My Real Dads

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Originally posted at The Good Men Project here.

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It seems that talk of fathers not being involved and why, and dads who define awesomeness are all over my corner of the internet today. It’s got me thinking about my father who was not involved and the men who filled the empty space.

When I was 9 or 10 I got my stepfather a plaque that said “Any man can be a father, it takes a special man to be a dad.” Nowadays, I know that is really insensitive to men who wish they could father a child but are unable to, at the time it seemed like grand wisdom to me.

My biological father knocked my mom up, apparently spermicide on its own is not an effective method of birth control. (Thanks mom for the TMI.) They got married because that’s what you did back then, but when I was about one years old, he left.

My first word was “Da!” and my mom cried thinking that I was missing my father. Obviously I don’t know what I was thinking at the moment of my first word but I doubt it had anything to do with him because I can’t imagine him measuring up to my paternal soul mate. Yes, I love my mom, yes I loved others but when it came down to it no one in my childhood was as important to me as my maternal grandfather. I called him My Papa.

My Papa was my idol. He was my super extra-special person in the universe. We didn’t live with him but somehow I remember more of my time with him than I do of anything else in those early years. He taught me that I deserved to be respected. He spoke to me about important things, he listened to what I had to say. He taught me that I was infinitely lovable. He was a solid rock I could count on. He taught me that men were good.

When I was 6 my mom remarried and not long after, we moved across the country from My Papa. He was still a huge part of my heart and I did get to see him once a year or so but he did not remain the center of my world. My stepdad and I got along well when I was little, though I don’t remember it as clearly as I remember my relationship with My Papa. Things got more difficult between us during my teen years and we struggled to live together somehow in some kind of harmony.

During that same time I had an amazing teacher, My Teacher. I had many teachers of course but he was special. He had faith in me. He held me accountable. He taught me how to listen, and how to talk. He appreciated who I was and the work I put into things. He taught me that the best way to feel better about your life is to help others. He also taught me that heroes are human too. He was a coach and I watched his amusing struggle to stop cursing around students. I saw him make mistakes and say he was sorry. He taught me that I was worthy of respect. He taught me that men were good.

Ironically, it was during my mom and step dad’s divorce when I was around 20 that I truly realized that I’d had a dad the whole time. There were a few years when I was disconnected from my family. I stopped having contact with them when I was 18, but somehow my step-dad found out that I’d been mugged. He called me and asked me if I needed anything. I had cut them off. I had been so sure in my teenage spaz that they did not really love me or even notice me. But here he was calling me to see if I needed anything. Of all the things I ever learned, how to ask for help is not one I’ve ever been good at. I made myself tell him that my glasses had been lost during the mugging and I that I had no way to replace them. He said he would buy me a new pair. Just like that. No guilt trip, no conditions, no hesitation.

In that moment something clicked for me. I was able to look back at my life and see all of the ways he had always been my Dad, even when we were not getting along. He taught me the value of hard work. He taught me what family means. What it really means. He gives the most unconditional love of anyone I’ve ever known. He doesn’t care what society says or what someone does, once he claims them as family that’s it. Forever. He won’t force it on you, but he’ll always welcome you back the moment you seek him out. He taught me that I was worth having as a daughter. He taught me that men are good.

I know that having a missing father can be a hard thing for many. For me, it was a huge blessing because of the amazing men who stepped up to fill the space. If my biological father had been in my life, I would have learned what children of alcoholics learn. Instead, I learned that men are good.

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As an adult, I know that not all men are good. But I think it makes a huge difference which default you see the world through. I see the world though the “Men are good.” default. I assume men who are not good are the exception, that something went wrong. I assume that it means we as a culture and society need to work harder to give boys the best possible chance to grow into good men. If I had not had these good men in my life I am sure that my default view of the world would be very different.

To all of the good men out there, I hope you are reaching out, touching lives. I promise it will make the world a better place for the people you’ve connected with. Maybe it will even be one of the drops in the bucket that makes the world better for everyone.

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Photo courtesy of author. That’s me and my Papa!

The Art of Saying Nothing But I Love You

Originally posted at The Good Men Project here.

 

I was reading The 7 Hardest-to-Answer Questions My Kids Have Ever Asked… And 2 Surprisingly Easy Ones here on The Good Men Project last week. While I liked it, I had trouble concentrating on it because I kept flashing back to the hardest question anyone has ever asked me. I tried for a week to stop thinking about it because it’s still painful after 6 years. Finally I gave in and began searching for my old private blog to find what I’d written about it then.

This is what I found, edited a bit for clarity and a fair amount for punctuation. This happened almost exactly one year after my ex helped us move back to California and our divorce became final.

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It’s been a couple of months and the boys have been doing well for the most part. They still ask me when they can talk to him or why he doesn’t come to visit or call. They still try to include him in games we play and stories we tell, even though it’s just their idea of him. They still tell me how much they love him defiantly every so often…to see what I will say. I always say “of course!” because I don’t know what else to say and I don’t ever want them to think that isn’t OK to love him.

He’s been gone for almost a 1/4th of my 4 year old’s life now…and I think for him a lot of it is the idea of him. Not actual memories. I am sure there is a bond there but for him he doesn’t remember as much to miss. He doesn’t know this is not the normal way of dads in general or his dad in particular. It helps that he has always had that extra special bond with me. I know I read somewhere that it switches at different stages of development from one parent to the other so maybe is so strong because the other parent wasn’t around for his turn. But I tend to think we are special soul mates. Not that I love my 7 year old son any less at all. Only that my little one and I seem to understand each other in a way I don’t have with him.

I really feel that my older son lost the most in the break up of our family. I have heard him singing to himself, soulful rambling ballads of how much he misses his dad or how he “doesn’t have a dad…and that’s so sad.” Sometimes he acts out and I think he’s testing me or just freaking out in helplessness and fear and pain. Other times he is so full of life and joy he’s almost too bright to look at and I know exactly why I call him my little sunshine. But sometimes I catch him just looking sad. Or sometimes out of nowhere he will suddenly ask me things about where his dad is or why he can’t be there.

Tonight was one of those times. He was being rambunctious and silly. Then tormenting his brother and on and on, until suddenly he was quiet for a bit. Then he started talking to me on the monitor, asking me to call his dad and tell him to come to the play my son is going to be in on Monday. I said that I didn’t think he’d be able to make it on such short notice but that tomorrow he could call him and tell him all about it. He kept talking to me and I kept telling him he needed to go to sleep, that it was an hour and a half past his bedtime. Finally he said in this little voice “Mon (his special name for me), I want to talk to you.” Normally I say no after bedtime but something in his voice made me say yes and go up to sit with him.

I sit down and he says “Mon…tell me the story of you and Pie (his special name for his dad) breaking up.”

Crap, what do I say to that? And that was not the last really really hard question he asked. I can’t really tell you what I said. I think in the end I said a lot of “I don’t know” and “I love you.” Over and over in different ways, in different contexts and sentences. I tried to say as little as possible. No false hope, no condemnation of his dad, no adult details…pretty much nothing except I love you, I appreciate you, I want you with me, I would miss you if you were not here.

I’ve never worked so hard to say so little and so much before.

In the end I tucked him in and came downstairs and a few min later he says to me in this voice full of pain “Mon, I want to tell you I love you more than Pie” OMG I never knew hearing he loved me could hurt so much. So I tried to keep the tears out of my voice as I said “Sweetheart you have enough love inside of you to love me and Pie both more than the whole outer space” and he was quiet for a min…and then he sounded peaceful and a bit happy and he said “yeah…I just wanted to see what you’d say.” I reassured him that he could love us both totally and he got quiet.

I decided we needed to hold each other so I went up to his room again and we snuggled. He said to me, little man that he is, “It’s been a long time since we did this” I laughed and said “You’re getting to be such a big busy boy…but we should find more time to snuggle.” He said “yeah” and then held onto me like he hasn’t done in a very long time. When I finally tucked him in to go, he sat up and gave me a hug and an eskimo kiss. Then fell asleep almost right away.

I’m exhausted. He must be too.

I hurt for him. I can only cry and take deep breaths and remind myself that there is nothing more I can do tonight.

Life Lessons from LEGOs

Originally posted at The Good Men Project as Learning About Life From Legos.

My sons are obsessed with LEGOs. They live, dream and breathe legos much of the time. My almost-14-year-old is especially obsessed. He declared years ago that he will be a LEGO designer when he grows up. Today he has been trying to work out how to create a backpack for a certain Batman minifigure (apparently there is such a backpack in a videogame, but not in any LEGO sets you can buy). He said something to me that he has said before. He said “It would totally work if I just had this one piece, but it doesn’t exist!” Each time he says this I use it as an opportunity to point out that all of life is like that. We could do so much if only things existed…that don’t exist. We could do so much if only things were different than they are…but they are not different from how they are. I try to remind him that thinking about what you could do if things were different is a complete waste of time and a sure way to cause yourself suffering. I encourage him instead to think about how he might change things, or do something different instead of lamenting what is.

After we talked about that I decided to see what else my sons are learning from playing LEGOs so I asked them “What have you learned from LEGOs about life?” this is what they said.

You need a sturdy base to build on.
Build from the ground up, or from the inside out. You can’t start from the outside.
Build to last.
Sometimes even when you build to last, things fall apart. Sometimes you can fix or rebuild them.
“I could build it if I had more pieces!” gives way to “look at what you have and figure out how to build from that.”
Be creative.
Sometimes you start to build one thing and it turns out to be something else.
Plan ahead. Or don’t.
Look at what others have done. Be inspired. Build your own thing.
There is always a way to substitute.
The bricks/pieces will only do what they will do.
Sometimes you need to take breaks.
Think small, build big; think simple then build onto it.

All of this, and there seems to be quite a bit of evidence that playing with LEGO is good for kids in other ways too, including making them better at math, science, creativity, and fine motor skills.

Now, if only we could get them to go back to the times before they segregated the gender of their toys and focused on battle and weapons.

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Your Dad Is In Jail. You Are Not Alone.

Originally posted at The Good Men Project here.

photo-by-dave-goodman

I grew up with invisible friends. I know, you think they were imaginary. We’ll have to agree to disagree. I also remember, as child of the 70’s, watching Sesame Street, and the storyline of Big Bird and Snuffleupagus. I remember how frustrating and yet comforting it was every time Big Bird would try to introduce Snuffy to other people and they didn’t see him. The Sesame Street writers had created a story that reached out of the screen and made me feel less alone.

Sesame Street has a wonderful history of taking issues small and large and helping kids make sense of them and feel less isolated. They have done shows on issues such as divorce, death, and 9/11 so it should not have been a shock to see that they have created a toolkit for caregivers of children whose parents are incarcerated. But it was a surprise to me. We don’t think about how many children there are with parents who are in jail or who have spent time in jail. I didn’t think about it and I worked in a prison. During my time with the Federal Bureau of Prisons I worked in the visiting rooms of a Federal Correctional Institution. I watched children interact with their incarcerated parents many times, but that isn’t the biggest reason it should not have been a surprise that this was a subject badly in need of some Sesame Street attention.

The father of my two sons spent almost 2 years in jail when they were in the age range that Sesame Street’s toolkit has been created for.

My younger son wasn’t really sure of what was going on. He had a general sense of anxiety and lack of understanding why that daddy guy had disappeared and where he was. My older son struggled much more.

One of his struggles was with fear. He was afraid of everything connected to the whole situation. He was afraid that he would never see his father again, and to his young mind 22 months was  not far from forever. He was afraid that his father was in a scary, dangerous place. Thanks to my experience years earlier as a correctional officer, I was able to give confident concise descriptions and reassurances that helped to some extent. My heart aches for children who have no one to do this for them. I’m not saying that prison is never a scary place. But I was able to help separate the day to day realities of a Federal Prison Camp from the overwhelming anxiety of the unknown. There are not many narratives out there that highlight the mundane of prison life instead of focusing on the most intense possibilities.

Letters and 15 minute weekly phone calls from his father were both a blessing and a curse. The contact reassured my older son that his father was still out there but would also get him stirred up and make him fearful again.

The fear had a strong hold on my older son. I remember vividly one day finding him frantically searching for coins and trying to get the money out of his bank. I asked him what was going on and he told me that if his dad needed money he would send it to him. He had somehow gotten the idea that his father was in jail because he’d done something for money and he wanted so desperately to fix it so his hero didn’t have to “go to jail anymore.” I had to try to explain that there wasn’t anything that we could do to change this. My son was heartbroken. He was 6 years old, trying to take care of his father and feeling like a failure for not being able to. I was heartbroken. My sweet son did not deserve to have this weight on his small shoulders, but nothing I could say seemed to lift it.

My son felt shame for not being able to fix things for his father, and a deep shame at being part of a man he understood had done “a bad thing.” He experimented with stealing things and when he got caught, told me he wanted to find out why someone would do “bad things.” He seemed to be trying to figure out what was so great about these things that someone would chose them over him. I think he was also testing himself to see if he liked “bad things.” He was afraid he was bad and would end up in jail one day too.

Kids in this situation deal with all of this and so much more, often while feeling like they are the only ones. I asked my son if he’s ever told any of his friends that his father had been in jail. He said “no.” He didn’t think that any of the kids he goes to school with would understand, but the statistics say that some of his classmates do have a parent who is incarcerated.

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We can’t easily change the reality that children face when their parent is in jail, but we can talk about this more openly. First, we can talk to kids we care for who have loved ones in jail. We can talk about it as something we understand may be hard for them, but something that does not need to be a shameful secret. We can let them know that we don’t think it means they are “bad.” We can let them know they are not the only ones. More than that we can give them our time and attention. We can let them share or just let them have a safe space to be.

I’m not a psychologist so I can’t tell you the signs that a child needs to see a counselor, but I can tell you that I wish we had found one sooner. We just didn’t think of it. That sounds crazy to me now, but we were just going along doing what needed to be done. Even though we did not get a counselor until after my ex was released it has made a huge difference for my son. It’s rarely too late to get help.

Even if you are not a caregiver or friend of a family with a child in this situation, you can spread the link to theSesame Street toolkit link around in any parent groups you are in, online or in person.

If you have been in any role in this situation you can share your story.

If seeing that Big Bird had a friend that no one else could see was powerful for me, imagine how powerful it could be for parents, caregivers and children to know that they are not the only ones involved in a situation that involves incarceration. I wish that I had known someone whose father had been in jail and who had grown up into a good person. I think it would have made all the difference for my son if I could point to someone real and say “His dad was in jail too, you are not alone, this will not stop you from growing up to be a good man.”

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Resources:

Friends Outside, in California has this page of resources.
Photo: Dave Goodman / flickr

 

Insights on Respect from a 13 Year Old Boy

Originally posted at The Good Men Project here.

My 13 year old son often tries to start “deep” discussions in order to get out of doing the dishes or going to bed, so when I asked him to do the dishes and he said “I wanted to talk to you about something.” I didn’t necessarily expect to have one of our most awesome discussions ever.

It started out with him telling me that he noticed that many of the kids in his junior high have started hanging out in “different” kinds of groups. Which was his way of telling me that they’ve started having groups of pairs instead of mostly “guy groups” and “girl groups.” So I asked him, “What have you noticed about these different groups?”

“I’ve noticed that the boys at school that are not respectful to girls are mostly the ones that have girlfriends.”

I was thinking “Oh Crap!” and mentally scrambling for how to deal with the 13 year old version of “Women only like jerks!” To buy me time, I asked him what he thought respect was. His answer blew me away.

“Respect is following a not-talked-about group of agreements. But that’s not all. It also means not holding someone back and not being passive aggressive.”

I can’t say that I’ve ever heard a better explanation of respect anywhere. By this time I was totally paying attention and asked him to repeat that so I could start taking notes. Then I asked him what he would do or not do if he was being respectful.

“Not touch in any unpolite manner and certainly not being passive aggressive or holding someone back or down or not giving them any choice what to do. Bullying is very disrespectful, you’re trying to put them lower, you don’t actually get higher, you’re still in the same place and they are lower, instead of really talking to people and getting yourself higher.”

So I asked him if it was different how people disrespected a boy from how they disrespected a girl.

“With boys it’s more physical. With girls, they more treat them like innocent breakable glass, like they can’t take care of themselves. The problem is people don’t even notice. People just keep doing it until everyone does it and the person may not even know they are being disrespected.”

He had mentioned being passive aggressive more than once so I asked, what does that mean to you?

“Passive aggressive is anything that’s like acting like a sad dog “oh you don’t like it?” (this was said with a sarcastic exaggerated sad face and voice) Acting like they are mad just to get you to do things. Any type of feeling, acting like it’s extreme just to get them to do what you want them to do. I noticed it’s usually disrespectful guy to the girls, sometimes to each other. It’s really weird, sometimes they even try to make someone want to be closer to them by guilting them!”

I told him how insightful I thought this all was and asked him what else he thought of respect.

“Also I think people mistake being polite for being respectful. That’s just a very shallow bit. You can even seem like you are being a jerk and be being very respectful, like if you’re being honest. There are I think like three degrees of respect. Degree 1 is polite, 2nd degree verbal. Deep respect would be level 3: not doing things that make the other person uncomfortable, either sexual or not sexual. I notice at the beginning of school they only talk about the sexual part but that’s not the only part.”

I asked him what else he noticed about respect.

“I notice the guys do things for the girl she doesn’t always need or want and then expect her to do things for them and get mad when she doesn’t. I also notice these messages they tell guys that aren’t true, like you have to have a girlfriend! and all of the things they tell girls of course like you need to wear short shorts for a guy to like you. All this stuff based on fake love and it clouds many minds. They act like it’s a game. Then sometimes the fake love turns to fake hate! I realize this is just a door; I don’t have to go in there and play that game with those people.”

At this point I’m completely humbled. I started this discussion with the mindset of the grown up who was going to make use of a teaching moment. I ended it with a solid reminder to never underestimate people or what they might have to tell you, even when you are in the “teacher” role.

I was feeling that floaty awesome feeling you get in those moments when you feel like you are doing something right as a parent. Then he moved on to the next subject…a twerking incident at school. Then when I told him this was really his blog and maybe he should think of a pseudonym. His ideas included Ninja and Jedi but he felt strongly putting them together would be best. Then there was a story of his Ninjaness at school in an attempt to distract me from making him go to bed. I guess he’s back to being your average 13 year old boy.

The Boy Who Was Really Good at Kindergarten

Originally posted as part of The Good Men Project here

 

When my younger son was 4 he came to me one day, and climbed into my lap between me and my laptop. He took my face in his little hands and made me look straight at him and he said very earnestly “Mama…I’m The Love.” Now part of my brain was going wha? huh? whatever thought I’d been having still hanging there…and where did this come from? what does that even mean? But part of my brain with complete clarity said “YES!” Because of course he is The Love.

It wasn’t long after that day that he started school and many of my favorite things about him turned out to be symptoms that he was wired differently than other kids. I celebrate difference so that didn’t bother me. What bothered me was that he was struggling and suffering in the school environment. What broke my heart was that he went from being my peaceful pixie of love to being extremely anxious and unsure of himself. His first kindergarten teacher could not evaluate his reading because he was too scared to read in front of her.

By the end of that first school year the long wait to have him evaluated for Autism had begun. There was a meeting with me and his teacher and assorted other school people where they worked very hard to gently let me know that they couldn’t hold him back without my permission, but that they strongly believed that he needed to repeat kindergarten. I agreed wholeheartedly. There was no way I was going to push him forward into a new situation he was not prepared for.

There was a boy in my son’s class that year that he spoke about in hushed admiring tones. “He is really good at kindergarten” my son would say. So I sat down with him after that meeting at the school and I told him that I knew this year had been hard but that I thought if he had a chance to do it again, he could be “really good at being in kindergarten” just like the boy he was so amazed by. He nodded wisely accepting this with absolute trust that made me want to cry in appreciation and fear that if he couldn’t do it this time he would feel betrayed.

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The second year of kindergarten was completely different, beginning on the first day. Instead of being a stiff anxious robot who would not speak or even draw, he walked right up to the pile of paper and the crayons and wrote his name and drew a picture of himself. He was still a stranger in this land of “normal” kids but he now knew how things worked.

Now starting 5th grade, my son reads at a grade level far above his own and leads his school in AR points. He routinely stands up in front of his class to answer questions and his biggest complaints about school are that it takes up too much of his reading time, and it’s too boring and loud.

Things are not perfect at school of course, we work with a counselor to try to convince my son that talking to his classmates, saying good morning back to his teacher or even making a friend might be something he should consider. So far he goes back and forth between being uncomfortable with the idea, to rolling his eyes at the concept of taking time away from his reading for these “illogical” things.

This morning when I got up my son flung himself into my arms (he does this part every morning) and without any preamble the following conversation occurred.

Him: “If there wasn’t love there would be no life”…pause for thinking…“or it would be only amino acid life…If there wasn’t love there would be no intelligence.”

Me: “Why are you so smart about love?”

Him: “Most people are.”

Me: (not sure I agreed but keeping that to myself): “But you *really* think about it.”

Him: (As always in his Professor Spock Logical voice): “Love is very interesting. More interesting than Star Trek even.”

Me: “More interesting than Star Trek?!? Wow”

At some point some expert gave us some letters to describe my son, PDD-NOS. Over the years I have spent quite a bit of time reading and I often hear that people on the autism spectrum have no feelings and are incapable of empathy. I think that’s complete crap. I think the problem is that people don’t understand emotions and empathy when they are expressed differently, not that people on the spectrum don’t have or express them.

After breakfast my son and I snuggled up on the couch and talked.

Him: “I am a genius.”

Me: “What are you a genius at?”

Him: “Legos… hugging… being happy.”

I Told My Son He Was Going to Fail

Originally posted at The Good Men Project here.

 

I sat my son down for a very important discussion. I had him get comfortable and I said to him in my ‘this is really important’ mom voice. “I need you to know that you are going to fail.” He blew me off. He smiled and laughed and thought it was a joke. So I said “No, I need you to know that you are going to fail and then you are going to fail again. You will fail your whole life. You will fail beyond your wildest fears. You WILL Fail. You will fail over and over again. Then you will fail some more”

It was at that point that he got that I was serious and started giving me the ‘you have finally lost your mom marbles’ look, because that is not what the rest of the world is telling him. It is not something I had told him before, but I had been reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown and I had been stopped cold by her discussion of perfectionism:

“Perfectionism is not the key to success. In fact, research shows that perfectionism hampers achievement. Perfectionism is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction and life paralysis or missed opportunities. The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticized keeps us outside of the arena where healthy competition and striving unfolds.

Last, Perfectionism is not a way to avoid shame. Perfectionism is a form of shame. Where we struggle with perfectionism, we struggle with shame.”

My son is a perfectionist. Worse than that, the world keeps telling him that he should be able to do things perfectly…the first time. Everywhere are these messages about the boy (or man) who took a wild risk and it all turned out with fame and fortune. He is realistic enough to know that wild risks rarely work, but he is surethat if wild risks can succeed in nearly every movie he sees and story he reads, then his perfectly planned ideas should not fail. When they fail he is crushed, not only because he didn’t win the lego building contest (that had a secret prize of all the legos you can play with for life) but because he thinks that means he sucks. He is disappointed that he failed, but he feels shame for being a failure.

Screw that. I am done letting our culture give him the uncontested impression that people routinely succeed on the first try. I know the world will keep sending him the message that you just have to put yourself out there and try in order to be good at things. I will have to counter that with examples of hard work and long term perseverance, while also battling the idea that “practice makes perfect.” Every bit of his brain that is taken up with the idea that he can achieve perfection instead of excellence is setting him up for shame.

So once I knew he was really listening by his expression, I continued. I told him that I needed him to really truly understand that he was going to fail, because otherwise when it happened he might give up, or worse he might think it meant that he was a failure. I told him that everyone fails. Every single person fails, all of the time. I told him that success doesn’t happens when you do things perfectly, success happens when you keep working toward excellence after you fail.

I also told him that if he could really learn this he would not only achieve his goal of being successful, but also be happier which is my goal for him.

Since that day, I tell my son he is going to fail and I tell him often.

More importantly I tell him when I fail. I search out stories of success that include: how many times the person failed before they succeeded, or how a mistake turned out to be an amazing success and I share them with him.

Most importantly I tell him I love him, just him, no perfection required.

Rubbing Shoulders With The World

I watched a documentary on the Amish today. While I disagree with them on some very important issues, I found myself feeling a kinship with them when they began to talk about raising their children with very different beliefs from the world around them. One man said

“We want to be a society of people that are separate from the world, but still we want to be friends with the world, but it’s tough, you rub shoulders with the outside world and after awhile you’re just like they are and it happens fast.”

There was a story related about an Amish man who is asked by a group of tourists how the Amish are different. The story goes that the man asked the group how many of them have televisions at home and everyone raised their hand. He then asked them how many of them thought that their family might be better off without television and almost all of the group raised their hands. He then asked how many of them were going to go home and get rid of the TV and no one raised their hand. He told them that the difference was that the Amish would get rid of things that they felt were bad for their families.

Much like the Amish I look around at the things mainstream Americans feed their children’s minds, bodies and souls and I worry. We are all on our own paths and I have no room to judge. I am not a perfect parent, I make mistakes. I’m fumbling to find my way, but my ideal is if it is bad for my family then I will do my best to change it. Many people think I go to extremes. They wonder, “What is a little bit of artificially colored sugary junk going to hurt?” They think my sons are missing out on all of the latest shows and video games. They think I am ruining Christmas with my refusal to lie about Santa or make it a day of many gifts.

People often comment on how wonderful my sons are. They will even say in amazed respect “Wow, there are still kids who drink water?” or “They are so good!” but so often they have a disconnect from their complimentary opinion of my sons and how they are being raised. They seem to believe that my sons are good kids and I don’t need to be so extreme.

I agree that my sons are wonderful. They are two of my favorite people in the world. They are kind, smart, sassy, funny, good people. I don’t just think this because I’ve brainwashed them to agree with me either. I make the parental decisions, but they bring me respectful, well thought out debates(and a few temper tantrums) about the way our family works. I do my best to listen(when I’m not having a temper tantrum).

The thing people seem to not understand is that the reason my sons are different is because we live a different life. It is not a case of my just being handed two amazing kids so I don’t have to do much, they are who they are in part because of how we raise them. They read like crazy because the TV is rarely ever on, the adults are always reading books and we go to the library every week. They drink water because soda is not an option. They eat tons of vegetables because we worked for years to make that happen. They are respectful because I treat them with respect and they are used to having boundaries.

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Sassy ~ sas·sy /ˈsasē/ Adjective Lively, bold, and full of spirit; cheeky.