Parenting Tips from the Childless

There’s nothing that hard-working, well-intentioned parents love more than listening to unsolicited parenting advice from the childless. Am I right, or am I right?

And yet, sometimes, certain things must be said.

While it’s true that I don’t have children, I was one for many years. Some might argue I still am, but that wrinkle aside, you learn a few things by walking around the block once or twice. I also had the great fortune (although I would’ve been reluctant to admit it at the time) of being raised by a pair of darn good parents. Come to find out, they were making it up as they went along much of the time – as most of us do throughout life – but they sure got it right far more often than they got it wrong.

Here are three quick tips. Do with them what you will.

  1. Exercise Boredom

    As a parent, you are neither court jester nor circus entertainer. Boredom isn’t the worst thing that can happen to your child. Not by a long shot. Boredom’s often the pathway to creativity, a pathway that gets cut off all too soon with the digital distractions and strange expectation that our entertainment and edification needs to be pushed to us these days, rather than growing organically from our own brains. Do you remember as a child staring at clouds and imagining what they were, or being stuck in a car with a sibling and making up silly games to play? I remember those moments and more quite fondly. They were energizing and fun. I’m pretty sure we can all use more of that.

  2. Exercise Responsibility

    Teaching a child responsibility seems like a no-brainer, and yet, we live in a time where the line between parent and friend is freakishly blurred. Sometimes we seem so focused on reducing any stress or hurt our child might feel, that we don’t give them a chance to grow. If we’re too quick to bail them out every time, we subtly send the message that they’re incapable of being resourceful or responsible – incapable of figuring things out on their own. Be the backup plan, not the first responder.

  3. Just Exercise!

    Please, please, please, show your child what it means to be outside, to play, to appreciate nature, appreciate movement and all the life-long benefits of being active. Your children don’t have to be athletes or adrenaline junkies to enjoy being outside. Put down all those electronic devices you think you can’t live without, and just get out there! And, no, you cannot take the selfie stick with you to document every move. Your memory will do just fine.

And, on that note, I’m going to take my own advice, finalize this post and get outside for a bit. Happy Parenting!

Coming Apart at the Seams

I wrote this in the first hour of hearing about the events in San Bernardino, before we know what we know now, not that it would have changed what I wrote. Whether it’s San Bernardino, or Sandy Hook, or Virginia Tech, or gang violence in your own hometown, here are my thoughts.

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When we were little my sister had a small teddy bear she cuddled with when she took naps. She held on to that stuffed animal for years. His fur was worn in several places, he’d long since lost one of his plastic ebony eyes, one ear had fallen off only to be reattached with a safety pin. Seams were splitting, stuffing came loose.

That’s us right now. We’re coming apart at the seams. Our stuffing is escaping, our fur is patchy, and we’re holding on to parts with safety pins. It happened slowly, over many years of wear and tear, and then all at once. We pick up guns against one another. Against those we don’t know, sometimes those we do, often those we only think we know. Those who represent something that hurts us or offends us or angers us. Or maybe we’re just having a bad day.

We have so much pent up energy manifesting as anger that somehow we convince ourselves the best course of action, perhaps the only course, lies at the end of an assault rifle, that we acquired legally or otherwise, for a purpose I can’t possibly imagine. Except that perhaps this was the purpose all along. To annihilate some strangers in such a manner that would surely lead to our own annihilation.

I’m not sure what the answer is. In fact, I’m still struggling to come up with what the real question is. When something like this happens – which, I hope we can agree, is too damn often – our dialog becomes hyper-polarized.

  • Get rid of all the guns.
  • If someone had been carrying a gun, this wouldn’t have happened.
  • It’s mental illness.
  • It’s the media.

To and fro, back and forth, like children on a seesaw in an abandoned playground. It doesn’t go anywhere. We pray, hold vigils, pour our hearts out to the victims and their families, update our profile pictures on Facebook. And once we’ve expressed enough good will, as though somehow these kind, heartfelt gestures will return the world’s sense of goodness back to balance, we resume our lives, including our old conversations that are safe and comfortable.

We lack the attention span to focus on difficult problems like this one. We can only hold one idea in tension at a time. We can only have one problem, and that one problem can only have one solution.

It seems we’ve lost the ability to have reasonable, effective discourse anymore. Conversations are fraught with attacks and accusations that all but ensure no action, compromise, fundamental change or progress will take place. The more important the issue is, the less capable we seem.

We cling to old ideas and old ways, just like my sister did with her bear. She hung on for so long, perhaps imagining him in better times when his eyes were shiny, fur full and fluffy. But no amount of imagining was to make it so.