the middle.  As much as we might hope that all wrongs can be righted, it doesn’t happen that way.  The batter just gets to take advantage of that one, bad call.

Everybody makes mistakes.  We just have to keep moving on.  The best we can do, and this always applies, is love our kids and learn from our mistakes.

MISHAPS AND MILESTONES

BandagedKneeYesterday I had the pleasure of sitting next to an adorable two-year-old named Amelia and her loving parents.  Proactively, her mom pointed out that the small cuts Amelia had on her upper lip and nose were the result of a fall that had occurred that morning “Wouldn’t you know it,” she said, “the day of a big party, she falls and cuts her lip.”

As a father of four, I would know it.

I’d also know that this poorly timed little incident was going to be the first of many.  I can’t count how many times one of our kids appeared in a school play or musical performance with a cast on their arm, a patch on their eye, or a band-aid on their face.  I also recall that when I was about six, I decided to cut my own hair just before a similarly public appearance.

I joked with Amelia’s mom that this wouldn’t be the last of these little events and that the timing of these lessons is rarely ideal, but I was also reminded that each of these escalating things – these scraped knuckles, these first rides on a two-wheeler, these early broken hearts, are all important events along the way to adulthood.

Em's GraduationOur daughter, Emily, will be going off to college in a few weeks.  She’s ridden a two-wheeler, she’s scraped her knee and banged her head.  She’s had her heart broken, and we’ve been there to help her through it all.  Yesterday a good friend sent us an excellent article from the Huff Post written by Marshall P. Duke, a professor at Emory University, who has been watching parents drop their “children” off at college for forty-three years.  What is most satisfying in the article is the recognition that dropping your child at college is just another one of those ongoing milestones that make up our lives as children and parents.  It’s part of the natural flow of things – as much a part as their first step, their first words, and their first opinion.  It’s what’s supposed to happen and, as such, it’s something to be embraced as yet another rung on the way up the ladder.  It’s a really good article and I’ve put a link at the end of this posting.

BikeRidingKidSo, just as sure that I am that Amelia and her parents will be experiencing, surviving, and learning from each of the minor mishaps and major milestones that lie ahead of them, I am equally sure that JoAnn and I will enjoy watching and sharing the new and different challenges that will come with Emily’s independence.  Additionally, we will cheer for her and enjoy her success as she conquers them.  You see, all of those little mishaps, heartbreaks, and disappointments have prepared her (and us) for this – and that’s what they’re supposed to do.

Link to the article:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marshall-p-duke/starting-college-a-guide-_b_3670553.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

IMG_1768I’ve been traveling on business a lot lately, which means I’ve been spending a lot of time finding my way through airports and figuring out menus in restaurants.  Every airport situation is different – but traveling through them involves a very specific and common set of solutions – find your flight, determine your gate, go through security, get some coffee, and wait to board.  It’s a process, with which I am familiar – just like going to the market, or eating in a restaurant, or visiting the pediatrician.

Something that I continue to notice on this trip is how totally consistent little children are.  No matter where I’ve been – London, Oslo, Munich, Hamburg, Lviv (in the Ukraine), or even L.A., it doesn’t matter how up-tight or logistically focused their parents may be, kids just seem to be dancing, singing, and passing the time in their own little wonderful world.

Mother And Baby At Airport.It is heartwarming to know that kids all over the world seem to be essentially the same.  For toddlers, everything is fascinating.  People bustle by, a cell phone rings, a big person is plays peek-a-boo – so much action, so much distraction…their heads swing around from sudden interest to studied stare.  It’s truly a pleasure to watch as they interact with the world and soak in new things.

As a parent, what’s clearest to me is how their unbridled curiosity and playfulness makes them completely dependent on us to protect and to guide them.  We are, after all, the people who make them safe – upon whose presence they can depend so that they can drift through their day soaking up one experience after another.  This means that we’re the ones who know our way around an airport, who know where to get food, who know where the bathrooms are, etc. etc.  Most importantly, even if we don’t know our way around, we know how to read the signs and use the tools we have to be able to solve those problems.  We have been through the process.  Our life experience is what makes us qualified to be parents…and it’s what our kids are counting on.

ChildAirportWDadThe same is true for our children at home.  As much as we might believe they know what we might expect, or that they appear to “want to do it themselves”, we are the ones who know best.  Communicating this – whether it’s about bedtime, diet, hygiene, or courtesy, lets our children know that we have answers – that if they stick with us (as they must at the airport) they will be protected by our knowledge and hopefully, good nature.  It is in this way that they learn the process from us.

Letting children make their own rules is not doing them a favor.  Imagine one of those toddlers wandering around the airport – hungry, tired, in need of a bathroom – how would she find her way?  Most likely she’d be crying for her mommy or daddy because she doesn’t know the process and doesn’t know what to do.  When mommy or daddy arrive, this little girl isn’t going to check their qualifications – she’s just going to be happy to see the person (or people) who can offer her the security of knowing.

DFW TaxiIf you got into a cab and the driver admitted being lost, you wouldn’t have a very comfortable or relaxed ride – would you?  Now imagine that your kids are in your cab – and remember that you need to believe you know the process and behave as though you know exactly where you’re going so that they can, while buckled into their seats, relax and continue soaking up the world around them.

Raising children is just like being at  the airport – it changes all the time, but you’ve been there before and you can figure it out.

AMGBabyTubToday, I am grateful that our eldest son is celebrating his 33rd birthday, so I thought I’d share this excerpt about gratitude.

When JoAnn and I got married, a wise friend said that marriage is not 50/50 – it’s 90/90.  Essentially, he was telling us that we’d each often feel as though we were giving (or doing) more than half of the relationship’s work and, if we could accept that fact, our marriage would sail along smoothly.  After over thirty five years, JoAnn and I agree that the theory remains accurate.  The workload shifts; sometimes I’m doing more and sometimes she’s doing more.  That’s just the way it is.  It also means that there is no clock punching, no keeping track, and no ongoing score sheet, and it’s a real opportunity to give to our parenting partner and let them know that someone else is there helping to carry the load.   While raising children, the same sort of understanding is required – because, as parents, we do the majority of the work and the gratitude doesn’t come until much later

In the beginning, we carry virtually 100% of the load – we change diapers, we feed, we entertain, and we worry.  Our infants and toddlers, on the other hand, spend almost all of their time observing, smelling, tasting and learning.  Although those things don’t help the laundry get done, or the sheets get changed, the impact of that effort on their part is quite substantial.  Besides, Nature has made babies cute so that we don’t mind working our tales off for them.

That’s just the way it is.

AMGBabyAtHatchcoverParenting demands a tremendous generosity of spirit, and, as our children get older, we are able to teach them to help us so that things aren’t quite so lopsided.  At a certain point, we can enlist their aid by saying things like “Please help me clean up your toys.” or “Sit still while I put your socks on”.  Narrating and naming these tasks is an important part of the process, as we are actually teaching our children how to do these things for themselves.  “First you prepare the sock, now you put it over your toes…” etc.  At some point, probably when you’re in a hurry, your child will want to do it for himself.  If you’re in a hurry, try to explain that he can do it next time and reward him for his patience.  If not, guide him, encourage him, and reward him with praise (and maybe even a phone call to someone else who would be proud).

Whenever possible, and sometimes out of the blue, we make our children aware of the world around them.  “Isn’t that an interesting building?”, “Look at those pretty flowers.”, ”We’re so lucky to have…” a nice home, a safe school, warm clothes, food, good health, and so on.  In many cases, these are comforts that we can (and do) give our children, and maybe even nice things that we sometimes take for granted – like loving friends, new shoes, a hand-me-down jacket, or a trip to the ice cream store.

BoysAdmireBabyEmThese little lessons are all part of our instructional responsibility.  Being grateful creates for each of our children their own lucky place in the world.  “I’m very lucky.” becomes part of their self-description.  They know who they are, they know what they appreciate, and it gives them the strength to build a strong emotional scaffolding and a solid sense of self respect.

Today, as all days, we are grateful to have each other.

Hey Everyone !!!  Thanks for visiting CommonSenseDad!  If you’ve found your way here from Facebook, you can also find these blog posts on my Common Sense Dad page there.  Simply click on this link https://www.facebook.com/CommonsenseDad  and “like” the page so that you’ll be “following” our activity.   ALSO – My actual book won’t be available for a few more weeks – but I’ll be posting excerpts here (and on FB) before it rolls out.  Thank you all for your interest and understanding.

Hello Dear Readers !

This marks the beginning of my experience as a blogger.  I am the father of four children – three boys and a girl (in that order) and I will be using my anecdotal and, hopefully entertaining, experiences as a father to discuss and inform regarding various issues relative to the raising of children and the creation of citizens.

In the coming months, I will be publishing my first book – “Raising Children that Other People Like to be Around:  Five Common-sense Musts from a Father’s Point of View”.  The book offers a straightforward process that can help parents create a plan and understand the long-term nature of the parenting process.  These posts will also appear on my “mother-ship” website – www.raisingchildren.com – where other bloggers will post opinion and experience and more general parenting information will be made available.  www.raisingchildren.com will launch at approximately the same time as publication of the book… thank you for your patience.