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Monthly Archives: July 2012

Power of the Positive

I have been amazed at the number of hits “Who Loves You Baby” has received in the past few weeks. It’s such a simple thought but as many of you have written to me, it’s an important one. On those crazy days when the world is spinning and the kids are getting into everything other than what they should be, it’s easy to get lost in comments like, “what were you thinking?” “you’re not wearing that to school,” “NO,” “how many times have I said to stop doing that?” and the list goes on. To a kid, those comments add up to “I’m stupid,” “I’m ugly,” “I’m worthless,” “I’m an idiot,” “I’m in the way” and “I’m an annoyance.”

I’ve seen Jerry Seinfeld perform multiple times and during one of his routines, he spoke about the fact that when he got married, he learned that apparently he has a “tone.” According to his wife, this “tone,” which he was unaware he even had, was not allowed in their house. Our words and the way we express them can have such a huge impact on our kids. I’ve been a dad now for ten years. And I’m continually having to catch myself and the way I approach my kids. I think the statement that hit home the most was when someone shared with me that when their father reprimanded them by yelling it was so condescending it cut them to the core. Sometimes it wasn’t what they said but how they said it. A dad’s tone, like it or not, can be incredibly harsh even when we don’t intend it to be.

In the back of their minds, kids are already wondering if the divorce is in some way their fault. “Was I not good enough?” “Did mom and dad get tired of being with me all the time?” As a single parent so much is suddenly thrust upon you that some days it’s all you can do to survive. And yes, the kids get the blunt of our frustrations. All the more reason to stop yourself and give them little reminders of how amazing they are and how much you love them.

I’m told by women especially, that a father can be incredibly important in the establishment of their senses of self worth. A little girl’s perception of how their father views them can have a lasting impression. And typically
men tend to be somewhat “sharp” in their approach. I’ve said before that it dawned on me one day that I should treat my daughters the way I want their partners to treat them years from now. I have an opportunity to establish early on how they should expect to be treated and talked to and they deserve to be treated with respect, admiration and love no matter what the conversation is about. That’s not to say little boys don’t need to hear it as well. But I’ve been taken aback by the number of women who have expressed to me the affect their father’s approach and “tone” had on them later in life.

It’s so important that we counter all of those negatives and corrections with comments that remind our kids how much we absolutely adore them. Here are some easy ones for you to keep in your back pocket: “You’re beautiful.” “You’re so smart.” “Good thinking!” “You’re awesome!” “Great job!” “I’m so lucky to be your dad!” “I
love that outfit.” “You look fantastic!” “I am so happy you’re here.” “You’re so much fun to be with.”

Go ahead and make yourself a list of positive things you can routinely say to your kids and then do me a favor; as you’re saying one of these positive statements to them, take note of their reaction. I guarantee you you’ll see a small smile, or moment of pause as they take it in. I promise you they hear it and they NEED to hear it often. Not only does it build their self esteem and help them fight off the negatives of the world outside, but it helps build a better relationship between the two of you as well. Tell me if after a few weeks of this you don’t see a change in their demeanor and how they react to you. Tell me whether you see them listening better and making an effort to help out around the house more when they see you overwhelmed with life. Tell me if you don’t notice more hugs and kisses for no reason other than to let you know they love you.
And while you’re at it, take a moment to remind yourself how great YOU’RE doing. It’s easy to get down on yourself as you see things falling through the cracks and you don’t see your life they way you envisioned it. Recognize that you’re still a work in progress. But also try to recognize all of the things you’ve accomplished and all of the hurdles you’ve managed to overcome. Give yourself victories. When you do you’ll find it much easier to pass those positives on to your kids.
 

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If The Shoe Fits!

Who hasn’t considered getting their kid, niece or nephew a pair of Nike booties? I mean come on, who can resist a baby sporting some Air Jordans? Even the initial shock of the $44 price tag is often no match for the numbing effects of baby toxins that typically take over our sense of reason as newbies. But hear me now, be careful not to let them get too comfortable with a brand name. It’ll cost you dearly in 8-10 years if you’re not careful.

Case in point. With school fast approaching I took the three rug rats out for shoe shopping. As a household that continues to adjust to a single income, like most homes we’re obviously on a budget. So I put a spending limit of $15 – $20 each on a new pair of sneakers and even then I thought I was being generous. I wasn’t completely oblivious to the cost of shoes these days, but decided to establish a goal and stick to it and see how the kids would do.

My biggest concern was with our oldest who had grown accustomed to wearing brand name shoes. She had recently begun wearing Toms and Nikes and the influence of her school chums was also beginning to kick in. I had some hope as I’d noticed her gravitating to the budget friendly aisles of JC Penny and Sears in recent months. But as suspected, her expectation was that she would walk away with a new pair of what she referred to as “good” shoes. Much to her dismay she soon discovered this was going to be more of a hurdle than she may have anticipated.

Our adventure began at Academy Sports where I’ve routinely found a great range of choices and price points on just about anything I was shopping for. And sure enough, along with the higher end shoes they had available, there were a few pair under twenty bucks. My middle child, who has learned the art of the bargain bin from her mother, found a pair she LOVED. Price: $14.99. One down. Meanwhile, the other two, who I’ll admit tend to take after me when it comes to this sort of thing, kept gravitating toward the $30-$60 sections. After a couple of unsuccessful negotiations I determined it was time to check out and go to plan “B.”

When we walked into Shoe Carnival I was honestly surprised to find that the vast majority of their kid sneakers were $45-$55 a pair with some reaching close to $70.00. I mean really? For something they’ll maybe wear for six months? Wasn’t happening. Offers were made to “pay half,” and “never ask for another thing for a year,” but despite the whining, complaining and eventual hateful, anger phase we headed for the door.

Then, just as we were preparing to leave, my middle child (who if you’ll recall found a pair at plan “A”) shouts, “Hey dad I found these shoes that fit perfectly and they’re only ten dollars!!” DONE! I said. “NO FAIR,” exclaimed my youngest. “She’s got two pair and we don’t have ANY!!!” We then discovered they were an additional 50% off bringing their total to $5.45 with tax, prompting me to point out that she had found TWO pair of shoes for the budget I’d established for ONE! A revelation that left the other two steaming, and ready to put “goody two shoes” up for adoption.

Next stop was Journeys which actually wasn’t too bad. We found a number of Vans & Converse on sale for $19.99 – $24.99, but nothing that the kids liked (shocker). There were more for $35-$45, but obviously over budget and undesired by the crew and so, we moved on.

A recent trip to J.C. Penny had garnished several shirts and shorts for a third of the norm. But there we hit another wall as the oldest continued to hold out for Nike and the cheapest pair they had was $50.00. The whining and complaining began to build in intensity as I became the parent who wasn’t willing to buy his kids “quality” shoes. But I would not bow to these valiant attempts to manipulate my good senses. This inner strength was being reenforced by my middle child, who continued to find bargain upon bargain at every location which only infuriated the others all the more. And so we continued to plan “E.”

We next stopped at Target. As if on cue, my middle child once again found several prizes. “3.99 DAD! Can you believe it?!” There were additional Keds styled shoes for under $14.00, but they had no “SWOOSH” and therefore were unacceptable to “some.”

It was at this point that my youngest apparently got the message. Recognizing that his basket was annoyingly empty he found a pair of sneakers for $19.99. Upper range of our budget, but within it none the less. At first I thought he may have been picking something just to get something. But his enthusiastic “I FOUND SOME!!!” demonstrated a genuine excitement at his discovery. Two down!

And there, surrounded by a darkened, shadowed aura, stood the oldest. Alone and holding out for her Nike standard. DAADDDDD!!! It’s not FAIR!!! A quick discussion about the dangers of paying for a name went in one ear and out the other. She was respectfully determined which I actually admired. Seeing I was holding firm, she asked if we go to the Nike outlet “just to see.” Concerned that we would encounter the same issue of finding something on sale, but still for $29.99, I reluctantly agreed with the understanding that our budget was still $15 – $20.

Now, I have to admit. If I was loaded with cash, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t splurge and get my kids whatever they wanted. It’s easy to preach when you have no choice. And the reality is, as anyone who has gone through a divorce knows, unless you’re ex is a pro basketball player paying you 20K a month in child support, the first couple of years are tough, especially when everything is “times 3.” Little did we know, we were ALL about to I learn that working within a tighter budget isn’t necessarily equivalent to sacrificing on any level.

We walked into the Nike outlet and started looking around and as expected, even the sale items for kids were upward of $35-$45. There were some that were in the $30 range and even a few around $25, but nothing she liked. That’s when I heard my oldest daughter scream, “DAADDD!!!” I turned around and there they were, the least expensive pair of shoes in the entire warehouse. My stubborn, bullheaded, beautiful, determined daughter had found the ONLY pair of shoes in the store for under $15.00. A beautiful white pair of women’s running shoes on clearance for $14.97.

She grabbed what she thought were the smallest pair, a size 5 but even they were too big. And then, with a heavenly glow shining from behind them, hidden at the top of the shelves I noticed a 3 1/2. She tried them on and announced, “They’re just a tad big dad, but I LOVE them!” I was floored, elated, amazed and a little dizzy. The other two were equally shocked and quickly began rummaging for their own treasures. “SEEEEEEEE I TOLD you!” she said to me grinning from ear to ear with pride.” And so she did. 3 Down!

It was at that moment that I decided to put my money where my mouth is. As an avid runner I’d grown accustomed to paying upward of $100 for a good pair of running shoes. But if I was going to ask my kids to budget, it only seemed fair that I join in. I’d needed a new pair for some time, so it seemed like a good opportunity to display some solidarity. And so the four of us began foraging through the various racks when low and behold, one of the kids found a great pair for under $30.00. “They’re not within the budget” I said. “DAD, come on, they’re awesome and their grown up size.” Four down!

And so dads (and moms), there’s hope. It may mean searching, and hunting and ok, maybe carrying an unhappy kid out of a store or two but you CAN find bargains and it can actually be fun. Throw in lunch at the food court (which cost more than the shoes) and you have an amazing day with the family along with some valuable lessons on the side, not to mention a cool new pair of shoes.

As we got in the car, all were beaming and bragging about how we walked away with five pair of shoes for under $80.00. And best of all, no one appeared to feel like they’d gotten cheated. No one suggested that they’d compromised. “I LOVE my new shoes,” “These are the coolest!” “I’m going to set a trend!” echoed from the back seat. Even I, the 26.2 mile snob, have to admit that $30 pair is probably one of the most comfortable pair of running shoes I’ve ever owned. Oh, and did I mention; they have a “swoosh?”

 

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Gosh Darn Lyrics!

As we were listening to Disney Radio on Sirius / XM the other day, I had a revelation. The music featured on the station, in many cases, is also featured on many of the “Current Hit” stations both on satellite radio and your  traditional local radio stations. The challenge this creates as a parent is differentiating between what is appropriate music for your 8-12 year old and what isn’t as the lines have become somewhat blurred. The songs featured on Disney now emulate and are often part of the mix with what can be some of the more adult themed music on your traditional pop stations leaving kids to think it’s all fair game which, for some parents, may be problematic.

OK OK. So at this point you’re probably saying, “whoa there fella, you’re starting to sound an awful lot like one of them snobbish, judgmental, overprotective, ultra-conservative parents we’ve all come to love making fun of.” First, I have a point which I’ll get to in a moment and second; I grew up yelling “My Dingaling,” singing “Little Willy” and blasting “The Telephone Man.” I’m sure even my grandparents sang “It’s really killin’ that he’s so willin’ to make whoopee” along with Sinatra (that heathen).

I also listened to my sister’s psychedelic rock vinyl from the 60’s that emitted some INSANE messages. By age nine I was dreaming of blowing off class to explore Itchycoo Park where I could be eight miles high in a purple haze. I was later introduced to the blues through amazing bands like Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin who enjoyed loving people on an elevator and offering up every inch of that love. Really had no idea what it all meant to be honest with you. At that age I just thought the music was cool. But looking back, I would consider it a crime if I hadn’t had all that great music to explore.

More recently, I’ve begun introducing my kids to all kinds of great music from all genres and eras. Admittedly, from time to time I’ve had to do my best to avoid explaining what it means to have someone squeeze my lemons, kiss you all over, or push push in the bush. And for now a magic carpet ride is something Aladdin took from time to time. But I think it’s important to expose kids to all different styles of music and talk to them about the history and meaning behind a song as much as is appropriate for their ages. And to be clear, as you read this, know that my ex-wife and I continually communicate about the music our own kids are listening to and monitor it to ensure explicit lyrics, foul language and certain topics are avoided and banned from i-pods all together. We’re open, but let’s be real here. There are limits.

Anyway; I was 12 when David Naughton came out with the song “Makin’ It.” I remember sitting in the car with my mom. We were driving through a plaza in West Seneca, NY listening to the radio when it came on. I started singing along and she turned the station. “Why’d you do that?” I inquired. “That song is inappropriate for you!” she explained. “Why?” I asked. “Nevermind,” she implored. “You don’t know what it means.” I did actually. The song was the theme to a sitcom by the same name and was about overcoming the odds and being successful despite your short comings. My mom obviously thought it meant something completely different but didn’t bother to ask.

But we’re getting off track a bit. This isn’t an essay on the pros / cons of rock music. (Well maybe just a little). But I’ve never believed there to be a danger in listening to any kind of music. I actually think the real danger is not listening to enough. Music is magic. The more you listen to the more it broadens your creative senses and ability to paint mental pictures.The music your kids are listening to is something they’ll carry with them the rest of their lives. But it probably won’t influence them the way you think it will. I myself still have my “Itchycoo Park” 45, but despite listening to it 1,423,334 times, I never ‘got high.’ That just wasn’t my scene man.

But back to the point of the whole Disney / Today’s hit music issue and what our kids are listening to. The more I thought about it the more I realized it wasn’t necessarily about the lyrics themselves. For me personally, being aware of what your kids are listening to is more about opportunities to demonstrate to your kids that you’re paying attention and that you care about how the world affects them. With i-tunes, mp3 players, Pandora, Spotify, etc. all so easily accessible to kids in a more intimate and private way, it’s all that more difficult to know what your children are being exposed to. When it comes to music, let’s be honest, like us 20 or 30 years ago, half the time they have no idea what the lyric really means. I had no idea why Alice was small. Sure sounded like fun though. Almost as much as it would be to join Lucy in the sky with diamonds.

As I’ve mentioned, I think I’ve come to the point where I believe this is less about the lyric and more about the opportunities they present for a dad (or mom). Whether your kids and their friends are currently singing about the joys of being  “Higher Than A Mother f-!#% r” or trying to get boys to show them their “Peacock Cock Cock,” as a parent you have an excellent opportunity to demonstrate to your kid that you’re paying attention. If there’s any question, have them go on line and print out the lyrics to a song that may be a concern. Talk about it, discuss the potential issues with them. Explain to them why something may or may not be appropriate. If they hear a song that has lyrics that are degrading to women, it’s a great opportunity to explain why it’s offensive. And find out what THEY think it means. Some valuable insights to be mined are just waiting for you. Build some boundries if you want or don’t. It’s really up to you not the Harper Valley PTA. But the bottom line is, what better way to let them know that A. you’re listening and B. you care.

 

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The Power of “YES!”

Several months ago my oldest daughter and I went shopping for school clothes. Despite our best intentions, it started out as an incredibly frustrating experience for both of us. I, the typical father shocked at the short hemline of the shorts she wanted to purchase and she, the typical pre-teen embarrassed to be shopping at A&F with her old man. We eventually worked through it, but not before several arguments about what was appropriate for a 10 year old.  For the most part the afternoon was filled with a lot of anxiety and some tears (from both of us).

Little did I know that through that pain would come growth and understanding. It was a necessary experience for both of us on many levels. We both walked away from it wishing it had gone better. Despite what your 10 year old daughter tells you, she WANTS to have a connection with you more than anything in the world. And when it doesn’t happen despite the best efforts, it crushes her internally. And in her little mind it all starts with
the word “no.”

A quick recap to set the stage. The very first thing she picked out that day was a pair of jean shorts. As
a father my first thought when she held them up was to sue the store and the manufacturer for
promoting the solicitation of a minor. And before I could even think, I heard the words “NO WAY” bellowing from the very depths of my protective soul. It was all downhill from there. “I knew that’s what you would say!” she proclaimed and we ended up in the car with her saying, “just let me shop with mom!” We tried one or two more stores and eventually managed to walk away with a somewhat successful trip. But the overall experience stung. And despite leaving the last store smiling with bags in hand, there was still a lingering sense of “man that was hard” for both of us.

Months later I would see the benefits of the effort we both put in that day.

Earlier this week we ended up at a surf shop in town. I was on a quest for a new pair of Vans and she happened to be with me. We struck out at numerous shops. She then had the idea of going to a store at the mall she knew would have them. “Perhaps you’ll find a pair you like there,” she said. In the back of my mind I kind of knew she liked the idea of perhaps finding shoes for herself as well, but that only made me smile. And so we went. We both tried some shoes on but had no luck finding anything either of us liked. Giving up on the shoes, we prepared to leave when she asked, “Can we go to Belk’s?”

What ensued was an afternoon of shopping I couldn’t have imagined. On this day, she invited me into
her world and I, graciously accepted, making a conscious effort to keep my “No” in check. She found some shorts she liked, which to me still seemed a little more “short” than necessary, but this time I suggested she try them on first. And low and behold they looked “o.k.” Not my favorite, but I tried to look at them a little more objectively this time around. I had discussed the last trip with her mom and the three of us developed a test for determining when shorts were too short. We also determined that some would be o.k. for lounging around but not for school. This worked wonders this time around as we both knew the expectation going in and had a means of knowing where to draw the line that had been previously discussed.

We eventually made several purchases sharing finds with each other and discussing the pluses and minuses of each. We didn’t really spend that much. She’s already aware of budgets and what’s reasonable and found some terrific deals. This again promoted the word “yes” and she knew that. Afterward we stopped for a snack in the food court and then headed back to the car. As we got in I heard her exclaim, “This was AWESOME!”

So what was the difference? That’s a long answer I think. But I think it all changed when the word “No” was put in check. Developing a relationship with your kids doesn’t happen during one experience. It takes time. It takes sitting in the car frustrated with each other once or twice. It takes compromise and listening and trying again. It takes a desire on both your parts to want the relationship. But most of all I think it means looking for opportunities to say “Yes.” We get so used to saying ‘No” as parents that it becomes involuntary. Eventually we find ourselves sticking our heels in the sand out of habit not really taking the time to consider the request or looking for ways to compromise.

Come on, be honest. How many times have you said, “I SAID NO AND I’M THE DAD!” Trust me the walls that puts up are tough to break down. To have your daughter invite you in is a gift. I learned this when she completely shut me out of it that first day. And so when this opportunity presented itself, I did everything I could to let her know it was safe and I was willing to compromise. She in turn did the same and it turned out to be an amazing day for both of us.

As I dropped her off with her mom I asked her if she had had fun. She hugged me and with enthusiasm said, “yes!”

 

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Wearin’ It On Your Sleeve

Every time I experience a stressful week or two or eight, I take specific notice of my health. I can see it deteriorate before my eyes, especially if I’m not careful or don’t take the time to exercise. It’s amazing how much stress can affect our ability to just smile and how quickly it can cause our moods, our demeanor and outlook to spiral out of control. Eventually, when it affects our health it only gets worse as the results of poor health make it more difficult to deal with day to day issues and the problem only escalates.

But look, it’s not like I’m telling you anything you don’t already know. The point of this entry is not to preach on the dangers of stress, but more to encourage awareness and ask the question that came to my mind this past week; “Where do you wear YOUR stress? Is it your head? Heart? Stomach?”

Throughout my life, I’ve watched my own family carry their stress in their own unique ways. Some had stomach issues, others migraines, a few had heart disease, back aches, ulcers, high blood pressure, depression, anger, you name it, someone in our family had it covered. As I looked closer, it was obvious that how we all dealt with stress was something we inherited from our parents. It made me stop and look at my own children and what they were witnessing as they saw me handle stress.

For me personally, I carry my stress in my gut and if left un-dealt with long enough, I’ll eventually end up doubled over. This is particularly true if I fail to exercise consistently. I learned at an early age that if I threw on my nikes and put in 3-4 miles the worries would seem more manageable, the pain would go away and my outlook was typically much brighter. Perhaps the most important aspect was it provided me with the energy I needed to tackle the pile of crap that was overwhelming me and causing me stress in the first place.

As I worked through my divorce I also reflected on the fact that I had typically worn my stress on my sleeve, creating an up and down emotional environment for my kids and more than likely people I worked with as well. My ex-wife first made me aware of this tendency and it’s been a goal of mine to become continually more consistent in how I respond to stress and anxiety. Again, it’s about looking in the mirror and being aware of the affects stress is having on us.

I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear that divorce in and of itself is a stressful event to live through. The resulting tangents, twists and turns your life goes through as you cope with adjusting to life as a divorcee exponentially increase the opportunities for anxieties and worries to raise stress levels and increase the risk of health issues associated with stress. The point here is that divorce is a huge source of anxiety and the ensuing stress is dangerous. Recognizing that stress is taking its toll on your mind, heart, stomach etc. is an important element of survival. Being aware of what stress is doing to you physically and the affect it’s having on those around you is essential in managing your life and being prepared to overcoming the hurdles in front of you. Ignoring these affects can cripple you if you’re not careful.

Finding a means of relieving that stress is a must. You need to find a release and take steps to focus more on your health and minimize the stress as much as you can. Sometimes this means making difficult financial choices or career changes. It may mean buying a treadmill or forcing yourself to buy a new pair of hiking shoes. Regardless, I think if you look deep enough into your soul you’ll see the answers relatively clearly. You may not always like them. But they’re typically there staring you in the face and can represent a path to calmer waters.

And don’t roll your eyes, but when at all possible, maintaining a positive relationship with your ex can help eliminate or lesson the amount of stress in your life as you attempt to reach the next phase of your life, whatever that is. Becoming combative, holding grudges and pointing fingers only escalates stress and creates more weight on your own shoulders. Yes it may hold you back in some ways from moving forward, but adjusting to life as a divorced dad is not an overnight event. It takes time. Each step brings new understanding and growth. Do your best not to rush to the next step. Take a deep breathe, take your time, consider your choices, and keep your focus on the people that matter most, your kids.

So stop, reflect, think back. Have you laughed today? Did anything make you smile? Did you require an extra
dose of extra strength Tylenol to make it through the afternoon? Is this four days in a row like that? Believe me, it’s just not worth it. What’s important is not only smiling yourself, but giving your kids a reason to smile and laugh and feel good about their world. If you’re stressed, chances are you’re more abrasive, less likely to stop what you’re doing and toss the football or play tea party. You may not realize it, but in essence, you’re simply passing your stress on to your children. Yeah … they’re watching. And smarter than you think. As with most things in life, how you deal with your stress is something your kids will watch very closely. They’ll carry that with them the rest of their lives. So here’s your chance to take a good look at yourself and your own well being. Because if you’re not careful, you more than likely will run the risk of creating a scenario where your stress is more than just something you wear on your sleeve. If we’re not careful, it can quickly become a hand me down.

 

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