Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Respect - it's a two way street

I demand a lot from my kids. But most everything I expect of them boils down, at its core, to one thing: respect.

I expect my children to respect us (their parents), I expect them to respect their elders and other adults, and I expect them to treat every person they meet with respect.

To a child, that equates mostly to having manners, paying attention, and being polite.

If there were only two things I could pass along to my children, they would be:
"Look around you for ways to have good manners and show your respect."
- and -
"People should always have your respect from the beginning. It's theirs to lose, not theirs to earn."

Hold a door, pick up trash, put things away, listen when someone talks, make eye contact, respond when spoken too, say please and thank you... the list goes on.

It's not difficult to act with respect - but it does take effort. And children are sponges to what they see and experience first hand.

Monkey see - monkey do.

And every day I'm more and more amazed at the lack of respect I see displayed by parents toward their own children. Parents ignoring and not answering their children when they speak, parents not taking the time to stop what they're doing for one moment to listen to their children, and parents simply not using common courtesy with their own children.

This morning, for example, I was walking out of my daughter's school when a nice brand new Lexus pulled up. Out of the driver's seat comes a woman whom I can only describe as jaw-dropping. Beautiful, beautifully dressed... well you get the picture. Out of the passenger door comes her eight year old son.

The woman, strides to the school door, looking and talking straight ahead (apparently to her son who is a full twenty feet behind her), walks to the door, opens it, walks in, and lets the door close as she continues walking inside the school.

Her son has not yet reached the door.

Does she expect her son to show her respect, when her actions have so blatantly shown him none? Most likely she does.

But it would come as no surprise if he comes up lacking in the respectful behavior category.

We are our children's biggest teachers - especially for life's biggest lessons. Teaching a child how to be respectful of others starts at home. And it starts with how you treat your children.

Make no mistake - this does not mean that you cannot discipline or punish your children. Children must learn that with actions come consequences. But even discipline (yes, even spankings) can be administered with respect.

I hope my children grow up and continue to respect me. But most of all, I hope I never give them reason not to.

Monday, September 12, 2005

New parents, plus ten

Ten years ago...

After 29 hours of labor and two days of recovery, I brought my wife home with our first born child. At 8 lbs 9 oz, and with a head the size of a small watermelon, he was quite the difficult little tyke to extract - and the huge crescent shaped scab on his cheek, a souvenier from the OB's forceps, was a testament to that.

So as we arrived home at about 10pm, and sat on the couch alone for the first time in three days, without the hustle and comotion of the neonatal ward swirling around us, we stared at the little pile of swaddled flesh in the basket on the floor and thought... "Oh my God - what do we do now?!"

It's a new parent's first nightmare (of which there will be many more) and realization that this new fraternity that everyone in the world seemed happy to push you into has all of the sudden become a party for two. Parenting 101 did not prepare us for this. One day we're not parents, the next day we are. It all sounded so easy in the hospital with so many professionals there to help and tell us amateurs what to do. Damn... we should have paid attention in class. Yet here we are, just us, and... him.

What do we do with him? What do we do with him while we make dinner? Clean the house? Mow the lawn? Sleep? How will we know the cries versus the Cry? How will we know what to do? They say we will "just know." But right now, there's nothing that feels further from comprehension... we "know" nothing.

Fast forward ten years.

Recently our son turned ten. His birthday was celebrated by his seven year old sister and his three year old brother. Wow, ten years. We didn't kill him. Amazing.

My wife and I are both college educated, and yet with him we felt so utterly clueless. But because of him, we were more experienced parents when his two siblings came along. Heck, by number three, it almost seemed easy. Well, maybe not... But we have become much more relaxed parents because, well, we already had one. Once you get the hang of riding upright without training wheels, it's hard to remember that you ever needed them in the first place.

At ten years old, our son is still forging ahead and breaking new ground that we are still at times clueless about. Every "new" stage for him, is a new stage of parenting for us - some easier than others of course.

Ten years... and three pretty good kids. It seems so long ago when we sat on that couch, frightened by a little 21 inch long alien, petrified as to what we were to do next. At the time all we had were fears and questions, and no one to answer them.

Looking now at the boy with the crescent scar on his cheek, we know that along the way, we must have guessed right at least a few times.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Having "The Talk"

Ah... the memories, the history, the cultural significance - everyone knows about The Talk.

What do you have when you have a boy approaching his 10th birthday who is mature beyond his years, physically growing way ahead of his age, starting in a new school where he will be the youngest surrounded by kids from 10 to 13 years old, and is unfortunately as naive as a barn door?

You have "The Talk."

We all know what it is, and most can remember when (or if) they got The Talk from their parents. I wasn't as fortunate. My father died shortly after my 9th birthday, and my mother, a German who never delved into potentially emotional or personal topics, never addressed it that I can remember. And my two older brothers really never found the right occasion to bring it up. So, I learned it first at school. Don't remember from whom or exactly when, but I remember the feeling that I was a little behind the times in that regard.

So, a few months ago my wife and I decided that it was the right time to bring it up with my oldest son (who shall remain nameless here). However, that was about all we agreed on. My wife thought we should talk to him as a "team." I'm not sure why joint-parenting means she can talk to the kids alone, but I apparently always need additional adult supervision, but this time I insisted on a little Father-Son time, and she finally conceded.

For weeks I went over what I would talk about. Give just enough information, but not too much. Do we just state the biological facts? Just talk about reproduction and not the physical "act" of sex? Discuss puberty and bodily change? Touch on morality? Don't want to overwhelm the boy – but heck, I was overwhelming myself!

All that was left was finding the right way to bring up the subject.

Finally I found my segue: the movie The March of the Penguins. How lucky could I get - a G-rated National Geographic film that was about one thing: mating. I have to admit, it was a great and enjoyable film. And, on an extremely positive note, my son also liked the movie and wanted to keep talking about it on the ride home.

So, after we settled down on the couch for a rest from our exhausting movie outing, I took my opening and went for it. I won't bore you with the details of *exactly* what I did say and cover, but suffice it to say that he was an active participant in the conversation... up to the end. It was apparent to me that he "got" everything, yet he just hadn’t made that final connection - or visual - in his head. So, being the sensitive father that I am, I told him bluntly how exhibit 1 got from point A to point B.

Ah, yes... now there's the deer-in-the-headlights look I had been waiting for.

After that brief terror-stricken moment we concluded our talk, and he returned to a normal and active conversation participant. All in all, I think it went very well. He didn't get too much information - just enough to hopefully start a dialog, or at least let him not feel strange talking to us about things he'll start hearing and experiencing in the months and years to come. He also has a new respect for his mom and dad because, as he said, we had to suffer through that horrific experience three times in order to have our three kids (and we'll let him continue to think that for a long time!) And, best of all, he doesn’t appear traumatized - which is a big plus for me since if he was I’d never be able to talk to one of our children alone again.

On one hand I find it almost embarrassingly selfish to think this event ranked as a major concern in my life today, when so many others have true life and death concerns facing them. In comparision, this seems to be a trivial matter. But in an odd way it symbolizes a greater global reality - the continuing loss of naivety and innocence. From the truth about Santa Claus to the realities of racism, injustice, starvation and death, there are many steps along the path of lost innocence. Some are necessary to becoming an adult. Some are realities none of us wish we knew.

Today I'm a little happy, and a little sad - I've just helped my son take one more step along his path.


Snips of... blogs proudly presents: Parenting.

Remember when you said "When I'm a parent, I'll never do that..."? Well, things change when you're the one in charge - and your kids, darn them, just aren't... You.

And parents today, as well as our kids, have a lot of new challenges in front of us. Some are fun, some are not. We'll try to discuss some of them here.

Welcome to the club!