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NewbornWell. It happened.  We became grandparents at the end of December.

Of course, nothing went according to plan. We were expecting this grandson after The Holidays – in early January – right about now.  We were mentally preparing to attend a series of parties, eat without concern, and then buckle down into the New Year with excitement and anticipation for a wonderful new addition to our family.

As is often the case with parenting however… things rarely happen the way one expects.

New father holds son.The birth wasn’t easy.  August “Gus” Greenberg’s arrival required an emergency C-section, and a number of days in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), which one familiarly pronounces “nick-you.” This, of course, led to much angst for all concerned – but in the end our tough-as-nails daughter-in-law and our 8lb. 6oz. grandson are as hearty as we all expected and have been healthy and home for over a week now.

Throughout that time, we got to watch our son and his beloved wife perform as the perfect team. He had her back every step of the way and she was his #1 concern. Proof of this was the fact that he put his 6’3” frame on a cot in her room every night!

Once all of that initial concern began to fade I immediately went into a period of age-related navel gazing. I wasn’t the “parent” on the official documents. The new family wasn’t “mine” anymore. It became very apparent that the next generation was stepping up and I wasn’t in the middle of the action anymore. I had just been moved one table farther away from the dance floor.  Grandparenting.

beautiful grandmother admires babyMy lovely and patient wife JoAnn doesn’t seem to be as bothered by the age stuff. She’s on another planet – elevated there by the rapture she feels for this new baby boy. Although we vowed not to be too vocal, she’s being very generous with her experience and I believe our daughter-in-law appreciates it… at least I hope she does.

Times have changed, and frankly, it’s a miracle we survived our childhoods. Years ago I offered to lend the crib in our attic to a friend of mine who was becoming a father. When I came home, my wife put the kibosh on that plan. “Are you kidding?” she said, “We raised our kids in that crib!!” It turns out that our grandson will not be sleeping in that crib either. Apparently the slats are an unsafe distance from each other and like I said, it’s a miracle our kids (or any of us) survived our childhoods. Gus will have pre-warmed wipes, a sock that communicates his vitals by cellphone, and a car seat that looks like it was designed for the space shuttle.

Grandpa holds grandsonOur friends say that being Grandparents is the most wonderful thing in the world – and I believe them. I’ve held my lanky little blob of a grandson and stared into his calm and fresh face. I can’t wait until he offers up more than gas.

Meanwhile, there’s still been no decision on what he’s going to call us. Am I going to be Slick, Boompa, or just plain Grandpa? Is JoAnn going to be GiGi (Gardening Grandma), Grammy Jo, or something we haven’t even considered? Only time will tell – and ultimately we’ll be whatever works best for Mr. Gus.

In the bigger picture, Gus is a new bud developing on the Ben and Kelsie branch of our family tree. He has three uncles and an aunt, all of whom are going to help him to grow healthy and strong. He has an enormous fan club in St. Louis including his grandparents and great-grandparents. He is blessed in so many ways.

baby footDespite all this musing about getting older I have to say that this natural order of things is quite reassuring. As we travel from generation to generation this inevitable tide of reproduction and renewal is cause for hope and happiness. Sure, we screw up all the time, but in the end, the power of life itself seems to prevail. We are all truly blessed to be here right now.

By the way – have I told you that Gus is a genius?

I don’t typically regret much. I believe what’s past is past. As I get older, however, the passage of time allows me to look back and consider life’s lessons.

FullFamBKGKSGWeddingOur children are now grown, for the most part. Our sons are certainly men, our daughter is a very self-reliant college girl, and our daughter-in-law is more mature than any of us. As a loving family, we remain intimately connected.   No regrets there.  Read the book.

But here’s the catch.

Cobylittle_5_93liteWhen I see a little kid whose front teeth are crazy, or a tot opining about why he or she likes a particular song, picture, or TV show, I feel like giving one of my kids a hug. It’s not that I miss my children’s love, or feel I didn’t get enough hugging when they were young. It’s just that I’m not over wanting to let them know how much I enjoy and have enjoyed them – from their goofiest to their most grownup.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI suppose it’s not so much the hugs I regret not getting, as it is the ones I still want to give. There is just something about the way a kid fits into your arms or contours into your shoulder that’s different from that perfunctory, semi-formal hug that populates our adult landscape.

I’m not looking for sympathy (although I wouldn’t mind getting a hug or two out of this).  I think my real objective is to raise the flag to all of you who are still raising young children.

Get and give those hugs. Now. Today. Tomorrow.

Dadnaaronsleep_81liteMaybe I’m writing this to recapture time. Maybe it’s about recognizing those cliché moments when we think, “Youth is wasted on the young.” It’s not so much that it’s wasted on the young, but that we waste it when we are young! I recently confessed to a friend that I’d always wanted a Porsche. Now I’d rather have a car that’s easier to get in and out of.

Enough moaning. Having recently been told that I am a didact, I ask: “What are the lessons here?”

Aside from the part about grabbing all the love you can (while your kids are still young and bite sized), I think it’s important to recognize that things change, as they always have and always will. The more we can accept those changes, the easier it will be to keep moving forward. It is, after all, our job to guide our children into adulthood.

EHGTiredAthleteAs parents, I’ve found that many of us don’t want our kids to grow up. But we really do them a disservice by keeping them too close and dependent. So for every wish I have to be hugged by my children, I also have a silent appreciation of the fact that they’re out in the world using the skills my wife and I have worked hard to give them.

I guess the next time I see an incredibly adorable toddler, I’ll just have to think, “Been there, done that,” and then offer a small prayer to hasten the arrival of grandchildren.

No pressure kids.

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.

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.