As most of my clients and associates enjoy a holiday this weekend, I am inspired to share some insights about my most important job, being a parent. I have a 12 year old daughter Jordan who is spirited, inquisitive, sensitive and a very talented singer, dancer and actress. My son Eric is 18 and has exceeded me in so many ways that his base of knowledge and insights are something that I often tap into. He also is very talented, particularly in acting but his passion is religion.
I made many choices in my life in favor of parenthood including getting out of retail so I could have more balance in my life especially when my kids were young, and as I have written about the stationery and bridal industry, I ‘ve dabbled into writing about parenting. So here is an article I wrote when my kids were younger.
Some Fatherly Advice
My mother always told me that I would never understand how much she loves me until I became a parent. As a parent with a fourteen year old son, Eric and a eight year old daughter, Jordan, I can only begin to understand the selfless love she had for me in allowing me to stay out until all hours of the night even though she could not fall asleep until I came home and allow me to make numerous mistakes even though she knew I was making them. Even so she was rooting for me so hard for me to be right.
When Eric was born, my wife Stacy and I had a newly purchased home in Teaneck waiting for him and a commitment that we would be proactive in fostering a Jewish identity. Besides loving him, I knew little else and could garner very little from any book I read on parenting.
However, in my heart and mind parenting was the most important part of my purpose and I was going to do everything in my consciousness to be the best parent I can possibly be. The first step was to pay daily attention to my children as human beings and be there for them in ways that were right for each child. Secondly, I reflected on my own personal development, my experience as a child and my perception of my own parents. This introspection continues to help me not only to guide me on action steps to achieve my own goals of parenthood but equally important it has helped to determine steps not to take.
Here are some of my own insights from continuing journey in parenting that I think have been valuable in the rearing of my children:
Be aware of your energy level at different times of the day and week. Have the energy that the activity you participate with your child demands. An hour of quality time where you have the mental and physical energy to able to fully concentrate and rise up to an experience with your children a few times a week is worth more than daily attempts when you are tired and just doing so out of guilt.
Stacy and I from the very beginning made it a priority to be there for all the milestones and defining moments including birthdays, school plays, recitals, ballgames, and parent teacher conferences. That goes a long way in the quality time department and will reinforce the message how important your children are to you.
Developing and following through on separate rituals with each child is a wonderful way to create strong memories of the separate connection each of your children have with you. I am thankful for the many “Starbucks” coffee locations for allowing me to continue a ritual with my daughter who always wants to go to “the coffee place” and have her chocolate covered graham crackers. While I am drinking my iced decaf, I am having relaxed time to talk with my daughter just the two of us.
Another ritual that I have done through the years is inserting a note with their lunch. For my daughter it is would always be a “I love you” poem like:
I love you more
the a dog loves to bark
I love you more
than a car loves to park
(just tried to keep it simple)
For my older son, it is a tidbit of advise such as:
“Advanced preparation avoids last minute perspiration” (perhaps on a night he was up late doing last minute homework)
Perhaps the most important suggestion in the category of quality time is to begin and end the day with an expression of love, whether it is in words, whether it is a hug, whether it is a call from the cell phone if you are not home.
However, do not smother your child with continuous “I miss you” particularly when they are away. The chances are if they are having a good time, they don’t miss you and feelings of guilt may ensue of why they don’t miss you.
Some parents have the notion that holding back feelings in front of children is showing them strength. Children have feelings that need to be expressed and when parents hold back tears in situations when it is appropriate to cry, even in a situation as simple as watching a movie, you are giving your child an example of suppression. It is a wonderful gift you are giving your children when you are open and show them that life moves you.
Conversely children need to be able to cry without guilt and without being judged. The mourning process for a child is not just confined to death; it could be the loss of the fulfillment of a dream, a break up of a girl or boy friend, or a best friend moving.
All parents make mistakes, overreact, and do regrettable things. The quicker you own up to them the less likely your child will internalize. I try so hard to coach myself through times when my temper is flaring up and on some occasions my temper wins the battle.
However, any time that I really yelled at my children, I almost immediately apologized to them by saying, “what you did may have been wrong, but how I reacted to it was wrong too”. I am hoping this life lesson will be invaluable as an adult where they can heal and diffuse negative situations by being willing to apologize from their heart.
To me nothing is more important in the role of parenting than the fostering of psychological development so that our children can be independent, confident, well-adjusted adults. However I feel it is important to paint a real picture. Do not over-compliment and make every little achievement a major feat. Children need a true gauge of your real feelings about their accomplishments or they will start to doubt you when they compare your superlative feedback compared to what they receive in the real world.
I love my children too much for me to ever want them to experience an ounce of fear of me. My goal is for them to have a ton of respect for me. I try not to pull rank except in an urgent situation. I try to be a gentle wall of strength when saying “no”, trying to have the resolve to maintain my position when I know it is right and explain with respect and patience rather than with wrath and impatience. Sometimes my children have a valid point and I am willing to change my mind.
Among the greatest joys as a parent is to see your children having fun and sharing experiences together. I have found that hunger, fatigue, change in climate are all factors that can needlessly ruin a great family experience.
My van looks like it belongs to a survivalist. It is filled with blankets, pillows, clothing for my entire family, first aid kits, games, snacks, drinks, and videos. I even had blow-up potties and urinals at different points.
I have found on countless occasions overkill on preparation has prevented needless ruination of wonderful family experiences. Rather than react with anger to your children’s complaints and their mood swings, respond with the appropriate remedy. It is usually one of three things: hunger, fatigue or discomfort.
When staying in hotels, a compromise between being cramped in one room and paying double for separate rooms, look for suite hotels that extra amenities like a microwave, refrigerator and extra television. They also provide separate sleeping quarters for you and your children not only for privacy during adult time, but for better quality rest and allow you and your family to have their space. Time-manage your precious vacation days by going to a store (if possible) and buy drinks, snacks and especially breakfast food. Breakfast in the room can help get your kids out of bed, and save time in helping your day get off to a quicker start.
These are some of the parenting strategies that have helped me journey into adolescence. Now I will have to go back to the drawing board.