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vectorstock_634418These are difficult times in which to raise children. We’ve become a culture that mistrusts authority, that believes individuals are often more important than the society, and that everyone deserves special treatment. As a result, it is up to us, as parents, to raise children who will respect authority, tell the truth, and be kind to others. Here are some simple tools to help accomplish those goals:

  1. Accept that nobody’s perfect – neither you nor your child.

Murphy must have been a parent, because having kids certainly teaches us that if it can go wrong, it probably will go wrong.

Give yourself a break. I’ve made my share of mistakes. I’ve been emotionally weak and “lost it” more than a few times. I’ve gotten our kids’ names confused. I’ve ignored complaints in an attempt to toughen my kid up, only to find that the sprain was actually a fracture. It’s all part of the “live and learn” process – and it’s pretty clear to me that there are very few fatal errors that a loving parent can make.

Quilt2In the “History of the Eagles,” Joe Walsh points out that events sometimes seem terrible (breaking a bone), or ill-timed (getting fired), or tragic (losing a loved one) – but as we look back on those events, we realize that they are all part of the perfectly woven quilt that is our life. Chances are, you’re doing a better job than you think you are and someday you’ll look back on your process and see just how well it worked.

  1. Let your children learn from their own mistakes.

As our children got older, we gave them more responsibility and let them earn the right to make their own decisions. The early decisions were basic trust issues — being allowed to stay home alone, or go to parties with friends — but as they got older, the decisions become more serious, like where to go to college or whether to go to Mexico for Spring Break. Generally, by the time they got to their late teens, the groundwork for good decision-making had been laid. But it’s hard for parents to let go.

BeardedMeNMarcieI can clearly remember having my parents try to “guide” me toward “good” decisions when sometimes I just wanted to do what I wanted to do. I remember saying to them, “You’ve taught me how to make decisions, so if I make bad ones, it’s probably your fault.” They weren’t too happy with that one – but I thought it was pretty effective.

It was in those years that we learned to trust each other and taught each other some wonderful lessons – as my children have done with me. When my son Ben told me he wanted to major in History, I explained that I would prefer that he be an English major. Without missing a beat he said “Dad, History is English. It’s just stories that have already been told.” Case closed. Later in his life, that same son quit a job before having another lined up… a major mistake from our point of view. After a few months of unemployment, he was remorseful, but then he got the perfect job. (See the Joe Walsh sentiment above.)

  1. Be proud of your work.

Our water heater died the day after Christmas. I called our appliance source and they sent out Mike The Plumber to install a replacement. Mike didn’t mess around. He knew his job, and explained that he was replacing all my flex connectors with real copper pipe because “that’s how it should be done.”

During a break we had a personal conversation in which Mike revealed that he is a single dad raising an eleven year old son. As he spoke, he mentioned that he was sorry he couldn’t give his son more time, but he also told me of the projects that they had done together, all of which were opportunities to bond while demonstrating dedication and a solid work ethic. Mike is clearly a sensitive dad. Though he confessed to having been too tough at times when he thought it was necessary, I could see in him the same pride in his family that he had in his work. I gave Mike a copy of my book, and I inscribed it as follows: “Proud fathers raise sons who are proud of their fathers” —- because setting an example is the most important thing parents can do.

  1. Express gratitude with your kids every day.

SunsetBeautySometimes things feel as though they can’t get any worse. Sometimes your kid is sick, your car won’t start, your coffee spills, your computer won’t boot. That’s when it’s best to remember the things that are working right – starting with “I don’t think things can get much worse – so we’ve got nowhere to go but up!”

It’s easy to say there are lessons to be learned from failure — and there are — but there are also simple successes to be noted regularly. Things like “we’re lucky to have each other, and a roof over our heads, and the strength to believe that tomorrow will be a better day.” Try appreciating electricity, music, hot water, airplanes, or antibiotics sometime.

  1. Teach responsibility.

Avoid blaming, or searching for people or things to blame. It’s up to us to teach our children to “fess up” and admit when they’ve made a mistake, dented a car, or caused pain to another.

vectorstock_2268588My parents had a brilliant tool for this. They called it the “Armistice.” When I needed to admit that I’d broken something, or when my mother came to me in search of a confession, I could ask for an Armistice. Asking for an Armistice meant that I would not be summarily punished. Instead I would have the opportunity to admit my stupidity and help define my punishment. Inevitably my parents were kinder to me than I was to myself – but the lifelong lesson-learned was that I could step up to tell the truth and face reasonable consequences. Being truthful, and unloading the anxiety, has made my life, and that of my children, much easier.

With these five steps I believe we can bring our families closer, encourage our appreciation for each other and ease the passage of time.

Here’s wishing you a 2015 filled with wonder, love, and amusement.

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.