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Over the years our children have come home and said things like, “You know, Eric’s family watches TV during dinner.” To which we would respond. “That’s nice, but that’s not how we do it in our family.”

Our response served two purposes; one was to plant our flag with a solid “no,” and the other was to indicate that we make the “choice” to do what we do (as if we considered watching TV during dinner and decided it wasn’t for us). A side benefit, or course, is that we were also defining our family as a unit; essentially saying “You’re part of this family, and we have different expectations.

Our choices. Our values. Our family.

This may seem obvious, but these days one can’t take anything for granted.

Sadly, we are in a time when disrespect and bad behavior appear to be rewarded. Just recently I watched a video of a young girl on a subway defying a number of reasonable requests from a very calm policeman to remove her foot from the seat across from hers. For some reason (she said it was her “comfort”), she refuses to move her foot and, after repeatedly challenging and calling the cop names, he forcibly removes her from the train where he is berated by expletive spewing bystanders. Some claimed this was an unnecessary use of force, but why would anyone choose to simply not move their foot, let alone challenge a policeman (who is literally doing his job)?

After the officer told her that she needed to leave the train (prior to having to physically remove her), the girl actually said “I paid money to be on this train.” – as if she had the right to put her dirty foot on someone else’s seat because she now owned the train.  Nonetheless, after enforcing the law, the cop is criticized and this young girl is the “victim” even though she brought the entire incident upon herself.

Who raised this child?

If this seventeen-year-0ld was a toddler and you were her parent would you reward her for her disrespect and blame yourself for having high expectations?

That’s not how we do it in our family.

Ironically, even our role models no longer set a good example. Sadly, I have to put our current President at the top of the list. In a recent opinion piece “Don’t Let Dishonest Don Replace Honest Abe” Neil J. Young writes “With his daily doses of deceit, Trump is undermining the notion of truth and waging war on the foundations of American democracy. As Trumpism becomes normalized, we risk abandoning the norms that have long guided American public life…” The examples of verbal attacks, name-calling, and outright misrepresentations coming from the highest office in our land are a detriment to all of us – even if some of us believe that Donald Trump is accomplishing goals and doing a good job. In fact, these elements of his behavior (not including his sexism, regressive policies, and poorly chosen teammates) should be enough to discredit him as a leader.

Would this conduct be acceptable at your dinner table?

That’s not how we do it in our family.

What can we tell our kids about it? How can we explain that the man who should be a role model is, in fact, a self-obsessed bully. On a more immediate level, how can they deal with similar personalities they might encounter in their daily lives?

Again, I retreat to the closed system that is our family – our simple group that operates according to a set of “norms” characterized by our values; kindness, courtesy, and truth. We teach our children to take responsibility for their actions and not blame others. We teach our children to tell the truth, even if it means we have to disappoint them and sit through an uncomfortable discussion so that they better understand our behavioral expectations.

I’m writing because I believe our children will become exposed to a lot of “not how our family does it” behavior and that they will have to make choices…

I’m not writing because I think I’m a perfect parent or a guy who has all the answers. I just know that our children will become exposed to a lot of “not how our family does it” behavior and that they will have to make choices about their values. Values are seeds that get planted at home, and the most important influences our children have come from us – their parents. What we do at home is far more important than what anyone does in the White House. If we, as parents behave respectfully toward each other, navigate the world with compassion and treat the people around us with respect, we will raise children who do the same. In my book, “Raising Children That Other People Like to Be Around” I used the anagram SMART to simplify the parenting process – starting with S – for Set an Example.

There are times when the value of Truth is more important than popularity. There will be times when our kids think we’re unreasonable because we hold fast to honoring a promise and keeping our word, but in the long run these are the pillars on which we and our children will stand and survive.

That IS how we do it in our family.

vectorstock_3042159We’re evolving – all of us – and so is our world, or should I say “our worlds” as each of us is surrounded by our own experience.

As society has shifted away from the “good ‘ol days” (a “Madmen” episode filled with smoke and sexism), we dads have had to pick up a bit more of the parenting load.

My father used to come home to a ready dinner, a relatively content wife, and two smiling, freshly-washed children.  And, even though my mom worked hard serving us and the community, my dad was the king of his castle.

That was that.

My pop worked hard, and when it came to imparting wisdom, he was compassionate, loving and focused. My schoolwork and social life were just not part of his purview. He and my mother had a good partnership; they found an odd balance between common sense and criticism, as in “How could you be so dumb as to not have thought of that?”

When I became a dad, I lived in a modified version of my childhood. As I’ve written before, we’re products of our parents; often dealing with the residue of their individual personalities and their generation as a whole as we navigate our lives, and because our society changes, so must our parenting styles.

I think I saw my father cry twice.  In my childhood, if a coach or player cried at a news conference, they would have been branded a “sissy” – which was, and probably still is code for “not a man.”  My kids see me cry every time we watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Sometimes I even cry because I’m moved by a commercial (you know the one, daughter grows up in the passenger seat of the car – drives off to college).

Although I wasn’t taking my kids to doctor’s appointments, or buying them clothes, I fulfilled my role as the “man of the house” (as a guy in my generation would).  I did “guy” things. I fixed stuff, changed bulbs, carried the “baby bag,” I had the cars serviced, fixed the computers, did the science projects, drove carpools, coached teams, wiped away some tears, and even shared some of my own.

vectorstock_1010664I don’t think it was women who kept dads from being more involved. I think it was society. An interesting source for this possibility is defined by the Masculinity Index, a measurement created by sociologist Geert Hofstede that “describes the degree to which masculine values like competitiveness and the acquisition of wealth are valued over feminine values like relationship building and quality of life.” On the scale, Japan is the most “masculine” country at 95, while the U.K. and Germany tie at 66, the U.S. scores a 62, France a 43, Spain a 42, and Sweden an 8. For me, however, it’s not so much about the “global” aspects of the index as it is the way it applies to my personal “world.”

In the early years of our marriage, I found myself perpetuating concepts born of my social “masculinity.” It would have been quite acceptable to describe my wife as a “ball and chain,” my kids as “rug rats,” and to believe that paying attention to injury made me a “pussy.”  My ego would be upset if JoAnn disagreed with me in public. Over the years, and through my wife’s brilliant use of logic (like “Am I a ball and chain?” “Are our kids a pain in the ass?”) I was led to evolve away from those old “standards.”

Today, there are many contributing factors as to why fathers are more involved. In addition to the fact that more moms are pursuing out-of-home careers, it has become professionally accepted for dads to prioritize their “Dadness” and carry their share of the load (a “share” that should be defined by each set of parents on their own). Happily, we dads have benefited by this change through being involved in every aspect of our children’s lives, as well as through the acceptance of our more sensitive “feminine side” (like being allowed to express fear, or truly appreciate musical comedy).

And we’re all the better for it.

Most importantly though, aside from the re-distribution of labor, I think the basic rules of parenting remain largely the same. Both parents are involved in the process of setting an example, and nothing teaches children more than the way, and comfort with which, roles are shared in the house. Each of us needs to decide what works best for our family.

In my marriage it was JoAnn’s job to give our children a soft landing place, and it was mine to teach them that the world outside our “nest” wasn’t necessarily a friendly place. Of course, we weren’t stuck in those roles; we traded off as necessary. But today our children know exactly what they’ll get from each of us. We’re both about appreciation and love, but JoAnn is their go-to for compassion, and I’m all about common sense – without the criticism.

You see, I am evolving.

There are very few things that I find “absolute” in parenting. What works for one family may not work for another… except for the three strategies I am about to share with you. These primarily concern multi-child households. They worked really well with our family and I believe they will work equally as well for yours!

Kid of the Day

Aaron3superman_83liteAny parent with multiple children will mention certain annoying issues that arise constantly, like who gets to hold the remote control, or who chooses the music in the car, or who gets to sit “shotgun.”

As kids get older, it’s harder to offer decisions based on chronological age, or current level of politeness. So courtesy of Jerry and Carol in the long proven tradition of handed-down parenting tips, I bring you “Kid of the Day.”

It’s quite easy. Get a calendar and mark the alternating days with each child’s name. Show it to your kids.

You will never have to do that again.

From the moment we implemented “Boy of the Day” our three sons managed that calendar with the absolute precision of Swiss watchmakers. In fact, they knew the calendar so well that they traded future dates and remembered them. Most importantly, neither JoAnn nor I ever had to decide who was sitting in the front seat again.

One Divides, One Chooses

RCEHalloweenI have an older sister. There was always a tussle regarding the fairness of a split when it came to a piece of gum, or Halloween candy, or generally anything we had to share. As a parent, I was witnessing the same bickering among our kids. Then one day someone said, “Why is that so complicated? Take yourself out of the middle! One divides and one chooses.”

Wow – so basic. One child, knowing that the other will ultimately get to choose his or her piece, divides the stick of gum, candy bar or can of soda as carefully and equally as possible. They both know that when the other chooses a piece, the person dividing is going to get what’s left.

It works like a charm. Occasionally, you might even notice the “chooser” selecting the smaller piece to reward the attempt at fairness by the divider.

Reciprocal Birthdays

Kids all love their birthdays. They get parties, presents, and lots of attention. But what about their siblings? They usually just get to eat birthday cake and help clean up the wrapping paper. Our friends, Carole Ann and Marco, shared this brilliant strategy with us many years ago:

vectorstock_1038990When your child is having a birthday, have that child give a gift to each sibling. Not a re-gift of something they got, but an actual gift of their choosing. Encourage them to think about what gift each sibling would really like, give them a price limit per gift, and teach them the joy of generosity. If possible, have them explain why they gave that specific gift to each sib. They usually know what to give much better than we would. In this way, everyone ends up looking forward to all the birthdays.

In each of these solutions the common threads are collaboration and harmony. These are wonderful opportunities to teach our children that there are ways to be “fair,” and that rules can be comforting. Our children are now grown, but if it came down to it they could probably tell us who would be Kid of the Day today.

None of these were our ideas. We were lucky enough along the way to have friends who shared their “lessons learned”. I hope these can be helpful to you and encourage you to pass them on.

NathanCaplanAMGLite2My Grandfather, Nathan, was an incredibly shy man.  In addition to being very short (5’4”), he was a quiet and kind immigrant who listened far more than he spoke. He came from Russia to pursue a better life, and made his living as a bicycle-riding handyman in Toronto before moving to Detroit, where my mother was born. Sadly, Nathan became a widower when my mother was three.

As a single parent, Nathan left many of the child-rearing responsibilities to my mother’s siblings, Aunt Pearl and Uncle Al. He never remarried.

NathanWCarLITENathan worked as a plumber and got involved in the fledgling automobile business as a mechanic and inventor. He was so shy, he would send my toddler-aged mother into his shop to shoo away the creatures that huddled around their warm stove overnight.

Ultimately, he invented the brake rest, as well as an improved bumper. When Henry Ford used the bumper on the Model A, my grandfather sued him and won.  He got no enormous cash payout as compensation, but remained proud, nonetheless, that he lived in a country where a poor immigrant could successfully sue the richest man in the nation.

When my mother was sixteen, she and my grandfather came west to join Pearl and Al who had started a small loan business in Los Angeles. My grandpa liked getting his hands dirty, so he ran a small trailer lot, like U-Haul, and tinkered in the back. He lived a very quiet life.

MarcieJannStepsHUFFMy mother, Marcie, was an active teenager.  She was a great athlete and an excellent student. When she entered U.C.L.A. she was living with my grandfather and taking care of him. One night when she got home from school, he announced to her that he was going to be taking dance lessons at Arthur Murray on Tuesday and Thursday nights. She looked at him and said “Dance lessons?” He just nodded.

The next night he said to her “You know, Masha, (his nickname for my mother), you can make plans for tomorrow night. I have my dance lesson.” In that moment my mom realized that Nathan was taking the lessons so that she wouldn’t have to come home to care for him at night. He was forcing himself to do something he had no desire to do, in order to allow his daughter the freedom she needed as a teenager.

My grandfather wasn’t rich. He didn’t buy things for his daughter. He didn’t take her out to fancy dinners, or on long trips – what he did was sacrifice. He put his feelings aside, because he knew that my mother wouldn’t leave him alone unless he found a way to be busy outside of the house. He pushed himself to do the right thing, even though it was uncomfortable and inconvenient.

This story of my grandfather reminds me that the job of parenting is often a selfless one. It’s often about the practical sacrifices we make, emotionally or physically, to do what’s right for our children.

Sometimes these sacrifices mean taking an uncomfortable path – saying no and going through the discomfort of teaching our kids to deal with adversity. Sometimes, it’s about the devotion of real time, leaving all else alone and putting down our phones to look our kids in the eye when we’re having a conversation with them.

PearlnMarcieNZaydieLITE

Pearl, Nathan, and Marcie

The days of doting offspring seem long gone, but it’s clear that children still care about their parent’s feelings, opinions, and concerns. It is our job to help our children grow, even if it sometimes goes against our nature to hold them, cuddle them, and protect them. We don’t need to take dance lessons to release our children from their obligation to us, but we do need to consider their lives, their ages, and their feelings as we continue to set for them an example of how thinking, loving adults behave.

If you sometimes feel overwhelmed by driving your kids to school, or signing them up for summer camp, or letting them walk to the park, remember that you’re doing the right thing.  You might also tell them about their grandparents. It will give them a sense of pride, and the foundation they’ll need to stand tall.

EmBasketballCULiteWe’ve got three sons and a daughter. They arrived in that order. By the time our daughter Emily was born, I had coached and/or refereed multiple seasons of Little League, Muni Basketball, and AYSO.   When our daughter arrived she showed great promise as a tenacious, though tiny, basketball player. Then things changed.

Suddenly, she was more interested in ballet than ball. She liked the outfit (always important), her friends were doing it (also important), and, generally, it didn’t involve boys (very important at age seven). Although I wanted to take her to her classes, they happened mid week after school – so I was out. Ballet became a ritual for mother and daughter and, as usual, I became the videographer.

EmBalletStillAltOur local coffee shop is in the same mall as a small dance studio. Last Saturday morning after I went to the gym, I swung by the mall to pick up a coffee for my wife. Walking out, I was amazed to be facing three middle linebackers, each carrying a small, pink backpack, and holding the hand of a tutu-clad mini-ballerina. The group was apparently headed to some kick-ass Saturday morning dance class. The daughters were skipping with their burly dads in tow. It was probably the cutest thing I saw all day.

I imagined the waiting area conversation during class. “My daughter’s tour jeté kicks your daughter’s tour jeté’s ass!” “Yea… well my daughter’s Arabesque puts your daughter’s to shame. She may have her mother’s looks, but she’s got my legs!” and so on. I’m clearly kidding about this, because I’ve been in these situations and generally speaking men don’t talk about dance.

Despite rumors to the contrary, men are actually capable of talking about things that matter – once they get sports and hot moms out of the way. There is, to some extent, an immediate bond between men who take their daughters to ballet. They are men who will venture with pride into the world of women, as beginning ballet continues to be, men who have learned to confront a tight hair bun or a blistered foot with confidence and love.

Men who know what it means to sign your dancer in, and out.

IMG_2706Saturday I envied the Ballet Dads with their little pink partners headed toward a room ruled by strict manners, classical music, and constant counting. I knew that despite everyone’s best efforts some edges would fray as personalities rose up, and the leaping got out of hand, and the relevés left the rails. I wondered how these dads would talk to their daughters about the “mean girl,” or the really strict teacher, or whatever would come pouring forth as they got in the car. I knew that those dads would be prepared, because mean girls, bullies, and tough coaches exist in everyone’s world – boy or girl, mom or dad.

This is the stuff that parenting is made of. Showing up. Being there. It’s about being a Ballet Dad and putting your whole heart into it. Teaching your child how to cope with hurt feelings, how to redirect frustration, and how to avoid being diminished by the behavior of others.

It doesn’t matter if you’re the Dad or the Mom, on a dance floor or on a ball field, the things children need to be taught are all the same: kindness, respect, generosity, and fair play.

This weekend we get to watch the Super Bowl. Let’s raise a glass to the all those Dads whose daughters will fall asleep in their laps during the game.

When my wifeIMG_0857 JoAnn was pregnant with Emily, our fourth child, my mother decided that JoAnn needed a “day off.” She invited our family (three boys, ages fifteen, twelve and, six plus our newborn) and my sister’s family to meet her for dinner on Monday nights. “It will give you all a sense of family,” she said.

My sister has three kids. At the time, her oldest was fourteen, followed by two twelve-year-old twins – so even though they went to different schools, the kids were all pretty compatible in age.

IMG_0873We chose to eat “Monday Night Dinner” at a centrally located restaurant called the Souplantation, known as Sweet Tomatoes in Northern California and the rest of the country. Part of the plan was that each family had to scan the weekend newspaper to find the restaurant’s discount coupons. Our children did this with glee because they knew that it made Grandma very happy when they proudly presented their coupons when it came time to pay. In this way, they were contributing to making the meal possible.

IMG_0851Word of Monday Night Dinner became part of our vernacular. Our kids would speak of it often, and their friends were always curious. Grandma was very inclusive, and providing that her grandchild called her personally ahead of time and asked if it would be OK to bring a friend, their pals were always welcomed. Some even joined us regularly. They remain family friends to this day.

IMG_0864My parents had a very amicable divorce, so when my father heard that we were all gathering on Monday nights, he wanted to take part. That meant including his wonderful second wife (my stepmother) and their two sons. Once again, my mother chose the inclusive high road: “Greenberg – party of fourteen!”

Here’s the catch. It worked! Today our children, their cousins and their uncles are all very comfortable and loving with each other. They understand the concept that we are all family and that, idiosyncrasies included, we stand by each other and “show up.” There is a sense of unity and, although she passed away a couple of years ago, there is a reverence for Grandma Marcie that keeps her, and her goals, alive.

IMG_0902As I think about my mom today, I realized that she always did the right thing even if it caused her pain, embarrassment, or difficulty. This was the most important lesson she taught us all. My parents each had their problems, and neither of them was easy to live with — neither was ever wrong or capable of conceding — but they rose above their own frustration with each other to demonstrate for all of us how adults should communicate. This is why I credit “Setting an Example” as the most important thing that parents can do.

Swallowing anger and aggression is unhealthy – but my parents didn’t ignore their anger, they just did something positive about it. Both strong personalities, they chose to part company amicably and better appreciate each other without having to cohabitate.

IMG_0884So in addition to learning the value of a dollar (from coupon clipping), the need to ask permission to bring a guest, the importance of thanking your host, and getting to know your family, my children and I were treated to the concept that a peaceful life is more important than getting the last word.

Monday Night Dinner. Give it a try any day of the week.

louis-ckLITELouis C.K. jokes that airline passengers often complain about slow Internet while sitting in a tube hurtling through the sky at 400 miles per hour.

I am often frustrated by bad cell coverage, when 20 years ago I couldn’t call anyone from the car.

Sometimes I feel like I’d be a real dummy without my smart phone. My need for instant information is important.

Yep, I’m living my life “on demand.”

When I want to ask a question — I ask Siri or text a friend. When I want to communicate with my family, I go on our group text. If I want to see a movie, I order tickets. If I want to hear a song, I buy and download it right now. If it’s your birthday — you’ll get some virtual love from me — maybe even some virtual flowers.

This Thanksgiving I think I’m going to slow it all down.

I have the impression that we’re all so busy living our lives that we don’t stop to appreciate the fact that we have lives at all. Sure, many of us take time to have conversations, or practice the calm that can be our religion. But too often, I find myself moving from one event to another with barely time to grab a coffee or a sandwich. I believe this goes for my children as well.

Gratitude is a key element in defining a child that “other people like to be around,” and November is a wonderful month for laying of that gratitude groundwork. In two weeks most of us will get to look around a table and give thanks for the miracle that got us all here.

My wife is an excellent cook. I know this because I’m not getting any thinner. I also know this because we’re usually sold out at Thanksgiving. Yep — everyone comes to our house, and we wouldn’t have it any other way because

Thanksgiving is perhaps my favorite holiday. It has no religious undertones, it reprises our Pilgrim predecessors who, in one of their last acts of magnanimity, invited some natives over to celebrate how lucky they all were to have corn.

So what’s Thanksgiving about today? It would appear to be about thanks (after all it’s in the name), but mostly I think it’s about teeing up Black Friday and maybe a four day weekend. Sure, there are sporting events, and even the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but where is the thanks? How do we express our gratitude?

Here are some simple options:

  • TGivingTablePut all cellphones away before, during, and after the meal.
  • Take a moment — ask everyone to be quiet – and to focus on the wondrous things for which we have this chance to be grateful.
  • Ask each member of the group to describe one thing for which they are grateful.
  • Remember those who came before us (our families, not necessarily the Pilgrims) and create a sense of continuity with past Thanksgivings.
  • Thank everyone who contributed to the remarkable meal. (I hate to have to write that, but there are people who “forget” to do this).

Other options for “feeling” the day:

  • Volunteering-is-Great-for-TeensParticipate in a program with your kids and serve Turkey dinner to the homeless. (Many churches run these programs.)
  • Initiate a team project at home – include your kids in dinner prep, or gather toys or clothes to be given to charity.
  • Bathe your animals (just because it’s an act of giving (and not an easy one))
  • Call or visit a relative or close friend with whom you haven’t spoken in a long time.
  • Do something nice for a stranger.

We are surrounded by miracles every day — from pasteurization to pacemakers, from instant messages to innovative ideas. The gifts are all there, it’s just up to us to see them…

… and to say thanks.

JusticeMany important issues are raised by the abuse Adrian Peterson, of the Minnesota Vikings, administered to his son.  Although there is absolutely NO justification for Peterson’s behavior, and he has been arrested on a felony charge, there are other, somewhat related questions of a milder nature.

To spank or not to spank – is one such question. Beating a child is completely unacceptable. But spanking, far less severe, is in some homes a functional part of the parenting process.

As parents, each of us carries what the writer Selma Frieberg has called the “Ghosts in our Nursery.” They are the enduring remnants of how we were parented. They are inherited behaviors that travel silently with us into our adulthood.

Early in my book, I suggest that parents sit down and examine the ghosts in their nurseries by answering a simple Parenting Questionnaire. The questions can help us define those ghosts so we can decide which ones to repeat (like being sung to at night) and which we’d like to eliminate (like spanking perhaps). The objective is to create a parenting plan whose methods are clearly understood and thought out, rather than unconscious “ghostly” reenactments of the past.

TheAuthor copyIn my childhood, punishments were doled out as if in a court of law. If I said or did something unacceptable, this was discussed and, when the charge was serious, like lying, I was told to go to my room to wait for my father. He was going to come “give me a spanking.”

As this took place, my father usually said that he hated having to do it but my behavior forced him to discipline me. We’d discuss what I did, I’d indicate that I understood, and then I’d “take my medicine.” There were limits. I was never hit with anything other than my father’s open hand. Done. Case closed.

For me, it wasn’t so much the pain of the whacks. My rear was designed to handle adversity. It was mostly the humiliation of facing my own powerlessness under the circumstances. And that was my father’s objective: letting me know he was the boss and he wasn’t kidding around.

As a dad that makes sense to me.

LittleGoldenBookI once tried putting a Little Golden Book in my pants as protection against my father’s firm slap. But my dad was no fool and he yanked it from my bottom before administering the three quick slaps that were my punishment.   I wished he would have seen the humor in it and given me a break – but no deal.

I was spanked a lot. My kids, not so much – but I spanked at least one of them before my lovely wife convinced me there were other, less violent ways to punish our children. I don’t regret having spanked my eldest. For one thing, the “legend” of his spanking traveled down to his three siblings: “You really don’t want to get dad angry.” And he doesn’t seem to carry any grudge. Luckily.

AaronCrew2002-1With our other children I employed the modification of dropping to a knee, firmly holding the little bicep (to avoid squirming,) looking them squarely in the eye, and then in my deepest and most serious “dad voice” stating that their behavior was unacceptable. I would often make clear that continuing the bad behavior would end in a serious punishment. That usually worked, but the physical component, including eye contact, was a significant part of that warning.

For me, though, grabbing the arm or even spanking wasn’t about punishing as much as getting their attention. I wanted my kids to know that the infraction they had just committed was outside the expectations of our family. Corporal punishment was reserved for only the most heinous of crimes – like lying or disrespect.

I’ve noticed that this issue usually breaks down along gender lines. Many men were spanked as kids, but women much less often. Historically, men are taught to solve problems physically, and women generally aren’t. So there can be a disconnect on this issue.

What’s the solution? I believe that “rules are the arms with which our children can embrace themselves.” Discipline is important to me. It’s up to each of us as parents to decide what we think will work best within the values of our family. I can’t say that all spanking is bad. because it worked for me and generations before me. But there is a significant difference between spanking and child abuse – and I think for most people the difference is obvious.

3GenerationsI grew up to love and admire my father, who administered the spankings.  I didn’t fear him, because there was always a logical component in his behavior. But I’ve evolved to a point where I can communicate my anger without having to hit. It was a conscious effort, just like marriage, but I did it.

Ultimately, I’d like to believe that no father wants to hurt a child. I’d also like to believe that most parents can be mature enough to control their anger. But the only father whose behavior I can control is me. I can advocate increased communication, I can encourage parents to separate themselves from their anger, and I can guide grownups toward having a plan, so that panic doesn’t take control. Sometimes the issue becomes a legal matter. But I don’t think legislation is the solution.

As Common Sense Dad, I think the common sense of this is pretty clear.  Our children want to be loved – they trust us – and it’s up to us to keep their trust by acting in their best interest. The Golden Rule applies: Would you like to be treated the way you’re treating your child?

To spank or not to spank? That is your question.

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

Relaxin Dad“Lazy” isn’t a word that is often associated with “better,” but I must confess that I am, and have always been, a lazy father.  Sure, I’ve coached a lot teams, driven a bunch of carpools and changed my share of diapers – but I’ve always done it the easiest way possible – MY way.

Doing things my way isn’t as bad as it sounds.  I do listen and I am concerned about the opinions of others – especially those of my wife – but I generally have a plan, and having a plan makes navigating the day-to-day much easier.

I consider myself a pretty flexible person.  I’m open to new music.  I can stop and smell the roses, I can let my kids play with the hose for hours on end.  There’s plenty of room for improvisation in our family, but I see it as my job to be sure that we all play at the same tempo and in the same key.  In that way there is harmony in our home.  By teaching our kids to play harmoniously within our behavioral expectations, JoAnn and I have simplified our lives.  Being able to rely on our children, their judgment, and the way they behave has made our job as parents a lot easier.  

 Here are three tips that will help simplify your life as a parent.

LEAD WITH AUTHORITY

ExcuseMakingFrom the start we listened to our children, but we did things our way.  Our kids had no choice about bed time, or when it was time to leave the park, or about sitting in their car seat, or about wearing a helmet when they rode their bikes.  Those issues  and many like them were not open to debate.  In fact, in our family “Because I said so!” became “This is not a debate.”

TEACH THEM TO ACCEPT NO

Once your children learn that no means no, you don’t have to expend a lot of energy explaining or debating things.  That’s just the way it goes. “No” is often a really good answer.

At some point we all have to learn to live with “no”.  The sooner we can teach our kids to accept the tough lesson and move toward “yes”, the less complex our lives will be.  We all come up against situations in which we do not get our way.  In school, it’s often a teacher who doesn’t cut us slack, or who doesn’t “understand our problem.”  Then it’s our boss, or a banker, or whoever is offering pushback and keeping us from attaining our goal.  Learning to live with authority teaches our children to operate within a system and to problem solve in order to get what they want.  Starting these lessons at home, where the “authority” is also a loving one, is the best way to ease them into a not-so-friendly world.

LET THEM ENTERTAIN THEMSELVES

I’m also not a parent who thinks it’s my job to entertain my kids.

vectorstock_127571Once I’m satisfied that they are in a safe environment (which might be slightly less safe than the environment JoAnn would call safe), I’m happy to lay back and let them figure things out for themselves.  Sometimes acclimation time is required, but my objective is to get them accustomed to entertaining themselves – whether it’s flying imaginary airplanes, conquering dragons, or playing in the dirt.

Being “bored” is a problem that children should learn to solve for themselves.  JoAnn’s mother had the perfect solution when JoAnn would mope into the room and say “I’m bored.”  Her mom would say “Why don’t you go bang your head against the wall until you can think of something to do.”  Quick, efficient, and effective.  Translation – your boredom is not my problem.  Lazy?  Some might think so – but it’s an important part of a long-term plan.  The more problems my kids can solve for themselves, the fewer I have to solve for them — and that will be true throughout their lives.

So, yeah… I’m lazy.  I don’t want to do more work than is necessary to teach my children how to navigate the world.  As I note in my book, “Raising Children That Other People Like to be Around,” being calm, avoiding panic, and having a plan teaches our children that they can rely on us, so that ultimately… we can rely on them.