Wednesday, March 6, 2013

One way to save your children from having YOU as a parent

I don't have many theories about raising children, mostly because I'm pretty much winging it as I go. I've been winging it for close to 19 years. And so far none of my kids have:

(a) committed a felony (or at least there have been no convictions)
(b) lost their lives while under my care
(c) been abducted by a man in a windowless white van

These are my criteria for parenting success. I'm not sure I'm capable of much more.

Which is why, as I often say, Terry cannot die. Well, eventually she CAN die. I have no say over that. But it absolutely must not happen in the next 15 years, because she's the one who instills actual values into our children and teaches them practical stuff.

My role, other than to eventually get another job and resume my duties as Chief Provider, is to teach them things like:

- Why hockey was meant to be played 4 on 4
- Why the 3,000-mile oil change is a scam
- Why 1983 was the greatest year in the history of music
- Why you need to pour milk into a cereal bowl in a certain way such that every single piece of cereal gets milk on it BEFORE you start eating. This is vitally important.
- Why you should never put your hand on the table.

Regarding that last point, I'm thinking it has been covered before in this blog, hasn't it? Hold on a second while I go and check...

Ah, yes, this tradition of mine was described in a post last April (see point #8). In case you have no desire to click on that link (and honestly, I wouldn't be that motivated if I were you), I've been doing this thing with the kids since they were little in which I try to get them to put their hands flat on the kitchen table. When they do, I pound their hand − hard − and say, "NEVER put your hand on the table!"

Why, you wonder? And I ask, "why not?" It's to the point that I have to trick them into actually putting their hands on the table, and I'm lucky if I can get even one of them to do it in the space of a year. They're clearly on to me.

But every once in awhile I'll put on a stern face when one of our offspring is sitting at the table and say, "Did you spill milk here? I can't believe you spilled your milk." And the kid will indignantly say, "I didn't spill my milk! What are you talking about?" And I'll rub the table and say, "Well, then, why is it so sticky here?"

And then, if the stars align just right and the child forgets who they're talking to, they'll get an annoyed look on their face and rub the spot I show them. And in the space of 8 milliseconds, my fist will come crashing down onto their hand and I will triumphantly remind them NEVER TO PUT THEIR HAND ON THE TABLE.

This is the greatest feeling in the world, and it actually teaches them a valuable lesson: Namely, that you can't trust ANYONE in the world, not even your crazy father. Maybe especially your crazy father.

The point is, I clearly won't be writing a parenting book any time soon. And if I do, it will be called "Never Put Your Hand on the Table: And Other Things I've Tried to Teach My Poor Children." It won't sell well, but I'll be a hero to dads across the world who make it their mission in life to show kids the value of pain.

Still, I will say this: If I have learned anything from nearly two decades of dad-dom, it is the value of confidence in a child. You cannot, in my view, overestimate the value of a child's self-worth.

Now, before you conservative types get your panties in a bunch, please understand that I'm not talking about the cheap, feel-good brand of self-esteem our society so often tries to pump into kids these days. I'm not for everyone getting a trophy, no score being kept (in most circumstances), etc. etc. etc.

I'm talking about the very real benefits of simply helping a kid believe they're worth something. And that they can do whatever (realistic) task set before them.

I think there's value in doing this for every kid, but especially girls. I coach a lot of girls sports, and I've found this unfortunate fragility that creeps into the psyche of female athletes starting at about the age of 10 and often lasting well into their teenage years (and beyond).

You have to be very careful how you deal with them. Criticism absolutely needs to be offered in a positive, constructive way. This is not to say they're not tough. They absolutely are (and vicious, too...I'm telling you, girls soccer games are as rough as any football game in which I ever played).

But Lord knows these girls are bombarded daily with the not-so-subtle message that they're not good enough. They're not skinny enough, they're not pretty enough, they're not smart enough, and on and on and on. They don't need to be beaten down on the athletic field, too. They should feel empowered by sports.

That doesn't mean I won't be tough on them. I will. I'll let you know if you're not playing to your potential. You can't help lack of natural ability, but you most certainly can help lack of effort.

Ultimately, though, these girls need to hear five positive things for every one negative. And the "negative" shouldn't even be negative as much as a guideline for improvement. Yes, one day they'll need to be ready to deal with a tough boss, and yes, we need to prepare them for the roller coaster ride of life.

But to my way of thinking, the way we do that in these adolescent years is to build a base of self-confidence that will naturally breed toughness, strength of character, and all of that other Girl Scout stuff that actually means something in life.

So I take every opportunity I can to praise my daughters. I do it with my sons, too, but I don't think they're fighting the same battles as my girls.

And besides, my boys instinctively KNOW a 2005 Honda Accord can go 5,000 miles before it's time to change the oil...


  1. I would definitely buy your book should you ever write one! And, as much as I hate to say it (cause I think this applies too often), I bet there are a lot of kids out there who would be much better off being "saved" from a parent like you!

  2. Aw, Kelly, that's awfully sweet. But let's face facts here: If a license were required to have kids, I would have been denied multiple times over. But then again, the same is true for my dad, and we all turned out OK (in the sense that, again, none of us are convicted felons).