Several years ago our son, who was then focusing on communication and the arts in his undergraduate degree, arrived home during a break from instruction and remarked, "You should have made me continue piano lessons." Apparently it was my fault he was not able to play with the skill of a virtuoso, or at least well enough to entertain his friends or accompany others with their vocal renditions.
I recalled those five, long, brutal years when I faithfully drove him to piano lessons early weekday mornings before school and then encouraged -- okay, some may say forced -- him to practice every afternoon or evening. It wasn't pleasant. He learned to play the piano, but we had a definite battle of the wills going on a significant amount of the time. Finally, when he reached high school and took up the trumpet as a band member, I allowed him to stop. He seemed relieved and I enjoyed a respite from a daily battles of the wills -- at least in my memory -- so it seemed very curious to me that I should be blamed four or five years later for allowing him to stop.
A similar thing also occurred from time to time with our daughter -- though she started much younger. For instance, on a road trip when she was about nine- or ten-years-old we stopped to get gas and visit the "necessary room."
I asked, "Do you need to use the restroom?"
"No," she insisted. "I do not."
"Are you sure?" I persisted.
She continued to insist she was fine, so back on the road we went. Thirty minutes later she suddenly exclaimed, "I've got to go. When can we stop?"
"I thought you said you didn't have to go," I argued.
"You should have made me go," she declared. And apparently, that was that.
Once again, apparently, it was my fault. My children were masters at assigning blame to their mother. Even when their father stepped out of line, at least from their perspective, it all came back to me.
"Don't look at me," I'd exclaim in the face of disappointing-dad-behavior. "This is all your father's doing."
"You should have made him do it," they'd retort.
"Really," I thought. "Do I control the universe? In what stratosphere is it possible for me to control my Main Man?" I just couldn't understand how I always ended up to be the one at fault . . . until recently.
Not long ago my Main Man (aka the father of our children) suggested I read the book Mistakes Were Made, (but Not by Me). I'll have to admit that the book is uncomfortably insightful at times about the lengths to which we will go to justify our own misbehavior. Apparently it's not so much a case of lying, in the sense that we don't actually set out to deceive. It's more that we can't live with the thought of ourselves as the kind of person who might do some of the things we do or fail to do.
According to Tavris and Aronson, authors of Mistakes Were Made, "Parent blaming is a popular and convenient form of self-justification because it allows people to live less uncomfortably with their regrets and imperfections. Mistakes were made, by them. Never mind that I raised hell about those lessons or stubbornly refused to take advantage of them. Memory thus minimizes our own responsibility and exaggerates theirs" (p. 76).
Apparently, we have to be careful about how much stock we put in our memories because they can and do delude us. I can see this so very clearly as a therapist. When people tell me their stories, they are almost always skewed to a perspective that puts them in the very best light and others . . . well, let's just say it's much less attractive. I can see it in them. It is much harder to recognize in myself.
To be fair, there are some not-so-good and even bad parents, but the majority did the very best they could for us with the resources they had available at the time. Part of being a grown-up, I think, is letting our parents be people. We need to let them off the hook for what they didn't or couldn't provide for us. We need to recognize their imperfect love for us and take responsibility for our own contribution to our difficulties then and now. When we do that, I think it is a lot easier to love them even if they failed us in some important ways. It's also enables us to be more effective in solving our problems.
I haven't finished the book yet, but I'm working on it. It seems I may have a lot more uncomfortable things to learn about myself, but I'm sure I'll be a better person for it. I wonder if I should recommend Mistakes Were Made to my children. After all, with offspring of their own, they're certain to experience a little blaming themselves.
As for me, for the moment I remain,
Dr. Jennifer Baker
Dr. Jennifer Baker
Dr. Jennifer Baker is the Founder and the Executive Director of GOOD DADS. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ask any Prime driver and he or she will tell you there are a number of ways to stay connect with family while gone from home. We’ve heard about Skype, Facetime, talking on the phone and special apps that make communication easier in remote locations. The important thing, they say, is to touch base on a regular basis.
Heide Kapinos knew she was signing up for a long-distance relationship complete with many forms of communication when she married her husband, Anthony. What she didn’t expect was to be sharing a cab with him as a long-haul driver herself. Although Anthony was positively encouraging about her ability to drive an 18-wheeler, Heidi resisted. However, Anthony was persistent and pointed out the many financial advantages of driving together, along with being able to avoid long separations. Eventually, she agreed to give it a try. She admits to some “tense moments” in training while she was learning to master many of the parking and backing maneuvers a driver must learn. Nonetheless, she made it happen and today spends nearly 24/7 together with Anthony in the truck.
Too Much Togetherness?
Heidi explains it is not like they’re together all the time. Although they occupy the same physical location, Heidi says their “together time” is really much less. “When I’m driving; he’s often sleeping and vice versa. Given this reality and the times we are loading or unloading, it really is much less.
Anthony and Heidi Eck have been together for four years. Together they have six children from their previous marriages. Anthony has three sons and one daughter; Heidi has one son, Hunter (20) and a daughter, Cheylee (18). Anthony’s oldest sons Tyler (22) and Colby 20) live with Heidi’s children in the same house. Anthony’s youngest children Savannah (11) and Carter (7) live with their mother.
Parenting from the Road
How do Heidi and Anthony make their over-the-road marriage and blended family parenting work?
It’s probably not surprising to learn that Heidi and Anthony use the typical technology (phones and web-based media) to stay in touch. It might be more surprising to learn they have cameras installed in their living room so they can observe what’s going on with young adult children. It’s their way to all be “together” even when they are geographically far apart.
The couple has high expectations for their four oldest children. “They pay rent to us if they’re not in school,” says Heidi. They are expected to have a job, pay their bills on time, including their cell phone bills.
The couple models good financial management themselves. They drive 6-8 weeks at a time before coming home for a week, and are open with their children about money-related matters. “We remind them about why we are gone. We are working toward goals from which they all will benefit.
With the “littles,” (what the couple affectionately calls Anthony’s younger two children, “constant communication” is key. Anthony calls every day before school and makes time for them a priority. Heidi says they often give gift cards to the “littles” for birthdays or special occasions. These are used when the younger two join their dad and Heidi on the truck for a few weeks in the summertime.
At home or over the road, Heidi says flexibility is key. When a driver comes home it can be both “difficult” and “lovely.”
“It’s wonderful to see them, but also difficult to have the routine disrupted,” she notes.
She encourages the at-home partner to remember the couple’s long-term goals and the importance of team effort. There’s little doubt that whether a couple is driving together or one partner is supporting the other from home, success is always a team effort.
Money. We live in a culture in which a vast majority struggle to properly manage money, so for parents in 21st Century America the very thought of trying to teach children how to be good managers can be overwhelming. As with all other things in parenting, modeling seems to be a top strategy for getting the concept of dealing with money across to our kids. How do we spend? How do we manage? How do we show our kids what's important to us when it comes to the monetary things in life? I once heard a wise man say, "If you want to know what is most important to a person, you need look no further than their spending habits . . . check book . . . bank account!" That would ring true for most of us dads, and the amount spent on housing, food, insurance, would most likely indicate that we greatly care about the well-being of our families.
But, how do we practically start teaching our children how to manage money? Especially when they are very young and have very little to no money of their own? Perhaps it is truly more about what we value in areas other than those that are monetary that show our kids how to best manage what they earn or are given.
First, what do our children see and hear us do with money? Do we blow it on the frivolous and then complain about never having enough of it? Or, do they see us spending wisely, giving warmly, and being thankful with what we have, no matter how great or small? Our attitudes will speak louder than we can possibly imagine.
After checking our attitudes, what about finding creative ways to show our children just how much things cost? When our three children were quite small, my wife would let them set up a "store" in our living room. They could take items from the pantry and set them around, then take turns playing "shopper" and "cashier." My wife "priced" items they could "purchase" with their play money. The "I'm rich" happy faces quickly turned to ones full of shock, once the little shoppers realized how quickly the play money could be spent. Just something as simple as this game fosters children with a more realistic grasp on just how far money goes (or doesn’t!) in the real world.
Kids, Jobs and Budgeting
As children age, in addition to the birthday and holiday monies they may receive, they also may acquire jobs in which they earn their very own pay. It is hard for a young person to fight the urge to spend every cent they have worked for on whatever they want. After all, they earned it, right? But, once again, this is a teachable time to step in for pointing out examples and talking our kids through smart ways to manage. If you have a budget, show it to your adolescent. Point to the times you have wanted something for yourself, but had to wait to purchase until you knew bills were paid, and savings were added to.
Personally, my boys heard me say, on many occasions, “We don’t have the money,” regarding something that would come up. When the boys asked, “Are we okay? Are we out of money?” I quickly responded, “Look, guys. When I say I can’t buy something or we can’t do something, it doesn’t mean we have no money at all. What it means is that Mom and I have not allowed any money in our budget to go towards that particular thing. If we really want that thing, or trip, or experience, then we save for it. But, we don’t go crazy and purchase things without checking our budget, first.” After showing our kids that even their grown-ups have to stick to a budget, it is easier to help walk them through making their own. Theirs may be as simple as “Bank 25%; give 25%; spend 50%;” but it’s still moving them towards clear principles of budgeting.
Each kid is as unique as each adult. Our three boys were raised by the same parents, in the same house, with the same standards. However, they all started out with varying views on handling their finances. We had a “spender,” a “saver,” and a “I’ll just live off the land” Bear Grylls kind of kid. With time, modeling, and teaching when the opportunity posed itself, they learned to be more and more responsible in their own money habits.
We all have live and learn stories, and so will our kids. I encourage you to stay the course in living and learning with yours, even when the subject matter is tricky and the times are tough. Maybe our kids will be better managers than any generation before us. It’s worth the effort.
Kevin Weaver, CEO of Network211 and father of three sons, lives with his wife KyAnne in Springfield, MO. He enjoys spending time with family, hunting and watching University of Kansas basketball with his boys! He can be reached at email@example.com .
Ordinary – that’s the title of a book by Michael Horton about “sustainable faith in a radical, restless world.” Horton speaks primarily of spiritual matters, but I think what he says applies to so much of our everyday lives—work, leisure, relationships. After all, who wants to work at an ordinary job, go on an ordinary vacation, or have an ordinary relationship?
Today words like “ultimate,” “extreme” and “awesome” are in vogue. In the workplace or business world we often hear that companies or organizations are “emergent,” “impactful” and “innovative.” Let’s face it, if you’re not “cutting edge,” you are nowhere on the power grid. It got me thinking about how much many of us, me included, may be influenced by this not-so-subtle message of our culture. According to Horton, “ordinary” is “one of the loneliest words in our vocabulary today,” and he notes that no one wants a bumper sticker announcing to the neighborhood, “My child is an ordinary student at Bubbling Brook Elementary.”
Just to be clear, Horton is not talking about settling for mediocrity or just getting by. Rather, he is suggesting the never ending calls to greatness, e.g., “Be all that you be” and “Never settle” are exhausting on multiple levels. In the words of Tish Harrison Warren, many of us have never learned “how to be an average person living an average life in a beautiful way.” We are continually pushed and prodded to believe there is something more we could attain or be, if only we pursued our dreams with more vigor.
Here’s the thing that concerns me . . . and Horton. We can make heroic efforts to do some great thing in our community or around the globe, but fail to be a decent human being to our neighbor. We may be innovative and impactful at work, but fail to demonstrate that same kind of energy on a day-to-day basis with our families. We make sure our children have awesome, memorable vacations, but fail to help them consistently demonstrate good manners or be content with what they have.
Much has been said about “the greatest generation,” also known as the “silent generation.” What occurs to me now is that their greatness seems highly correlated with their willingness to be “ordinary,” i.e., to show up, day after day, doing their work with persistence and dedication. Perfect? No, but their faithfulness to the everydayness of life over a lifetime created some extraordinary legacies marked by courage and sacrifice.
As we begin a new season, I’m wondering if it might be good to consider more ways to be ordinary, draw less attention to ourselves, resolve to pay attention to people who don’t really benefit us in any way. Perhaps we could get to know our neighbors. Maybe we could resolve to be on time—early even—just so we could make space in our schedule to welcome others. Possibly we could worry less about what will make us happy and put more energy into how to make the world a better place for those within our circle of influence every day – small children, cashiers, service workers, those we supervise or report to. Small kindnesses, caring words and everyday courtesies don’t seem like much in the face of world hunger. That’s why it takes courage to pursue them on a daily basis. As the saying goes, “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.”
Becoming more content with being ordinary may be just what is required for a happy, healthy life, rich in community.
Dr. Jennifer Baker
Dr. Jennifer Baker is the Founder and Executive Director of GOOD DADS. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.