Posts

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.

I meant to write this post last week, but…

ExcuseMaking

…….the dog ate it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  At some point, we have to decide when the excuse is no longer valid and get rid of that script once and for all.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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are 5 do-able resolutions that can help you and your family make the most of the coming year.

1. Ambush Your Kids With Something Positive Every Day

positive_kidI was recently speaking at an elementary school when one of the parents asked about consequences for bad behavior.  I thought about it for a moment and then realized that I preferred to give and receive consequences for good behavior.  Most of us are in the habit of telling our kids what they’re doing wrong, but it’s just as easy (and more effective) to bath our children in positive reinforcement rather than negative.  Not only does this tell your children what pleases you, but over time, it becomes a habit and tips the scale toward more positive conversation and less criticism.

Try some of these phrases:  “I like the way you are sitting quietly.” “Your teeth look really good when you brush them.” “Sometimes I just love hearing your voice.”  “It makes me really happy when you are polite.”

2.    Review Your Family Tree.

Family_Tree_TemplateHaving a family, no matter how complex yours might be, gives our children a foundation.  One of my grandfathers emigrated from Russia, through Canada to Detroit.  My other was born in Decatur, Illinois, where his family had a dry-goods store.  My wife’s family came from Poland through Ellis Island.  Each of them had multiple brothers and sisters and, as a result, our extended family is sometimes hard to understand – but always interesting.  Nonetheless, I’ve noticed that over the years our children have repeated family lore to their friends (calling us for confirmation) and grown to take pride in their own family history.

Today, the Internet offers a variety of tools for building and tracking your family tree, but telling stories about our family and reviewing old photographs often reveals a passion that really captures the interest of our children.

3.    Do Nice Things Without Expectation.

GrocerycartBy returning someone else’s grocery cart, holding a door, or picking up a random piece of litter, we are showing our children that we have a responsibility to help take care of other people in our world – even, or especially, when no one is asking us to.  I try to explain to them that doing good deeds makes me feel better about myself – just for me.  By modeling these behaviors, and occasionally enlisting the help of our kids, we are giving them a chance to do nice things for other people – which is better for all of us.

4.    Avoid Creating Feelings For Your Children

socceryounggirldribbling2I was coaching AYSO for my daughter’s U6 (under six years old) team when it occurred to me that my young players didn’t really care about whether they won or lost.  In U6, the emphasis is on positive coaching, good sportsmanship, and player development – it’s not on winning – and the kids seemed just fine with that until their parents started telling them how to feel.  “You played well, but you don’t want to be a loser do you?”  Last I looked, that little girl was indifferent about the result of the game, she was just wanted to go get an ice-cream, but according to her well-meaning mom she was now a loser.

None of us can be sure what our kids are thinking or feeling.  We often think that the way we would feel is the way they’re feeling – but that’s not always the case, and it’s something for us to be aware of.   Things like “You must be sad because Jonah didn’t invite you over to play.” are complete projections of how we feel as opposed to how our child is reacting.  It always makes sense to be compassionate and ask our children about their feelings – but it’s better to let them define those feelings themselves than to tell them what we think they might be.  In my book I call this “Leading the Witness”.

5.    Verbally Express Gratitude Each Day

I was about thirteen when a homeless person approached my father and asked him for some money.  My father gave him a quarter and then said to me “There but for the grace of God go I.”  I never forgot that phrase or that feeling.

KidsAtBKGWeddingjpgEarly in the development of our family, I was working six, twelve-hour, days a week.  After about a year, JoAnn “suggested” that I be home for dinner at least once a week and work only one Saturday per month.  At that weekly dinner, we’d go around the table and individually define at least one thing for which we were grateful.  Week after week this dinner offered us an opportunity to share our feelings and remind our children how lucky we are to have each other, to live in our house, to have food, school, pencils, television, friends, etc.

Expressing gratitude doesn’t require a formal occasion, it’s as easy as looking out of the car window and saying “Isn’t the world amazing?” or “Aren’t we lucky to have a car – what if people still had to ride horses everywhere?”

…and speaking of gratitude…Happy New Year Dear Readers.  Thank you for giving time to my blog and for sharing it with others.  May 2014 bring you all health, happiness, and simplicity.  No matter how ridiculous our lives may seem, we are all truly lucky to be here.

Wedding Photo Credit – Paige Jones Photography

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.

My mom would have been ninety-two last week.  Here are three gems she left me:

Don’t be so open minded that your brain falls out.

Open_Mind_xlargeAll of us have been in situations where our better nature overrides our common sense.  I’ve loaned money to friends.  I’ve counseled people to stay hopeful and remain in bad relationships.  I’ve even been tempted to let my teenage son have his girlfriend sleep over – and, in each of those cases, I’ve had to remind myself that, chances are, I will end up on the wrong end of those equations. I’ll lose my money (and perhaps my friend.) I’ll be providing grief counseling to broken-hearted lovers.  And I’ll continually worry about my son and his girlfriend.

With children, I have found this sentiment reads as being naïve… and sometimes it’s important that they learn certain lessons on their own.  How many toys loaned to “friends” (often to curry favor) will be lost or broken before a child learns that “generosity” has limits – and that there are people in the world who see generosity as just an opportunity for taking.

When I was in college a guy asked me to lend him a hundred bucks because he was going to the track.  At the end of the day, he caught up with me somewhere and handed me two-hundred.  Wow.  A couple of days later, he asked if he could borrow the two hundred. No problem.  But I never saw him again.  Yes, shame on him — and shame on me, because my hope was greater than my common sense.

wishfulthinkingfingerscrossedSometimes “open minded” means gullible. .  We’ve raised level-headed kids, but occasionally they’ve came home with some pretty ridiculous stories.  These were things that just didn’t make sense, but in the excitement of creating the fable they forgot the need for logic, and so did my JoAnn and I.  We heard how Billy’s very slightly built dad was playing professional hockey. We learned how Amber’s mother flew in the Space Shuttle.  We were skeptical, but these things seemed possible.  I guess we just wanted to believe.  This  type of open-mindedness is “wishful thinking” –  like allowing the fox to watch the chickens because he swore he wasn’t hungry.  Sometimes it’s just the nature of the beast to do what comes naturally.  That’s something we all need to remember when we think the banks will regulate themselves or that voting documentation has to be available in twelve different languages.

The grass is always greener on the other side. But you still have to mow both lawns.

SONY DSCAs a person who was rarely happy in his job, this gem is probably the most practical piece of advice I ever got.  I was always thinking how things would be better if I could just work somewhere else, or just drive that other car, or just be best friends with that really important person.  Now, after many years of life experience, it turns out that everything and everyone have their own complications.  No matter how attractive a change seems, it may just be exchanging one set of problems for another.

This is mostly a cautionary expression , and it’s one we have to learn for ourselves.  One of our sons had what I considered a great job.  He was employed full time, with health benefits, at a highly respected company.  What’s more, he worked a shift from 2pm to 11pm. If his work was complete, he could leave early and still get paid for eight hours.  At age 27 I would have been in Nirvana with a steady job like that.  But there were problems, as there always are.  It was a little far from home, the hours cut into time with his girlfriend, his co-workers lacked motivation, there was no upward trajectory, and much more.  So he quit.

MowerOnLawnIn this case, there was no other lawn, only the hope of a better one.  Ah, the illusions of youth.  The good news is, after a very scary four months of unemployment, he got a job that led to another opportunity, that led to his current job and — for now — he appears to be happy.   The “lesson learned” was, “Never leave a job until you have the next one.” And he’s the first to admit it.

When it comes to relationships, I’ve met lots of people who are always looking for a better mate. But JoAnn and I have agreed over the years, nobody’s perfect, including us, and trading one person in for another can introduce a whole new set of problems.

There is no question that most situations can be improved, but it’s important to measure both “lawns” and completely understand the maintenance requirements of each.  And always remember that having a lawn to mow is a blessing of its own.

The Truth Floats

bubbles1Try to hold a bubble underwater and you’ll note that it finds a way to squeak between your fingers.  Additionally, if you try to speed that bubble upward, it often breaks into many tiny bubbles and its essence becomes lost.

“The truth floats” has multiple interpretations.  To some people it means, “What goes around comes around.” I prefer to think of it as proof that the end result is usually the right result.

We used this expression to help our children understand why bullying was the bully’s problem.  There’s much evidence that kids who bully have an internal unhappiness that motivates them to pick on others and, in the long run, that will have a far more adverse effect on the bully’s own lives than it will on anyone else’s.  Ultimately, the Truth will float and that kid will find him or herself with no friends.  In the short run, this is just a way to help your child understand and rise above the barbs that some people will hurl at them.  In the long run, this also allows children to take stock of themselves and have faith in their actions, knowing that their goodness will ultimately be what “floats” in their world.

crazy-personTo explain this phenomenon to my children, I said, “What you know to be true, other people also know.”  We need to have faith that other people are smart enough to see the things we see.  This is often confirmed when someone says “Is that person crazy, or is it just me?”

Ironically, all of these expressions seem to be methods for protecting ourselves from our own optimism.  I think it’s important to remain positive, to believe in the best we have to offer each other, but I’m also experienced enough to know that we need to teach our children (and often ourselves) to be wary of those who are not quite as hopeful as we.

HappyFaceoptimist300x185Ultimately, however, believing that things will work out, and that Truth will prevail, is not a bad way to go through life…

… just don’t take any wooden nickels.

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.

happy-thanksgiving

I’m a guy.   I like my space.   I like my stuff.   I love my wife.

For the first time in thirty three years I have them all back to myself.

EmilyDropOffYes, the Dropoff at school was successful and it appears our adorable daughter will merge into the flow of college like a good driver getting onto the freeway.  The road is clear (we like her college), and she’s a very responsible driver.  Worst case she has three brothers and two parents for GPS.

Our empty nest is, of course, relative.  In today’s connected frenzy there is no real solitude (nor would I want that), but JoAnn, my lovely wife, no longer has to feel the compulsion to cook, or be a waitress, or monitor every coming and going in our daughter’s life.

Our grown sons, bless their male souls, have found a wonderful rhythm with us.  They check in, say hello, give brief updates, and then move along their way.  This is fine for me, as it’s my style of communication.  If they want to “get deep”, like talk about their problems or something, I hand the phone to their mom.  They know what type of advice I give best, and they know that their mom will listen for much longer.  That’s the beauty of this thing.

REGJEGLagunaPundits, our friends who have been Empty Nesters for at least one semester, tell us that we have plenty to keep us occupied.  We’ve got a wedding in October and, someday… we’ll be grandparents.  Ironically, as much as JoAnn feels sadness about having this empty nest, she’s not particularly interested in having an infant or toddlers running around right now either.  Even more ironically, I kind of like the idea of grandchildren.  It’s really about finding the new balance.

For thirty-three years we have been parents.  What were once discussions about music, movies, adventure and dreams were partially hijacked by discussions about our kids, their teachers, their sports, their friends… and that was perfectly fine.  In fact, empty nest or not, our conversations are still dominated by issues related to our roles as parents and that’s OK, we love what our children bring to our lives.

JetskiSuddenly, however, we’re back to us.  My career has morphed, and JoAnn’s continues.  For the first time, though, I’ve heard her talking about the possibility of a change – of diversifying her interests and looking at some new things.  Maybe she’d be willing to collaborate with me on my next project… “THIS, I think, is what being Empty Nesters is about!”

It’s day three, and already the possibilities are limitless.  Anyone want to go Jet-skiing?

EmSleeps_5_00My adorable wife and I are sending our youngest, and last, child off to college next week.  She is our fourth, and her departure comes with some significance.  We started our family in 1980 and added new members in ’83, ‘89, and ‘95 respectively.  Our oldest child is thirty-three, which means that JoAnn and I have had kids in our house for more than half of our lives.

We’re empty nesters all right.  We’ve got a wonderful home that, over the last years has experienced a decrease in noise, hunger, and homework.

Here we are, on the brink of the abyss.

I’m feeling a renewed freedom.  If we want to go to the movies, we can.  If we want to lounge around, we will.  If we feel like traveling, we’ll pack our bags.  For JoAnn, however, there is a significant void.  Intellectually it’s quite easy for her to fill in the hole.  She has a career, but she’s always carried that load.  She texts with our daughter all day – but she won’t need to wait up anymore.  She worries about cooking dinner – now she won’t, but none of this is relief she can feel quite yet.  Frankly, we’re just living in Suckville.

BlogLite08I figure we’ll be living here for a month or so.  They say “One door closes and another opens.” To me, this just means there’s going to be a draft in our house for a while.  There’s no question that we’re going to miss Emily’s morning and afternoon rituals – breakfast on the run, homework on the couch.  We’ll miss the sudden dance performances, and conversation re-enactments.  We’ll miss the drama of the drama, and we’ll miss the sweet late night, no-holds-barred conversations.  I’ll miss the moments when our wonderful daughter stands next to my wife, brilliantly and happily reflecting the wonderful woman who has taught her, so perfectly, how to be an amazing and sweet grownup girl.  Yes, it’s going be Suckville.

EHGJGGBeachAfter a while though, with constant doses of Skype, and love from our other three children – all sons who were raised to protect and honor their mother – we will find the new normal.  We will begin to ignore the void, or fill it with a new type of busy that will include the addition of a new daughter (in the upcoming wedding of our second son), the ongoing growth of our oldest, and the remarkable exploits of our third.  We will be reminded of the luck we have in our friendships, and the strength we find in each other.  We will find comfort in the good fortune we have in being able to send our daughter to a fine school, even when it hurts.  But that’s our job.

Before we know it, she will be home for her brother’s October wedding and after that, it will suddenly be Thanksgiving, The Holidays, and the New Year.

As much as I’d like to think that I’m tough and my daughter is just moving into this new phase, I have to say that I’ll be joining JoAnn as we pass through Suckville.  I just hope the New Normal is right around the bend.

RaisingChildrenFinalFrontCvrWebWe are days away from the release of my book, so I thought I’d share a little more…

Everyone is capable of creating a wonderful family, and “Raising Children That Other People Like to be Around” is structured around five simple principles for which I have had the audacity to create the anagram “S.M.A.R.T.”  There are five letters so that they can be counted on one hand, and I used the word SMART because it’s positive and easy to remember.  The principles are the most important behaviors that influence the way our children see us – and, as they become adults, the way they see themselves.

As parents, our job is to:

Set an example.

Make the rules.

Apply the rules.

Respect ourselves.

Teach in all things.

Children make us life-long learners – not only by sharing the events of their lives, but also by keeping us in touch with ourselves, the things we believe in, and the ways we react to those events.

The book describes a process, referencing anecdotal information that affirms or teaches a specific lesson, regardless of the age of the child.  There is no doubt that many of our children’s adult strengths are the result of lessons learned when they were toddlers.  With some solid concentration in the first few years, you can set yourself up for a very pleasurable life-long parenting experience.  After all, if you pour the right foundation, and create some solid scaffolding, the buildings you build are going to stand up to almost any storm.

“We made them from scratch,” we say to each other, and this book is the closest I can come to giving you our recipe.

Em's GraduationFor JoAnn and me, it sometimes seems as though every minute we have is devoted to our children. But after all the teacher conferences, sporting events, carpooling, and homework supervising, the loving memories seem too fleeting.  As we look back on all those years, we can barely remember many of the details because, as JoAnn says, “The days crawl, and the years fly by.”

 

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.