A Great Dad

Today in the USA is Father’s Day. I can never understand what it means to be a father, but I’ve seen some not so great dads and some very great dads. So today I thought I’d share a few thoughts about what it takes to be a great dad.

Great dads begin with interest. Great dads are willing to listen to their kids, whether it’s sitting at the dinner table or on the phone as they drive home from their second job. They’re interested in knowing what is going on in their kids’ lives, and not just from a school grades or secondhand telling, but rather from the kids themselves. Whether the kids want to share about their make believe adventure they had that day, the video game level they’re on, or about the cute girl/boy at school, most kids have lots to say and are always looking for a willing ear to chatter to. You may not understand all of what they’re talking about, but that’s OK. What matters most is that you are showing them that you care about what’s going on in their life.

Great dads are willing to invest. Great dads make time to be part of their kids’ lives. Maybe that means standing in the back at a school play, staying until or arriving at halftime, doing homework, cooking together, or adventuring outdoors, but there are countless ways that dads can participate in their kid’s lives. Just about every kid I know would rather their dad show up for a little of their special performance or game, or do a little homework with them or read one book at night rather than not be there at all. Even that little effort can make a difference.

Great dads are honest teachers. I have met some really great dads, but I have yet to find a perfect one (since no one is perfect). Everyone messes up from time to time, and sometimes the disappointments aren’t because of something you had a lot of control over, no matter how hard you try. Kids can be wise beyond their years and are usually willing to forgive you if you have a good reason for them and don’t screw up in the same way more than a couple of times. Take time to explain to them what happened or why you’ve let them down (or why you are going to let them down). You don’t have to get into great details, but taking the time to explain things to them can make a big difference. Talking with them about how you navigate life’s challenges can be some of the most helpful lessons of their lives.

None of these things require dads to put lots of money on the table or be some superhero, but they do require dads to show up. The best thing you can do as a dad today (and everyday) is to be present for your kids.  What have you learned from the dads (and kids) in your life?

A Family United or Divided?

You’ve probably heard the saying “a house divided against itself will fall.”  I believe this statement is very true and is one of the reasons that individuals, those in partnerships (aka relationships) and families struggle.  We personally go through our lives experiencing different things, thinking about public impressions, things we “should” do and our own dreams and desires.  All of these things pull and tug us in different directions.  In relationships you’re dealing with 2 people who have their own preferences, desires, loves, dreams, hopes, challenges and fears. Yes, you would hope in a loving partnership that some of those things would line up because the two people have similar desires, loves, dreams etc. But everyone is different, so it won’t always be the case.  As families we have tons of different people involved in the shuffle, with different opinions, schedules, needs and plans.  It’s not easy to find a happy medium that allows the parents to be parents, the kids to be kids, the family to come together and everyone get along fantastic.

I believe that some things and some people are meant to come together for a period of time and then go their separate ways or be done. I believe there are things and people that should never have come together. I believe that some things and some people are meant to last forever.  I believe that some people and things stick around only through sheer grit and a can-do spirit.  Life isn’t always going to be cupcakes and chicken soup.  Sometimes you’ve got to get down and dirty and really work to make things continue.  And sometimes we keep working on things long after they’re broken beyond repair (the nasty and graphic phrase “beat a dead horse” applies here).

I fully believe that we should each be our own person.  We should have our own interests, personalities, dreams, talents and perspectives.  I don’t see a need for carbon copy people.  But with that individuality comes the responsibility of respecting the individuality of others, which is something I think we sometimes forget.  But the simple wisdom applies that if you want to be treated well, you should do the same to others.  If you treat others like crap do you really expect they’ll treat you like your the Next Big Thing?  Some of us need to work more on being our own person, but quite a few of us need to work on working together better.  Working together doesn’t mean that you ignore who you are or turn yourself off, it’s about learning how to bring what you can contribute to the table and working it in with what everyone else can contribute.  What will you contribute this week?

Sometimes School Stinks

Schools are officially in full swing and kids are getting back into their schedules and of course doing lots of homework.   I graduated from both high school and college, attended both public and private schools and attended 3 different colleges in different states during my college years, so I’ve seen some of what the educational world has to offer.  I’ve had some great teachers, I’ve had some teachers who had great personalities even if I don’t remember learning anything, I’ve had a ton of forgettable teachers, and I’ve had teachers who were terrible in more ways than one.

I’ve also met lots of of people having worked in schools and with kids outside of my own educational experience, plus owning my own business has introduced me to many people.  I know people from all around the world, and while their corners of the world may be a little different than mine, there are things that are unfortunately the same throughout the world that we need to pay attention to so that we can make the world a better place for the next generation.

School was created as a way to make sure that everyone learns certain things, like reading, writing and math.  We’re all exposed to some science, history and physical education as well, but those are less memorable for many of us.  Today I want to take just a couple minutes to talk about something that we don’t really like to admit: school failures.  I’ve already spoken to one of those negatives: teachers who stink.  Some teachers just don’t care about the kids, they’re just in it for the paycheck.  They share the same info every year and don’t take the time to make it come to life for new students, or consider the interests of their new students to add additional aspects to the classes.  It’s unfortunate because at some point in time they probably were passionate and did bring life to what they teach, they just don’t anymore.  As a parent there’s not a lot you can do other than encourage your kid to do the best they can and just get through it.  Sure, you can bring it up to the school board, but that doesn’t always work out in your favor and may do more harm than good.

Issue number two is that schools don’t always teach what people really need to know.  Because of the fact that I work with a wide variety of businesses some of my education that may not apply to others has been practically helpful, but much of it has not been, especially with the availability of Google and answers being a couple of clicks away.  There are many other skills that I wish had been taught but weren’t.  As a parent the best thing you can do is help teach some of those things at home and get kids involved in activities and learning experiences that are available extracurricularally.

Finally is an issue that we’ll talk about in greater depth in the coming weeks: bullying.  Relationships are the building blocks of our world.  If we aren’t able to create relationships of all kinds it’s much harder to do our jobs and live our lives.  There will always be some who are just bad people, but I believe most people don’t grow up wanting to be bad, they want to stand out or finally find acceptance.  If it’s your kid doing the bullying make sure to put an immediate stop to it and teach them better ways of interacting with others.  If they’re the target of a bully, encourage them to stand up for themselves and try to help the bully see the error of their ways, but if they don’t and adults aren’t able to intervene and turn the behaviors around, it’s time for new friends and acquaintances.

What lessons about school have you learned?

Teaching for Eternity

Over the next few weeks we’ll be talking about a topic that is top of mind for many families: going back to school.  Today I want to talk about one of the most fundamental and key aspects to school: teachers.  My mom has been involved in schools in many different ways for as long as I can remember.  She’s taught, been an aide, been a substitute teacher and of course gone back to school.  I’ve taught classes and groups and helped in many types of classrooms too and know how much work in involved, as well as how challenging some students can be, and how rewarding it can be as well as a teacher.  As a student I’ve had a few good teachers, some average (and forgettable) ones, and a few bad ones.  While there’s a shortage of teachers I don’t believe that’s a good reason to let the bad teachers stay at schools and continue to damage the learning experience for kids (and adults).

First I want to encourage each of us to accept the role of teacher as part of our lives.  I don’t think it’s necessary or right to hand that off to those who are officially teachers and say that we don’t have to do any teaching as parents, neighbors or community members.  All of us have skills and knowledge that can benefit the youngest of us, as well as the adults around us too.  Parents and caretakers especially have a big responsibility to not only make sure their kids are having fun, but also that the learning continues outside the classroom.  It’s a great opportunity to educate them about topics that most interest them and in ways that they learn best.

Second, it’s important to support the teachers.  Teachers are always in need of books and supplies for the classrooms, as budgets are tight in most schools.  I’ve known countless teachers who reach into their own pockets to pay for supplies, and to help students who aren’t as well-off as others.  A great way to help would be to sponsor kids for field trips, support the music or arts programs or give gift cards to the teachers so they can pick up what they need most.  For the teachers who regularly interact with your kids, you can give them gift baskets with things they like, gift certificates to restaurants, and most important ask how you can support them and your kids in their classroom.

Learning is a life-long activity but our foundations are built in those early classroom years by the men and women who give hours, days, months and years to invest in the next generation of minds.  Their impact continues long after a child leaves their classroom and goes out into the world.  What are you teaching those around you?

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”  Henry Adams

Simple and Easy for Families

On Wednesday one of the things I talked about was the danger of making assumptions, as inspired by a statement by Seth Godin: “The lack of instructions doesn’t make something simple.”  As I was thinking about this insight, I read another, this time by Adam Lyons: “It’s simple, but not easy.”  So today I thought we’d talk about the concepts of simple and easy since they’re concepts that families deal with on a regular basis.  As adults some things seem so easy for us, for example we don’t have trouble lifting the full laundry basket but our kids can’t do it.  We also think it’s easy to read or make something to eat, but our kids struggle with the same things, and may even cause some serious problems if they tried to do what we do in the kitchen.  But kids seem to have a much better handle on the simple stuff like getting along, forgiveness, love, living in the moment, play and naps.

How can we bridge the gap between what we know is easy and what kids think is simple?  It’s our job as adults to teach kids the essential things they need to know in life.  Sometimes that means taking over and showing them, sometimes it means putting your hands on theirs to help them do it, sometimes it means letting them try and fail.  Regardless it usually means lots and lots of practice and repetitive explanations.  The transition from what kids don’t know is easy to what they do know is easy is very evident in families with multiple children.  As the younger siblings are learning the basics the older siblings say “that’s so easy!  I know how to do that!”  And so they learn and are on to new things that aren’t so easy.

But what about the simple things in life?  Not only do the simple things in life seem to come easy to kids, it’s not so easy when we try to put the simple things into practice. Why? Because for years we’ve learned, believed, taught ourselves, ignored, or chosen to see things and live in one way or another.  It’s a lot easier to talk about concepts than it is to put them into practice like kids do.   We need to do what kids do when it comes to the stuff that’s easy for us: learn and practice.  So this weekend and next week if you find yourself thinking that things are simple take time to appreciate what you can do, and if things are too hard, consider whether it’s something you can or should learn and get to work practicing, especially when it comes to concepts like getting along, forgiveness, and living in the moment.

Family Finance Smarts

This weekend there are tons of people throughout the US who are scrambling to get their taxes done.  Are you one of those people?  Of course taxes are all about one very important topic: money.  What are you teaching your kids about money?  As inspired by Tax Day I thought today we’d take a look at some money smarts.

Save: this is one of the most basic practices that most people don’t follow but is crucial to getting ahead in life.  If you want to have a great retirement and have enough money for whatever situations come your way or if your kids have a need.  You don’t have to save a lot, consistently saving even a little each week/month depending on how you get paid is a great start.

Spend smart: do your best to make smart purchases that you won’t regret.  There are 2 parts to this: first taking the time to be aware of how much things cost and buying things on sale whenever possible.  Second, thinking about your purchases before making them and making sure they’re good decisions that you’ll be happy with for an appropriately long time depending on what you’re purchasing.

Plan ahead: anticipating expenses or potential expenses, like a tax bill, are another key to making the most of your money.  Planning ahead means you can put some away each month for these expenses rather than trying to come up with the money when it is needed.

Respect money: money comes and goes, but if you don’t respect that cycle it will be much harder on you.

Always grow: this is one of the most important smarts.  It’s important for us to keep growing and learning and trying to improve our situation, both about money and about our skills in general.  This doesn’t mean you have to work crazy hours or multiple jobs and ruin the other parts of your life, but it does mean having a healthy work ethic and always looking for opportunities to better yourself.

What are the best lessons you’ve learned about money in your life?

What is Love to You?

You probably know but Valentine’s Day is just a few days away.  This weekend and especially this Sunday people around the US will be celebrating their love, spending lots of cards, flowers and gifts and (according to statistics) making babies.  It can be easy to fall into the trap of doing what everyone else is doing and trying to show your partner you love them based on what the world says, but the numbers of divorces and unhappy marriages around the world speak to what a poor idea this really is.

Your partner and you only work when and because you do what’s right for you.  This means you have to try things out.  No, don’t do anything you don’t both agree with or would be abusive mentally or physically.  But it means that you can’t just accept what the world tells you is right or best and try to fit yourself into that mold.  The same is true for you and your kids, don’t just show them love in the average ways, love them in ways that mean something to them.

What does this look like? Maybe it means you give your partner a massage, maybe it means having dinner on the table for them, maybe it means supporting them at their athletic events, maybe it means celebrating holidays not on the official day, maybe it means watching their TV shows instead of yours, or maybe it means visiting a pet shelter so they can get their puppy fix without bringing one home.

This Valentine’s Day don’t just cop to a card, flowers and chocolate. Get your loved ones gifts that will show them you know them and love them for who they are.   If you’re struggling with your relationship take time to ask them what would make them happy, and share with them what would make you happy and feel loved too.  Let this Valentine’s Day be the start of a new and beautiful chapter to your relationships.  What does love look like for you?

“The hardest-learned lesson: that people have only their kind of love to give, not our kind.” Mignon McLaughlin

The Gift of Acceptance

It may be hard for you to hear, but you’re not perfect. Therein is one of the biggest challenges we face in our lives: accepting ourselves and each other regardless of imperfections, quirks, habits and interests. We all have things that we can (and should) work on and improve, but there are many things that will never change about who we are, nor will we ever be perfect as things stand now. Do you meet people and immediately look for things you would change or improve or don’t like, or do you look for ways that you’re similar or can relate to each other?

As parents or even just as adults we’ve got the gift of teaching kids that it’s OK to be yourself and have your own interests, and you don’t have to be the same as anyone or everyone else, nor do you have to be perfect to have a great life or be an amazing person. We’ve also got the challenge of accepting them for who they are, what they like and what they want to be (even if that changes dozens of times), along with all we do to shape our kids to be people who can contribute to the world in their own special ways and treat others with the same respect that they want to be treated with.

The biggest gift you may be able to give this holiday season could be to just accept someone else. It’s not your place to judge them (unless they ask for the critique), but it is your opportunity to give them the acceptance that they’ve maybe never had in their life before. If there has been someone in your past who has accepted you for who you are even when others didn’t make sure to send a ‘thank you’ their way before Thanksgiving. Let them know how much it meant or means to you to be accepted for who you are, faults, treasures and all.

“Thank you for accepting me as I am, with my virtues and defects.” Jenni Rivera

A Parent Was Once A Kid

Recently I heard about a survey given to a group of 10 year olds about “what’s wrong with grownups.”  Here were some of their answers:

1. Grownups make promises, then forget them, or say it wasn’t a promise, just a “maybe.”
2. Grownups don’t do the things they tell their children to do—like pick up their things or always tell the truth.
3. Grownups don’t listen. They decide ahead of time what they’re going to answer.
4. Grownups make mistakes, but won’t admit them. They pretend they weren’t mistakes at all—or that somebody else made them.
5. Grownups always talk about what they did and what they knew when they were ten-years-old, but they don’t try to think what it’s like to be ten-years-old right now.

There are a ton of things we could discuss from this incredibly insightful (and embarrassing) survey, but I just want to focus on a few key things we can do to set better examples for the kids in our lives.

First: perfection and aiming for the moon are great, but usually unrealistic.  Instead, promise what you know you can deliver, and if possible surprise them with something extra.

Second: words are powerful, so when we do or don’t follow through with what we’ve said kids think they don’t have to either (which leads to lots of fights and usually punishments).

Third: be open to all possibilities.  The more you close yourself off to what could be the less likely that you’ll get what you really want in life.  You’ll also end up alienating yourself from friends and family the less you’re willing to listen to and/or accept them for who they are and what they say.

Fourth: life has changed.  Kids today live a different life than even college students today did when they were their age.  So if that’s the case imagine how much has changed since when you were a kid!

Much has changed since you and I were kids, some things for the better and others not, and some things haven’t changed, like the value of love, honesty and family.  This weekend I encourage you to pay more attention to how you’re interacting with your kids, what you’re teaching them about responsibility, and which of your own advice you need to follow more.

Dreams and Fears

We start off our lives with lots of ideas and ideals about the world, some are shaped based on who are parents are or what society tells us is cool or right.  Girls are taught that they should be nurses or teachers, cook and have babies.  Boys are taught about sports, cars, and tools.  Yes, some kids break the mold and have more unique preferences, but even in our much-more-open society kids today still face some expectation about who they’re supposed to be and like.

But the new truth that we’re seeing in the world today is that it’s not about what you’re doing, but that you’re doing something, something that will make a difference in the world in a positive and helpful way. Yes, the push to follow societal norms is still present in our world, it’s something that will always be part of our world.  But more and more we’re seeing people making their own choices about what is right for them, about what they want to do with their lives and less about the expectation that others have for them.

As you raise your kids or interact with other’s kids, don’t discourage their imaginations, dreams and ideals for the world.  The only way the world will become a place that we’re proud to leave for our great grand children will be if we allow the changes we know need to happen, but are too scared or lazy to make, to happen.

If we let kids have their own dreams and become what they want to be rather than forcing on them our reality of frustration, being stuck, being unable to change, and being unwilling to take action, maybe we’ll finally get the message and start making changes and dreaming dreams again ourselves.

When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope is to leave the world a little better for having been there.”  Jim Henson