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Category Archives: setting an example

Love the Mud

So, I drive a Jeep. This particular Jeep is my fourth. My first Jeep was a CJ 5 I’d purchased from my brother-in-law when I was in high school. Loved that thing. It had over 200,000 miles on it. The dashboard instrument panel routinely went black from time to time during a rain storm. Sometimes the windshield wipers didn’t work. The heater failed on a regular basis. And a good splash from underneath that hit the distributer cap would have me on the side of the road calling my dad to come get me. And yet, it was my 154_0807_07_z_jeeping_mounds_off_road_park_sinking_jeep_1988_jeep_yjdream car. I always wondered what it was that drew me to Jeeps. For the most part I was anything but rugged as a kid. I was athletic, but small and not very “macho.”

Then it dawned on me as I was living one of those days where life was doing its best to throw everything at me but the kitchen sink. As I sat down at the end of the craziness and popped open a cold Yuengling, I realized that what I’d come to enjoy about my life was what I loved about owning a Jeep.

Like anyone, for the most part I enjoy the smooth ride of a well paved highway. But there are times when I crave to pull away from the masses, go off road and feel the bumps and bangs of an unbeaten path. That feeling of driving head on into a huge puddle not really knowing just how deep it is. Of going full force into a huge area of mud and feeling the engine pull its way through it. I’ve also been known from time to time to drive head on into a storm with the top down getting caught in a downpour. And I love it.

There was a time when I hated when life got bumpy. Anything that disrupted the smooth ride of life’s highway 131_0711_01_z+jeep_cherokee+mudand forced me off road really threw me. It caused frustration and anxiety. But somehow living through the divorce and having to learn to juggle three kids, two dogs, two or three jobs, a home; all of it, has helped me embrace the rough terrain and recognize the power that comes from making it through the muck. Of revving the engine a little from time to time to get through those long patches of mud that hold you back. Of treating the bumps and bangs like you would a ride at the carnival. Equating it to going off road helped me recognize that it can be fun if you let it.

Let’s face it, a smooth ride can be nice, but it can also get monotonous after a while. Sometimes it’s good to shake things up a bit and go off road. It’s good for the kids too. We work so hard to get them into routines. To maintain nap schedules, eating schedules, being on time for everything, rushing here, rushing there. We do everything in our power to give them a strong foundation that helps them stay on track. Which is obviously254873603_XC9PN-L important don’t get me wrong. But it’s so easy to fall into the trap of maintaining that foundation at all costs that we often fail to prepare them for the reality that life doesn’t always go according to the structure we’ve worked so hard to create. Teaching them to roll with the punches and take what life throws at them in stride, and even enjoy it, is as important a lesson as any.

Does it suck when life forces you off road when you’re not really ready? Abso-freakin-lutely. And it’s easy to get shaken when you’re forced to go a direction you weren’t planning to. That’s when you figure out how to throw it into four-wheel-drive on the fly. Meet the challenge head on. Let the kids see you take on the challenges life throws at you the way you would any washed out, mud laden, dirt road. Teach them that it can be fun to get muddy once in a while. Especially when you’re wearing your sunday best. Life has a way of getting messy and that’s OK. In fact it can help us learn to take life a little less seriously and enjoy the muck as much as the sun.

So the next time you find yourself driving into an unexpected swamp … smile, strap in, shift down and give it some gas.

 

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Tone Deaf

It is probably stated in every parenting magazine, blog, book, thesis, study and hallmark card. It’s up to parents to set the tone and whatever tone you set, your kids will follow your lead. And yet, how often do we as parents set the wrong tone? We let work, laundry, family disputes, traffic, finances, lack of sleep, all of it, provide the basis of the tone we set within our very own home. Weimg_4204 establish an environment of stress and anxiety and then wonder why our kids are stressed out or why they react negatively toward each other.

What’s that? Oh … it’s just me?

Ah yes. I forgot; we also then get down on ourselves because  everyone else’s home is all Ward and June Cleaver.

I’m still convinced it comes down to awareness. Recognizing that something’s getting under your skin that has allowed you to set the tone at 11 and that adjustments need to be made. Acknowledging that you may be partly responsible for your child’s anxiety is a tough one to soak in. But listen; better to recognize it and fix it than let it grow and fester. I’m telling you it’s amazing to watch your kids respond to a dad who makes a point of staying calm and helping them through a difficult day. That moment when you recognize that your daughter isn’t really freaking out because you’re out of cherry popsicles is epic. And nothing is more rewarding than when she confides in you five minutes after stopping to “listen” that it was actually something someone said to her during recess. Oh but getting angry is SO much easier isn’t it?

We all know what it’s like to start the day off rushing to get the kids to the bus, with one of them freaking out because their homework isn’t finished or they can’t find their other shoe or they hate the clothes they have on and decide as you’re walking out the door to change. We’ve all experienced the stress, the tension and the
OldManualToneSettingsshear exhaustion of pulling everyone together to make it on time. And we’ve all pulled out of the school parking lot mad at ourselves for not doing a better job of holding it together.

Let it pass. Acknowledge there will be days like that and move on. At that very moment, stop and consider what you want tomorrow to be like and create a “preset” in your head. It’s hard as hell. But just try to remember, your kids need you, not only to set the tone, but to protect their little egos. To support their little minds. And to teach them how to handle stress and anxiety. You’re their rock. Protect them. Teach them. Again, no one said it’s easy. But as long as you’re aware and can catch yourself; that’s half the battle.

I’m not saying the tone should always be the same. Honestly; for someone who’s lived their entire life wearing their heart on their sleeve, that’s not realistic. However, there are appropriate tones for different emotions. Settings that can teach your kids (and you) the proper way to express disappointment, anger, frustration, joy, happiness, love and peace. As long as respect is the root of any tone; you should be good to go.

So go practice. Yeah – that’s right; practice. Create some presets in your head. Visualize the morning, dinner at the restaurant, shopping. Whatever the situation you’re preparing for, establish an expectation for how you’re going to handle the worse case scenario. What tone will you set? How will you deal with it? Think ahead. Prepare yourself and visualize the end result. Just promise yourself you’re going to do what you can to prevent yourself from becoming tone deaf.

 

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Oh Romeo Romeo!

I’m not a girl. Never dreamed of being a princess. Never imagined finding my prince charming and living a fairytale life. But I do have two young daughters. And from conversations we’ve had, I know they’re already starting to plan their weddings and I’m sure there’s a prince in the equation. Yet even at their tender ages, I can see they’re beginning to question the reality of ‘boys’ and whether Disney is basically full of #%@&.

Our kids today deal with social hurt on a level I don’t think we can comprehend. It was hard when WE were sixteen. I can only imagine what it’s like to be nine or ten in today’s world. But as a dad, and I’ve written about images-21this before, I believe we fathers have an opportunity and an obligation to be our daughters’ first knight in shining armor. We have a chance to set the bar that our daughters will look to as a measuring stick as they begin discovering romantic relationships.

It’s a tough balance, especially when you’re a single dad. You’re the disciplinarian, coach, chef, housekeeper, tutor and yes, you set the rules and uphold them. I personally think that it’s important that your kids see that everything you’re doing for them is for the purpose of keeping them safe. That you’re there to protect them above all things. To do that I also think it’s crucial that you continually work to maintain an open line of communication with your kids. Because one day, someone is going to hurt your little girl. God forbid it be physically, but even a broken heart is inevitable and the last thing you want is for your daughter to feel all alone, that she deserved it or like no one cares about her.

On some level, I’m a firm believer that every little girl wants to know that dad is there to protect them. I think it’s even more important that along with all of the reprimands we tend to hand out during the week, that they continually here us say how much they’re worth protecting. If we don’t believe they’re special, why should they? Let’s face it, it’s easy to get lost in being “dad.” In pointing out all of the things our kids do wrong and the poor choices they tend to make as kids. We harp on them about cleaning up. About being nice to each other. Keeping up with their things. We’re the first to point out that doing summersaults off the couch and into the beanbag chair is not a good idea or that using your little brother as a bike ramp may not be the best choice.

I’m sure they get plenty of messages from us about how they’re doing things wrong. We forget sometimes that they’re sensitive little egos get bombarded with reminders of how imperfect they are on a daily basis. Not just from us, but from the world outside as well. Which is all the more chivalryreason we need to stop once in a while and remind them of how amazing they are. How smart we think they are. How pretty they are. How brilliant they are and how special they are. And that no matter what the current state of our relationship with them is, if they ever need us to “just be there,” they only need ask.

I’m not saying we should be demonstrating that women need men. Or that girls can’t defend themselves. That’s not it at all. To me it’s all about respect and letting them know that above all, we’ve got their back. This isn’t necessarily about boys and girls. Because let’s be honest, one day your little girl may bring home another little girl to meet mom and dad. For now, I think what’s important is to let them know that they’re important and that anyone, boy or girl, who makes them feel anything less than special, isn’t worth their time. To teach them to focus on being around people who lift them up and treat them the way they deserve to be treated.

Being a single dad (or mom) means being a lot of different things to your kids. I’m finding that as my kids begin to get a little older and start to get to the age where the idea of romantic relationships are coming into play; I’m already starting to get very protective. I’m not going to apologize for that. And honestly I don’t think my daughters would want me to. I think as they mature and start to hang out with boys, they need (and want) to know that there is at least one boy on this planet who thinks their honor is worth defending. Because if they can find chivalry at home, perhaps they’ll believe they can find it again in another kingdom.

 

 

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I Suck as a Dad!

Come on. You’ve said it at least once. And while in most cases you were probably being hard on yourself, on occasion it was probably true. And you know what? That’s OK. You know what else? It’s going to happen again. And that’s OK too. mistakes11

Being a dad isn’t about being perfect and always having the answers. If your goal is to be the perfect dad you’re setting yourself up for failure. It’s that simple. If your goal is to be there for your kids and for them to know you love them then you’re on the right track.

I personally think it’s important for kids to see us fail. They need to see us suck at being parents now and again. They also need to see us forgive ourselves and move past it. Because when it happens, they know it. There’s no denying it and they’re not stupid. So don’t try to cover it up. But be mature enough to recognize it, admit it and then acknowledge and move on and make the right choices moving forward. For a kid to see you recover from a mistake, own it and then move on let’s them know that it’s OK to be human as long as you recognize it and make the proper adjustments.

You’re going to burn the toast (and then try to hide it with more butter). You’re going to misjudge. You’re going to get the wrong kind of bread (or not the kind mom buys). You’re going to forget to send in the permission slip. You’re images-5going to ruin their favorite sweater by putting it in the dryer. You’re going to miss a call now and then or blame the wrong kid. You’re even going to over react once in a while (hard to believe I know). We all have bad days and take it out on the kids by yelling at them for not cleaning their room. You’re going to hurt their feelings on occasion. The truth is we all lose it. But how we lose it is up to us. And how we recover is also up to us. How we react to the negativity, to our mistakes, to our downfalls is being watched very closely.

Listen, sucking as a parent is an art form. One that comes quite easily to most of us. So welcome to the club. It’s a very, very, very large club. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat with my head in my hands as I’ve envisioned one of my kids in a therapist’s office recanting the events of the past thirty minutes. I’ve beaten myself up more than once for how I handled a situation knowing I could have done better and need to do better next time. No one’s been harder on me than me (yes even harder than my ex wife). And that’s usually about the time one of the kids comes over, gives me a hug and says, “it’s OK dad.” It’s then that I realize maybe I’m not doing that bad a job after all.

 

 

 

 

 

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Holiday Stress – Year Two

If you’re a regular visitor, you’ve heard me state before the importance of focusing on the kids during the holidays. But it bares repeating. Regardless of what holiday it is, as parents we are living our child’s past every day. Every Christmas, 4th of July, birthday, recital, Hanakkah, whatever the celebration; each will be locked stressed-is-desserts
away in our kid’s memory and it’s up to us to do whatever we can to make the memories fond ones.

Let’s face it; the holiday season in particular can be one of the most stressful times of the year. Christmas budgets, work schedules, vacations, travel, getting everything done in time, elf on the shelf craziness, the kids are beyond over stimulated. It’s insanity at times. Now add to it trying to schedule time with TWO families and it only adds to the stress levels.

That’s why it’s crucial that you take a step back and remember what it’s all about. It’s about doing your best to be fun and upbeat. Because if YOU’RE positive, fun and upbeat, the kids will be more likely to follow suit. Countering stress with stress only escalates the problems. And that’s not what you want your kids remembering twenty years from now as they go through old photo albums.

I can pretty much guarantee you that you and your ex are going to have differences of opinions throughout the holiday season. There will be anger, frustration and you’ll be convinced at times that they have no interest in what’s important to you. It doesn’t matter. Your kids don’t want to hear that nor should they. They want to enjoy
the holiday with you and when possible with both you and your ex. Sometimes that’s feasible, sometimes it’s
12-28-09 ornaments118.jpgnot. But what is feasible is you putting on your game face and putting on your big girl panties to make the holiday memories ones that your kids will cherish for a lifetime.

It’s not easy. Lord knows I slip just like you. All you can do is be aware. Just keep picturing the images your children will have in their head of Christmas 2013 and know that you can influence those thoughts. It may mean giving in at times, it may mean holding your tongue at others. It may be something as simple as taking an hour or two to bake cookies with them, driving around looking at holiday light decorations or cuddling up on the couch and watching Elf when they’re with you. The point is to focus on making memories they’ll look back on when they’re older and smile. Let them be little nuggets they hold on to that remind them how special their lives are and how fortunate they are to be loved and how important they are to someone on this planet.

If I sound preachy, my sincere apologies. That’s not my intention. I simply know how difficult these times of the year can be especially when you’re divorced. Know that I say these things to myself daily as much as I say them to you. I repeat them over and over in my head as a reminder of what my focus needs to be and a means of committing to making every attempt to make this holiday one of laughter and joy for the people most important to me; my kids. If I’ve learned anything through the first two years of our divorce, it’s that arguments during the holidays accomplish nothing. Stress causes us to lose our focus on what’s important. The gifts don’t matter, the lines at the mall don’t matter, the stress doesn’t matter, the kids laughing during the holidays does matter. So plan ahead, be reasonable, be flexible and be joyful.

Peace and have an amazing holiday!

 

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