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It’s hard to be happy all of the time.

People say I’m an optimist… and, by most accounts, including my own, I would have to agree.  Some days however, getting out of bed is not something that I look forward to. On those days, life is just a matter of having the determination to put one foot in front of the other.

I try to stay focused on parenting. That focus includes encouraging parents to learn from their mistakes and to revel in the challenge of raising kind, considerate children. I recognize that there are days when that seems pretty futile – and on those days I encourage them to just put one foot in front of the other.

My friends and I  have lost loved ones; parents, spouses, best friends, pets – and all of us know the chasm of emptiness that resides in our chests from those events.  Although I was trained to emotionally overcome those tragedies, that emptiness often lasts longer than I could have imagined. Those days are marked by trying to remember those people with love and putting one foot in front of the other.

My friend Randy’s grandma used to say “Life isn’t wonderful.”

When I think about that, I also think about how wonderful certain parts of life can be. When I remove my fears (about health, wealth, and our nation) I try to focus on the parts of my life that are, in fact, wonderful.

For each of us, those may be different. I have a loving family. My wife of forty years and I live in the house our children grew up in. Our family members are healthy and have healthcare (for as long as that lasts). We don’t worry about our next meal. Our kids are grown and earning their own livings (for the most part). I am, in fact a very lucky guy.

So why do I wake up depressed some days? Why does the world threaten me, when I should be threatening it?

Because shit happens.

Not every day is going to be perfect. Not every decision is going to be right, and not every interaction with another human being is going to go the way it should. Just because.

So what can I (we) do about it?

In my case, I’ve found that being generous – with time, gratitude or money – helps me feel better. To that end, sixty eight Southern Californians (including my son, Aaron) and I have decided to raise cancer-fighting money through an organization called Team in Training. This weekend we’re going to ride 100 miles around Lake Tahoe to complete our commitments (to ourselves and our donors). Our goal is to raise $250,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society with which they will fight the terrible disease. If you’d like to donate to the cause and increase the number of Cancer survivors, please feel free to contribute here.

But that’s not why I’m writing this.

I’m writing to say that, even though we can all find ways to feel good, there are just days when life sucks, when the day ahead feels daunting, and that’s normal. It’s OK.

I once gave a co-worker a post-it that said “Time heals all wounds.” She put it on her bulletin board and it got us both through some tough times. I’m old enough to tell you that, if you do the work required to learn, grow and change, it’s true – time will heal most wounds… certainly the ones that are emotional.

Another way in which my coaches and teammates have put this into perspective is to say “No matter how hard it is to ride your bike up that hill, someone fighting cancer has it much harder.”

So, today and this weekend, I’ll be remembering how lucky I am that organizations like LLS are fighting hard to add happier days to the lives of cancer victims….

…and I’ll be doing it by putting one foot in front of the other.

Patriotic FamilyDo it by raising great children.  A “great” country needs great citizens… and building great citizens begins with focused and responsible parenting. Here are 5 ways that I believe patriotic parents can raise intelligent, inspired and involved citizens who are truly the key to making America great again.

TELL THE TRUTH

Kit KatIn most homes, truth is not a relative thing. Either your child wrote on the wall with crayon or he didn’t. Either your kid hit someone at school or not. And, by the way, “Who ate my Kit Kat bar?” These are issues that need to be addressed directly. What we do with the answers, is what parenting is all about.

Clearly, our goal is to encourage our children to tell us the truth, but how can we do that when they’re afraid they’ll get in trouble?

Justice ScalesMy parents allowed my sister and me a mechanism that would encourage discussion and value truth. If we confessed to having done something that was “trouble” worthy, we would be given an option to confess free of an anger-driven, unfair, possibly-painful punishment.   Once we opened the discussion with a mea culpa, we were allowed to explain what happened, why it had happened, and then we would have a conversation about why it wasn’t going to happen again. This openness allowed us to trust our parents and to recognize that they valued truth more than the idea of just punishing us. We were disciplined, but without physical or psychological pain.

It’s also important not to lie to others in front of your children. Remember, kids are always listening so when you tell someone on the phone that you’d help, but your car is in the shop (when it’s not), you’re teaching your child to lie. Some of us don’t even notice our “white lies” anymore, but it only takes a couple of questions from your attentive toddler to realize you’re busted.

TAKE RESPONSIBILITY

Moses and CommandmentsThematically, this is very similar to telling the truth – but this is about “owning up.” I can remember being taught that a game wasn’t worth winning if you had to cheat to do so. That ethic seems to be fading (“just win, baby”), but with young kids in sports it’s important to teach them that being honest about that “close call” (a hand ball, out-of-bounds, missed tags, etc.) is a very good place to start.

Situations often arise between siblings that require one or the other, and eventually both, to step up and tell the truth. Teaching our children to “own” their actions is crucial to their ability to take responsibility as they get older.

I suspect that everyone I know has at some point said something unflattering about another person… only to have that statement find it’s way to that person and back to them. I was told “Don’t ever say something about another person that you wouldn’t be willing to say to their face.” Although it’s not always wonderful, when those statements come back at us, there is a certain peaceful clarity to “owning up” and admitting the truth to that person’s face. Those situations often lead to wonderfully honest discussions.

DO UNTO OTHERS

Yep. The Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

When it comes to making friends and strengthening a society, the assumption that we’re all equal and that we all have feelings is probably a good starting point. This concept is obviously not very complicated, but teaching your child to empathize is not as easy as it might seem. Sure, you can ask “How would you feel if someone did that to you?” but the point of asking that question is to press your child to actually feel as though someone did it to them. This requires a little more parental focus – and this is an important lesson – so take the time.

GIVE BACK

There’s not much a toddler can reasonably do to “give back” to society, but there are certainly a lot of things that patriotic parents can do to model service to others. Whether it’s simply being sure to remember cupcakes for the class event (and involving your child in the process) or going with you when you perform charity work (participating in food, blood, or clothing drives), your children will benefit from your example.

Be a blood donor. I used to take my kids with me. Sometimes they sat on my lap, sometimes they just came along for the Oreos (my main motivation). Regardless, the process reduced their fear of needles and taught them the value of doing something meaningful for strangers. Easy. We get our blood for free.

STAY HEALTHY

Patriotic RunnersOur country is not going to be great again unless it’s populated by healthy people. The older I get the more I appreciate this fact. Eating and exercise habits begin when we’re young. I am a yo-yo weight kind of guy. Last year my weight was fine, this year I’m up fifteen. They say bodies are made in the kitchen and not in the gym. I believe that to be true – and habits for our children are formed in our kitchens.

Do what you can to teach your children about the value of healthy foods and exercise. At 60+ I’m still playing softball (not exactly a shape game, I’ll admit), but throughout our children’s youth they saw parents who made a point of getting off the couch and getting things done – whether it was coaching their teams, or planting gardens, or going to the beach.

This is the ultimate grass-roots campaign.  If you’re inclined to help build a strong society, filled with focused, happy, patriotic and productive citizens, these five things are the ways in which I’d endeavor to do it.  I’m not counting on any politicians to do this job – it’s just too important.

What do you think?

InaugurationAfter saying farewell to President Obama, one of the best parenting examples I could have ever wanted,  I, like many others am dealing with the inauguration of President Trump.  I am optimistic that the enormous responsibility the new President assumes will move his mind to important issues, and that he will consider the well-being of our nation in all the decisions he makes.

Regardless of how the the new President handles his position, many parents are asking what strategies might keep their children focused on kindness, inclusiveness, and generosity. Here are 8 simple tips:

  • Make your home an island of sanity. Be fair, be supportive, and listen. Show your children what respect looks like by respecting them and yourself.  Set the bar high and call them out when their behavior dips below it.  Create a cocoon where they are accepted and loved for their compliance.  Praise them for simple behaviors like when they wipe their shoes at the door, or share something with their sibling.  That security will envelop them, and will give them strength of character when they venture into the world.
  • Teach your kids to leave a trail of people behind them who have only nice things to say.  Lead by example.  We just came through the nastiest election in history, and if your kids don’t learn to navigate the world from you, they’re probably not gonna get it anywhere else.  Model empathy and respect for others. What you do matters.
  • Say this to your children a million times:  YOU are the only person whose behavior you can control.  Many times kids are frustrated by people who are mean to them, who disobey the rules, or tell lies.  Explain that we (our family) is not like that. Use those people as examples of what not to do and praise your child for being able to identify those flaws.  Make good behavior one of “our” family values, and use expressions like “Maybe that’s OK in their family, but our family doesn’t work like that.
  • Serve others, and ask your children to participate.  Several studies support the notion that doing regular chores or service to the community has numerous developmental benefits – and it doesn’t hurt to have a little help around the house!  Teach gratitude and service.  Show them that they are more fortunate than others.  Let your kids see you help a stranger, and show them that they owe something for their comfort.  Encourage your kids to pick up a piece of trash and put it in a nearby bin.
  • Stay involved. Monitor the progress of their homework. It’s a struggle, we know, but “executive skills” (organization of time) will pay off when they enter the job market. Teach them how to use their planners and check them every once in a while. Encourage them to ask for help. Be their teammate, not their boss.  Consider doing your work (or just reading) side by side.  If need be, minimize the distractions – outlaw TV and other non-homework related electronics. Great conversations often arise in these periods of parallel study and silence.
  • Allow your kids to struggle and even fail. This is one of the hardest challenges of parenting. Everybody makes mistakes…teach them to learn from theirs. As W. E. Hickson said: “If at first you don’t succeed… try try again.” This is how we all grow.
  • Say NO when you need to. Adversity is something we all encounter every day. The sooner we can teach our children to deal with it, the better they will perform in the big bad world.  Teach your children how to get you to say yes without whining or crying. Be strong.
  • Make sure they have time to get bored.  For children, play is work.  When they’re left to ponder, their imaginations kick in.  Limit their electronics during free time and don’t feel the need to entertain them.  “Go bang your head against the wall until you think of something to do.” Might be a good response to “I’m bored.”  It worked for my mother.

I trust these will be helpful. They actually apply no matter who the President is… because, as you know, Parenting is not a democracy.

Enjoy your children and lead them in the direction you would like them to go.

Happy New Year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

vectorstock_1052311There’s been a lot of complaining going on recently… the unknown (election), the weather (extreme), the world (wars, immigration, Brexit).

It’s so bad even Kanye can’t handle it.

But tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and earlier today I decided that the best way to make a Day of Thanks work would be to decide not to complain, kvetch, or even criticize anyone about anything.

Negativity breeds negativity.

So, let’s do this: Say only nice things to people. Greet your craziest cousin with a warm hello and loving embrace. Understand that your children may be a little goofier than usual because they’re seeing relatives they only get to see once a year.  Tell people how happy you are to be celebrating Thanksgiving with them.

I’ve found that my life goes through half-full and half-empty periods… and lately, although I have a very full life, I’ve been concentrating on the empty side which, frankly, does me no good at all.  Yes, I’ve had a recent surgery and a recent birthday, but getting older is a privilege – especially when you get to do it with a loving mate while surrounded by a loving family.

egbokYears ago, a couple of LA DJs (Ken and Bob) came up with the term EGBOK – Everything’s Going to Be OK. I’ve decided to adopt and embrace this philosophy for the coming period. Whenever something doesn’t go the way my loved ones or I expect it to – we’re just going to say EGBOK. It may sound a bit like denial, but the fact is that worry about things rarely makes them resolve differently… sometimes stuff just happens and there’s no real explanation.

My grandfather used to always spill his wine. I was taught it was good luck. Almost thirty-nine years ago, it rained on our wedding day. People said it was good luck, and it was. We had our first child when we were twenty-six years old. We were broke. We were scared. We were clueless. People said “Babies bring luck.” And they were right, because thirty-six years later I’m the luckiest guy I know.  Luck is where you look for it.

wishfulthinkingfingerscrossedLet’s start thinking about the silver linings and let’s use this Thanksgiving as an opportunity to do so. Let’s be truly grateful for every bite we take, because regardless of how one might want to look at this holiday, it’s really about hope – about the hope that we as people can live together in harmony, that, underneath it all we’re just human beings who like to be fed, who like to be together, who like to smile, and who need to be loved.

Since the first Thanksgiving, there have been mistakes made in the evolution of our country (slavery, internment of Japanese, the Red Scare), but the fact that we continue to celebrate means that we’re optimists; people who believe that we have much for which to be grateful, including each other and our incredible country.

Our Declaration of Independence offers this incredibly difficult and optimistic founding principle: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  This year we’re going to remind ourselves that we are rooted in a very solid foundation of optimism and inclusion – and that happiness is a choice.

Positive thinking breeds positivity.

img_7659Tell your adult kids you love them (even if they’re making fun of you). Smile knowingly at the rolling of their eyes. Hear criticism as passion. Start with dessert. Thank the person or people who prepared your meal. Try to stay off your phone. Tell stories from Thanksgivings past. Take a photo of the whole group.

Leave a trail of people behind you who have only nice things to say.

And remember… Everything’s Going to be OK.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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.

I know a number of people who have toddlers that they describe as “difficult.”

CryingBabyThese children have been complicated from the start.  As tiny tyrants, they’ve spit out their food, pounded the table, or thrown tantrums unabated while their better-behaved siblings and/or parents sat by marveling at the insanity of it and not really knowing what to do.

In these moments of early hostage-taking, many paralyzed parents respond in an anything-to-make-it-stop type of way, resulting in positive reinforcement of both the bad behavior and the toddler’s “difference.”  Unfortunately, this emboldens the upstart and encourages future revolution. In essence, the rules don’t apply to this child – giving them a sense of being “above the law” – whether that law is civility, or just plain respect for others.

vectorstock_1943457Essentially, this child becomes a bully – a person who bosses their parents (or parent) around because their parents allow themselves to be bossed.

Which brings me to Donald Trump and the GOP.

When he first declared his candidacy, many in his party thought he was an anomaly, a child wanting attention that would eventually go away. But his behavior was nurtured by the encouragement of crowds and his misbehavior grew and grew. Name-calling, disrespect, lying, interrupting – all unacceptable practices in the public arena – were ignored, or excused.  So the bully got louder and stronger.

When Trump called Jeb a mama’s boy, Rubio “Little Marco,” and Cruz “Lyin’ Ted” the press and public were so appalled that they sat helpless and imposed no meaningful consequences. He wasn’t reprimanded by debate moderators, he wasn’t censured by the press, he was empowered and, ironically, his popularity grew! He continues to use the name “Crooked Hillary” when Politifact has shown her to be far more truthful than Trump is. What about those tax returns, the bankruptcies, the hypocritical accusations and all of the other special accommodations that are being made for him?  Is that just all O.K.?

TRUMPAngryIt must be because Donald’s a “difficult” child.  He’s used to getting his way and people are too afraid of his bad behavior to stop him. What’s worse is that, as an anointed leader, he’s giving voice to all the other insensitive, me-first children in our country.

I don’t think Trump can be saved. These are things we must teach our children when they are young.  There are remedies for behaviors like this in toddlers – separating them from the group, or stopping in the moment to address the bad conduct (and express a higher expectation).

My wife taught me that one can often avoid these attitudes altogether by regularly praising children for their truthfully good behavior. “I like the way you’re sitting quietly.” “I like the way you played with ____.” Let your children know what you expect. Children live to love their parents. Don’t allow them to push you around.  You are the adult. When you see bad behavior – at any age – firmly impose your expectations.  It will simplify your life. (Note: If your children are older and you believe their disrespect or rebelliousness may be dangerous to them and your family – seek professional help.)

Parenting isn’t easy. It requires both flexibility and strength. If we, as parents, are too flexible, our children will bend us until both we, and they, are broken.  Let us hope that this November, for the sake of our country, we can collectively stand up to this ill-behaved child and let him know what type of behavior is expected in our family.

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.

 

As JoAnn and I began navigating the parenting waters, we found that, in the process of defining our values, we were also determining some basic rules for running the family ship “our way.”   These were our first three basic questions:

4-Aaron_and_Kate,_Nick,_Melissa,_Jan,_Anna,_Adam-064 copy

  • Is it safe?
  • Will this create a habit?
  • Does this make sense to me/us?

IS IT SAFE ? – This one’s pretty easy. Don’t touch wall sockets, don’t put dirty things in your mouth (parents – don’t leave them lying around), don’t touch the stove, don’t go out the back gate or the front door, etc.  Children catch on pretty quickly to these, especially if you drop to a knee, use a “special” voice and look them in the eye when you tell them something is dangerous or a “no no.”

Doing our part as parents is important too.  JoAnn and I put all of our dangerous or fragile things (chemicals, crystal, fancy knick-knacks) out of reach of our little children and generally “baby-proofed” our house (plugged our electrical sockets, put clips on drawers). Beyond that, with the exception of a gate at the stairs, we didn’t put padding on our coffee tables or alter our physical environment. Learning to navigate our house, edges and all, was also our children’s responsibility. The object for us was to teach them to be careful on their own, so that we wouldn’t have to spend our time monitoring their every move.

WILL THIS CREATE A HABIT? – This one’s a little tougher. It’s more about our behavior than that of our children.

Greenfam1987liteEverything we do as parents can become an expectation on the part of our children.  If we leave their light on for two nights, they’ll expect the light to be left on forever. If we let them sleep in our bed for two nights in a row, then you can be sure that they’ll want to toddle their way into the bedroom on nights three, four, and forever. It’s especially important in this instance to weigh your glorious pleasure — at having this wonderful, warm, sleeping angel next to you — against the fact that it’s not going to be particularly wonderful to have your kids wanting to join you in bed whenever they want.

I know there is a movement today toward “Attachment Parenting” — but, seriously, from my male point of view, this is a biggie. I consider our bed to be a private place for my wife and me, a refuge for the original relationship that led to having those wonderful, but not-in-my-bed, children. There are many differing opinions on this issue, and it’s really up to you and your spouse to determine how you plan to deal with this. In my case, I am rarely happy when one of my children is not only taking up my space in bed, but also distracting JoAnn from her original bedmate – ME. That’s why our children have their own beds.

DOES THIS MAKE SENSE TO ME / US ? JoAnn and I will usually have decided whether or not it’s alright for our kid to play in a puddle, eat a dog biscuit, or bang the kitchen pans. Everybody makes their own decisions about these sorts of things. You’ll probably think that some of your friends are crazy, but whether they let the dog lick their baby’s mouth is entirely up to them. What happens in your house is entirely up to you.

I grew up in a house where there were a lot of odd “rules” – which, I suppose made sense to my parents. One of them was Eating Everything On Your Plate, another was Making Your Bed, another was No Sugared Cereals, and finally, No Soft Drinks.

These rules, especially cleaning one’s plate, filled every meal with a serving of potential conflict, which usually overshadowed anything pleasurable that might have happened at the dinner table.  JoAnn and I are quite structured in our parenting, which some might regard as “strict,” but we tried to avoid setting up arguments about things that were relatively unimportant (compared to proper manners), which left plenty of room for fun, and a feeling of safety in our house.  Remember how you felt as a kid.  My childhood dinners were a battlefield.  We agreed to avoid that.

GreenFamHawaii2014Peace at home starts with not creating things to argue about. If our children didn’t make their beds, they returned to their own messy rooms. If they didn’t eat everything on their plates and they got hungry later, it was their problem to feed themselves. We continue to teach them to avoid worrying about things we can’t control (like other people’s behavior, telephone lines near the house, and World Peace), and we try not to bring the fears of the world into our home (like discussing money problems or serious health issues in front of our children).

But that’s just us, and that’s what we agreed to in our plan.

It’s not hard to implement this simple three point checklist, and I hope it can be helpful in helping you set up your own expectations and family goals.  Most of this comes down to common sense – so don’t let the heat of the moment throw your thinking off.  Stay true to your adult hunches, it will make your life much easier.

Today my wife, JoAnn, and I are celebrating the thirty-eighth anniversary of our marriage. I’m not bragging… frankly, I’m amazed.

Everyone asks, “What’s the secret?”  I’ll attempt to explain in a moment.

JoPoolNow that we have grown children I can only imagine what our parents were thinking when we moved in together at age nineteen. I’m sure they were relieved that we had similar backgrounds. After all, we’d known each other since first grade and had “gone steady” when we were twelve, but our families didn’t mingle very well, let alone plan on being stuck together for the rest of their lives.

What did we know? We were just kids.

When we’re young, the concept of making a life-long commitment is fairly abstract. The idea of being with someone for forty years is incomprehensible – like we’d have to be really old for that to happen (which, by the way, is another thing we never consider when we’re young).

BlogLite21Optimism and ignorance may well be life’s greatest intoxicants.

As cohabitants for forty-three years, husband and wife for thirty eight, JoAnn and I remain amazed daily by the life we have built, and the lives we have created. We could not have ever imagined this – starting with our own capacity to remain as in love today as we were those many years ago. Waking up each day, sharing a bed and a bathroom, walking the same worn carpeting and doing little favors for each other, is as gratifying now as in any period before. Everyone asks us how we do it, and here’s what I know:

We assume that we love each other. This means we believe that neither of us would ever do anything to deliberately hurt the other. As a result, when one of us acts insensitively, we redirect the ego part of our hurt to a more forgiving place and seek to understand. Over the years, the discussions following these hurts have taught us how to make fewer of these mistakes. Some examples of these lessons include:

  • Be and speak positively about your relationship. – not even jesting about the “ball and chain” or “idiot husband” is acceptable. Words we say often shape our thoughts. Bad mouthing your spouse is the equivalent of bad mouthing yourself. Logically, if you characterize the person you married as a moron, then you are a moron for marrying them.
  • Communicate.  Raising children and having jobs is time consuming. Many people complain that they don’t have opportunities to talk. The irony is that most things become easier when you have a teammate – and that’s how we have looked at each other from the beginning. In the thick of it, we’d start the day with a conversation (while I showered) and end the day with a bath (while she bubbled). There is no substitute for listening.
  • Compliment each other. After many years I think we have a tendency to become immune to the gifts we receive daily and, instead, focus on what’s missing or what’s wrong. Spend a moment each day counting your blessings and share them with your spouse. You chose each other for a number of reasons. Revisit those in your mind. If you think those are changing… bring them up (see Communicate).
  • Be confident and give space. I play softball. I make last minute plans to jam with a band. I go to lunch with female friends. None of these threaten my relationship because my wife is confident in her self, and our marriage. When we first starting dating she said to me “You can sleep with anyone you’d like to… just understand that if you choose to do so, then I can too, ‘cause it’s only fair…right?” I consider myself to be really “fair,” so that was a direct hit. The same is true in reverse. We operate daily in a world of trust and mutual respect. If I didn’t respect her, why would I have married her?
  • Surprise each other once in a while. Whether she just wakes up singing the theme to “Gilligan’s Island,” makes a plan to visit a museum, or just phones me to talk about the sunset, our life (and relationship) stays fresh because we remain interesting to each other. I think JoAnn is a little more “interesting” than I am… which is why I love to watch her navigate the world, and I truly appreciate her ability to make gardens beautiful and warm our home, even though she has a recurring inability to solve computer problems.
  • One last thing…Remember to send flowers on Valentine’s Day (because the “every day is Valentine’s Day” explanation is generally not considered legit).

JoAnn and I have an expression. We often say “You’re the only one.” What we mean by that is “You’re the only one (I can stand being with for any length of time).” From the very beginning we have both felt that we won first prize, that we were lucky to find each other and that we’d be real idiots to screw it up.

REGJEGLagunaOf course, we have children whom we love very much. But that’s not what this thirty-eight year marriage is about. Our children fill our lives, control our moods, challenge us, and keep us entertained, but the reality is that the person sitting next to me, in good times and bad, in the audience, the car, or on the way to the hospital, is always going to be my beloved best friend.

She’s the only one.