To My Sons,
When I was in college I learned a lesson the hard way. I learned that when it comes to age; All women are either 21 or 29. The ones with gray hair or grandchildren are definitely 29. There is neither benefit nor reason to presume any other age. Wanting to impart this hard won knowledge to another generation, I drilled my youngest son on this axiom.
· When he finally met my grandmother, she said, “I hear your father told you all women are either 21 or 29. How old do you think I am darling?”
· My son dutiful replied “29, Grandmother.” She turns to me and says, “He’s a keeper.”
In that light I want to pass along a few tidbits on child-raising that worked for me.
We are Here to Play, Not to Argue This was the mantra on the Santa Fe Hotshot Crew, whenever there was a disputed foul during a volleyball game. It wasn’t like we were playing for a trophy! It was just a pickup game during physical training or while waiting in fire camp for the fire bell. So those of us there for a good time would shout down those who were (again) upset about whether the ball was out of not. We’d announce play over and move on. “We are Here to Play, Not to Argue” works in several areas of life and child rearing.
· When you are reading your children “Calvin and Hobbs” long before they can read, they are memorizing the book. Eventually the will learn the individual words and start taking a turn reading. When they mispronounce a word, you will probably correct the pronunciation. The response from the child might be “That’s what I said!” You might be tempted to say something here, don’t. Instead nod knowingly and mumble “uh, huh” with a continue-reading tone of voice. To prove they said the word right in the first place they start over from the disputed sentence. You taught them the correct pronunciation, they repeated it and learned it, and you won!
· You say, “You need to do your laundry.” They say, “Later.” You might be tempted to say something here, don’t. Instead nod knowingly and smile. Then do their laundry. It is amazing what you find. And if you don’t check the pockets, they will discover that wet firecrackers and lighters don’t work too well. Plus you get to put the clothes away for them, providing an opportunity to go through their drawers and closest. If they get upset you can tell them that all they have to say is “Thank you”.
· You say, “You need to do clean your room.” They say, “Later.” Oh, this is the same as above, isn’t it?
· You are their parent, not their friend. Your job is to raise them so they can be a success in however they chose to live their lives. Get rules and enforce them. Be fair and consistent in the rules. You and they must be accountable.
Driving If your kids and their friends need a ride say “Yes!” The stuff you will hear! All you got to do is keep your mouth shut, enjoy the music on the radio and pretend you are busy driving. They almost instantly forget you are in the car. Just make sure you don’t visibly react and you will all sorts of stuff.
Teach them to…
· The first time they ask you what time it is, teach them to read a digital and analogue clock. Yeah, they are young, it’s hard work, but just suck it up and do it. Life will be so much easier
· The first time they want to write their name; get a magic marker, write their first name on a sheet of paper, but another piece on top and have them trace it over and over again on various parts of the second sheet, until they can do it.
No, That’s for Adults
· The cook spends hours making a special dish and my precious grandchild refuses to eat it. Once again “We are Here to Play, Not to Argue”. Don’t offer it to them in the first place. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Always have macaroni and cheese on the table as a side dish and whatever leftovers they liked from last night. When they finally ask for something because everyone else really seems to like it, say “No, that’s for adults”. Eventually, they will beg and you will reluctantly give in. They can always finish their milk or juice.
· They will want to get a driver’s license someday. First keep in mind, that you might not be the best person to teach them. My youngest son learned to drive the truck while small enough to sit in my lap. He learned to shift the four on the floor while small enough to be wedged in the middle seat. Make sure they learn how to drive a stick shift and an automatic. Tell them they are not getting a license until they can back a trailer. Everyone needs that skill and few people are trained how to do it. Finally, driving is an adult thing if they want to be treated like an adult they need to…”finish confirmation” or any other coming-of-age ritual that gets them involved in the community as an adult.
Let Other’s Say “No!” You don’t have to be the bad guy all the time. Instead of saying “No, that won’t work. They won’t let you do that.” let the other party be the bad guy. Remember “We are here to play not to argue.” If my beloved grandchild with whom I am well pleased wants to be an acolyte when they are too young, you stand behind him when he asks the pastor. Surprise, the pastor says yes or he says no. Either way, you aren’t the bad guy, the kid learns to speak up for himself and sometimes the kid wins.
Can’t get a little boy to shower? Put a dollop of shaving cream into each hole in a muffin pan. Let him stir in food coloring. Then he and his brother (or you) can body paint in the shower and make colorful Mohawks all of which have to be washed off thoroughly. Soon enough he will get interested in sports and girls; requiring twice daily showers.
“My wife” If you say, “Don’t treat your mother like that.” you give the child ownership of the woman you love best in the word. Say instead, “Don’t treat my wife like that.” Conversely, say, “Go give your mother a kiss.” consequently reinforcing a positive bond.
Spanking Talk with your wives about this. It should never be done in anger. Here’s the day I stopped spanking.
· He: “When we get to the gym, I’m going to do anything I want and you can’t stop me.”
· Me: “I can pull your pants down in front of God and everyone and spank your ass.”
· He; “You wouldn’t!”
What I discovered in that moment was a parenting tool far greater and more far-reaching; if you threaten to embarrass your children in front of their friends they will do anything to avoid that happening
Two is Easier than One Anytime you kid wants to have a friend over say “Yes!” That way they can argue with their friend instead of arguing with you. Besides their behavior will be better because they won’t want to be embarrassed in front of their friends. If you child’s friend misbehaves, pull your child aside and ask them to straighten their buddy out. The will be glad to so as not to be embarrassed in front of their friends.
Say Please You work hard to teach your children to say those magic words, “Please” and “Thank You”. Other parents wistfully admit that their children come back better mannered after eating dinner at your house. So, why not use the word yourself when the child is doing something they don’t seem to have any conscious control over.
· You; “Do you have to wake up screaming in the middle of the night every night?”
· The Child: “No.”
· You might be tempted to say something here, don’t. Instead ask nicely, “Could you please not do that anymore?”
· Child; “Okay”
The Real Parent Your kids’ friends have parents. One of their parents is the one that sits on the bleachers at all the games with you, sits on committees for the kids with you and is the one that makes things happen. It might be a mom or a step-dad or their biological father. This is the person who the phone is always handed to when there is a decision to be made. Get that person’s cell number. Early on you will need the number to set up play dates and to arrange who is going to drop the kids off and who is going to pick them up. At so point your child will say, “I am spending the night at my best friend’s house you don’t have to call his mom every time. Don’t you trust me?” You might be tempted to say something here, don’t. Instead nod knowingly and mumble “uh, huh”. As soon as the child leaves for his buddy’s house call the real parent and compare notes. Jump in a car with a local friends who know all the party places out the road and track them down.
Why? Little kids will ask “Why?” endlessly. Every explanation from you results in another “Why?” from them. Reply with a “Why do you think?” If they are clueless on the issue at hand or don’t want to play, say “Guess.” It is amazing the misunderstanding that a child can have sometimes.
What sort of engineer are you going to be when you grow up ? There are all sort of engineering degrees these days. I asked this of all my sons and nieces from an early age. None became an engineer, but they all went to college. Help them chose a college that is “off the rock” or out of town, a college that is right for them, not right according to a poll of Best Colleges in America.
· Remind them that once they are 18 you are kicking them and all their junk out the door.
· “But, dad, I will still be in high school.”
· “Okay you can stay till you graduate high school.”
· “Dad, I’m going to college”
· “Okay, you can stay as long as you are in school, but once you get your PhD, you are out the door.
Cranky Test! This is brilliant. My mother taught this to me. As a child I was an insomniac. At naptime I would keep my brother awake to play with me. My brother desperately needed his sleep. One day she says to me “Billy, as soon as your little brother falls asleep, you can go outside and play.” That nap and every after, I pretended I was asleep, so he would fall asleep. Sometimes I faked it so well I fell asleep myself. If you only have one child use the Cranky Test.
· “You are being cranky. You need a nap!”
· “No! I’m not being…I don’t believe that is correct, Father.”
· “If I tell you to go lay down, you will throw a fit.”
· The child might be tempted to say something here, but will learn eventually to nod knowingly and mumble “uh, huh” while heading to the bed room.
· “Well if I make you lie here ten minutes you will fall asleep.”
· “I don’t believe that is correct, Father.” The child says while lying down.
It is important to return in ten minutes, either he is snoring or waiting pleasantly for you to return.
Children change every six months and they are nothing like their siblings.
I Need to Go to the Bathroom. Come with me. If you ask a little boy if he needs to go to the bathroom before loading onto the plane. If you say you need to go and head that way, you will start a stampede. I had a brother and 5 male cousins, when it occurred to anyone that he had to go inside and use the bathroom suddenly we all felt the need. (Hence you wife should never store her hair dryer behind the toilet.)
Guy Stuff Your mother grew up without brothers. There are things she doesn’t know about little boys; like hair dryers behind the toilet, why we dreaded our first sleepovers and why at a certain age during sleepovers we quit sharing a bed. She didn’t want to know, maybe your wife doesn’t either. Just say, “It’s a guy thing.” Talk to your boys about sex early on. When you do, you’ll find out one of them already has a girlfriend!
“I’m scared. Please hold my hand.” You say it, so they don’t have to.
Have a Routine There is not value in arguing about bedtime every night. You need a least an hour alone with your wife. Set the bedtime and stick to it.
Slice cheese with the cheese grater. Little kids need constant snacks, rather than slicing cheese with a knife use the big slots on the side of the grater.
Avoid saying “No!” to a Toddler No, is the first magic word that many toddlers learn. Avoid teaching them that word. Say, “Please don’t do that.” “You are going to get hurt if you touch the stove.” (Hey, you know don’t you that just like Adam and Eve your children will eventually touch the hot stove? Right?) “I asked you not to do that.” Listen, explain, have a conversation, rarely is just shouting No, the correct response.
Don’t buy them a motorcycle for your child. My brother and I lost a friend when we were kids. He went for a drive after a light rain. The rain brought the oil out of the asphalt. When he hit the brakes at the light, the bike kept going, he threw it on its side and his body kept sliding into the intersection. That was not going to happen to one of my sons on my watch. I wasn’t going to be responsible for that happening again. Maybe you have an issue like that. Explain it, be firm and never discuss it again, because it ain’t happening.
Peer Pressure. The important thing, too, is to let them know it is okay to say "no" when getting peer pressure. Just tell the others, "My dad would kill me!" It works and the child shifts the decision to dad and others respect that someone's dad cares.
“I Love You” Say it! Say it every day and in every way. When they are little get a kiss from them, when they are older get a hug.
Bullying Self-confidence and self-esteem are shields against bullies. I was shy, so in my case it was these words of wisdom from my mother, “William Thomas Moulton go back over there and punch that bully in the nose.” “Back there” was a neighborhood birthday party, so I had to do the one thing all children hate the most; embarrass myself in front of God and everybody. I was so embarrassed and so angry, that after completing my assignment, I marched home and never spoke to any of those people again.
Dad, wouldn’t it be easier to do it yourself? We are here to play not to argue, right?
· So if the kid forgets to feed Nerka or Ali don’t scream, deduct a day’s wages from their allowance. It will help them with their math skills.
· At some point my good-looking grandchild will want a ferret, rat, goldfish, parrot…
o Good-looking grandchild says “It can stay in my room and I’ll feed it and clean the cage. You won’t have to do anything.”
o You might be tempted to say something here, don’t. Instead nod knowingly, smile and say “Okay, feed my dog for a month and I will buy you the new pet.” That’ll never happen.
Don’t say, “How was your day?” Ask what they learned today or what was the coolest thing that happened today. Ever accept “Fine” or “I don’t know.”
Changing Diapers I never changed a diaper in my life. Ask your mom. She knows an important technique when changing diapers on little boys.
I’m Going to the Bar If my jolly grandchild locks you out of the car or wants to run off announce you are going to the bar. I could see my truck in the parking lot at Trading Union from the window seat at Harbor Bar so this was an effective threat.
Advise on Raising Girls No daughters or sisters. Can’t help here. Their mothers should talk to them early on about sex? You tell them they can start dating after they leave the convent high school? However, I do recall that you both said, that as strict as I was, you’d be stricter if you had daughters, because, “We know what goes on out there.”
Thirteen Year Old Sons One day your sons are cute little boys, the next gangly teenagers towering over the teachers and care-givers who raised them, then the older girls come around to check out the new meat.
Cell Phones Buy kids cell phones. Tell them they will answer the phone any time you call or else you we take it away. They will do anything to keep their phones.
My Car Remember that everything in the house is in your name (and the wife’s too). The bed the child sleeps in you or your wife paid for. You bought and continue to pay for the cell phone you let them use. If you help them buy a car the title is in your name, so you call it “my car”. The family car you also refer to as “my car”, never “our car”.