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In honor of the fact that JoAnn and I are celebrating our thirty-seventh wedding anniversary this week, I thought I’d reflect a little on what I think has allowed our relationship to survive.

WateringCan2People express their understandings of a marriage in many different ways, but my friends Andrew and Claudia put it like this:

Each person takes turns being either a watering can or a flower.  Sometimes we need to be watered, and sometimes we need to do the watering.

I know. It’s a simple metaphor, but it works. Sure, sometimes I don’t feel like doing the watering, or I feel as though I’m completely out of water. I’m sure there are times when JoAnn feels the same way. But after thirty seven years, I’ve learned it’s worth finding the emotional resources necessary to nurture my mate – even if it means having to change my own focus or ignoring something that has irked me. In the end, making that effort comes back to me as a peaceful life, a calm environment, and a mate who digs deep for me when I need her.
Being generous to someone I love seems a small price to pay.

I’ve known from the start that individual egos are the biggest enemy of a good relationship. Once someone begins to take umbrage, there’s a problem. Once the resentment begins to pile up, and both people become unwilling to water, the flower begins to wither. The key is making a conscious decision to break the cycle – essentially deciding that peace is more valuable than whatever is hanging up the conversation. I think JoAnn and I have done this (subconsciously) by creating an “ego” for our relationship, and considering how things feel (for each of us) before blowing into the china shop.

BlogLite21When we started out, we were just kids – seriously, we were twenty-four years old. In fact, now three of our four kids are older than we were when we got married. For whatever reason, on that day and for many days before it, we had a sense that we were right for each other.

For me, marriage wasn’t an emotional deal. I knew I “loved” JoAnn, but as I try to do with most things, I applied a little logic to my situation. My marriage theory was based on this thought: although I could probably approach any woman at a bar, introduce myself, have a fun conversation and end up having a “successful” evening, the fact is that I never approach that woman and I probably never would. Also, I knew that as a world-class procrastinator who never wrote a paper until the day before it was due, I figured marriage would create a series of deadlines to help me achieve my goals in life.

Both of those theories held true.

RGnJGGI also entered marriage with open eyes. When I told my father that I intended to marry JoAnn he said, “Son, you are going to meet three or four more women in your life whom you might find really attractive.” I sad, “What? Are you telling me you don’t like JoAnn?” And he replied, “No, I love JoAnn, I’m just telling you what’s what.”

There will always be opportunities that we believe might make us happier, but trying to catch every ball may cause us to drop the one that is most appropriate for us. By letting me know that there would be understandable and common temptation, my father was trying to prepare me to acknowledge those possibilities and move on. Like an addict, I resolved to live my marriage “one day at a time” so that a lifetime of fidelity wouldn’t seem so daunting – and when the temptation to consider others arose, I made it through those days. On Wednesday I’m getting my thirty seven year chip.

REGJEGFeetAnnivLite

Photo by Emily Greenberg

The hallmark of our marriage is that we’re kind to each other. We don’t yell. We don’t call each other names. We don’t keep score. This doesn’t mean that we don’t get angry, or leave each other space when one is feeling tapped out. It means that our kindness is defined by the swallowing of pride, of understanding and generosity. One of us will do the dishes when neither of us feels like it, because the dishes aren’t going to wash themselves. We take care of each other, and consider each other’s needs as equal to our own. It’s our agreement, and we both know we’re better for it.

People will object, “That’s easy for you to say, you married the right person.” But, the fact is we’ve spent years training each other. No one comes out of the box designed to cohabitate perfectly. We’ve learned to pick our battles. We’ve learned what isn’t going to change – and we’ve managed to get over it. We all have our nuances, things that can drive others crazy… or not. Our choice is to see those things as part of the process and move beyond them. Learning to trust and communicate about them, rather than suffering in silence, is one of the keys to moving forward.REGJEGLaguna

There’s an old expression – “Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?” I like being both, and my wife knows it – so she humors me (until I admit that I was wrong).

Marriage is not fifty fifty – it’s ninety ninety. Give more than half and it’ll make thirty-seven years go by in the wink of an eye.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep, I’m living my life “on demand.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some simple options:

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

Other options for “feeling” the day:

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

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

… and to say thanks.

GreenFamHawaii2014According to Merriam Webster Online, a quid pro quo is “something that is given to you or done for you in return for something you have given to or done for someone else.”

I believe in the Kid Pro Quo, which I define as “something that your child gives or does for you in return for all the things you do for your child.” Essentially, it’s creating an expectation of emotional and behavioural repayment for the years of selfless, generous, and loving attention that we parents shower upon our lovely unsuspecting children.

Sounds pretty basic, doesn’t it? Yet believe it or not, there are parents who dote on their children — buy them everything, drive them to dance, or little league, or karate — without any expectation of Kid Pro Quo at all. I understand that “it’s a parent’s job” to do those things. But common sense tells me that it’s important to expect something in return – because sooner or later our kids will enter a world that expects gratitude, or at least a “thank you.” It’s a little like teaching the Golden Rule: treat your children the way you expect them to treat you.

Over the years, I have observed that by expressing gratitude for the things around us, we have taught our children (and others) to appreciate the things we all have in life – whether it’s a meal, a beautiful sunset, a car that works, or a spouse who is an excellent Mom. Every time I express my appreciation I am essentially defining a value for my children. It’s value that is not about them, that is external , but it’s one they should equally appreciate.

Children who are grateful have a tendency to respect the good things that come their way – good things like us, for example, their parents.

Aaron12kitchen_92liteSometimes even wonderful children need a little guidance. We were once expecting visitors from out of town. We had told our oldest son, Aaron, that the guests were bringing their teenage niece with them. We had also told Aaron that we expected him to help the girl feel welcome. But when the fateful day came and they arrived, Aaron was hanging out with a his friends.

I sought him out and said, “Our guests have arrived. Please come and meet Jeannie.” His response was, “They’re your friends, Dad, not mine.” Although I was upset by that comment, I stayed calm and again asked him to join me away from his friends.

Once we were in a relatively private situation, I held his shoulders firmly, stared directly into his eyes and said, “Understand this, dear son: If what is important to me is not important to you, then what is important to you will not be important to me. And, at this point in your life, you need me — for a ride to baseball practice, for example — much more than I need you.”

Aaron immediately grasped the concept and said, “Let’s go say hello to our guests.” As it turned out, the niece was really fun and Aaron ended up very happy with his decision to help out. Things your children resist often turn out quite nicely for them. It’s important to remember these positive outcomes so that they can be cited downstream when resistance raises its head again.

vectorstock_634418It’s perfectly reasonable to expect a Kid Pro Quo. It’s important that we recognize that life is full of give and take, and that by catering to our kids without expectation, we are not preparing them for the road ahead.

As is the case with many parenting issues, teaching our children to be grateful and respectful is connected to the example we set. I wrote my book to create a logical and methodical process to help give parents confidence enough to have high expectations of their children and themselves – to demand the Kid Pro Quo.

Teach gratitude, and if that doesn’t sink in, tell your kids what Bill Cosby once jokingly said: “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a dad that makes sense to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

EmSonogramIf I could tell parents one thing, I would caution against thinking or emoting on behalf of their children. I would tell them that their young children don’t care if they are a working mom, or a stay at home dad, or a traveling salesperson. Their children only know one type of mother or father – and they are it – whether they are single, divorced, gay, straight, working or not. They are the definition of “parent” – and they have a responsibility to do the job and not make excuses based on their situation or what they believe their child is feeling or thinking.

RaisingChildrenFinalFrontCvrWebI truly appreciate the reviews my book gets on Amazon.com. I think the feedback is instructive and important. A recent review notes that the reader was turned off by a perceived “traditional two parent perspective” and that my book “does not address modern families in their many permutations.”

When my editors and I sat down to finalize the content in the book, we were very aware that it was largely based on my experience as a father in a two-parent household. Far from NOT recognizing this situation, we saw the vastness of trying to speak to all types of parents. We determined that I should write what I know in a mindful and practical way.

I concluded, for example, that the S.M.A.R.T. principles laid out in the book (Set an example, Make the rules, Apply the rules, Respect yourself, and Teach in all things) are applicable to EVERY type of parent.
AskDadCleanNo matter the structure of your particular family, it’s absolutely essential that you set a proper example for a child – whether you are a father, mother, step mother, step father, uncle, aunt, best friend, or whatever. I find that parents often believe that a change in their circumstances (their marriage, their dating life, their employment) affects the way that they parent their children. But no matter what happens in our lives, as parents we must always remember that our children are looking to us as examples. If we handle life with grace, gratitude, and kindness, so will they.

In setting an example, we are asked to define our values. Those values don’t change because we live in a blended family, or because our dad is single. When we work to make the rules, it doesn’t matter whether we’re a two parent family or not.

IMG_2734Applying rules gets a little more complicated because we may not be the only ones guiding our children through the process. Nonetheless, it’s important that we think of ourselves as team managers. Although we can only be responsible for the way our children are treated when they are with us, it doesn’t hurt to communicate our expectations with everyone involved in their care.

If there is no communication between parents, I’d ask the parties to return to setting an example (of how to communicate like adults) and attempt to do what’s in the best interest of the child. If that doesn’t work, I’d suggest parenting as best you know how – because you’re the only person whose behavior you can control.

No matter your circumstances, it is unlikely that your child will respect you if you don’t respect yourself. Respecting yourself is transferrable no matter what type of family you’re living in. Mom is mom, dad is dad – we have our expectations, and if our children fail to meet them, it is up to us to let those children know how we feel about it.

BE FIRMMy wife’s mother used to say “People will treat you the way you allow them to.” This goes for your children too. If you let them get away with back talk, disobedience, or other forms of disrespect, you’ll end up with uncontrollable children. Period. So, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in a blended family, or a single parent, or a gay parent, or whatever – the need to believe that you are worthy of respect is absolutely crucial.

When it comes to teaching, the bottom line is we’re all teachers. Every person our children encounter has the ability to teach them something, whether it’s the mailman who is kind and reliable, the grocery clerk who reminds you that you forget one of your bags, their teacher, your best friends, your spouse, your significant other, or whoever. Our job is to teach our children to navigate the world and, no matter who else is offering lessons, it’s our responsibility as parents, or step parents, or half-parents, or foster parents to be confident in the things we teach them.

It’s true that I’ve had the benefit of parenting with a wonderful partner, and my children have benefited from the consistency of a two parent household. But there are plenty of children out there who have benefited from common sense values and principles – whether their parents read my book or not.

Believe in yourself. Believe in your children. You will not be disappointed.

Imagine a group of musicians each playing a different song, in a different key at a different tempo. It would be chaos – and it would sound terrible.

Now imagine a family like that.

If you’ve ever played, sung, or performed musically with others, it should be pretty easy to understand that parenting is a lot like leading your own band.  

As parents, our job is to raise our children as if we were band leaders giving them music lessons, helping them to understand how to play their individual instruments (personalities) and teaching them to integrate our choice of tempo, key, and volume into their daily lives.

notes-on-music-staffWhen our children are very young, we start by teaching them specific behaviors – like saying “please” and “thank you.” How to sit still, and the importance of looking at people when speaking with them are the equivalent of teaching them to play scales on their instruments. The more often they practice those “scales”, the more comfortable they become with their position in the band.

In our family, the tempo is relaxed but firm. We expect our children to learn their basics and to practice them at every possible juncture. If we go to the market, we teach them to say hello to the checker. When they have class, we teach them to be on time. When they need to play well with other children, we teach them to share. These are the basic forms (scales and melodies) that they will play throughout their lives.

Music Jam RGWhile they’re learning what’s expected of them, we also make a point of playing our own instruments at the tempo we expect. We set an example in the house by remaining consistent and calm. If Mommy or Daddy is on the phone, it’s not the right time to interrupt. When it’s time for bed, well, it’s time for bed. If someone else in the band (a sibling) needs a little extra practice time, we expect our other children to understand – and if they don’t understand, we explain that perhaps they need to spend some time practicing on their own, in their room.

We also pay attention to the “key” in which our family is playing. I grew up in a home where loud arguing was a norm. At some point in my life I decided that I didn’t want my home to sound like that. So JoAnn, my wife, and I chose to omit the whole angry yelling thing. It doesn’t mean we agree about everything. We just agree not to raise our voices about it.

Music Jam AMGSome people think that imposing expectations or restrictions on their child will inhibit creativity, but just look at music to understand how necessary and liberating a controlled and structured environment can be. Everyday we are entertained by the conventionally confined, well-structured creativity that is the world of music.

Once the scales, tempo, and key have been determined, we have to demand a certain level of performance from our kids. We do this by letting them know when they’re out of time or off key, and by encouraging them to listen better and to stay in tune. At some point, the kids begin to see themselves as active participants in the band. They understand that when they are moving in our tempo and our key, things sound pretty good around the house. Most importantly, once they as players have proven that they know their basics, we – as band leaders and conductors – can allow them to improvise more and more. This is where their creativity and individuality comes in.

Music Jam 2 BlogLike any band, ours is made up of different instruments. Each of us has our own sound, our own range, and our own part in the songs that are being played. Some of us may like to play the melody, while others may prefer to harmonize or just “keep time.” By respecting these differences, we are able to arrange the music we play (as a family) into music that is comfortable and pleasing to all of us..

Ultimately, as parents it’s our job to create harmony, and to lead our children to play parts that fit well with everyone else. For our own sanity and comfort, it’s necessary to get everyone playing the same song, at the same tempo and in the same key.  Ignoring dissonance allows it to become a habit – and so we always seek to correct the sour notes.

Over the years we have all learned to listen better. We have learned to compliment each other’s solos, to choose similar themes, and to share the enjoyment of playing together. Like any good band, we respect the basics, we remember our scales, and we encourage each other to improve. We also roll our eyes every once in a while.

Be a rock star parent, teach your children to play and to listen. Before you know it, your home will be filled with harmony and you’ll always be looking forward to your next “jam” session.

Photo Credit: Marisa Quinn

SavenickYoungWhen we were newlyweds ourselves, JoAnn and I were often successful matchmakers. We had one friend in particular – a talented, smart, and handsome co-worker of mine named Phil — who was very eligible and very single.  I was pretty direct with him about our desire to fix him up.

chasidic_jewOne day, as I was telling Phil about a particularly wonderful candidate, he said something that would inform me for the rest of my life:  “You know those Chasidic Jews who walk down Farifax Avenue (a Jewish section of LA) wearing black outfits with big furry hats?” “Well, I’m not one of them – but I’m glad they are.”

I didn’t quite understand “So?”

Then he said “You and JoAnn are happy being a couple.  You enjoy being together and sharing your lives. I’m not one of you, but I’m glad you are.

There it was, the best definition of tolerance I’d ever encountered.  It was a method for recognizing, understanding and appreciating the differences between myself and others.

I believe that wonder and the ability to listen to many different kinds of people are skills that need to be taught at an early age. One reason I wrote my book was to help guide parents toward open, secure, and loving family relationships that would facilitate honest communication and appreciation of differences.

diversity-detailThis perspective is easier to assume locally than it is globally, because we can operate based on our own experience. It’s a matter of teaching our children to be curious about other cultures, to understand other religions, and to appreciate diversity in their world and even in their own family.  Every time I completely “misjudge a book by its cover” I am reminded of this.

Hate is simply an expression of ignorance.

HappyAfricanChildrenAs humans we have so much in common – the love of our children, the joys of music, dance, and laughter.  Since these exist in every culture, it’s hard for me to understand people who can’t just “live and let live.”  Yet no matter how I wish those people weren’t out there, they are – and teaching our children not to let those bad apples spoil the whole bunch is another important lesson for all of us. As Rodney King said “Can’t we all just get along?”

This has been a very busy week. A lot of opinions have been flying around in social media – about depression, about Gaza, about Ferguson, Missouri.  These are all important subjects and very worthy of discussion.”  But the “discussions” so quickly dissolve into name-calling and re-proclaiming entrenched positions.  All issues generate opinions, but others also require facts. I believe “The Truth Floats” and, sometimes we just have to wait and see where we end up.  But arguing and name calling doesn’t seem to get any of us closer to a solution.

GreenFamHawaii2014There is no question that life is a work in progress and that we make sharing a planet much more complicated than would seem necessary.  But if we can start by teaching tolerance within our own families, we may, someday, have a better world.

So, I’m not one of you, but I’m glad you are.  Thanks for reading.