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Here are five quick tests:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just try it.

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

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

Trust me.

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

The process is designed to succeed.

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

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

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

 

3Generations

3 Generations

As my children have gotten older and more self-sufficient, I’ve seen them become more “objective” about the hard-earned advice I offer.  They no longer hear my voice as if it were thunder on the mountaintop.  As my role in their lives has become far less primary than it used to be, I’ve begun to think about my relationship with my own father – and how I felt about him when I was their age.

I always loved and respected my father, but as I grew up in the newer world of my own creation — my own young children, my incredibly hip friends, my co-coaches, my social scene — his knowledge and participation began to lag.  He hadn’t lost any ground in his own world.  At about my age now, he was still a highly respected businessman. He still had his group of loving friends and a new family. But my work in the entertainment industry was quite unrelated to his fascination with words and the law.

sc000189deOur careers actually collided at one point.  I had been working for a company that encountered some interesting legal problems, and I recommended that the owners call my dad for advice.  After a few months as their off-site counsel, they brought him in-house. We would see each other in the halls.  He came to be respected and even loved.  I, as always, was proud to be his son.  Aside from that, however, we stayed completely out of each other’s business — until the company needed to hire a new CFO.

Among the candidates was a young friend of mine.  A real schmoozer who wore nice leather and talked regularly of his big game studio experience.  My dad hated him.  He thought he was slick, he thought he was dishonest, and he didn’t like the way he did business.  I, on the other hand, thought my dad was “old fashioned” and didn’t understand the complexities of structuring a business in our industry.  Imagine that: my father, Harvard Law School grad and business counselor to titans, couldn’t understand how to run an entertainment oriented business.

sc000b4e78As it turned out, my father’s time-tested instinct was right.  Within a year, despite his efforts to organize and reorganize the business, it went belly up.  The investors lost their cash, the “fast talker” moved on to deceive others, and my dad retired –  more convinced than ever that “show business” was not for him.

I’m writing this because I know I still have good insights for my children.  I know there is benefit to sharing my life experience with them, and even more so when they have children of their own.  I also know I’ll have to slip them my wisdom without seeming didactic or bossy – because nowadays they only really “listen” to about twenty-five percent of what I say.

I’m not feeling sorry for myself.  I’m just honoring the passage of time and recognizing that I am now the “old guy.” They are the new, improved, self-sufficient versions of their mother and me.

Kelsie + Benjy-387This, I suppose, is the double-edged sword of parenting.  On one hand, we take great pride in the people we have brought to our community.  On the other hand, as our sons and daughters effortlessly assimilate, we feel the loss as they become immersed in their own lives.

We will offer advice.

We will guide as necessary.

We will be here to listen.  And we will remember that, for us, parenting is now mostly a spectator sport.

or…  EXCUSES PART TWO

ScribblesIn a previous blog I addressed the folly of parents too frequently accepting excuses from our children. I also mentioned the possibility of parents actually making up excuses on behalf of their kids – as in, they ate sugar and got all wired up, which is why they covered the walls of their room with crayon scribbles (true story!)

But what about the excuses we make up on our own behalf — the stories we tell ourselves, and how those stories affect our roles as parents?

FatherChildIconLet’s start from our child’s point of view.  Remember, our young ones are pretty much blank slates, so they have no built-in expectation or “definition” of what a Mommy or a Daddy is and when they’re toddlers, they’re not interested in comparing their parents with other parents.  All they know is YOU.  If you’re a working mom, or a stay at home dad – you are the definition of mom and dad to them.

Our problem is that we have a tendency to put ourselves at a disadvantage through self-criticism that causes us to be defensive about the job we’re doing.  “I’m a single parent.” or “I’m a working mother.” Okay – but how does that change your responsibility to your child?  Yes, working motherhood makes things more complicated. But does that alter our child’s perception that we are the definition of what parents are?  In fact, that perception does not change whether you’re working, single, divorced, or on the road. Parenthood is defined by what you bring to your children — whether it’s by touch, phone, or Skype – whether it’s every morning, or every night, or every other night.MotherCHildIcon

Kids don’t punch a clock.  When we’re not there, they miss us – and that’s because they’re hardwired to need our guidance, our confidence, and our approval.  It’s obviously nice when we can hold them and hug them, but if it’s not always possible, it’s important that we accept that (about ourselves) and not let it affect our identity as parents. Is there such thing as a perfect parent?  Can anyone possibly “be there” all the time?

No – not possible.

The job has built-in challenges and flaws, so let’s accept them and not play defense.

When JoAnn was toilet training our children, she (and the “student”) made their way to our bathroom.  During working hours, I would be at my office doing my job – earning a living.  But JoAnn phoned me EVERY time our kid made a wee wee in the potty so that I could congratulate him or her.  I wasn’t physically there, but we managed to find a way around that without making my job into an excuse for not having “been there” and our kids were aware that Daddy was really proud!  (I don’t think they cared if I was home or on the other end of the phone.)

ManyProfessionsI loved my parents very much, but they rarely made it to my little league games.  My dad was a hard working guy.  He went on business trips weekly and he taught a class on Tuesday nights. I didn’t blame him for that, mostly because he never blamed himself. He never made excuses or felt a need to make them – that was his job, and his rhythm.  In those days, men weren’t expected to be participatory – but I didn’t feel any sort of loss because my father wasn’t always around.

My mom did a very good job of holding the line, applying the rules, and keeping me on course, but my dad was who I wanted to be like.  I’ve written about the fact that he spanked me.  I’ve written about his need to dominate discussions. But he taught me the value of honesty, and I saw how he devoted his time to doing things for other people, including me – which included the time he spent working away from home.

As parents, we are who we are.  Our identity isn’t changed by excuses, or by career demands, or by personal challenges.  Childhood may not be the time of innocence that the Romantic poets depicted, but we can do our kids a favor by not making our job as parents any harder than it needs to be by coming to it on the defensive.

And if it seems so hard that we need to start making excuses for ourselves, we should keep those excuses to ourselves.

You’re there and you care.  That’s what makes you a parent.

BlogLite21As this week marks the thirty-sixth year of my marriage, I thought I’d try to offer some of the little lessons I have learned through co-habitation.

None of us is entitled to the “perfect” partner.  We just don’t come out of the box in a manner that allows us to fit seamlessly into the lives of another.  But we are creatures who can learn and adapt and, as such, we are capable of making choices about how we’d like to live.  These lessons have simplified my life and strengthened our relationship as parents:

#1 – There is a Bigger Picture

JoAnn and I had been married a few years before  I had gained enough insight to avoid blatantly ogling other women in her presence, but one night we were out to dinner at a nice restaurant when a statuesque woman entered in a very sheer top, grabbing the eye of every male in the room.  No big deal.  I kept my eyes fixed on my wife.  Later, as we were driving home in the car I said to her, “Did you see that woman who came into the Shoesrestaurant?”  JoAnn looked at me with disgust and replied, “Did you see her shoes?”  I had to confess.  I hadn’t seen her shoes.  JoAnn then explained that open-toed shoes with stockings immediately meant that, as women go, that one was asleep at the wheel.

Shoes.  Gotta pay more attention to shoes.

#2 – Embrace The Differences

DSCN0338I’ve played baseball in one form or another since Little League, and today I am part of a softball team that has played together for forty years.  Over the years, I have experienced every situation that can happen on a baseball diamond and I believe I know what to do (as an outfielder) in any circumstance.  Two outs, one man on.  One out, two men on, etc. etc.

Couples often fight about the way women spend money and men use their leisure time, but while I was devoting my time to baseball, JoAnn was honing her shopping skills to near perfection.  I have learned to marvel at my wife’s ability to drive a hard bargain, return an item without a tag or receipt, and generally make the system work for her.  I occasionally have the pleasure of watching her navigate the retail world.  I just sit back and enjoy.  I know that she is as concerned with our finances as I, and I respect her ability to make smart decisions.  It’s all how you look at it.

#3 – Think of Your Mate as You Do Yourself

We once went out on a double date with a couple whose company I enjoyed.  I thought the guy was funny, and I thought his wife was sassy.  When JoAnn and I recapped the evening I said, “That Roger guy is really funny, don’t you think?” To which she replied, “He’s not very nice to his wife.”  “Whaddaya mean?”  I asked.  “He treated her like she was stupid, and she isn’t.” She continued, “If he treats her like she’s stupid, and he’s married to her – then he must be stupid for marrying her.”

Done.

In the end, if you can find ways to appreciate and affirm your spouse’s intelligence then you’re really complimenting yourself for having convinced someone so smart to marry you!

#4 – People Don’t Change

IMG_0621For everything my wife does that drives me crazy, I’m sure there are multiple things I do that make her nuts.  I’m a little messy and often don’t pick up my clothes.  I sometimes watch football ALL DAY.  Sometimes I forget to tell her something important.  On the other hand, JoAnn occasionally leaves the butter out all afternoon, or leaves dirty pans on the stove where they cool and become harder to wash.  Sometimes she misses a material fact in a story.

Nobody’s perfect – but we’ve realized that arguing about unchangeable elements of our personalities only leads to acrimony.  Take a deep breath and carry on in the name of a peaceful home.  These days I pick up my clothes because I know it will make her happy – and also because she’s not nagging me about it.

#5 – Fidelity – The Bottom Line

When JoAnn and I first got together, she put fidelity into a perspective I could barely believe.  “If you want to sleep with someone else, you can.”  “What??” I said.  She repeated “If you want to sleep with someone else, you can.”

“Seriously?” I asked.  

“Sure,” she said, “as long as it’s oaky for me to sleep with someone else too. Because if it’s okay for you, it should be okay for me, right?”  Then, she added, “there are probably a lot more men who want to sleep with me than women who want to sleep with you.”

Ouch.    Extortion, but effective.

I am/was a flirt by nature and JoAnn knew that when she married me.  For her, it is both an endearing and exasperating quality that comes with the package.  She has allowed me considerable leeway in my relationships with other women, and, all along, I have understood my responsibility with regard to those relationships.

We have both worked to remain “attractive” to the other and throughout the years in which we had children at home we always took time for ourselves.  JoAnn has remained primarily “My Wife” and secondarily “The Mother of Our Children.”  We have always prioritized each other – and this has given our children perspective.

JoAnn never restricted me in my guy-type activities.  She knew when I was going to a bachelor party or had been to a “Gentlemen’s Club”, but she also respected that those male-bonding experiences were enjoyable for me and in no way a threat to our relationship.

REGJEGLagunaMarriage or cohabitation is not easy.  Reasonable people can make it work through diligent, honest communication and consideration.  Among the side benefits of doing so is that fact we teach our children how to respect others and accept imperfection.  Modeling a positive, communicative relationship is a slam-dunk way to raise happy, respectful children.

My friends used to ridicule us for our hyper-communicative relationship.  I withstood all that because I knew in the end that we’d still be looking at each other and saying “You’re the only one” (I can stand being with for long periods of time).

Happy Anniversary my love.

Turkey2It’s November now, the month of Thanksgiving (one of my two faves (4th of July being the other)).

November is also the month when our children start rehearsing seriously for their school Holiday Programs.  Singing, dancing, holding signs – whatever it is they’re doing – they’re preparing to be “on their best” for their parents and for their community.

School-children-playing-violinWhen I was young, the Christmas Program was an all-day affair.  We students got to leave our classes early so that we could go home, change into our holiday best and return in the evening for a Bake Sale (to raise money for the school) and for our performance.  Our parents would drop us off in our classroom and then go find seats in the auditorium.  About forty-five minutes later, the show would begin.  We would entertain ourselves in the classroom by playing simple games – like Hangman (on the board), or Simon Says until someone would summon us for our moment on stage.  We would file onto the risers as we had done in rehearsals the day before and face our parents and our community, who were very excited to see what our class had to offer on this pre-holiday occasion.  All the parents were there.  This was Big Time.

LittleGirlSingsToday, the “Holiday” Program still offers the same opportunity for our children.  The concept is similar, although the celebration is more diverse.  After all, it was radical when Hannukah songs were introduced at my elementary school, but today schools spend a lot of time teaching our kids to embrace diversity with sensitivity and empathy.  I find these new additions refreshing, and I note ironically, that we, as parents, don’t seem to be doing our part.

One big thing that has changed is that many parents today only seem to care about their child’s performance.  Typically, these days, after any class finishes their part of the program, a wave of parents stands up and leaves – so that by the end of the program, the last performers (usually the older kids) are greeted by a much-emptier auditorium.  This, I fear, is an unfortunate sign of our times.

People regularly ask me, “What’s wrong with kids today?  Why are they discourteous, why are they so self-involved?”  I believe the answer lies partially in the parental behavior described above.  Why should our children care about the other kids in their school, if their parents don’t?  Why, in fact, should they care about anyone else if we parents are always prioritizing them over others, sometimes even over their teachers or coaches?

SparseAuditoriumBestLiteThis isn’t rocket science.  I didn’t have to study anything beside my own childhood and the emotion I felt when my children asked me after their performances why the audience was so empty.  We parents need to teach our children to be sensitive to the feelings of others and to act in a manner consistent with those feelings.  This isn’t always easy.  There are obligations to attend to, meals after the performance, Grandma’s in town and restless siblings, etc.  But as we demonstrate your concern for the feelings of others, our children will begin to understand that they are not the center of the Universe and that they, too, need to be aware of those around them.

Although it may seem like I’m counseling other parents to be “selfless”, the truth is (from my experience) that teaching our children to behave well and respect others is very much in our own self-interest.  By teaching our children to be conscious of the world around them, and by showing them how to be courteous, our lives actually become much easier.  We don’t have to spend time worrying about bad behavior or insensitivity toward others.  We don’t have to deal with a child that talks back, or corral our kids when we go out in public.  Kids naturally accept and incorporate the positive values that we, their parents have portrayed.  Ultimately, they actually realize that we are people whose feelings and opinions they should also care about, because, they are, after all, a part of a family and community.

StageCurtainSo, there’s a lot more at stake when you decide to bail in the middle of a school performance.  When I wrote “Raising Children That Other People Like to be Around”, I listed “Setting an Example” as one of my key values.  By showing our children that we care about the performances of other children – even children to whom we have no direct connection – we are teaching them that we respect other people in the world.  When they’re reminded that the world is bigger than they are, they gain a perspective that allows them to FEEL and experience gratitude for the things and people around them.  It’s a lesson that will serve them their entire lives.

Yes, November is the month for gratitude, and I’ve written on this subject now because it’s the time to start scheduling those Holiday Programs.  Enjoy the time, and enjoy all the performances.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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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.