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

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

Our choices. Our values. Our family.

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

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

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

Who raised this child?

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

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

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

Would this conduct be acceptable at your dinner table?

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

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

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

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

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

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

That IS how we do it in our family.

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?

Even though I’ve written a book about parenting, the process of building a happy family continues to evolve, and after raising four children over a period of thirty-six years, there are a few things that stand out as lessons learned.  Here are three new observations that have recently bubbled up.   I consider these to be simple tips for helping parents unify their families and raise happy children.

Be Idealistic

When our sons were young, perhaps nine and twelve, they were playing with our neighbor who had a go-kart. Both boys were salivating at the prospect of driving it. At that time, the neighbor made a point of telling Aaron he could drive the cart, but Benjamin (our second son) couldn’t. Benjamin came home (across the street) to tell me about it.

It was more the neighbor’s tone than not being able to drive that was upsetting Ben, so I called Aaron over for a chat. “Our neighbor is being really mean to Ben.” I said. “Being brothers is a package deal and I don’t think it’s right for you to ignore that behavior, even though you want to drive the go-kart. If our neighbor is going to be mean to your brother, then you can’t let him get away with it.”

At the time, I was holding my breath. I thought – gee, only an idealist would expect his kid to step up to this – but Aaron followed instructions and abandoned the mean neighbor kid.  The boys came into the house and busied themselves with something else. I completely forgot about it until twenty years later, at his bachelor party, Ben explained that he knew what being brothers truly meant the day that Aaron chose not to drive the go-kart.

Hey! It sunk in.

Promote Family

The house I grew up in had pictures like this on the walls.

We had a small area in the living room with some pictures of our cousins, and my parents had various pictures of themselves and loved ones (including my sister and me) in their bedroom… but that was pretty much it.  I always got the impression that my mom felt that putting pictures of ourselves around the house was narcissistic.

Once JoAnn and I started building our family, she began decorating our home with photos.  As our family grew, so did the collection. For a period of at least ten years, we took a family portrait every Thanksgiving so that we could send it out as a holiday card.


At the same time, we took individual pictures of our kids and those were used to decorate the immense set of shelves in our family room. It was (and remains) essentially an altar to our family and loved ones.

At first I thought having all of those pictures of us and our kids on display was egotistical (after all, I am my mother’s son). When I think back on it today, and I imagine that family room full of laughing children, I can see how our senses of unity and love were reinforced by the images around us.  So, these are the pictures our children grew up with.

More fun I think.

As a result, I encourage you to do everything you can to unite your children. Promote group activities. Take family pictures and put them where everyone can see them. Show your kids and the world that you are proud of your family – and they will be proud of it too.

 

Pay Attention

We have a grandson now, so I’m far more attuned to people with strollers. What I notice is that many parents are talking on their cell phones while pushing their toddlers through town. Whether or not the child needs attention, it’s probably clear to them that they’re not number one on their parent’s agenda.

There was a time when we made fun of this phone addiction with a family photo.

I know it’s hard to put the phone down, especially when it seems as though the baby is being entertained by all the things you’re walking by, but the fact is that children are aware of everything we do, and parents who are paying attention elsewhere are denying themselves and their children excellent opportunities for intimacy.

The same goes for the dinner table.  Try asking everyone to put their phone somewhere out of reach at dinner time. It’s hard, but it’s only thirty to forty-five minutes… set a timer if you have to, but without our phones, we actually look at each other and have conversations.  Now my kids yell at me when I get a text during dinner.

None of these things is particularly easy….well, maybe the photos thing is… but what they all require is an understanding that, as parents, our job is to show our children what family life should be, even if we’re cynical or tired or not in the mood.   We have the power to build our families from scratch. My family is different from the one I grew up in, and so is yours. Make that a difference that you’re proud of.

I find, and have found, refuge in this optimism, and I believe you can too.

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.

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.

Our son Ben recently called and said “We’re pregnant!”  JoAnn, my wife, was very quick to point out that Ben’s wife, Kelsie is pregnant and that they are having a baby.  After all, JoAnn asks, “Is Ben nauseous all the time?” “Are his ankles swollen?” “Is he constantly overheated?”

Well… no.

bkg nose pick

Ben – Expectant Father

Of course our son will never actually “be” pregnant, but it’s clear that this generation of fathers is being encouraged to share in the process and, to the extent that sharing “ownership” of the pregnancy seems kind of appropriate to me, I’m pleased to see Ben stepping up to the job.

I understand Ben’s desire to be included and I understand his wanting to take his share of the responsibility for the gestation that’s going on. I was an active father during JoAnn’s pregnancies (for our era).  No matter the hour, I forced myself to go get ice-cream, I consoled her when she was crying for no reason, and I understood the importance of remaining firm, supportive, and flexible.

Through four pregnancies I often joked “If I could carry that baby… I would!”  – which probably got old.

BoysAdmireBabyEm

Emily arrives!

To her credit, JoAnn never complained about me or the process.  I believe her positive and loving attitude helped define the cheerful nature of our children today. At this point, I don’t think either of us really cares “who” is pregnant – as much as we’re elated that Kelsie is!

Of course, we’re now involved in a different type of sweepstakes…

MyGrandma

My Grandma

…Grandparenting!

What will this baby call us? We’re working on it, because, after all, this is precedent setting, a high stakes decision that will define how our future grandchildren will know and love us. Our children knew their Grandparents as Nana and Poppie (JoAnn’s side) and Grandma and Grandpa (my side) – so those names are out. Various suggestions have been made (by people other than Ben and Kelsie) – like Gammy Jo and Don Ricardo, or Slick and JayJay. We’re open to suggestions.

A lot of our friends are already grandparents. They do a lot of babysitting and some of them do it every day. I’m not sure we’re going to be so “hands on,” but one thing is for sure, we’re entering a new phase where some little creature is going to capture our hearts and cause us to lose our minds. Neither JoAnn’s nor my parents were much for watching the grandkids.

JGGCornChip

Their Grandmother

My mother stepped in once in a while, but not on a regular basis. She was confident though, and that was good. One time, she was watching our oldest son, Aaron, and we phoned to see if everything was going alright. “If you trust the babysitter, you need not phone.” she replied tersely. The witness was asleep when we picked him up.

Grandma had made her point.

NathanWCar

My Mother’s Father

Although I don’t really remember my grandparents that well, they are legends in my mind (and the family lore). My father’s father opened the first children’s shoe store in L.A. My mother’s father was an immigrant blacksmith and inventor who sued Henry Ford (and won). I never met my mother’s mother (she died when my mother was three). My father’s mother and I were cordial – but it’s not like I remember her hugging me to pieces (as I anticipate I will do with our grandchildren).

Now I have to think about what my legacy will be? How will my grandchildren (and the family lore) describe me? Will I be the nut-bar grandpa who is remembered for playing the bass drum in a local marching band? Will I be the grandpa who never grew up and shamelessly burst into song whenever possible? Perhaps my most important legacy will be the one I share with JoAnn – that our children’s children will know that their grandparents prioritized their love, that they were in love from the start and stayed that way.

Family

These people.

What I can say is this:  We will be parents who support our children in their efforts to raise respectful and kind children. We will also expect our grandchildren to have good manners and to behave within our expectations. We will be calm. We will counsel our children with understanding and we will encourage them to use their instincts when making parenting decisions. We will help them when we can – and we will do so without adding strings (something my mother selflessly taught us).  We will help them keep their feet on the ground and their heads on their shoulders, and we will laugh with them as they learn to navigate the pathways of parenting.

Yes, this is going to be an adventure, and we can’t wait.

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.

AMGBarMDecisionCUEvery relationship is different – and there are key elements in successful (and unsuccessful) marriages that I’m trying to identify for my next book.  By taking Part 1 of this quick, ten-minute, survey you would be helping me identify some of the most common issues (good and bad) that arise in relationships.  If you’ve already participated in this survey – thank you very much.  If not, please click below.

Take the Survey HERE !!

I thank you, in advance, for your contribution.

Best,

Richard

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.