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RGGoalieSMALL“Don’t get a big head” was what I heard from my high school soccer coach. I had just debuted as the team goalie and we had beaten our biggest rival in a 1-0 shutout. After a childhood filled with criticism fueling piles of self-doubt, getting a “big head” was as far from my nature as things could get. Nonetheless, I took the pats on the back with a smile and great pride.

Later in the year, I was playing catcher on our school baseball team when we faced the same rival. As their number four batter stepped into the batter’s box he looked at me and said “Hey, you’re the goalie, aren’t you?” I acknowledged his recognition and we played on. It felt good. I was somebody. I was the goalie.

That was my first brush with celebrity, and I really liked it.

Over the years I yearned for broader success; the admiration of a community that went beyond those I actually knew. I hoped for recognition as a smart executive, creator of a television show, writer of brilliant screenplays and, to some degree I worked toward those goals simultaneously.  But I also got older and wiser.

kate-middleton-3Over time I have observed the lives of many celebrities. Some are our friends, with whom it’s always exciting to “hang,” and some just people caught in the limelight whose every move somehow seems noteworthy.  Hanging out with them is cool.  You get the aura without the oppression that life as a celebrity brings. Imagine having people trying to photograph you at all times, not being safe to sunbathe on your own porch, or having a moment of emotional honesty become everyone’s “business.”

The majority of my time getting older was devoted to making the most of my marriage and parenting our four kids.  I dabbled with the famous screenplay, I went to work every day and tried to make good deals, and over time I found myself becoming the hero I wanted to be by just doing my job as a dad. When I chaperoned the fifth grade lake trip, I gained Sportsmanship notoriety by effectively and immediately quieting my bunk through the simple dropping of one “F bomb”.  My baseball teams were known for good sportsmanship.  I was the guy who announced at the Christmas show that it wasn’t very nice to leave before the show was over, just because your child had already performed. These things were my stuff of local legend.

While that was going on, my kids were being surrounded by a different type of celebrity: athletes shooting steroids, singers using drugs, vapid starlets making headlines for the size of their bottoms or the cut of their dresses.

RCEHalloweenAs I saw it, it was my job to be the guy who my children most admired. That didn’t mean I gave them everything, or that I coerced them into loving me via Stockholm Syndrome.  I just tried to be the person who they knew had an answer for them. I wasn’t about athletic prowess, although I played softball every Sunday, and I wasn’t about medical knowledge, although I cleaned a lot of wounds and kissed away a lot of boo boos.

I was about showing them that I could be their hero because I knew who I was. I tried to be confident, but not pushy; flexible, but not a sucker; and even funny, but not at the wrong times. This, to me, was the behavior of the type of celebrity I most wanted my kids to emulate.

REGJEGLagunaSo, my once huge celebrity goals have been revised downward. I am, to some degree, satisfied with being a celebrity in my own family. My wife and I started the fan club – we are each other’s biggest supporters — and then we created a flock of children who revere me, listen to me, and are (most times) proud to be with me. Like all celebrities, I am subject to criticism from my fans – usually about wardrobe choices, loud chewing, and telephonic habits.  My grand plan now involves having grand children…and making them laugh.

I’ve also recognized that I still haven’t given up on getting out my message. I admit that I’d like very much to be recognized for a parenting philosophy that is approachable and easy to understand.  I am still excited every time I write a blog post offering others good information, and me the opportunity to be recognized, just as the goalie of my youth.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d be happy with a thousand Twitter followers, or increased books sales.  I’m eager to put myself out there to make those things happen.  But being the husband of my favorite person and a celebrity in the lives of my children will always be good enough for me.

FullFamBKGKSGWedding

Aaron3superman_83liteI’ve encountered a number of parents who, in their zeal to have “creative” children, resist discipline in their parenting process. They explain that they “want their child to be free to create” and to be “undiminished by structure” – which is fine if you and your family live in a vacuum.

Being the logical sort that I am, I am keenly aware of the structures and “systems” that surround our lives. I wake up, I get out of bed, I wash my face and hands, I floss (maybe), I brush my teeth (for sure), I dress, and I go to work. That is a “system”. Each event within that system has its own procedure.   Our lives are filled with systems most of which are “creative.”  In fact, one could argue that any system that allows variation is creative.

Driving is wonderful metaphor for understanding the creative process.  As drivers, we make a lot of creative choices; we choose our routes, we control our timeframe, and we achieve the goal (of getting to our destination). In the process, we could exclusively use DSC_0237our gas pedal all the time.  We could ignore all signage or other drivers and be unfettered by the limitations of the “system.”  That might work for the short term!   During that time, our “creativity” might be un-hindered by the oppression of structure, but the people around us would be pretty disturbed, and to some degree put at risk.

Creativity without a system is chaos, and I choose to avoid chaos.

“But my child is only two!” you might say. “They’re not driving!”  And I’d say, “The earlier your child learns the rules of the road, the sooner he or she will be a safe driver who can navigate the world and make smart “creative” decisions.

School-children-playing-violinAnother wonderful metaphor for proving the importance of discipline in creativity is music.

Anyone who listens to music is subject to the conventions of the musical system.  Almost every song we listen to is structured and thousands of them are derived from the same three chords. When musicians play in “ensemble” there is a need to keep their sound harmonious; which is achieved through “key” and “tempo”. Even jazz, the most “fluid” of the musical genres, has a structure.

When musicians are young, they learn to play their instruments. They play scales, they practice, they count, and they listen. Once they can play their parts they can learn to improvise. Sure, there are exceptions, but all professional musicians know the basics of the system.

ExcuseMakingThe last ingredient in this process is wonder.  Developing a child’s sense of wonder is as easy as wondering about things out loud when you’re with them.  “Where do you think clouds come from?”  “Do you ever wish our dog could talk?”  “What’s your favorite color?” “How does a lightbulb work?”

When they respond, do your best to engage.  Listen to their often very entertaining answers… and don’t criticize their theories (as my parents did).  Guide, but don’t humiliate.  Teach, but don’t preach.  Lead to conclusions – don’t land on them.  All of these steps will help your child learn the imaginative process and gain confidence as they explore the world around them.

So, how do you build your creative child?

  1. Teach them the basics.
  2. Show them how to operate within the system.
  3. Encourage them to wonder about things…and
  4. Allow them to improvise in harmony with the rest of your family.

CautionSignAnd the next time you find yourself falling for the “discipline stifles creativity” stuff – think about the value of teaching your children to run red lights.

None of us should expect to be happy all the time.  We can, however, choose to be happy most of the time, and being happy is not only a matter of perspective, but also a healthy long-term strategy. Although the expression is “Necessity is the mother of invention.”, I have learned the importance of “inventing” my own happiness.

Stan_Freberg_Presents_the_United_States_of_America_Volume_One_The_Early_YearsIn the 1960s-era comedy record “Stan Freberg Presents – The United States of America” Columbus is imagined saying to a group of Native Americans, “Say, I’d like to take a few of you guys back with me, to prove I discovered you.”  The Chief, shocked and confused says, “What you mean discovered us? We discovered you standing here on the beach!”  Finally they agree, “It’s all how you look at it.”

We all encounter upsetting things every day. Your call doesn’t get returned.  Your car breaks down.  Your best friend breaks down!  But hiding underneath each of those events there’s always a little piece of good news.

CarBeingTowedMy friend Mitch got into a car accident.  He survived without injury, but his car suffered some serious damage. Mitch took the car to a mechanic for diagnosis and rehab.  His mechanic said, “I have bad news and good news, which do you want first?”

Being an optimist, Mitch said, “Give me the bad news first.”

“Okay,” said the mechanic, “Your car is totaled. But here’s the good news. You’re going to get a new car!”

“But I’ll have to pay for it,” Mitch said. “The insurance won’t cover the cost of a new car.”

The mechanic remained cheerful: “Yeah, but you’re still going to get a new car!”

In retrospect, the mechanic was right.  Mitch did get a new car and weeks later, after the sting of the accident had worn off, he was actually driving around on a nice set of wheels.  Although things seemed bleak at first, there was actually a positive outcome.

HorseAsianCleanThe parent of a Japanese American friend of mine once told us this story.  A farmer’s  horse had run off.  Hearing this news, all the people in the nearby town came running to the farmer’s home: “This is such bad news.  How are you going to plow your fields?  How will you make a living?”  The farmer simply said, “Good news? Bad news? It’s just news.”

The next day the farmer’s horse returned – followed by two wild horses that the farmer put in a pen.  “What good news for you!” cried the people of the town “You are so fortunate!”  Again, the farmer said “Good news? Bad news? It’s just news.”

InjuredArmStickThe following day, the farmer’s son was thrown and broke his arm while training one of the wild horses.  The townspeople bemoaned the situation: “Oh no!  What will you do?  Your son cannot work. You will not be able to harvest. This is such bad news!”  The farmer was sad about his son, but again he replied, “Good news? Bad news? It’s all just news.”

The following week the country went to war and all the young men were called to join the army.  But the farmer’s son couldn’t go because he had a broken arm….

News.  It’s all how you look at it.

As parents, our job is to teach our children how to be happy — which is why pessimism and worrying out loud are not particularly good family activities.  No matter how cynical we may have become (and a certain degree of cynicism is unavoidable), it’s our job to be idealists – to believe that picking up one piece of trash is part of cleaning up the world, or that helping a friend in need (or even a stranger) could actually save their life.  The beauty of this is that it WORKS !!!

Here are five ways to help your children find their happiness:

  1. Be Positive – Encourage them and affirm them – avoid criticizing.
  2. Share good news – Focus on the positives in your life and the lives of others. New babies! Fun visitors! Good fortune!
  3. Don’t carry bad news – Try to avoid repeating hard luck stories.  We all know people who love to gossip about other people’s problems.  Try not to be one of those people.  Share concern, offer solutions, but don’t carry that stuff around with you.
  4. Have faith and root for underdogs – Teach your kids to find the good in everyone and everything.  It’s there.
  5. Show them the silver linings – I was very small when I started high school, about five feet.  I cried about it a lot, but there was nothing I could do.  At some point, a ball got stuck on the other side of a chain link fence.  I was the only person whose hand was small enough to fit through and recover the ball.  It was my mother who pointed out that advantage to me.  Yea – it sucked to be small. But it also had benefits.

My feelings got hurt in situations that had nothing to do with me.  My heart got broken by misunderstandings – and repaired by honest communication.

Happiness is a choice, and I’ve seen that many of us complicate our lives by reacting emotionally to situations that have not yet played out.  I learned these lessons by wasting a lot of emotion.   We’ve all been there.  Stay calm and carry on.

It’s all how we look at it.

vectorstock_1038990There are few better opportunities to teach our children about the feelings of others than their birthdays – and the way we celebrate them.

Birthday parties thrown for one-year-olds are clearly done for the benefit of the parents and posterity.  Get lots of pictures, be sure you feed the adults, and hire a clown (or enlist your most energetic relative).

The rules for two-year-olds are pretty much the same.  Line em up.  Get pictures and video (because they’re talking now).  Hire a clown who makes balloon animals.

Aaron3redhat_83liteAt three years old, the party scene gets dicier.  If your child is in pre-school, invite everyone in the class (certainly through kindergarten).  Doing this teaches kids that we are sensitive to everyone’s feelings – even the ones they don’t “care” about.  To model this sentiment, we even invite the kid with the weird parents.  We teach this lesson because we should – not because we agree about a specific kid or not.  Hindsight has taught me that these idealistic positions are absorbed, learned, and applied by our children later in their lives, so don’t be afraid of teaching your kid to do the right thing even if you’ve grown a little cynical about it yourself!

After that third birthday, our messaging about gifts and courtesy becomes more complex.

KiddieInviteI recently read about parents using electronic invitations that include preferences and suggestions about gifts for their children.  I understand the value of adults “registering” for wedding and baby gifts, but doing the same for children hadn’t really crossed my mind – because at a certain point you realize that spending more than twenty bucks on a gift for a little friend is slightly insane.  Nonetheless, I understand the concept of wanting to get gifts that will please a recipient.  This is a multi-faceted issue and just buying a pre-defined gift may cause us to miss some very important teaching opportunities.

One of the hardest things about being a parent is walking the fine line between “You are wonderful and deserve everything you desire.” and “You can’t always get what you want.”  We all know that Life is not perfect – and neither are parents, or kids, or relatives, or friends.  So, does it make sense for us to try and create a perfect world for our children?

As early as three or four years old children can be taught that giving gifts requires some creativity and forethought.  This can actually be a fun exercise.  Go to CVS, set a price limit, and tell your child to pick something for their friend.  You’ll be surprised what they find (and you can always explain why Epson Salts are not appropriate).

TantalizerSometimes birthday kids don’t know what they want, but there can be value in getting things they don’t want (or think they don’t want)…especially when a month after their birthday they’re home sick and they find the unopened game in their closet that captures their imagination for the next two days.

Yes… I have personal experience with this –  “Tantalizer” – the best game ever!

Teaching our children to receive a gift gracefully is a necessity.  This is a real opportunity to demonstrate for them that even if it’s not what they wanted, people’s feelings are more important than “things.”

The sooner kids learn to deal with disappointment, the better.  (I know some parents say that they don’t want their children to feel the sadness they felt as young people.  But I believe that creating a world for them where no one says no, or where they are empowered beyond reason is actually doing them a significant disservice.)

SingleGift2Life is not always going to go their way.  Learning to be positive about receiving any gift, even if it’s not what they wanted, will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

Even the wrong gifts are good gifts.

Birthdays are wonderful celebrations – especially when we remember to keep gratitude, inclusion, and grace on our guest lists.

RaisingChildrenFinalFrontCvrWebI wrote “Raising Children That Other People Like to be Around” because, after 36 years of marriage and 4 children, I believe that being good parents requires us to set a good example – and having a good relationship is the first, most important step in creating a model for loving interaction.  So here are some simple tricks that I have found helpful in keeping my marriage a happy place.

GREET EACH OTHER WITH LOVEMY Phone

No matter how my day is going, when my Caller ID tells me my wife is calling, I’ve learned to answer my phone with “Hello Beautiful” or “Hello My Love.”  It’s much better than “Yea?” or “What?” — and like most things we say out loud, the more we say it, the more it becomes so. 

AVOID THE CULTURE TRAP

ball_and_chain_wedding_topperThe Battle of the Sexes is a long-running and humorous one, and I have to be honest when I say that we men have a non-malicious, humor-oriented way of denigrating our women… just for the fun of it.  I’ve heard that women do the same – and none of us take that stuff too seriously (I hope), but — like “Hello Beautiful” — if a man calls his wife the “Ball and Chain” or constantly comments about his “henpecked” state of affairs, sooner or later the verbal images will create a new reality. 

Early in our marriage I was telling JoAnn a joke that characterized the wife as a “Ball and Chain.” She simply asked – “Am I a Ball and Chain?”  “No.” I replied.  She continued, “Is there anything in your life that I keep you from doing – besides maybe having sex with Keira Knightly (which would require a lot more than my consent)?”  “No.”  “So, I don’t think you need to perpetuate that stereotype in this relationship.”

Point taken.

feeneyWhat’s important in this story is that JoAnn was not and is not a ball and chain.  I’ve never had to complain her nagging me, condemning my need to play sports, or going to bars with my friends.  She was and remains secure enough to know that my life with my friends is an important component in the success of our relationship.  That’s the give in this give and take.

REMEMBER: YOU CHOSE EACH OTHER

Relationships are deliberate.  We find someone, we enjoy their company, we like them more than other people, we love spending time with them, and all of a sudden we’re in an exclusive relationship and things are going really well.  We share values, we share jokes, we share feelings – all of which may be subject to change.

The work of having a relationship goes on forever.  There are many good reasons you chose each other. As often as possible, remind yourself of the things you appreciate about your spouse.  Mention them every once in a while.  Compliment each other – essentially saying: “I must have really good taste, because I chose you.”  Create opportunities for flatterey.

AMGBarMDecisionCUPeople change, jobs change, children show up, money is steady, and then it’s not. Lots of things happen that seriously affect day to day life.  Staying in touch, having actual conversations, and getting things out are the best ways to keep your relationship alive.

We all have our own little secrets, but our spouse deserves to know 90% of what’s on our minds – if not “in the moment,” then a little further downstream before it becomes a burden, or a resentment, or a complete misunderstanding.  JoAnn and I have had many conversations that revealed two completely different interpretations of some interpersonal event.  Those conversations are always instructive. Some of them end in apologies and some end in laughter, but they all end in relief.

GIVE YOUR MATE THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT

He or she didn’t really mean to say that.  He or she doesn’t know you’ve had a tough day.  We all have a little alarm that detects slights, insults, or accusations, and I believe most of us have a knee jerk reaction to those things. TURN THAT KNEE JERK THING OFF.   It took me twenty years to learn that sometimes I’m erroneously making an assumption about what my wife is saying, and that it’s probably better for me to keep my fat yapper shut than it is to engage. 

THINK OF YOUR SPOUSE AS YOU DO YOURSELF

This one can be difficult, because it’s really a combination of “all of the above.”  The absolute secret of a successful marriage is to care as much about your spouse as you do about yourself, and to be willing to sacrifice something you really want in order to make your partner happy.

I’ve noted before that marriage is not 50/50, it’s 90/90 – if you both accept that you may be doing most of the work at any given time when, in reality there is probably an ebb and flow to it, you can comfortably dedicate yourselves to the common good.  Ironically, working for the common good in a relationship is actually a mater of self-interest. The more you do for your mate, the more likely it is that your mate will want to do things to please you.

REGJEGWeLoveULiteMy parents fought constantly… and it made it very hard for me to feel comfortable or emotionally safe when I was with them.  I vowed that I wouldn’t repeat that mistake – and I have worked hard to create a relationship where the “love” part outweighs the “being right” part.  People are always surprised when they hear that JoAnn and I never fight.  We disagree, we discuss, sometimes we fume a little – but we always find resolution.

These suggestions are about building a frame of mind.  It’s not easy to surrender at the back door – but if you can, you will always cross a peaceful and loving threshold, and that’s worth it.

The Blue Pink Thing is a simple term for the obvious (and not so obvious) differences between the genders.  If you’re raising both boys and girls, I’m sure you are already aware of the Blue Pink Thing.  As John Gray put it, “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus,” and those differences manifest at a very early age.

BKGCopFixLittle boys turn pencils into guns.  Little girls like to dress up and practice twirling.  As toddlers, our boys could spend five to ten minutes doing a puzzle and then it was on to the next thing.  Our daughter, on the other hand, could sit with a puzzle for forty minutes.  She clearly exhibited much better focus at a far earlier point than the boys.  Our sons plowed their way through high school meeting their obligations and having a single, unchanging set of buddies.  Our daughter’s peer group changed like fashion… one day you were in, the next day you were out.  Once the boys went away to college, where they had to co-habit with people their age, things began clicking into place – like the need to wash clothes, dishes, and sheets.

Our daughter, Emily, has been sensitive and on-the-lookout since she was about seven years old.  She was keenly aware of her shifting friends.  Even in middle school she was providing therapy for those with less fortitude.  She saw it as her job to know where everyone in the family was and how they were feeling at any time.  To this day, she communicates with each of her brothers from college at least once a day.

EmilyFrillyShoesliteCropI suppose that hyper-connectivity can be attributed to our cell phones, texts, Instagram and emails, but, even in circumstances as simple as actual conversation, we have noticed differences.  The boys, when younger, weren’t interested in long conversations about their emotions.  But Emily could dissect every element of her feelings, and even invoke historical events we had long forgotten.  For example, “Benjy’s bedtime was nine o’clock when he was my age. Why is mine eight thirty?”  I couldn’t have remembered Benjy’s bedtime if I was pumped with truth serum and undergoing a polygraph test.

As many of you know, I believe our most important job as parents is to set an example, and Emily is a beneficiary JoAnn’s excellent relationship with her mother.  In fact, that relationship motivated us to go for “one more” when considering the hopeful addition of a female child to our family.

As JoAnn describes it, her mother was stern – but never shrill or out of control.  JoAnn’s mother was always encouraging and used “expectation” as her strongest ally.  “How could someone like you become involved in a situation like this?”  She’d say.  She had the highest possible expectation of JoAnn (as she did for herself), and somehow she and JoAnn made it through JoAnn’s teen years without all the familiar mother-teen daughter arguments.

EHGJGGBeachAs I watch JoAnn and Emily together, I see a similar bond has developed.  JoAnn and Emily are collaborators.  They discuss clothing, television, Emily’s friends, and, I’m sure, her brothers and me in loving confidence.  Many people tell us about their rebellious teenage children (especially daughters), who withhold information, sit quietly in the car, and go straight to their rooms when arriving home from school.  Although Emily is occasionally guilty of some of that behavior, I believe that, from the time she was young, she has always been able to confide in JoAnn who has always listened to, and respected, what Emily has had to say.

Additionally, JoAnn has never judged Emily for her thoughts or ideas.  That relationship hasn’t changed, only the subject matter.  Emily is not afraid to speak with us about her friends.  She knows we’re not going to call their parents (unless they’re doing something really destructive), and, if we were, she knows we would discuss it with her first.  She also knows that we’re not going to dive into her problems and intercede, so our discussions with her (and this is primarily JoAnn’s territory) are often consultations about the best way to handle her own situations.

The boys and I had our own unique relationship.  We washed cars, played catch, watched sports, told jokes and talked a lot about life.  My father had always been “instructional,” so I spent a lot of time just trying to teach them various skills and toughen them up …be brave, don’t cry, “walk it off.”   We were not immune to discussions of emotional issues, but those conversations were often intertwined with a task.  When they happened, they were quick discussions of problems and potential solutions – very male.

Throughout it all, JoAnn and I were always consulting with each other so that if an issue arose, we’d likely be on the same page.

GradKidsToday, our kids are still willing to discuss their issues with us.  Not because we did anything miraculous – but because we understood that they were growing, changing individuals and as such could not be expected to stay the same – whether that related to hair styles, friendships, or even doing things we thought were crazy (like parachuting out of airplanes).

I was about twenty when my mother questioned a specific decision that I had made.  I was pretty sure of the decision, so I said to her, “You taught me how to think.  I’m using the brain you programmed to make this decision.  I think you did a good job – now you have to believe in it.”

When the kids were young, JoAnn and I would discuss our “position” prior to our conversations with them.  We’d bounce the issues around, and usually determine an opinion or course of action together.  Then, depending on how it unfolded, the issue would be discussed with our offspring.

Through this process, they have learned to trust us, and see that we trust and respect each other.  We have high expectations of them, and they know that our expectations of ourselves, with regard to honesty, truth, and respect, are equally as high.  That formula allows them to seek and respect our opinions.

Shotguns4EmilyLite

It should be clear to any parent that raising boys and raising girls is often a different process.  The basics are the same, the rules should remain solid, but the day-to-day communication of objectives, and the application of opinion, guidance, and critique often need to be handled differently by gender (at least if you want your messages to be heard).  As a flexible, understanding parent, this won’t be anything that requires a special translator, or different family meetings, it’s just a heads up to you fellas out there that raising a girl requires more conversation and patience than putting your boy through his paces.  As you can see from the funny photo though – we’re still kind of old-fashioned.

In the end, teaching them all to be loving people is really what it’s about.  If you can do that… you’ve got it made.

My name is Richard, and I am an addict.

Legend-of-Zelda-logoWhen my children were young and asleep I used to sneak into our family room, power up our Nintendo, and quietly play the now-ancient video game with infectious music called “The Legend of Zelda” into the wee we hours,.  Night after night after night – not too different than gamers today who play “Call of Duty” or “Candy Crush Saga”.

“Just one more game,” I’d say to myself around midnight.  The next thing I knew it was two am.

I’ve been doing a lot of radio recently, and when listeners call in, the topic of video game addiction often comes up. This is obviously a worrisome subject for many parents.

Like many other forms of addiction, video games can offer escape and distraction from what’s really going on in the world. If you’re a kid and you think life sucks,  diving into a video game is an attractive way to escape.

The problem is that sometimes a kid’s life does appear to “suck.”  If a kid can kill bad guys, or can win a treasure, or can outwit the machine, then he or she gets to feel like a winner, and winning is wonderful – especially in a home where criticism is the norm and praise might be hard to come by. So it’s up to us, as parents, to give our children choices outside the seductions of the video world.

FamilyAtDinnerAs always, this should start at home.  No phones or TV during dinner – which goes for both adults and children.  Set a parental example of activity: go outside, take walks, ride a bike.  Whether your kids join you or not, you are modeling a value for them about physical fitness and use of time.  One of the benefits of having grown kids is thatI have found that they record these behaviors (even if only subconsciously) and often adopt them in their own lives as they get older.

Meanwhile, keep an open mind.  Resist the temptation to automatically disapprove of the things your children enjoy – whether it’s video games, social networks, or “that damned music.”  If we close our minds to those activities, we eliminate opportunities for contact with our children and our relationship with them begins to narrow.  This doesn’t mean we have to like what they’re doing, but we should respect their interest, consider the merit of their choice, and then share an honest opinion.  That’s part of our job.

Aces-High-imageCropBy the way, many video games help children develop manual dexterity and strategic comprehension.  As they succeed in the game, there can be genuine emotional gratification.  Our son Coby was about fifteen when he discovered an online game called “Aces High.” Teams, or “squadrons,” of players flew WWII aircraft on missions that replicated air and ground combat situations.  We initially learned about the game because it cost ten bucks monthly and required credit card payment.  When he needed credit card info I asked Coby to show me how the game worked, and he did.  His passion was evident.

aces_high_cockpitI entered payment information and left Coby to take off.  He joined a squadron, declared his rookie status, and set up his plane.  He wore a headset and communicated verbally with other members of his squadron, many of whom were retired Air Force or commercial pilots.  He was the youngest player on the team, and the other pilots — at their computers across the nation — were warm, instructive, and encouraging.  Sometimes Coby would enter the house and explain that he had a mission in fifteen minutes.  He was dedicated to the game and to his new friends.

Coby had perspective.  He knew the game was nerdy and he knew his fellow pilots (some of whom were married couples, grandparents, or educators) were not his regular set of friends.  But he enjoyed the interchange and we enjoyed watching him competently navigate in a world separate from ours.  We encouraged him to tell us more about his fellow pilots, and we often gave him suggestions for dealing with this wide range of personalities.

Coby’s experience with “Aces High” was a massive, positive learning experience on multiple levels.  The game taught eye-hand coordination, aeronautics (go into a steep dive and you’d black out), teamwork, cooperation.  This was a good video game experience.

GrandTheftViceCitySome video games, however, are like bad neighborhoods. You don’t want your kids going into them, and this is when being a parent is far more important than being a friend. If you find your child absorbed in a computer screen, ask what it is that’s so worthy of their attention.  If you don’t get a clear answer, pry a little…and keep at it.  If you notice anger, frustration, or reclusive behavior beyond the teenage norm, offer some alternatives to the virtual world. If you hear a response like, “This is none of your business” make it clear that whatever happens in your house is your business.

Ultimately, video games are just that – games.  By communicating with our children and demonstrating for them that the social interactions of everyday life, like trips to the market, sporting events, guitar lessons, or karate classes are equally as engaging as the fantasy of their game, I believe we can give them the perspective they need to step away from their controllers when necessary.

If only I could get that dumb music from Zelda out of my head.

Here are five quick tests:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just try it.

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

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

Trust me.

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

The process is designed to succeed.

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

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

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

 

3Generations

3 Generations

As my children have gotten older and more self-sufficient, I’ve seen them become more “objective” about the hard-earned advice I offer.  They no longer hear my voice as if it were thunder on the mountaintop.  As my role in their lives has become far less primary than it used to be, I’ve begun to think about my relationship with my own father – and how I felt about him when I was their age.

I always loved and respected my father, but as I grew up in the newer world of my own creation — my own young children, my incredibly hip friends, my co-coaches, my social scene — his knowledge and participation began to lag.  He hadn’t lost any ground in his own world.  At about my age now, he was still a highly respected businessman. He still had his group of loving friends and a new family. But my work in the entertainment industry was quite unrelated to his fascination with words and the law.

sc000189deOur careers actually collided at one point.  I had been working for a company that encountered some interesting legal problems, and I recommended that the owners call my dad for advice.  After a few months as their off-site counsel, they brought him in-house. We would see each other in the halls.  He came to be respected and even loved.  I, as always, was proud to be his son.  Aside from that, however, we stayed completely out of each other’s business — until the company needed to hire a new CFO.

Among the candidates was a young friend of mine.  A real schmoozer who wore nice leather and talked regularly of his big game studio experience.  My dad hated him.  He thought he was slick, he thought he was dishonest, and he didn’t like the way he did business.  I, on the other hand, thought my dad was “old fashioned” and didn’t understand the complexities of structuring a business in our industry.  Imagine that: my father, Harvard Law School grad and business counselor to titans, couldn’t understand how to run an entertainment oriented business.

sc000b4e78As it turned out, my father’s time-tested instinct was right.  Within a year, despite his efforts to organize and reorganize the business, it went belly up.  The investors lost their cash, the “fast talker” moved on to deceive others, and my dad retired –  more convinced than ever that “show business” was not for him.

I’m writing this because I know I still have good insights for my children.  I know there is benefit to sharing my life experience with them, and even more so when they have children of their own.  I also know I’ll have to slip them my wisdom without seeming didactic or bossy – because nowadays they only really “listen” to about twenty-five percent of what I say.

I’m not feeling sorry for myself.  I’m just honoring the passage of time and recognizing that I am now the “old guy.” They are the new, improved, self-sufficient versions of their mother and me.

Kelsie + Benjy-387This, I suppose, is the double-edged sword of parenting.  On one hand, we take great pride in the people we have brought to our community.  On the other hand, as our sons and daughters effortlessly assimilate, we feel the loss as they become immersed in their own lives.

We will offer advice.

We will guide as necessary.

We will be here to listen.  And we will remember that, for us, parenting is now mostly a spectator sport.

My mom would have been ninety-two last week.  Here are three gems she left me:

Don’t be so open minded that your brain falls out.

Open_Mind_xlargeAll of us have been in situations where our better nature overrides our common sense.  I’ve loaned money to friends.  I’ve counseled people to stay hopeful and remain in bad relationships.  I’ve even been tempted to let my teenage son have his girlfriend sleep over – and, in each of those cases, I’ve had to remind myself that, chances are, I will end up on the wrong end of those equations. I’ll lose my money (and perhaps my friend.) I’ll be providing grief counseling to broken-hearted lovers.  And I’ll continually worry about my son and his girlfriend.

With children, I have found this sentiment reads as being naïve… and sometimes it’s important that they learn certain lessons on their own.  How many toys loaned to “friends” (often to curry favor) will be lost or broken before a child learns that “generosity” has limits – and that there are people in the world who see generosity as just an opportunity for taking.

When I was in college a guy asked me to lend him a hundred bucks because he was going to the track.  At the end of the day, he caught up with me somewhere and handed me two-hundred.  Wow.  A couple of days later, he asked if he could borrow the two hundred. No problem.  But I never saw him again.  Yes, shame on him — and shame on me, because my hope was greater than my common sense.

wishfulthinkingfingerscrossedSometimes “open minded” means gullible. .  We’ve raised level-headed kids, but occasionally they’ve came home with some pretty ridiculous stories.  These were things that just didn’t make sense, but in the excitement of creating the fable they forgot the need for logic, and so did my JoAnn and I.  We heard how Billy’s very slightly built dad was playing professional hockey. We learned how Amber’s mother flew in the Space Shuttle.  We were skeptical, but these things seemed possible.  I guess we just wanted to believe.  This  type of open-mindedness is “wishful thinking” –  like allowing the fox to watch the chickens because he swore he wasn’t hungry.  Sometimes it’s just the nature of the beast to do what comes naturally.  That’s something we all need to remember when we think the banks will regulate themselves or that voting documentation has to be available in twelve different languages.

The grass is always greener on the other side. But you still have to mow both lawns.

SONY DSCAs a person who was rarely happy in his job, this gem is probably the most practical piece of advice I ever got.  I was always thinking how things would be better if I could just work somewhere else, or just drive that other car, or just be best friends with that really important person.  Now, after many years of life experience, it turns out that everything and everyone have their own complications.  No matter how attractive a change seems, it may just be exchanging one set of problems for another.

This is mostly a cautionary expression , and it’s one we have to learn for ourselves.  One of our sons had what I considered a great job.  He was employed full time, with health benefits, at a highly respected company.  What’s more, he worked a shift from 2pm to 11pm. If his work was complete, he could leave early and still get paid for eight hours.  At age 27 I would have been in Nirvana with a steady job like that.  But there were problems, as there always are.  It was a little far from home, the hours cut into time with his girlfriend, his co-workers lacked motivation, there was no upward trajectory, and much more.  So he quit.

MowerOnLawnIn this case, there was no other lawn, only the hope of a better one.  Ah, the illusions of youth.  The good news is, after a very scary four months of unemployment, he got a job that led to another opportunity, that led to his current job and — for now — he appears to be happy.   The “lesson learned” was, “Never leave a job until you have the next one.” And he’s the first to admit it.

When it comes to relationships, I’ve met lots of people who are always looking for a better mate. But JoAnn and I have agreed over the years, nobody’s perfect, including us, and trading one person in for another can introduce a whole new set of problems.

There is no question that most situations can be improved, but it’s important to measure both “lawns” and completely understand the maintenance requirements of each.  And always remember that having a lawn to mow is a blessing of its own.

The Truth Floats

bubbles1Try to hold a bubble underwater and you’ll note that it finds a way to squeak between your fingers.  Additionally, if you try to speed that bubble upward, it often breaks into many tiny bubbles and its essence becomes lost.

“The truth floats” has multiple interpretations.  To some people it means, “What goes around comes around.” I prefer to think of it as proof that the end result is usually the right result.

We used this expression to help our children understand why bullying was the bully’s problem.  There’s much evidence that kids who bully have an internal unhappiness that motivates them to pick on others and, in the long run, that will have a far more adverse effect on the bully’s own lives than it will on anyone else’s.  Ultimately, the Truth will float and that kid will find him or herself with no friends.  In the short run, this is just a way to help your child understand and rise above the barbs that some people will hurl at them.  In the long run, this also allows children to take stock of themselves and have faith in their actions, knowing that their goodness will ultimately be what “floats” in their world.

crazy-personTo explain this phenomenon to my children, I said, “What you know to be true, other people also know.”  We need to have faith that other people are smart enough to see the things we see.  This is often confirmed when someone says “Is that person crazy, or is it just me?”

Ironically, all of these expressions seem to be methods for protecting ourselves from our own optimism.  I think it’s important to remain positive, to believe in the best we have to offer each other, but I’m also experienced enough to know that we need to teach our children (and often ourselves) to be wary of those who are not quite as hopeful as we.

HappyFaceoptimist300x185Ultimately, however, believing that things will work out, and that Truth will prevail, is not a bad way to go through life…

… just don’t take any wooden nickels.