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vectorstock_969927I believe that most parents are good parents.  It’s my observation that a majority of our citizens are well-behaved, respectful, and law-abiding.  But I also see a society that devotes an immense amount of energy and resources to deal with the minority of adults who are products of “bad” or no parenting.

Laws have been created so that our society doesn’t run amok and, for the most part, I think they’re working.  Some argue that all regulation is bad, but I like knowing the other car is going to stop because there is a red light.

When I was young, there were no laws against sexual harassment. My parents taught me to hold the door and that ladies go first. If parents today could teach their children to treat everyone with respect, males and females, I don’t think we’d need to spend billions on behavioral training, and then spending even more to apply and enforce the rules when they misbehave.  But I’m an optimist.

Surgeons usually think surgery is the best solution. Psychotherapists usually think they can solve the problem with some very serious conversations. I’ve been focused on parenting for a while now, so that’s why I think these solutions can all be presented during the parenting process.

vectorstock_634418Why do I think that? Whenever I examine my morals, manners, and values it always comes back to my parents. My parents respected each other and the people in their world. Our house was not a place where women were considered unequal, although my father would only allow me to use bad language when he and I were alone (something I thought was pretty cool at the time).  I didn’t consider it discriminatory, I considered it polite. Ironically, I saw it as a sign of respect for my mother, not a measure of her frailty.

I’m also aware that those are the rules that I took into the world.  So whenever I hear of kids who went off the rails, or who behave as though the rules don’t apply to them, I have to look at their parents as the origin of the problem. In doing so, I usually conclude that parenting is also the solution.

Although my book is about raising children that other people like to be around, it’s really about asking parents to create respectful and considerate people that they like being around. Do you want to live with a whiny kid who can’t stand to hear the word “no”? Do you want to live in a chaotic world where bed-time is defined by the four year old in your house instead of the adults? Is it acceptable in your world to be bossed around by my child? No. No. And NO.

It is not my job to make my child happy. It’s my job to teach my kids how to make themselves happy, especially when things don’t go their way! That’s the best gift I can possibly give them.

So, what does this have to do with the high cost of bad parenting? It is very likely that:

  • A child who respects his mother, is not going to sexually harass a co-worker.
  • A child who has been taught to take responsibility is going to think twice before bilking people out of thousands of dollars.
  • A child who has been taught to respect other people’s property and points of view is less likely to paint graffiti, or burn crosses.

What does that take? Perhaps we should all take a parenting pledge:

CSDParentingPledge

When these principles are taught, I believe our children develop a sense of self-worth; a level of pride that protects them as they move forward, and helps them better understand others. These rules teach them that they are loved and protected, but the world does not revolve around them. This is, essentially, building your child from the inside out.

When typewriters were part of our daily lives I used to say, “Children are like pieces of paper in a typewriter. They need to have margins set, so that when it comes time for them to go outside those margins, they still remain on the paper.”

We can’t guarantee that everyone will raise their children with high expectations, but the more we expect of them, the better off we’ll all be.

TeddyNAliWeddingMy wife, JoAnn, and I started this year on the perfect note – we went to a wedding on New Year’s Eve. Essentially, we doubled down on hope.

After all, what is more optimistic than two people sharing their love on a day that marks the beginning of a new year? We celebrated the beginning of Teddy and Ali’s life together, and then, when midnight hit, the afterburners kicked in and we went whole hog into New Year optimism and happiness.

One week later, we are faced with the insanity that is the murders at Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

While watching the wedding ceremony, I realized that marriages are happening every day, in every time zone, in every culture — and focusing on these loving events is a very real antidote for the hatred that seems to be spreading over our troubled world. Certainly there are parents in every culture, Islamist, Jewish, Christian, Catholic, Buddhist, or others who bask in the happiness of watching their children find and wed their loved ones. Surely, these parents want their children to survive, to thrive and to create families. Who can attend a wedding and not want the world to be a better, more peaceful place?

coexistSo, how distant must the zealot Paris murderers be from the values of family, the love of community, and the meaning of life? What world are they living in… and where are their parents? How can their ideology be more valuable than human life?  The God of the Old Testament asks Abraham to sacrifice his son as a test of faith.  As Abraham prepares to do so, God releases him of the obligation, because what loving God could possibly ask a father to kill his son?

What can we do against an enemy with no moral compass?  I’m afraid we must expose them as the murderers they are.  And how can we do that?  Short term, we can unite in our opposition to their behavior, we can punish the people who fund them, and we can rise in defense of those whom they most brutally oppress.  Long term, however, and most importantly, we can teach our children to recognize hate-speech, bullies, and bad behavior and to oppose it when they see it.

We advise newlyweds to compromise, to listen to each other, and to “never go to bed angry” (to which one young wedding attendee replied, “Just stay up all night fighting!”). We counsel them to communicate about their differences in order to find peace. Yet, we seem unable to do this on a larger scale.

So, let’s start small.

vectorstock_1023337My resolution this year is to ask each of us to think about the weddings that happen around us every day, and to resolve — like all brides and grooms — to work on our relationships, to find a middle ground, and to contribute to making our world a happier home for us, our children, and our children’s children.

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.

RegalDaisyFor a while my days were almost perfect. I could sleep wherever I wanted, wander the house at will and always find food in my bowl. I could daydream for hours while my masters talked or watched that glowing box.  It was peaceful, but there were trade-offs.  I didn’t get a lot of attention.  Sure, I got some nice rubs once in a while, but I was given a bath only once a month, the menu never changed, and I rarely went outside the walls of my perfect prison. For the most part, I lived the classic dog’s life.

Then “it” happened.

I don’t know what they were thinking. Was I too boring? Did they need a challenge? Maybe I ate too loudly. I just don’t get it. I thought I was being the perfect dog – and then they brought “it” home.

For years my human sibling, the Long Haired Boy, had been bugging my masters to “get a puppy.” He said, “It’ll keep Daisy young,” and stuff like that. Well, I’m not feeling particularly old. In fact, I’ve had a pretty good run so far. Hips are in order, eyes are working pretty well, ears have never been that great. So aside from the fact that I poop every four hours, which the vet says is fine, I’m showing very few signs of age.

On the other paw, my two-legged owners have changed quite a bit. The little one who smelled the best moved out over a year ago, and the Hairy Guy has been home quite a bit (but he’s not taking me on any walks or anything.) The Pretty Lady with brown eyes (like mine) still brings me my crack crackers, but she’s not taking me on walks either. Basically, we’ve been pretty lazy around here for the last year or so.

2CuteGirlsinCarOn the whole, hanging with the Lovebirds was fine with me – until they brought home the little idiot they call Delilah.

For the first few days, I wanted nothing to do with the intruder, but my humans were obsessed with her. “Blah blah blah blah Puppy. Blah blah blah blah Delilah.” They were giving me that “extra nice” treatment… but it’s kind of crazy watching them get so excited about the little ball of fur that doesn’t know anything except how to jump up into my face and try to bite my jinglers. Can I just get five minutes?

That puppy doesn’t know anything. She breaks all the rules. She pees in her bed, she chews on the chairs, she grabs paper towels. Worst of all, the minute she sees me she comes flying in my direction and tries to bite my ears.. Lately the little bitch (literally) has been showing me up. My human says “Sit” and she sits. What a tool.

GrowlyLookAfter a few days of total puppy avoidance, my Masters forced us to get together. They held The Energizer still and let me give her a good sniffing. Not too bad. Puppy smell; simple, clean, new, and a little vulnerable. The two-legged ones forced us to get to know each other and then we started playing. A few well-timed bites, a big growl or two, and now little D knows how it’s gonna work around here.

Sure, I let her lay in my bed. I let her bite my leg. I let her try to steal my snacks and my masters are really grateful for that.  The puppy’s so enthusiastic I have to cut her some slack. I’ve got the energy. We’re both taking vitamins now. I’m even getting brushed once in a while.  All in all, I think this might be a gain.

DaisyHoldsHerOwnMore good news! Suddenly everybody is paying attention to us dogs, and even though they’re mostly petting the fluffy younger one, they’re being pretty darned nice to me too. HE actually gave me a bath, which HE hasn’t done in about ten years. I get a ton of treats. I’m sore from the regular walks and that stupid puppy is actually getting me into shape.

I’m also getting a lot more personal attention. It’s like my two-leggeds don’t mind having me around any more. They see that The Energizer will do anything I do, so they’re counting on good ol’ me to set an example of how to behave. This older sibling thing could really score me some points.

Today they rode in the Windy Box to the Land of No Leashes. Every once in a while the Masters are kind enough to take Delilah there so that I can get some rest. In those lovely, quiet moments, I can lie anywhere I want and not have to worry about being jumped. It’s kind of funny though. I actually miss that little puppy when she’s gone.

DogTugofWarAt first I thought this growing family thing was going to be a bummer, but I was wrong. It’s good to have a new friend.

Gotta go now, the puppy’s getting in trouble and I like to watch.


IMG_0032
A lot can happen in a week.   Although the puppy has had her share of “accidents,” all in all she’s doing a very good job of being a puppy; chewing on things, fighting imaginary foes, running in circles – all the regular stuff.

JoAnn’s teaching roots have found new ground. Both dogs, Daisy and Delilah, are now getting a daily vitamin. After seeing me give them their vitamins, JoAnn declared, “From now on, your job will be to give them their vitamins.” I couldn’t have been more honored. Now I get to be the light monitor and the vitamin giver!

DaisySleepsOur next step was to create a routine – just like we’d done with each newborn. One of us gets up with the puppy and takes the puppy out for her morning bathroom break. Daisy, our older and wiser dog, has chosen to maintain her prior schedule. She stays in the bedroom (currently off limits to the puppy) and “sleeps in” until the last adult goes downstairs.

TennisBallThe beauty of Daisy’s choice is that it gives the early parent an opportunity for some one-on-one training time with Delilah. The puppy is especially rambunctious in the morning, so I think Daisy’s decision is more deliberate than we might imagine. In any case, solo time with Delilah offers us an excellent opportunity to help her hone her retrieving skills. That’s something Daisy never quite mastered, and believe me I tried.

RegalDaisyDaisy is reliable; she knows the boundaries, she doesn’t run when the gate is open, she doesn’t eat from the table, and she doesn’t jump on guests. She’ll even chase a thrown ball…and then lose interest. I get it, but she’s a retriever for goodness sake!

Our first Golden, Sunny, was ball crazy. She was so desperate for the ball that she’d go into the ocean to get it. I used her instinct to chase as an opportunity to teach her to “stay,” which she did with remarkable discipline. We could take her to UCLA and leave her outside of class. She would not move, even if people tried to coax her, until she saw me come out the door. I hope to teach Delilah the same level of self-discipline.
DoggieToysWe also achieved doggy détente between our two pets last week. Daisy had been very skeptical about Delilah. All Daisy knew was that a rambunctious, sharp toothed, little nuisance was jumping on her all the time, and all she wanted to do about that was fly the coop. Yet Daisy was very patient and non-proprietary. Delilah used Daisy’s bed as if it were her own, even pee-ed in it a couple of times, but stoic Daisy took it in stride.

D&DtoCamLast Wednesday night, JoAnn and I were relaxing on the kitchen floor. She was petting Daisy and I was playing with the puppy. In an attempt to bring peace, I held the puppy’s collar and we brought Daisy over to check her out, without allowing her lunge at our Grande Damme. It took a while, but I think we loved them both into liking each other.

Daisy’s life has really improved. She’s getting regular walks, she’s getting that wonderful vitamin, she’s gets a treat whenever Delilah does – so what’s she got to complain about?

There was some doggie horseplay – which JoAnn thought was too rough and which I thought was awesome, and they have been friendly with each other ever since. I think Daisy needed to establish her Alpha status and Delilah realized that Daisy could be fun if she approached her in the right way – a fairly basic lesson from the animal kingdom.

IMG_0018So, our schedule is intact. Feed ‘em, walk ‘em, and let them nap. We do this in rotation, just like we did with our newborns, which gives us the ability to make plans in quiet times. It seems to be working for both dogs and things are pretty calm. Delilah is sleeping about eight hours at night, and that’s great. She’s had a couple of urinary accidents in the house, but she hasn’t dropped any bombs… so far. As JoAnn says “We’ve got to stay on it, it’s our duty to put her outside when we think she’s going to have to pee or poop.” I have a hard enough time doing that for myself.

“She is such a puppy.  Everything is her business”

It’s a good thing we both work at home.

Next installment: Clicker Training. I don’t really get it, but it’s supposed to work.

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

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.

What happens when two strong individuals come together to raise a child?  Are they able to surrender control?  How do they deal with sharing tasks?  Who gets to be right and who gets to be wrong?  How can they make positive communication a habit and avoid criticizing each other.  Most importantly, how can they make their baby a project that will bring them together rather than drive them apart?

Thinking about this, JoAnn (my wife) and I recounted some of our experiences as new parents. And even though JoAnn has a Masters degree in Education, I found that our mutual common sense had been an additionally important guide.

vectorstock_920433We thought of the process as a SHARED adventure, and imagined that we had been dropped into the jungle together with machetes, but no compass or map.  From there, we’d decide to chop our way out based on our gut feelings.  If one direction didn’t work, we’d reassess and try another knowing that we were making the decisions together and we’d ultimately  find our way out.

First, we had to accept and embrace our rookie status.  As rookies, we could look at each event as a new adventure.  Changing a diaper, cleaning an umbilical cord, putting the baby in and out of the car seat – these were entirely new experiences to be shared, discussed, and dissected in a loving and mutually helpful way.  We were both equally interested in pleasing the other and protecting the baby.  So accepting that a slip of the hand, or an accidental pinch with a buckle was “nobody’s fault” made us equally confident.

The early tasks were simple. The baby was either hungry, playing, tired, or asleep.  In the first months there were worrisome little things; rashes, crying, maybe a cold or fever, but generally speaking we saw our job as welcoming the baby into the world and helping to make the baby comfortable.

Around four months, there are actual biological changes occurring in babies that make them increasingly aware of the surrounding world.  Suddenly, they have opinions.  They cry when we leave them alone and they start expressing themselves.  When these control issues arose, JoAnn and I counted on each other for collective intelligence and strength.  It’s human nature to want things to go your way, but with babies, you don’t really have as much control as you’d like.  In our case, we knew we had a bigger picture.  We wanted to fit our babies into our lives, rather than change our schedules to accommodate them.  We wanted our babies to understand that we were determined, as a team, to do what was best for them – within the framework of our reasonable expectations.  Having a plan allowed us to roll with whatever came our way.

As parents, we were both equally new to the task, and we each brought our own skills.  Once problems popped up, we would discuss them.  If we felt marginalized – we’d bring it up!  If one of us had disengaged, the other would reconnect!  As rookies, how else would we learn?  The shared adventure allowed even the most ridiculous moments to bring us together.

AMGBabyAtHatchcoverOnce, as an infant, Aaron was listless and had a fever.  The doctor gave us some liquid medicine.  Unfortunately, Aaron was determined NOT to take the medicine.  We filled the dropper and, over a period of ten minutes, both JoAnn and I tried approaching him in every possible cute and innovative way.  He would have none of it.  When the dropper would come near, he’d clench his lips and turn his head from side to side.  Although this made a nice purple horizontal line on his cheeks, we were stuck.  How were we going to get this serum into our very willful baby?

We talked about it a bit and, despite Aaron’s tears and objection, we knew we had to give him the medicine.  We put him on the floor and, while I held his flailing hands, arms, and legs down, JoAnn locked his head between her knees and forced the dropper between his lips.  Once she squirted the medication into his mouth he froze, stopped crying, and made a “What the heck was that?” face.  We had been pushed to an extreme we had never anticipated.  We had just used  physical strength to overpower our child in order to do what was right.  We stared at each other, emotionally spent.

vectorstock_745873It wasn’t fun. It was a real challenge. But we both knew it was part of our job.  We laugh about it now, but at the time we never thought we’d have to get physical with our children.  We knew we’d done what had to be done.  We’d done it together, and that’s what mattered.

As parents and partners, we have to do our best to give up our critical ways.  We have to understand that the process is unpredictable, a set of lessons to be learned. We must never forget that the process has enough flexibility to allow for mistakes. What’s really important is learning from those mistakes by sharing them, talking about them, and even laughing about them.

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.