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GreenFamHawaii2014According to Merriam Webster Online, a quid pro quo is “something that is given to you or done for you in return for something you have given to or done for someone else.”

I believe in the Kid Pro Quo, which I define as “something that your child gives or does for you in return for all the things you do for your child.” Essentially, it’s creating an expectation of emotional and behavioural repayment for the years of selfless, generous, and loving attention that we parents shower upon our lovely unsuspecting children.

Sounds pretty basic, doesn’t it? Yet believe it or not, there are parents who dote on their children — buy them everything, drive them to dance, or little league, or karate — without any expectation of Kid Pro Quo at all. I understand that “it’s a parent’s job” to do those things. But common sense tells me that it’s important to expect something in return – because sooner or later our kids will enter a world that expects gratitude, or at least a “thank you.” It’s a little like teaching the Golden Rule: treat your children the way you expect them to treat you.

Over the years, I have observed that by expressing gratitude for the things around us, we have taught our children (and others) to appreciate the things we all have in life – whether it’s a meal, a beautiful sunset, a car that works, or a spouse who is an excellent Mom. Every time I express my appreciation I am essentially defining a value for my children. It’s value that is not about them, that is external , but it’s one they should equally appreciate.

Children who are grateful have a tendency to respect the good things that come their way – good things like us, for example, their parents.

Aaron12kitchen_92liteSometimes even wonderful children need a little guidance. We were once expecting visitors from out of town. We had told our oldest son, Aaron, that the guests were bringing their teenage niece with them. We had also told Aaron that we expected him to help the girl feel welcome. But when the fateful day came and they arrived, Aaron was hanging out with a his friends.

I sought him out and said, “Our guests have arrived. Please come and meet Jeannie.” His response was, “They’re your friends, Dad, not mine.” Although I was upset by that comment, I stayed calm and again asked him to join me away from his friends.

Once we were in a relatively private situation, I held his shoulders firmly, stared directly into his eyes and said, “Understand this, dear son: If what is important to me is not important to you, then what is important to you will not be important to me. And, at this point in your life, you need me — for a ride to baseball practice, for example — much more than I need you.”

Aaron immediately grasped the concept and said, “Let’s go say hello to our guests.” As it turned out, the niece was really fun and Aaron ended up very happy with his decision to help out. Things your children resist often turn out quite nicely for them. It’s important to remember these positive outcomes so that they can be cited downstream when resistance raises its head again.

vectorstock_634418It’s perfectly reasonable to expect a Kid Pro Quo. It’s important that we recognize that life is full of give and take, and that by catering to our kids without expectation, we are not preparing them for the road ahead.

As is the case with many parenting issues, teaching our children to be grateful and respectful is connected to the example we set. I wrote my book to create a logical and methodical process to help give parents confidence enough to have high expectations of their children and themselves – to demand the Kid Pro Quo.

Teach gratitude, and if that doesn’t sink in, tell your kids what Bill Cosby once jokingly said: “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.”

JusticeMany important issues are raised by the abuse Adrian Peterson, of the Minnesota Vikings, administered to his son.  Although there is absolutely NO justification for Peterson’s behavior, and he has been arrested on a felony charge, there are other, somewhat related questions of a milder nature.

To spank or not to spank – is one such question. Beating a child is completely unacceptable. But spanking, far less severe, is in some homes a functional part of the parenting process.

As parents, each of us carries what the writer Selma Frieberg has called the “Ghosts in our Nursery.” They are the enduring remnants of how we were parented. They are inherited behaviors that travel silently with us into our adulthood.

Early in my book, I suggest that parents sit down and examine the ghosts in their nurseries by answering a simple Parenting Questionnaire. The questions can help us define those ghosts so we can decide which ones to repeat (like being sung to at night) and which we’d like to eliminate (like spanking perhaps). The objective is to create a parenting plan whose methods are clearly understood and thought out, rather than unconscious “ghostly” reenactments of the past.

TheAuthor copyIn my childhood, punishments were doled out as if in a court of law. If I said or did something unacceptable, this was discussed and, when the charge was serious, like lying, I was told to go to my room to wait for my father. He was going to come “give me a spanking.”

As this took place, my father usually said that he hated having to do it but my behavior forced him to discipline me. We’d discuss what I did, I’d indicate that I understood, and then I’d “take my medicine.” There were limits. I was never hit with anything other than my father’s open hand. Done. Case closed.

For me, it wasn’t so much the pain of the whacks. My rear was designed to handle adversity. It was mostly the humiliation of facing my own powerlessness under the circumstances. And that was my father’s objective: letting me know he was the boss and he wasn’t kidding around.

As a dad that makes sense to me.

LittleGoldenBookI once tried putting a Little Golden Book in my pants as protection against my father’s firm slap. But my dad was no fool and he yanked it from my bottom before administering the three quick slaps that were my punishment.   I wished he would have seen the humor in it and given me a break – but no deal.

I was spanked a lot. My kids, not so much – but I spanked at least one of them before my lovely wife convinced me there were other, less violent ways to punish our children. I don’t regret having spanked my eldest. For one thing, the “legend” of his spanking traveled down to his three siblings: “You really don’t want to get dad angry.” And he doesn’t seem to carry any grudge. Luckily.

AaronCrew2002-1With our other children I employed the modification of dropping to a knee, firmly holding the little bicep (to avoid squirming,) looking them squarely in the eye, and then in my deepest and most serious “dad voice” stating that their behavior was unacceptable. I would often make clear that continuing the bad behavior would end in a serious punishment. That usually worked, but the physical component, including eye contact, was a significant part of that warning.

For me, though, grabbing the arm or even spanking wasn’t about punishing as much as getting their attention. I wanted my kids to know that the infraction they had just committed was outside the expectations of our family. Corporal punishment was reserved for only the most heinous of crimes – like lying or disrespect.

I’ve noticed that this issue usually breaks down along gender lines. Many men were spanked as kids, but women much less often. Historically, men are taught to solve problems physically, and women generally aren’t. So there can be a disconnect on this issue.

What’s the solution? I believe that “rules are the arms with which our children can embrace themselves.” Discipline is important to me. It’s up to each of us as parents to decide what we think will work best within the values of our family. I can’t say that all spanking is bad. because it worked for me and generations before me. But there is a significant difference between spanking and child abuse – and I think for most people the difference is obvious.

3GenerationsI grew up to love and admire my father, who administered the spankings.  I didn’t fear him, because there was always a logical component in his behavior. But I’ve evolved to a point where I can communicate my anger without having to hit. It was a conscious effort, just like marriage, but I did it.

Ultimately, I’d like to believe that no father wants to hurt a child. I’d also like to believe that most parents can be mature enough to control their anger. But the only father whose behavior I can control is me. I can advocate increased communication, I can encourage parents to separate themselves from their anger, and I can guide grownups toward having a plan, so that panic doesn’t take control. Sometimes the issue becomes a legal matter. But I don’t think legislation is the solution.

As Common Sense Dad, I think the common sense of this is pretty clear.  Our children want to be loved – they trust us – and it’s up to us to keep their trust by acting in their best interest. The Golden Rule applies: Would you like to be treated the way you’re treating your child?

To spank or not to spank? That is your question.

DelilahCUDay1We had plans to go out tomorrow night, but those have been cancelled. We’ve been binge watching TV lately, but now we’re too tired. It’s been two days since we got…the puppy!

She’s a Golden Retriever.  She’s ten weeks old.  She’s the definition of cute.  Look her up in the dictionary.

After raising four children and three dogs, we figured adding another canine to our casa was no big deal. Delilah, the puppy, has been introduced to a mother figure, Daisy, our “senior” dog (that’s what they call them.) Daisy is eleven, and is by nature extremely mellow. She sleeps at the back door and is often not awakened until the opening of the door itself – rather than the sound of our car, the back gate, or the loud jingling of keys. That’s what we call mellow.

DaisyBored“You guys need to get a puppy!” said our children, none of whom live at home and are currently scooping poop from our backyard. “It’ll keep Daisy young!” Yes, but will it improve her hearing?

It’s year two of our empty nest, which basically means we’re spending a lot of time in our den binge watching a TV series (“Friday Night Lights” is awesome), playing Candy Crush Saga (JoAnn) or doing crossword puzzles (Richard.) So bringing another life into the house certainly seemed like a good idea. This idea really crystalized when our summering daughter, Emily, came home one night to find us at our respective computers. She said “You guys really need to get a life”.

2CuteGirlsinCarToward the end of August, before Emily headed back to her academic haven in Atlanta, she and her mom started surreptitiously looking at puppy pictures on the Internet. Warning! Once puppy pictures get into the house, it’s almost a sure thing that a real dog will follow.

Emily went back to college. The house became empty. We got the puppy.

Delilah has been with us for two nights. Her first day and night were very promising and uneventful. As I have often said, “Everything a puppy does is cute.”

We are crate training her. This means she sleeps in a giant cage (but no one wants to call it that, so we call it a crate) right near Daisy’s bed. Daisy has taken well to her new little sister – if you define “taking well” as aloof disengagement, or resignation. In time, we tell ourselves, they will be the best of friends.

DelilahInCrateWhen JoAnn went downstairs this morning to let the puppy out, she was greeted by a total mess. Sometime around 6 AM, Delilah had pooped in her crate. Not so cute. A rare phenomenon (because dogs know better than to poop in their living quarters), and one, I’m sorry to admit, brought on by our desire to push the edge of the poop envelope and sleep “just five minutes more” after the first yelp. That won’t be happening again.

Poop everywhere!

I am amazed at how quickly JoAnn and I sprung into action. It was like old times. I immediately grabbed Delilah’s soiled bedding and went to work with the hose. JoAnn distracted her while Daisy observed the whirlwind with detached bemusement.

Next came Delilah herself. I think she actually enjoyed her spa-treatment bath as I rinsed her poop-caked and furry little body in the kitchen sink.

DelilahSphinxOnce the crap-threat level was returned to normal, JoAnn and I gave each other that knowing look. “It’s just like having a baby in the house,” she said. “Yep,” I nodded, and smiled.

There are times in our lives when we know we have to do something that we don’t want to do at all. These are the “higher calling” moments, when we as parents, or pet owners, have to step up and take care of business – whether it’s cleaning up poop, or drying tears, or just listening –when we’d rather be doing something else, or anything else.

AtDaisy'sBedThese are also the moments when our love unites us because we’re willing to sacrifice our own plans to accommodate the needs of our loved ones. These times bind us together as we navigate our shared adventures. In times like these, JoAnn and I often look at each other and quote Oliver Hardy: “Here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.”

I suspect next week’s blog will have another messy puppy update — because, frankly, that’s about all that’s happening around here right now.

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.

Imagine a group of musicians each playing a different song, in a different key at a different tempo. It would be chaos – and it would sound terrible.

Now imagine a family like that.

If you’ve ever played, sung, or performed musically with others, it should be pretty easy to understand that parenting is a lot like leading your own band.  

As parents, our job is to raise our children as if we were band leaders giving them music lessons, helping them to understand how to play their individual instruments (personalities) and teaching them to integrate our choice of tempo, key, and volume into their daily lives.

notes-on-music-staffWhen our children are very young, we start by teaching them specific behaviors – like saying “please” and “thank you.” How to sit still, and the importance of looking at people when speaking with them are the equivalent of teaching them to play scales on their instruments. The more often they practice those “scales”, the more comfortable they become with their position in the band.

In our family, the tempo is relaxed but firm. We expect our children to learn their basics and to practice them at every possible juncture. If we go to the market, we teach them to say hello to the checker. When they have class, we teach them to be on time. When they need to play well with other children, we teach them to share. These are the basic forms (scales and melodies) that they will play throughout their lives.

Music Jam RGWhile they’re learning what’s expected of them, we also make a point of playing our own instruments at the tempo we expect. We set an example in the house by remaining consistent and calm. If Mommy or Daddy is on the phone, it’s not the right time to interrupt. When it’s time for bed, well, it’s time for bed. If someone else in the band (a sibling) needs a little extra practice time, we expect our other children to understand – and if they don’t understand, we explain that perhaps they need to spend some time practicing on their own, in their room.

We also pay attention to the “key” in which our family is playing. I grew up in a home where loud arguing was a norm. At some point in my life I decided that I didn’t want my home to sound like that. So JoAnn, my wife, and I chose to omit the whole angry yelling thing. It doesn’t mean we agree about everything. We just agree not to raise our voices about it.

Music Jam AMGSome people think that imposing expectations or restrictions on their child will inhibit creativity, but just look at music to understand how necessary and liberating a controlled and structured environment can be. Everyday we are entertained by the conventionally confined, well-structured creativity that is the world of music.

Once the scales, tempo, and key have been determined, we have to demand a certain level of performance from our kids. We do this by letting them know when they’re out of time or off key, and by encouraging them to listen better and to stay in tune. At some point, the kids begin to see themselves as active participants in the band. They understand that when they are moving in our tempo and our key, things sound pretty good around the house. Most importantly, once they as players have proven that they know their basics, we – as band leaders and conductors – can allow them to improvise more and more. This is where their creativity and individuality comes in.

Music Jam 2 BlogLike any band, ours is made up of different instruments. Each of us has our own sound, our own range, and our own part in the songs that are being played. Some of us may like to play the melody, while others may prefer to harmonize or just “keep time.” By respecting these differences, we are able to arrange the music we play (as a family) into music that is comfortable and pleasing to all of us..

Ultimately, as parents it’s our job to create harmony, and to lead our children to play parts that fit well with everyone else. For our own sanity and comfort, it’s necessary to get everyone playing the same song, at the same tempo and in the same key.  Ignoring dissonance allows it to become a habit – and so we always seek to correct the sour notes.

Over the years we have all learned to listen better. We have learned to compliment each other’s solos, to choose similar themes, and to share the enjoyment of playing together. Like any good band, we respect the basics, we remember our scales, and we encourage each other to improve. We also roll our eyes every once in a while.

Be a rock star parent, teach your children to play and to listen. Before you know it, your home will be filled with harmony and you’ll always be looking forward to your next “jam” session.

Photo Credit: Marisa Quinn

RGGoalieSMALL“Don’t get a big head” was what I heard from my high school soccer coach. I had just debuted as the team goalie and we had beaten our biggest rival in a 1-0 shutout. After a childhood filled with criticism fueling piles of self-doubt, getting a “big head” was as far from my nature as things could get. Nonetheless, I took the pats on the back with a smile and great pride.

Later in the year, I was playing catcher on our school baseball team when we faced the same rival. As their number four batter stepped into the batter’s box he looked at me and said “Hey, you’re the goalie, aren’t you?” I acknowledged his recognition and we played on. It felt good. I was somebody. I was the goalie.

That was my first brush with celebrity, and I really liked it.

Over the years I yearned for broader success; the admiration of a community that went beyond those I actually knew. I hoped for recognition as a smart executive, creator of a television show, writer of brilliant screenplays and, to some degree I worked toward those goals simultaneously.  But I also got older and wiser.

kate-middleton-3Over time I have observed the lives of many celebrities. Some are our friends, with whom it’s always exciting to “hang,” and some just people caught in the limelight whose every move somehow seems noteworthy.  Hanging out with them is cool.  You get the aura without the oppression that life as a celebrity brings. Imagine having people trying to photograph you at all times, not being safe to sunbathe on your own porch, or having a moment of emotional honesty become everyone’s “business.”

The majority of my time getting older was devoted to making the most of my marriage and parenting our four kids.  I dabbled with the famous screenplay, I went to work every day and tried to make good deals, and over time I found myself becoming the hero I wanted to be by just doing my job as a dad. When I chaperoned the fifth grade lake trip, I gained Sportsmanship notoriety by effectively and immediately quieting my bunk through the simple dropping of one “F bomb”.  My baseball teams were known for good sportsmanship.  I was the guy who announced at the Christmas show that it wasn’t very nice to leave before the show was over, just because your child had already performed. These things were my stuff of local legend.

While that was going on, my kids were being surrounded by a different type of celebrity: athletes shooting steroids, singers using drugs, vapid starlets making headlines for the size of their bottoms or the cut of their dresses.

RCEHalloweenAs I saw it, it was my job to be the guy who my children most admired. That didn’t mean I gave them everything, or that I coerced them into loving me via Stockholm Syndrome.  I just tried to be the person who they knew had an answer for them. I wasn’t about athletic prowess, although I played softball every Sunday, and I wasn’t about medical knowledge, although I cleaned a lot of wounds and kissed away a lot of boo boos.

I was about showing them that I could be their hero because I knew who I was. I tried to be confident, but not pushy; flexible, but not a sucker; and even funny, but not at the wrong times. This, to me, was the behavior of the type of celebrity I most wanted my kids to emulate.

REGJEGLagunaSo, my once huge celebrity goals have been revised downward. I am, to some degree, satisfied with being a celebrity in my own family. My wife and I started the fan club – we are each other’s biggest supporters — and then we created a flock of children who revere me, listen to me, and are (most times) proud to be with me. Like all celebrities, I am subject to criticism from my fans – usually about wardrobe choices, loud chewing, and telephonic habits.  My grand plan now involves having grand children…and making them laugh.

I’ve also recognized that I still haven’t given up on getting out my message. I admit that I’d like very much to be recognized for a parenting philosophy that is approachable and easy to understand.  I am still excited every time I write a blog post offering others good information, and me the opportunity to be recognized, just as the goalie of my youth.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d be happy with a thousand Twitter followers, or increased books sales.  I’m eager to put myself out there to make those things happen.  But being the husband of my favorite person and a celebrity in the lives of my children will always be good enough for me.

FullFamBKGKSGWedding

Relaxin Dad“Lazy” isn’t a word that is often associated with “better,” but I must confess that I am, and have always been, a lazy father.  Sure, I’ve coached a lot teams, driven a bunch of carpools and changed my share of diapers – but I’ve always done it the easiest way possible – MY way.

Doing things my way isn’t as bad as it sounds.  I do listen and I am concerned about the opinions of others – especially those of my wife – but I generally have a plan, and having a plan makes navigating the day-to-day much easier.

I consider myself a pretty flexible person.  I’m open to new music.  I can stop and smell the roses, I can let my kids play with the hose for hours on end.  There’s plenty of room for improvisation in our family, but I see it as my job to be sure that we all play at the same tempo and in the same key.  In that way there is harmony in our home.  By teaching our kids to play harmoniously within our behavioral expectations, JoAnn and I have simplified our lives.  Being able to rely on our children, their judgment, and the way they behave has made our job as parents a lot easier.  

 Here are three tips that will help simplify your life as a parent.

LEAD WITH AUTHORITY

ExcuseMakingFrom the start we listened to our children, but we did things our way.  Our kids had no choice about bed time, or when it was time to leave the park, or about sitting in their car seat, or about wearing a helmet when they rode their bikes.  Those issues  and many like them were not open to debate.  In fact, in our family “Because I said so!” became “This is not a debate.”

TEACH THEM TO ACCEPT NO

Once your children learn that no means no, you don’t have to expend a lot of energy explaining or debating things.  That’s just the way it goes. “No” is often a really good answer.

At some point we all have to learn to live with “no”.  The sooner we can teach our kids to accept the tough lesson and move toward “yes”, the less complex our lives will be.  We all come up against situations in which we do not get our way.  In school, it’s often a teacher who doesn’t cut us slack, or who doesn’t “understand our problem.”  Then it’s our boss, or a banker, or whoever is offering pushback and keeping us from attaining our goal.  Learning to live with authority teaches our children to operate within a system and to problem solve in order to get what they want.  Starting these lessons at home, where the “authority” is also a loving one, is the best way to ease them into a not-so-friendly world.

LET THEM ENTERTAIN THEMSELVES

I’m also not a parent who thinks it’s my job to entertain my kids.

vectorstock_127571Once I’m satisfied that they are in a safe environment (which might be slightly less safe than the environment JoAnn would call safe), I’m happy to lay back and let them figure things out for themselves.  Sometimes acclimation time is required, but my objective is to get them accustomed to entertaining themselves – whether it’s flying imaginary airplanes, conquering dragons, or playing in the dirt.

Being “bored” is a problem that children should learn to solve for themselves.  JoAnn’s mother had the perfect solution when JoAnn would mope into the room and say “I’m bored.”  Her mom would say “Why don’t you go bang your head against the wall until you can think of something to do.”  Quick, efficient, and effective.  Translation – your boredom is not my problem.  Lazy?  Some might think so – but it’s an important part of a long-term plan.  The more problems my kids can solve for themselves, the fewer I have to solve for them — and that will be true throughout their lives.

So, yeah… I’m lazy.  I don’t want to do more work than is necessary to teach my children how to navigate the world.  As I note in my book, “Raising Children That Other People Like to be Around,” being calm, avoiding panic, and having a plan teaches our children that they can rely on us, so that ultimately… we can rely on them.

 

vectorstock_1038990There are few better opportunities to teach our children about the feelings of others than their birthdays – and the way we celebrate them.

Birthday parties thrown for one-year-olds are clearly done for the benefit of the parents and posterity.  Get lots of pictures, be sure you feed the adults, and hire a clown (or enlist your most energetic relative).

The rules for two-year-olds are pretty much the same.  Line em up.  Get pictures and video (because they’re talking now).  Hire a clown who makes balloon animals.

Aaron3redhat_83liteAt three years old, the party scene gets dicier.  If your child is in pre-school, invite everyone in the class (certainly through kindergarten).  Doing this teaches kids that we are sensitive to everyone’s feelings – even the ones they don’t “care” about.  To model this sentiment, we even invite the kid with the weird parents.  We teach this lesson because we should – not because we agree about a specific kid or not.  Hindsight has taught me that these idealistic positions are absorbed, learned, and applied by our children later in their lives, so don’t be afraid of teaching your kid to do the right thing even if you’ve grown a little cynical about it yourself!

After that third birthday, our messaging about gifts and courtesy becomes more complex.

KiddieInviteI recently read about parents using electronic invitations that include preferences and suggestions about gifts for their children.  I understand the value of adults “registering” for wedding and baby gifts, but doing the same for children hadn’t really crossed my mind – because at a certain point you realize that spending more than twenty bucks on a gift for a little friend is slightly insane.  Nonetheless, I understand the concept of wanting to get gifts that will please a recipient.  This is a multi-faceted issue and just buying a pre-defined gift may cause us to miss some very important teaching opportunities.

One of the hardest things about being a parent is walking the fine line between “You are wonderful and deserve everything you desire.” and “You can’t always get what you want.”  We all know that Life is not perfect – and neither are parents, or kids, or relatives, or friends.  So, does it make sense for us to try and create a perfect world for our children?

As early as three or four years old children can be taught that giving gifts requires some creativity and forethought.  This can actually be a fun exercise.  Go to CVS, set a price limit, and tell your child to pick something for their friend.  You’ll be surprised what they find (and you can always explain why Epson Salts are not appropriate).

TantalizerSometimes birthday kids don’t know what they want, but there can be value in getting things they don’t want (or think they don’t want)…especially when a month after their birthday they’re home sick and they find the unopened game in their closet that captures their imagination for the next two days.

Yes… I have personal experience with this –  “Tantalizer” – the best game ever!

Teaching our children to receive a gift gracefully is a necessity.  This is a real opportunity to demonstrate for them that even if it’s not what they wanted, people’s feelings are more important than “things.”

The sooner kids learn to deal with disappointment, the better.  (I know some parents say that they don’t want their children to feel the sadness they felt as young people.  But I believe that creating a world for them where no one says no, or where they are empowered beyond reason is actually doing them a significant disservice.)

SingleGift2Life is not always going to go their way.  Learning to be positive about receiving any gift, even if it’s not what they wanted, will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

Even the wrong gifts are good gifts.

Birthdays are wonderful celebrations – especially when we remember to keep gratitude, inclusion, and grace on our guest lists.

RaisingChildrenFinalFrontCvrWebI wrote “Raising Children That Other People Like to be Around” because, after 36 years of marriage and 4 children, I believe that being good parents requires us to set a good example – and having a good relationship is the first, most important step in creating a model for loving interaction.  So here are some simple tricks that I have found helpful in keeping my marriage a happy place.

GREET EACH OTHER WITH LOVEMY Phone

No matter how my day is going, when my Caller ID tells me my wife is calling, I’ve learned to answer my phone with “Hello Beautiful” or “Hello My Love.”  It’s much better than “Yea?” or “What?” — and like most things we say out loud, the more we say it, the more it becomes so. 

AVOID THE CULTURE TRAP

ball_and_chain_wedding_topperThe Battle of the Sexes is a long-running and humorous one, and I have to be honest when I say that we men have a non-malicious, humor-oriented way of denigrating our women… just for the fun of it.  I’ve heard that women do the same – and none of us take that stuff too seriously (I hope), but — like “Hello Beautiful” — if a man calls his wife the “Ball and Chain” or constantly comments about his “henpecked” state of affairs, sooner or later the verbal images will create a new reality. 

Early in our marriage I was telling JoAnn a joke that characterized the wife as a “Ball and Chain.” She simply asked – “Am I a Ball and Chain?”  “No.” I replied.  She continued, “Is there anything in your life that I keep you from doing – besides maybe having sex with Keira Knightly (which would require a lot more than my consent)?”  “No.”  “So, I don’t think you need to perpetuate that stereotype in this relationship.”

Point taken.

feeneyWhat’s important in this story is that JoAnn was not and is not a ball and chain.  I’ve never had to complain her nagging me, condemning my need to play sports, or going to bars with my friends.  She was and remains secure enough to know that my life with my friends is an important component in the success of our relationship.  That’s the give in this give and take.

REMEMBER: YOU CHOSE EACH OTHER

Relationships are deliberate.  We find someone, we enjoy their company, we like them more than other people, we love spending time with them, and all of a sudden we’re in an exclusive relationship and things are going really well.  We share values, we share jokes, we share feelings – all of which may be subject to change.

The work of having a relationship goes on forever.  There are many good reasons you chose each other. As often as possible, remind yourself of the things you appreciate about your spouse.  Mention them every once in a while.  Compliment each other – essentially saying: “I must have really good taste, because I chose you.”  Create opportunities for flatterey.

AMGBarMDecisionCUPeople change, jobs change, children show up, money is steady, and then it’s not. Lots of things happen that seriously affect day to day life.  Staying in touch, having actual conversations, and getting things out are the best ways to keep your relationship alive.

We all have our own little secrets, but our spouse deserves to know 90% of what’s on our minds – if not “in the moment,” then a little further downstream before it becomes a burden, or a resentment, or a complete misunderstanding.  JoAnn and I have had many conversations that revealed two completely different interpretations of some interpersonal event.  Those conversations are always instructive. Some of them end in apologies and some end in laughter, but they all end in relief.

GIVE YOUR MATE THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT

He or she didn’t really mean to say that.  He or she doesn’t know you’ve had a tough day.  We all have a little alarm that detects slights, insults, or accusations, and I believe most of us have a knee jerk reaction to those things. TURN THAT KNEE JERK THING OFF.   It took me twenty years to learn that sometimes I’m erroneously making an assumption about what my wife is saying, and that it’s probably better for me to keep my fat yapper shut than it is to engage. 

THINK OF YOUR SPOUSE AS YOU DO YOURSELF

This one can be difficult, because it’s really a combination of “all of the above.”  The absolute secret of a successful marriage is to care as much about your spouse as you do about yourself, and to be willing to sacrifice something you really want in order to make your partner happy.

I’ve noted before that marriage is not 50/50, it’s 90/90 – if you both accept that you may be doing most of the work at any given time when, in reality there is probably an ebb and flow to it, you can comfortably dedicate yourselves to the common good.  Ironically, working for the common good in a relationship is actually a mater of self-interest. The more you do for your mate, the more likely it is that your mate will want to do things to please you.

REGJEGWeLoveULiteMy parents fought constantly… and it made it very hard for me to feel comfortable or emotionally safe when I was with them.  I vowed that I wouldn’t repeat that mistake – and I have worked hard to create a relationship where the “love” part outweighs the “being right” part.  People are always surprised when they hear that JoAnn and I never fight.  We disagree, we discuss, sometimes we fume a little – but we always find resolution.

These suggestions are about building a frame of mind.  It’s not easy to surrender at the back door – but if you can, you will always cross a peaceful and loving threshold, and that’s worth it.

3-Aarons_1st_B-day-035One day, when Aaron was about around two years old, JoAnn went out to runs some errands, leaving Aaron and me to wash my beloved navy blue two-door Fiat (because that’s what guys do to bond).  The car, being a European two-door coupe, had very little room in the back, but just enough room for a car seat.  Aaron was like me at his age. He wanted to be inside near the steering wheel, radio, and keys, so he climbed into the car while I put up the windows, closed the door, and started hosing off the vehicle.

It was a beautiful, warm late Spring day in Southern California and we were having a ton of fun.  Aaron would put his hand on the window and I’d spray where his hand was.  He’d put his face to the glass and I’d spray his face.

Funny stuff.

fiat_124_sport_coupe_gray_1975At one point, Aaron jokingly pushed down the door lock, and I mimed how funny that was.  I also mimed right back that he should unlock it, but it was too late, he was already turning and jumping like a chimp on the seat.  Oh was it fun — until he jumped his way into the back, found his car seat, and to my surprise, buckled himself right in!

Aaron looked at me for a moment and then realized he was stuck.  He started to cry.  I made funny faces and behaved in a manner that most would describe as silly to distract him and calm him down, but I couldn’t help but notice that the sun was now shining directly into the car, turning it into a dark blue sauna, and illuminating the glistening beads of sweat on his little nose.

IMG_3657Through the closed windows, I tried to tell Aaron how to press the buckle so that the car seat latch would release, but, alas, it was, in fact, childproof.  With his little face getting red and sweaty, I knew that time was not on my side.  Since JoAnn had the other key to the car, there was only one thing I could do.  I went into the house, got my hammer, and smashed the driver’s side window in order to reach in and unlock the door.

Cool air rushed in past my face as I pulled him out.  Life was good, and that adventure cost me a hundred and seventy five bucks.

RGnJGGWhen I told JoAnn about it, she didn’t criticize me for leaving our baby to run free in the car with the keys inside. She just shook her head and laughed with me – as she did when I lost Emily skiing, accidentally hit Benjy on the head with a baseball bat, forgot to pick Coby up from Sunday School, and any number of other things that may have happened along the way while raising our family of four .

My parents were pragmatists and I believe I owe them the real essentials of this story — No panic, no anger, and an ability to laugh at ourselves.  In fact, keeping our head is one of the basic keys to raising children who remain calm and learn to solve problems.  It’s about the example we set, and as parents we may not all be in the same boat, but we’re all on the same ocean.

Parenting is decision-making — thousands upon thousands of decisions.  What we call common sense is just the most reliable compass for guiding those decisions.  Trusting in common sense solutions, like calming your child prior to smashing the window of your beloved car, helps us respond calmly and effectively when raw emotion might cause unprepared parents to panic.

BTW – I really loved that Fiat.