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A teacher has impressed thousands of parents by introducing a no-homework policy Taken from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10208920380439663&set=a.2192657828875.118537.1620033655&type=3&theater

It’s back-to-school time and homework is in the news. Mrs. Brandy Young, a brilliant second-grade teacher in Godley, Texas sent a note home to parents explaining that her students would have no “formally assigned” homework this year. The note went viral and people began sounding off on both sides of the issue.

Sometime between my being a child and my being a parent, a shift occurred in the homework world. In my early elementary days, kindergarten through third grade, we were never assigned homework. From my point of view, homework was something that happened to big kids (fourth graders) and it was definitely something I could wait for.  By the time my kids were in school, homework started in the first grade – which I thought happened because little kids wanted to feel more like “big kids” so they got “homework.” First grade homework was easy, and usually out of the way by the time I got home (thanks to my wife, JoAnn who has been shepherding our kids to success from day one).

Crying-at-Drop-Off-PreschoolWhen my friends and I hit fourth grade, homework was seen as a sort of badge of honor. Now, we were the big kids carried notebooks and lugged home texts with some understanding of our now more “grown up” obligation. When our kids hit fourth grade (after three years of homework), they were seasoned veterans who complained like pros and had mastered the art of misdirection – “Dad, tell us about the time you made that game winning catch!”

Ultimately, getting our kids to do their homework was not easy. We outlawed TV. We made them stay in their rooms. We taught them to use their planners. We checked their planners. We spoke with their teachers.  We tried it all.  Homework, and getting it done, was as much our work as it was theirs! And even with all that oversight, we still got notes about missing assignments!

Today, with all of that way behind us… well, almost behind us… our kids are “doing their homework.” They are employed adults who know how to get their jobs done, and understand that the work isn’t over ‘til the assignment is complete. They manage their own time, and appear to do it well.  Is their adult responsibility a result of the fact that they were given homework in first grade?  I really don’t think so.

I have always contended that children grow up to be just like their parents. If you’re a hard worker, and you do your “homework” – whatever it might be – then your children will grow up to do same. Homework, is about responsibility, and the best way to teach responsibility is to set a good example.

I agree with Brandy Young, second grade is too early to put our children on the perceived treadmill to success.  Homework time can be better spent with younger children doing things as a family – eating dinner, playing outside, and getting a good night’s sleep. Perhaps, by starting homework when kids are a little older we might avoid some of the acrimony that often comes from chasing down assignments and correcting, sometimes criticizing, our children’s work.

According to 2004 information from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, Japanese and Finnish students outperform U.S. students on tests even though they are assigned less homework.

ChildAirportWDadIt’s important that our children learn to meet deadlines. It’s important that they recognize the value of being prepared and “doing the work.”  Children under the age of eleven or twelve have a lot to learn from playing in the backyard or watching a meal be prepared – especially if they get to spend that time with someone who is teaching them to enjoy these things.

Ultimately, time spent shared with family is far more valuable than a few simple math problems.

JFKwCarolineTeaching our children respect for others starts with teaching them respect for us, and this can be done without sacrificing our children’s individuality or personal development.  First, we have to believe in the importance of our role as parents, and not defer our responsibility to anyone else.

Last year, while visiting the JFK Library in Boston, I appreciated the way he defined his responsibility as a parent:

Version 2 “I think when we talk about corporal punishment, and we have to think about our own children…it seems to me, to have other people administering punishment to our own children…puts a special obligation on us to maintain order and to send children out from our homes who accept the idea of discipline. So I would not be for corporal punishment in the school, but I would be for very strong discipline at home so we don’t place an unfair burden on our teachers.”

The prevailing attitude with regard to the role of teachers and the responsibility of parents was that the welfare of the entire class outweighed the problems of any single student.

Although children still need discipline, recent generations have seen the parenting pendulum swing from valuing the collective toward valuing the individual.  Today, when a child disturbs a classroom full of children, the focus is on determining why that child is having a problem (or even on whether or not the teacher is doing a good job) rather than on the disruption created for all the other students.  The good of the group seems to be less important.  Unfortunately, in many cases, parents side with the child and let their concern (or defensiveness) outweigh the fact that their child is disturbing the entire class.

parenting pays offSo, who’s going to teach your child the rules?  How can we make our kids responsible members of society?  How can we teach them to have concern for others in a world where role models include ego maniacs, bad sports, porn stars, drug users, or social freaks?  When celebrity is defined as success, and morality seems to be a moving target how do we teach our children to have high expectations of themselves and to respect others?

My parents raised me to believe that, under most circumstances, they had life pretty figured out. I was taught to respect their knowledge because it seemed to work for them.  They were hard-working, seemingly well-liked, and respected members of the community.  I wanted to be like them.  I suspect that most little children want to be like their parents.

AskDadCleanHow did you learn to navigate the world?  Who taught you to say “please” and “thank you”? Did anyone ever encourage you to give your seat up to an older person or to hold a door open out of courtesy?  Who taught you how to listen?  I’m guessing your parents did – and now it’s your job.  Here’s why:

  • vectorstock_634418Learning to keep quiet means “I am not the most important person in the world, and that I need to be sensitive to others.
  • Learning to say “please” and “thank you” teaches our children that courtesy is important.
  • Giving up one’s seat is a measure of courtesy and a lesson in anticipating that the feelings or needs of other (and older) people are important.
  • Clearing our table at a fast food restaurant teaches our children that the people who will need the table next are worthy of consideration.
  • Putting the shopping cart back at the market is a great job for an eight- year-old.

All of us are capable of modeling these behaviors for our children. Kids are keenly aware of how we, as their parents, treat those around us – and how those people treat us!  Developing relationships with local food servers, grocery store checkers, bank tellers, and other members of the community creates a template of belonging for our children.

vectorstock_745873To teach respect we must show respect for ourselves.  It’s not easy to live an exemplary life, but that’s exactly what being a parent requires.  None of us is perfect, but every day we each have little opportunities to show our children the high road.  Our children need to know that we have expectations of ourselves, and that those same expectations apply to them.   The fact is, children love being able to meet our expectations.  It lets them know where they stand.

Sometimes it’s hard to break the habits we’ve formed as adults.  I had to clean up my language for a number of years.  I had to cross at crosswalks.  I tried not to yell at other drivers… you get the idea.  During the time in which our children are most impressionable and their moral and emotional scaffolding is being built, we have to be conscious of the lessons we’re teaching them.

vectorstock_1023337Believe in your knowledge, and through your actions create the moral universe in which you want your children to live.  

In this way, your child will become your contribution to a better world.

 

YeKanye2015-grammys-seatingp, we almost saw it again, Kanye West deciding that his musical opinion trumps all others – and that he is the true arbiter of all musical “art.”  Part of the good news is that we didn’t see it – at least we didn’t see the rude part where he almost pre-empted Beck’s acceptance speech with a rant of his own.

The good news is why he chose not to interrupt.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Kanye said “the reason he decided not to crash the stage was out of consideration for his daughter, North, and his wife, as well as his clothing line.”

There you have it – a father deciding to behave properly in order to set an example for his daughter (perhaps Kim is a good influence, and I don’t really care about the clothing line part).

As I’ve pointed out, and as I advocate in my book, “Raising Children Other People Like to Be Around,” the most important thing that we parents can do is set an example for our children – and I’m glad to be seeing that sense of responsibility seeping into Kanye’s Konsciousness.

KanyeBeckPhotoIronically, the on-the-record comments made by Kanye reveal an interesting sort of artistic intolerance – paralleling the issue that has maddened him so. One of the key elements in art is the ability to allow oneself to be moved by the art of another – regardless of that artists race, religion, or other influences. Art is deeply personal, and, for me, is defined by the way it affects each of us individually.

When groups of people are brought together to “judge” art, it’s always a slippery slope – starting with the criteria for judgment, and the qualifications of the empaneled people. Kanye’s beef is clearly not with Beck, a talented and proven artist, it’s with the Recording Academy. I’m not sure of the demographics of that voting body, but we’re all aware that there are always an incredibly diverse and talented set of nominees in all categories and that singling out the “best” is not easy. Randall Roberts of the LA Times wrote a really good piece about it.

KanyeandNorthCouchAt this point, Kanye’s real job is to teach his daughter, North, how to protest injustices without being a whiny brat. Problem solving 101 – don’t piss people off or they stop listening. Progress is made when both sides listen. Tantrums are not a successful way of demonstrating displeasure.  Our primary roll as parents is to teach our children how to deal with and overcome adversity – not just how to complain about it.

I write this with hope that parents can understand that there are often legitimate reasons for their children to have tantrums, but that it’s our job to teach them how to complain more effectively – which usually means teaching them that tantrums will get them nowhere and quiet communication will work far more effectively.

Kanye has shown a flash of understanding – let’s hope that he can channel his energies toward a positive solution to his problem, and, in doing so, demonstrate for his daughter that true power shows its strength through tolerance

DelilahCUDay1We had plans to go out tomorrow night, but those have been cancelled. We’ve been binge watching TV lately, but now we’re too tired. It’s been two days since we got…the puppy!

She’s a Golden Retriever.  She’s ten weeks old.  She’s the definition of cute.  Look her up in the dictionary.

After raising four children and three dogs, we figured adding another canine to our casa was no big deal. Delilah, the puppy, has been introduced to a mother figure, Daisy, our “senior” dog (that’s what they call them.) Daisy is eleven, and is by nature extremely mellow. She sleeps at the back door and is often not awakened until the opening of the door itself – rather than the sound of our car, the back gate, or the loud jingling of keys. That’s what we call mellow.

DaisyBored“You guys need to get a puppy!” said our children, none of whom live at home and are currently scooping poop from our backyard. “It’ll keep Daisy young!” Yes, but will it improve her hearing?

It’s year two of our empty nest, which basically means we’re spending a lot of time in our den binge watching a TV series (“Friday Night Lights” is awesome), playing Candy Crush Saga (JoAnn) or doing crossword puzzles (Richard.) So bringing another life into the house certainly seemed like a good idea. This idea really crystalized when our summering daughter, Emily, came home one night to find us at our respective computers. She said “You guys really need to get a life”.

2CuteGirlsinCarToward the end of August, before Emily headed back to her academic haven in Atlanta, she and her mom started surreptitiously looking at puppy pictures on the Internet. Warning! Once puppy pictures get into the house, it’s almost a sure thing that a real dog will follow.

Emily went back to college. The house became empty. We got the puppy.

Delilah has been with us for two nights. Her first day and night were very promising and uneventful. As I have often said, “Everything a puppy does is cute.”

We are crate training her. This means she sleeps in a giant cage (but no one wants to call it that, so we call it a crate) right near Daisy’s bed. Daisy has taken well to her new little sister – if you define “taking well” as aloof disengagement, or resignation. In time, we tell ourselves, they will be the best of friends.

DelilahInCrateWhen JoAnn went downstairs this morning to let the puppy out, she was greeted by a total mess. Sometime around 6 AM, Delilah had pooped in her crate. Not so cute. A rare phenomenon (because dogs know better than to poop in their living quarters), and one, I’m sorry to admit, brought on by our desire to push the edge of the poop envelope and sleep “just five minutes more” after the first yelp. That won’t be happening again.

Poop everywhere!

I am amazed at how quickly JoAnn and I sprung into action. It was like old times. I immediately grabbed Delilah’s soiled bedding and went to work with the hose. JoAnn distracted her while Daisy observed the whirlwind with detached bemusement.

Next came Delilah herself. I think she actually enjoyed her spa-treatment bath as I rinsed her poop-caked and furry little body in the kitchen sink.

DelilahSphinxOnce the crap-threat level was returned to normal, JoAnn and I gave each other that knowing look. “It’s just like having a baby in the house,” she said. “Yep,” I nodded, and smiled.

There are times in our lives when we know we have to do something that we don’t want to do at all. These are the “higher calling” moments, when we as parents, or pet owners, have to step up and take care of business – whether it’s cleaning up poop, or drying tears, or just listening –when we’d rather be doing something else, or anything else.

AtDaisy'sBedThese are also the moments when our love unites us because we’re willing to sacrifice our own plans to accommodate the needs of our loved ones. These times bind us together as we navigate our shared adventures. In times like these, JoAnn and I often look at each other and quote Oliver Hardy: “Here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.”

I suspect next week’s blog will have another messy puppy update — because, frankly, that’s about all that’s happening around here right now.

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.

dropoffpickupYesterday, I had the very entertaining opportunity to participate in morning drop-off at a local pre-school. In my capacity at the door, I observed several parenting styles at work – some I thought were quite efficient, and some I observed adding unnecessary complication to the parents’ lives.

KeepITSimpleSTart2On this blog and in my book — Raising Children That Other People Like to be Around – I’ve mentioned that my goal as a parent is to keep the process as simple as possible. This is the “KISS principle” – a common business acronym for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” In parenting, because I believe nobody who’s doing their best to raise their children is stupid, my version of K.I.S.S. is Keep It Simple from the Start.

What I saw at the pre-school door was very interesting. In one case, a child was crying and didn’t want to go to school. His mom showed great patience and stayed very cool. She tried to enthuse him about the art project she had prepped the night before. No interest, more tears. She asked him if he was upset because he hadn’t had a chance to push the elevator button when they entered the building.  “No” he whined. “Well, maybe.” she thought.  She offered to take him back to the elevator and let him push the button, but that didn’t work either.  Throughout this “negotiation” five or so other parents walked their kids in, dropped them off, and left for their next event.

It occurred to me that this poor mom was going to be there all morning, unless she could reason her unreasonable toddler into his classroom.

Everyone has their own style, but JoAnn and I never had the patience to let our very young children make their life decisions. I believe that, by being in charge, we not only made our children more comfortable, but created a predictable environment in which we could schedule our lives by having reasonable behavioral expectations of our kids.

Crying-at-Drop-Off-PreschoolI don’t mean to imply that our children never had problems… we just tried to anticipate those times by preparing them.  On the way to school, we’d talk with them about the day ahead, or we’d enlist the aid of teacher at school who, in addition to being trained for this, would be prepared and ready to draw our child into the day’s activities.  Sometimes, JoAnn’s solution was to have me walk the kids in because they didn’t have as hard a time separating from me (mostly because they knew I wasn’t going to stick around). We usually only had to do these things for a day or two in order to break the behavioral pattern of resistance.  Click here for some other good suggestions.

At the root of this all is my belief that toddlers are not prepared to make every decision for themselves. In fact, too much responsibility often makes them more anxious than knowing a routine and following its procedures. The secret benefit that we parents derive from this is that we can count on getting to work on time or meeting our friends for coffee.

Rules and expectations create comfort in children. They know what’s expected of them, and when they comply they know that they are being good. If we deny them the chances to achieve this for themselves (and to please us), then they often decide to get our attention in more demanding and inconvenient ways.

Waiting in LineConcessionLineFixMy best adult experience analogy for this is the difference between waiting in line at the bank – with a single line from which each person goes to the next available teller — and waiting at McDonald’s or a concession stand, with five or six lines each moving at its own pace. I hate being in the slowest line at the ball game. I stand there and find myself frustrated by the lone guy two heads in front of me who’s ordering for five people, while the lines on each side of me are moving closer and closer to their burgers and fries. I want the system to be fair, and in the structured, simple bank line it is!

SusiesLipsSo, do yourself a favor. Make decisions for your children. Let the Force be with you.
Let them relax into your expectations.
Guide them in their lives and be confident about it. In the end, give them a KISS by Keeping It Simple from the Start.

 

Here are five quick tests:

vectorstock_11358

Do you…let your children boss you around?   (Do they say things like “Where’s my breakfast?”)

Do you…make excuses for your children? (“She would have said ‘Thank you.’ but she was too busy playing.”)

Are you afraid your child won’t love you if you say “No”?

Have you ever let your child tell you to “Shut up” without consequence?

Are you worried about whether or not your children “like” you? (and I don’t mean on Facebook.)

Wimpy Parenting is actually quite common, which is one of the reasons I wrote my book “Raising Children That Other People Like to be Around.”  I know that some of you may object to my use of the word “wimpy”, but, let’s face it, you know what I mean.  Besides, I grew up when sticks and stones could break my bones but words could never hurt me – so I encourage you to not be distracted by my language and hear the message.

Today, parenting has become a “profession” and, as a result, has become the focus of great examination and angst.  Sure, people always worried about their children, their health, their happiness, and their comfort, but today’s kids are coddled in ways that shortchange our children and teach them dependence rather than independence.  When I was young and bored, it was not my parent’s responsibility to entertain me.  In fact, my mom used to say “Go bang your head against the wall until you can think of something to do.”  Pretty concise don’t you think?

vectorstock_1943457I believe in simplification.  The more “power” we give our children, the more complicated our lives become.  If every decision requires a consultation like “Do you want to go to school?” or “Is it OK if mommy and daddy go out tonight?’ we are really complicating our lives.

It’s up to our children to fit into our lives – not the other way around.

Yes, having children changes many things, but those are things that we as parents change voluntarily (no more sleeping late (gotta coach the team), no more swearing (the echo machine is in the room), no more wild parties (that one’s self explanatory), etc.).

Ultimately, it’s our job as parents to lead, and it’s our children’s job to follow.

Being a Wimpy Parent takes its toll on you.  You can’t make plans.  You can’t go to restaurants.  You can’t live your life because your child or children dominate it – and what kind of life is that?

The most ironic thing about being a Wimpy Parent is that children want us to be in control.  They are not equipped to have the responsibility that we give them by letting them be our boss.  It’s just not fair – they have far less life experience than we and they are much more comfortable being led than they are being asked to make decisions.

Just try it.

vectorstock_745873Have the confidence to take control.  Team up with your mate, or parenting partner, or best friends, or whomever it takes to give you strength and start making decisions for your children.  Depending on their age, they’ll most likely resist a little, but if you stand firm you’ll find that a lot of the “noise” in your life disappears – and suddenly you have a peaceful home.

I’ve said many times that it’s “easier to lighten up than it is to tighten up” which means that your children can EARN greater decision making responsibility as time goes on, but being a pushover from the very beginning is no way to run a family.

Trust me.

Children are not as fragile as we might think.  They live through the curveballs with which we present them.  They change schools, they make new friends, their feelings get hurt, and yet they learn to love music, they laugh at funny things, and they love their moms and dads.

The process is designed to succeed.

Which brings us back to simplification.  We had four simple rules with our kids:

CasualFamily

  • Be truthful.
  • Be respectful.
  • Be generous.
  • Be kind.

Concentrate on teaching your children those values and they will most likely become people that other people like to be around.

 

Here are 5 do-able resolutions that can help you and your family make the most of the coming year.

1. Ambush Your Kids With Something Positive Every Day

positive_kidI was recently speaking at an elementary school when one of the parents asked about consequences for bad behavior.  I thought about it for a moment and then realized that I preferred to give and receive consequences for good behavior.  Most of us are in the habit of telling our kids what they’re doing wrong, but it’s just as easy (and more effective) to bath our children in positive reinforcement rather than negative.  Not only does this tell your children what pleases you, but over time, it becomes a habit and tips the scale toward more positive conversation and less criticism.

Try some of these phrases:  “I like the way you are sitting quietly.” “Your teeth look really good when you brush them.” “Sometimes I just love hearing your voice.”  “It makes me really happy when you are polite.”

2.    Review Your Family Tree.

Family_Tree_TemplateHaving a family, no matter how complex yours might be, gives our children a foundation.  One of my grandfathers emigrated from Russia, through Canada to Detroit.  My other was born in Decatur, Illinois, where his family had a dry-goods store.  My wife’s family came from Poland through Ellis Island.  Each of them had multiple brothers and sisters and, as a result, our extended family is sometimes hard to understand – but always interesting.  Nonetheless, I’ve noticed that over the years our children have repeated family lore to their friends (calling us for confirmation) and grown to take pride in their own family history.

Today, the Internet offers a variety of tools for building and tracking your family tree, but telling stories about our family and reviewing old photographs often reveals a passion that really captures the interest of our children.

3.    Do Nice Things Without Expectation.

GrocerycartBy returning someone else’s grocery cart, holding a door, or picking up a random piece of litter, we are showing our children that we have a responsibility to help take care of other people in our world – even, or especially, when no one is asking us to.  I try to explain to them that doing good deeds makes me feel better about myself – just for me.  By modeling these behaviors, and occasionally enlisting the help of our kids, we are giving them a chance to do nice things for other people – which is better for all of us.

4.    Avoid Creating Feelings For Your Children

socceryounggirldribbling2I was coaching AYSO for my daughter’s U6 (under six years old) team when it occurred to me that my young players didn’t really care about whether they won or lost.  In U6, the emphasis is on positive coaching, good sportsmanship, and player development – it’s not on winning – and the kids seemed just fine with that until their parents started telling them how to feel.  “You played well, but you don’t want to be a loser do you?”  Last I looked, that little girl was indifferent about the result of the game, she was just wanted to go get an ice-cream, but according to her well-meaning mom she was now a loser.

None of us can be sure what our kids are thinking or feeling.  We often think that the way we would feel is the way they’re feeling – but that’s not always the case, and it’s something for us to be aware of.   Things like “You must be sad because Jonah didn’t invite you over to play.” are complete projections of how we feel as opposed to how our child is reacting.  It always makes sense to be compassionate and ask our children about their feelings – but it’s better to let them define those feelings themselves than to tell them what we think they might be.  In my book I call this “Leading the Witness”.

5.    Verbally Express Gratitude Each Day

I was about thirteen when a homeless person approached my father and asked him for some money.  My father gave him a quarter and then said to me “There but for the grace of God go I.”  I never forgot that phrase or that feeling.

KidsAtBKGWeddingjpgEarly in the development of our family, I was working six, twelve-hour, days a week.  After about a year, JoAnn “suggested” that I be home for dinner at least once a week and work only one Saturday per month.  At that weekly dinner, we’d go around the table and individually define at least one thing for which we were grateful.  Week after week this dinner offered us an opportunity to share our feelings and remind our children how lucky we are to have each other, to live in our house, to have food, school, pencils, television, friends, etc.

Expressing gratitude doesn’t require a formal occasion, it’s as easy as looking out of the car window and saying “Isn’t the world amazing?” or “Aren’t we lucky to have a car – what if people still had to ride horses everywhere?”

…and speaking of gratitude…Happy New Year Dear Readers.  Thank you for giving time to my blog and for sharing it with others.  May 2014 bring you all health, happiness, and simplicity.  No matter how ridiculous our lives may seem, we are all truly lucky to be here.

Wedding Photo Credit – Paige Jones Photography

BlogLite21As this week marks the thirty-sixth year of my marriage, I thought I’d try to offer some of the little lessons I have learned through co-habitation.

None of us is entitled to the “perfect” partner.  We just don’t come out of the box in a manner that allows us to fit seamlessly into the lives of another.  But we are creatures who can learn and adapt and, as such, we are capable of making choices about how we’d like to live.  These lessons have simplified my life and strengthened our relationship as parents:

#1 – There is a Bigger Picture

JoAnn and I had been married a few years before  I had gained enough insight to avoid blatantly ogling other women in her presence, but one night we were out to dinner at a nice restaurant when a statuesque woman entered in a very sheer top, grabbing the eye of every male in the room.  No big deal.  I kept my eyes fixed on my wife.  Later, as we were driving home in the car I said to her, “Did you see that woman who came into the Shoesrestaurant?”  JoAnn looked at me with disgust and replied, “Did you see her shoes?”  I had to confess.  I hadn’t seen her shoes.  JoAnn then explained that open-toed shoes with stockings immediately meant that, as women go, that one was asleep at the wheel.

Shoes.  Gotta pay more attention to shoes.

#2 – Embrace The Differences

DSCN0338I’ve played baseball in one form or another since Little League, and today I am part of a softball team that has played together for forty years.  Over the years, I have experienced every situation that can happen on a baseball diamond and I believe I know what to do (as an outfielder) in any circumstance.  Two outs, one man on.  One out, two men on, etc. etc.

Couples often fight about the way women spend money and men use their leisure time, but while I was devoting my time to baseball, JoAnn was honing her shopping skills to near perfection.  I have learned to marvel at my wife’s ability to drive a hard bargain, return an item without a tag or receipt, and generally make the system work for her.  I occasionally have the pleasure of watching her navigate the retail world.  I just sit back and enjoy.  I know that she is as concerned with our finances as I, and I respect her ability to make smart decisions.  It’s all how you look at it.

#3 – Think of Your Mate as You Do Yourself

We once went out on a double date with a couple whose company I enjoyed.  I thought the guy was funny, and I thought his wife was sassy.  When JoAnn and I recapped the evening I said, “That Roger guy is really funny, don’t you think?” To which she replied, “He’s not very nice to his wife.”  “Whaddaya mean?”  I asked.  “He treated her like she was stupid, and she isn’t.” She continued, “If he treats her like she’s stupid, and he’s married to her – then he must be stupid for marrying her.”

Done.

In the end, if you can find ways to appreciate and affirm your spouse’s intelligence then you’re really complimenting yourself for having convinced someone so smart to marry you!

#4 – People Don’t Change

IMG_0621For everything my wife does that drives me crazy, I’m sure there are multiple things I do that make her nuts.  I’m a little messy and often don’t pick up my clothes.  I sometimes watch football ALL DAY.  Sometimes I forget to tell her something important.  On the other hand, JoAnn occasionally leaves the butter out all afternoon, or leaves dirty pans on the stove where they cool and become harder to wash.  Sometimes she misses a material fact in a story.

Nobody’s perfect – but we’ve realized that arguing about unchangeable elements of our personalities only leads to acrimony.  Take a deep breath and carry on in the name of a peaceful home.  These days I pick up my clothes because I know it will make her happy – and also because she’s not nagging me about it.

#5 – Fidelity – The Bottom Line

When JoAnn and I first got together, she put fidelity into a perspective I could barely believe.  “If you want to sleep with someone else, you can.”  “What??” I said.  She repeated “If you want to sleep with someone else, you can.”

“Seriously?” I asked.  

“Sure,” she said, “as long as it’s oaky for me to sleep with someone else too. Because if it’s okay for you, it should be okay for me, right?”  Then, she added, “there are probably a lot more men who want to sleep with me than women who want to sleep with you.”

Ouch.    Extortion, but effective.

I am/was a flirt by nature and JoAnn knew that when she married me.  For her, it is both an endearing and exasperating quality that comes with the package.  She has allowed me considerable leeway in my relationships with other women, and, all along, I have understood my responsibility with regard to those relationships.

We have both worked to remain “attractive” to the other and throughout the years in which we had children at home we always took time for ourselves.  JoAnn has remained primarily “My Wife” and secondarily “The Mother of Our Children.”  We have always prioritized each other – and this has given our children perspective.

JoAnn never restricted me in my guy-type activities.  She knew when I was going to a bachelor party or had been to a “Gentlemen’s Club”, but she also respected that those male-bonding experiences were enjoyable for me and in no way a threat to our relationship.

REGJEGLagunaMarriage or cohabitation is not easy.  Reasonable people can make it work through diligent, honest communication and consideration.  Among the side benefits of doing so is that fact we teach our children how to respect others and accept imperfection.  Modeling a positive, communicative relationship is a slam-dunk way to raise happy, respectful children.

My friends used to ridicule us for our hyper-communicative relationship.  I withstood all that because I knew in the end that we’d still be looking at each other and saying “You’re the only one” (I can stand being with for long periods of time).

Happy Anniversary my love.

RaisingChildrenFinalFrontCvrWebI wrote “Raising Children That Other People Like to be Around” to guide parents toward a better understanding of their roles – as moms and dads, as well as parenting partners – because the core strength of a family comes from the leadership that the adults offer. To help parents discover their objectives and define their values, I broke the process, and it is a process, into five basic behavioral “musts.”  I also created an anagram, or pneumonic (or whatever you want to call it) based on the word S.M.A.R.T.

AtticusFinchSet an Example – This has two parts. The first one is the most obvious interpretation. Behave as though everything you do will be mimicked by your child – because it will be!  If you’re nice to the food server, your child will grow up to be nice to food servers. If you show people respect, your child will do the same. You don’t have to be a saint, but it’s important to realize that your child is going to reflect the behavior you teach… whether consciously or subconsciously…and that especially includes how you communicate with the people closest to you. The second part is to reflect on the examples set for you by your own parents, and to discuss them with your spouse or partner. This allows you to solidify and synchronize your values and goals, which you will then use to guide you through the parenting process.

10CommandsMake the Rules – As part of setting an example, you should decide what values you think are most important to you and your parenting partner. If you value truth and respect above all else, for example, shape your rules accordingly. If you value academic achievement and the making of beds, work those in accordingly. Remember that “rules are the arms in which your children can embrace themselves.” By following your rules, your children know they are “good,” and therefore feel comfortable in your presence. Be sure your rules are reasonable and understandable. Your children will follow your lead because they understand you have created those rules to keep them safe, and to teach them to respect the feelings and property of others. My wife and I would often explain why we created a rule, and the logic behind it, so that our children would understand that we weren’t just making them up for fun.

DadAndSonApply the Rules – Once you’ve decided what’s important, you have to stick to your guns. Little children will test boundaries, which is their job. By saying “no” together with an explanation of your reasons, you show them you care. Applying rules is as simple as guiding your children toward the behaviors that you prefer. Arbitrary rules like “you must sit at the dinner table for twenty minutes” have never made sense to me. When you see your child doing something you like (as in following a rule) just comment on it: “I like the way you’re sitting quietly at the table” or “Thank you for taking your dishes to the sink.” It’s as much about being a cheerleader as about being a cop. Remember, every rule you create is a rule you have to enforce and too many rules make life very complicated.

Respect Yourself – This one is a biggie. It is inexcusable to let your child tell you to shut up – but there are parents who allow it.  You are the boss, you are the “pack leader.” In order to maintain comfort for all concerned, you need to lead with the confidence that generates admiration and respect. I like to think of it this way:

If you were to get into a cab and ask the driver to take you to worried-baby2the airport, and that driver were to say to you “OK – I think I know how to get there.” You would have two reactions. Your first would be “Get me out of this cab!” and, your next would be to realize that you have no respect for this un-prepared person. Your children are passengers in your cab. You should be far better informed about the local roads than they are. And even if you’re not, you need to make them think you are, for their comfort and safety. Your life experience is your qualification.

teacherTeach in All Things – If you see your child as an “Adult In Training” and you know it’s your job to be their teacher, then everything you do will be informed by an underlying lesson. I believe that our basic job as parents is creating “citizens,” and to teach citizenship we have to find ways to illustrate day-to-day lessons. Will we help an older person cross the street? Why do we have to wait in line? What happens when toys get broken? How does it feel to give a gift? How would you feel if someone did that to you? These are examples of the lessons that parents can and should be teaching every day. Once our kids catch on, they begin to see the lessons themselves.

There are whole chapters dedicated to each of these “Five Simple Musts” in my book. By following these very basic and doable suggestions, you can simplify the parenting process and concentrate on the wonder of raising your children.  They are eager to learn what you want to teach them, so be a leader and show them the things you love about the world.