Posts

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

SavenickYoungWhen we were newlyweds ourselves, JoAnn and I were often successful matchmakers. We had one friend in particular – a talented, smart, and handsome co-worker of mine named Phil — who was very eligible and very single.  I was pretty direct with him about our desire to fix him up.

chasidic_jewOne day, as I was telling Phil about a particularly wonderful candidate, he said something that would inform me for the rest of my life:  “You know those Chasidic Jews who walk down Farifax Avenue (a Jewish section of LA) wearing black outfits with big furry hats?” “Well, I’m not one of them – but I’m glad they are.”

I didn’t quite understand “So?”

Then he said “You and JoAnn are happy being a couple.  You enjoy being together and sharing your lives. I’m not one of you, but I’m glad you are.

There it was, the best definition of tolerance I’d ever encountered.  It was a method for recognizing, understanding and appreciating the differences between myself and others.

I believe that wonder and the ability to listen to many different kinds of people are skills that need to be taught at an early age. One reason I wrote my book was to help guide parents toward open, secure, and loving family relationships that would facilitate honest communication and appreciation of differences.

diversity-detailThis perspective is easier to assume locally than it is globally, because we can operate based on our own experience. It’s a matter of teaching our children to be curious about other cultures, to understand other religions, and to appreciate diversity in their world and even in their own family.  Every time I completely “misjudge a book by its cover” I am reminded of this.

Hate is simply an expression of ignorance.

HappyAfricanChildrenAs humans we have so much in common – the love of our children, the joys of music, dance, and laughter.  Since these exist in every culture, it’s hard for me to understand people who can’t just “live and let live.”  Yet no matter how I wish those people weren’t out there, they are – and teaching our children not to let those bad apples spoil the whole bunch is another important lesson for all of us. As Rodney King said “Can’t we all just get along?”

This has been a very busy week. A lot of opinions have been flying around in social media – about depression, about Gaza, about Ferguson, Missouri.  These are all important subjects and very worthy of discussion.”  But the “discussions” so quickly dissolve into name-calling and re-proclaiming entrenched positions.  All issues generate opinions, but others also require facts. I believe “The Truth Floats” and, sometimes we just have to wait and see where we end up.  But arguing and name calling doesn’t seem to get any of us closer to a solution.

GreenFamHawaii2014There is no question that life is a work in progress and that we make sharing a planet much more complicated than would seem necessary.  But if we can start by teaching tolerance within our own families, we may, someday, have a better world.

So, I’m not one of you, but I’m glad you are.  Thanks for reading.

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

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.

MarcieNKids1954cuOur own life experience is our greatest parenting resource.  In my book, Raising Children That Other People Like to be Around”, I suggest that parenting is like driving a cab: if you don’t at least ACT like you know the way, your passengers (children) are going to be nervous and uncomfortable as you would be with a rookie cab driver.

But how can new parents proceed with confidence?  By looking backward at the way they themselves were parented.

All of us are influenced by what Selma Frieberg, author of The Magic Years, called the “Ghosts in our Nursery” – essentially, the voices of those who raised us.  Learning to recognize how our parents influenced us may be the most effective way of preparing for the job ahead.  What did your parents do that you remember most positively?  Were there hugs at night?  Surprise trips to the ice cream store?  Goofy family photos? What makes these events so memorable?

dunce in cornerWhat do you remember that was negative?  Was it discipline with a belt, or friendly persuasion?  Was it time in isolation?  Was it “no dessert”?  Did your parents explain their motives, or just make you frustrated and angry with them?  How can you avoid repeating those mistakes with your own children?

I put together some simple questions for you to ask your spouse, parenting partner, or co-parent, in order to better understand the emotional land mines that you might encounter. Use these questions to help you clarify the values, vision, and goals that will define the system you apply as you define your family.  These questions should help you narrow down your parenting objectives and unify your message.  They are of value no matter how old your children may be.

  • What did/do you love most about your father?  Your mother?
  • Did you know your grandparents?  What do or did you love  / remember most about them?
  • In what ways do you think your parents are like their parents?  In what ways do you think they are different?
  • Were your parents always honest with you?  Did they always tell you the truth?
  • What do you think were your parent’s biggest mistakes?  Successes?
  • At what moment were you proudest to be the child of your father / mother?
  • At what moment were you most embarrassed by your father / mother?  Would you be just as embarrassed today? (Do you feel embarrassed just thinking about it?  If so, feel the power of this memory!)
  • Do you remember whether or not your mother was always busy?  Was your father?
  • Which or your behaviors did your parents punish most severely?  Do you agree with their decisions?
  • What behaviors did they encourage?  Will you encourage the same ones?
  • How did your parents let you know they loved you?  Will you (or do you) do the same with your children?
  • Did you ever really disappoint your parents?  How?  How did that behavior affect the way they treated you?  How did your behavior or self-image change as a result?
  • When did you most feel loved?  Why?
  • Did your family have any rituals / holidays / quirks?  What was your role in them?  How did your parents handle them?  Were they the leaders?  Did they ever let you lead?  How did you feel about that?
  • Who is your favorite relative?  Why?
  • Who is your favorite parenting role model?  Why?
  • What is your greatest fear about being a parent?

couple-talkingCuteAlthough I originally created this as a one-time organizational tool, I have learned that part of a successful parenting system is the regular recalibration of messages and techniques. The values you define from this lesson can be the foundation you fall back on, year after year, as you build the “emotional scaffolding” inside your children.

Consider these the rules of the sport that your team will be playing.  As managers, you and your partner will have to remember to watch game films at regular intervals, to review the day, to change the plan, to hold a mirror up to each other to see if you’re both still on track.  If you desire, document your conclusions after reading the questionnaire and check them every once in a while to see if you’re still on course.  Are you avoiding the behaviors you disliked in your parents?  Are you being positive with your children?  Are you communicating and reflecting your thoughts regularly with your mate?

couple-talking-moneyKeeping these resolutions in mind will make the process quicker and easier than having to always start at scratch.  Remember, parenting is a practice, it evolves, and lessons are taught to us every day.  The more we do it, the more we reflect and share, the easier it becomes – and the more proficient WE become.  Sharing and defining those lessons is one of the keys to staying on course.

We all have our own stories — and, to me, everyone’s story is interesting.  Essentially, these questions ask, “What makes you who you are?”   Think of your own questions and add them to the list.  Then decide, from this discussion, how you’re going to communicate, how you’re going to strengthen each other’s confessed weaknesses, and protect each other from your fears (JoAnn and I came up with “key words” to let each other know that we’d fallen off course).  Remember those resolutions, and use them as your litmus test when you regularly recalibrate.

DecaturStoreGreenbergsNot everything our parents did was right or wrong. How we raise your children is finally and entirely up to us – but starting with our past is a good way to build a value system, recognize our strengths, and move forward with confidence.

LEFT – The Greenberg Bros. store.  Decatur Ill.  1911