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When I was a child, long before every house had A/C, adults sat on their porches and visited with neighbors. If a neighborhood child did something good, everyone heard about it and congratulated them. I don’t remember ever feeling ‘less than’ because we lived across the street from the high school quarterback who actually had one date with Brook Shields. (In our small town USA these things were big deals.) Instead I remember feeling proud to be somehow associated with people who did such things.
Fast forward to the world of home schooling. When my children were young, home schooling was still somewhat new. Every home school accomplishment was one more victory for our team. Life wasn’t a competition, but a group effort to ensure every child was supported and educated. In our case this occurred by supporting the parents, sharing ideas, new curriculum finds and field trip opportunities.
Today, while my younger children are finishing school life seems different. My announcements that my child received a scholarship are met with looks that say, ‘Well aren’t you so great,’ rather than ‘How’d you do that?’ And these looks are from the younger generation, who do not yet have a child to compete with mine- and who knows what theirs will do? (Though, from the responses I get, Mom is not too confident…) And maybe that’s the problem, our young moms are not so confident. Somehow we seem to have created a culture where everyone sucks is the motto, and striving to be exceptional, or even the best you can be, is discouraged. How did this happen? I don’t know, but we better work to get over it. Shared failure does not seem to be such a fun place to be. Let’s take back our ability to be happy for those who achieve. Let’s look to those who have done well before us, not as people who have attained the unattainable, but as those who can tell us how. Let’s rejoice in our uniqueness and add to the talent pool where we may, not caring what others will think when we do things just a little different than they did, because that is how you add value. Let’s not cringe when we do well, hoping no one will notice, but glory in the fact that we can make a difference, and we can be someone special to somebody.
My father talks of the high school janitors he used to have. Even when I was young, they were respected. The children loved them, and they looked out for us. When my father brought lobster home from a trip, one had to go to the man in the overalls, because for some reason, he was the one we most wanted to bless. Why was he ‘someone.’ Someone so important we’d put lobster on ice and save it for him? Because he cared. Because he was someone who came to work happy to be there, doing the extras to make our school special. Because we knew he loved us. How did we know he loved us? From his interest in our lives, his pleasure in our accomplishments and his disappointment when we did not behave. (Who do you think was in the hallway when you were sent out of class?) And we came home and bragged about him. I do not remember what we said, but it was enough that my parents would sacrifice part of our precious feast to give him something he had told one of their children he had never had before.
So instead of cowards, irritated that someone is doing something we are not, let us be the type of people whom others can brag on. The person who is so kind that everyone knows who they are and loves them. The one who, when others achieve, is in their corner cheering them on. This is the attitude that encourages greatness, and produces people of ability. This is the attitude that makes a community. This is the attitude that makes a janitor the greatest person in the building. And it produces a generation that learns.
1. Take care of problems early.
Do not just “hope” things go away. And, sitting around complaining never solved anything. When you see a problem, work to fix it. And keep working. Inconsistent parenting is just as bad as negligent parenting. This does not mean the solution is always punishment and more punishment. Get to the root of the problem. Poor grades may require tutoring, or finding a way to engage the child so they learn. Sudden disrespect can mean, ‘I’m growing and need so much more sleep I cannot currently function.’ Pay attention and help your child appropriately and early.
2. Don’t make stupid rules.
Children become frustrated and rebel when life seems unfair. One of the things I have never understood is limits on TV and video games. Why? Because free time is free time. It is time to do what you want. Arbitrary limits on things they enjoy just confuse them. (They should confuse you too. Do you place the same limits on yourself?) If the chores are done well, their homework is complete and they have nothing else to do why are you micromanaging them? If you want them to go play outside, say, “Go play outside.” If you want them to exercise more, set aside a time for it, or enroll them in a sport. If you want them to read, reward it. But to subtly tell them they can do whatever they want, and then limit what they can want seems foolish. It also teaches them to place arbitrary limits on their own lives, which is a hindrance to success. (Go through your own inner monologue and see how many ‘rules’ you have for yourself that make no sense. Get rid of them and see if your life improves!)
3. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Keep life in perspective. If your child is getting straight A’s, is kind to others, and generally does what is expected of them, then an unmade bed is not the end of the world. (Unless he is planning on enlisting in the military.) Do not continually harp on some little aspect and let that be all he hears when overall he is a good kid. This is not to say that you never address it, it is just not the most important thing in life. Talk to him about it and try a new approach. When I talk to my boys about their messes, now that they are older, I typically focus on how their future wife will view things. It works for them. Find what works for you. (Hint: Nagging, repeating the same thing over, and over and over, never works.)
4. Make time to talk.
You cannot build a relationship with your children without mutual respect. True they may obey out of fear of punishment, but fear only lasts so long. Children who respect their parents behave better than those who don’t, and the key to earning respect is time. (It is also by behaving yourself, but I am assuming that, if you are reading an article on how to be a better parent, you already understand that.) You need to spend time with your child, and watching him play sports is not it. This is time where you can talk. You talk about what’s important to you, and he talks about what is going on in his life. Don’t think you know it all. Chances are the things your children are focused on and worried about will surprise you. Prioritize. Missing one season of sports, or other activity will not affect their lives and relationships as much as never getting to know their parents. And make it fun. Sitting down with them in such a way that they feel like they’re being grilled will not garner the same results.
5. Take your kids places.
Too many parents leave the children home when they go grocery shopping, or out for coffee. Why? Because their children do not behave. Do you realize that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy? If you do not take the children, and teach them to behave, they will never learn to behave, so you will never be able to take them. Instead teach them young, if possible. (I adopted a few of mine older, so we went on ‘practice’ shopping trips to catch up.) By the time they were older I could take seven kids anywhere. To the opera, museums, grocery stores- you name it- without trouble. It was hard work in the beginning, but it paid off in the end. So, when I needed a cup of coffee, and felt like sitting for a few minutes, that’s what we did. In the beginning, when my adopted children still did not know how to behave at this level, we took breaks and had a date-night, because it was needed. But the date-night did not make up for the tension in the house. We worked on the things that caused tension, and the date-night became something we do for fun, rather than a needed time to get away. You can see how life would be more enjoyable this way…
6. Do things that make sense.
Do not have rules, or ways of doing things that are based solely on what others do. Do things in a way that makes sense for your family. Let me give you an example. My daughter is home schooled, and has a youth group full of good kids that she loves attending. I do not work outside the home and my other children are old enough to stay home alone. When I show up in the parking lot I wait in the car, usually with a book, until she is done. Her friends have pointed out that it is rude of her to leave her mother waiting like that. (I told you they were good kids.) She talked to me about it (notice that we have established a pattern where she communicates, and does not just do what seems right). What I told her is that her friends would be rude if they left their mothers waiting. Some have small children who get cranky in the car, while others have to go to work in the morning. Our family is different, and my priority right now is to give her as much time as she would like with her friends, while not leaving her as the last one to be picked up, wondering when mom is going to get there. So I sit and read, and it is okay. If I go grocery shopping and there is ice cream in the car, I go in and tell her we have to go, and she goes. The situation changed, and she respects that. Rules should not be black and white. They should make sense. She also does not become upset because I decided to do something productive that would limit her enjoyment. Why? Because she knows I balance my priorities (because we talk, and I often explain why I do what I do), and she knows that most of the time this results in better things for her.
7. Teach purposefully.
The ancient rabbis had their students follow them around as they went about their daily lives. The rabbis would then explain why they did things the way they did. This is important. Your children should know why you make the choices you make, or they may misunderstand your motives. When your children begin to understand that you actually think about them when making decisions, they learn to accept that sometimes they cannot have what they want, but it is not because you did not think about their wishes as well. They also learn how to make proper decisions, using the values and principles you find important.
8. Grow up.
The saddest thing I see is when a child is more mature than their parents. Many times it is because the child has had to assume adult responsibilities, or has had to become an emotional support system for the parent because the parent does not behave. This should never happen, and, even though it seems like the child is doing well, the emotional baggage they carry into adulthood is just not worth it. Get your own life under control before trying to ‘fix’ your kids. (Some of their problems could be because they are copying, or reacting to, you!) Think about why you do what you do, get your emotions in check, start to avoid people who are not good to you and actually obey all of those rules you teach your kids. Immature parents cannot raise well-adjusted children. And they make it difficult for the child to have a relationship with them later in life.
Now these tips will make parenting easier in the long run, but if you have issues you need to address the hard work starts now. You must put in the time to reap the rewards. The irony is that if you avoid putting in the time, you will have less time since you will have more messes to clean up, and the stress and anxiety are just not worth it. Will your family be perfect? No, but children can be manageable and enjoyable most of the time. Think of it this way: There is a Chinese restaurant that called us ‘The Happy Family.’ Why? Because I did not have to yell at my children to sit down, stopping touching your brother, eat your food etc every five minutes. Wouldn’t you like this to be you?
We home school, so when the news on Benghazi broke it became part of our lesson plan. In our home, everything is an object lesson. It is not just about the facts, but what we can learn from them. Here’s how it played out in our home…
1. You never, ever tell a lie especially when you know it will have a negative effect on someone else’s life.
People seem to forget the lie about the video landed a man in jail, with his reputation besmirched, as he became the person who caused the death of four men through his negligence. It doesn’t matter what his reputation was beforehand. He did not deserve this. Words have consequences, and for this man, a You Tube video that garnered little attention and likely would not have amounted to much now put him into the public spotlight and a jail cell. Why? Because someone lied.
2. When you realize you are wrong, you correct yourself and apologize.
Even if someone thought this really was about the video, when it became clear it was not about the video you come forward and fix your mistake. It is obvious now that it was never about the video, and, as far as I know, no one has done anything to rectify this lie. Instead, the game plan seems to be to pretend this never happened. Pretending a mistake did not happen is not how an upright person goes through life.
3. You do not leave people under your authority in harm’s way.
If Chris Stevens was a child, this would be abuse. He was placed in a dangerous situation, with inadequate protection, and his reasonable requests to the people in charge were denied. If this had been a business, it would be shut down. My daughter hit the nail on the head when she likened the situation to David sending Uriah to the wall then pulling back his reinforcements.
4. If you cannot provide what a person under your authority needs, you do not put them into the situation.
Chris Stevens was an American, and a homosexual. He was sent to an area where there are people who wish to kill both. Calling the residence something other than an embassy because it is not up to regulations is not going to protect this man. CYA is not ‘right,’ and in this case it got people killed. An upright person, one who is worthy of being in charge, worries more about their people than about getting ahead. It should never be about whether or not you can technically get away with it, it is about whether or not it is right to do.
5. When there is a problem, you send help, all the help you can.
No one knows when a situation will end, or what will turn then tide. Everything available should have been co-coordinated and sent. Two ex-Navy seals did a miraculous job holding people off, until they were overcome. What could a few more do? We will never know.
6. You plan for the future- all possible futures.
While there are situations that one cannot foresee, an attack on an embassy in a Muslim country on 9/11 was entirely foreseeable. (O.K. Technically it was not an embassy, just a house with an American in it who officially represented the U.S. -C.Y.A. always looks stupid in hindsight, remember that.) By saying the closest help was 20-24 hours away what you are saying is that you had no viable plan for saving these people who you knew were in harm’s way. This is disgraceful and unacceptable. What was so important in Benghazi that it was worth the lives of four Americans?
7. “What does it matter?”
When people are dead it always matters. It matters to loved ones, and to the people who are under you who want to be assured, as they continue their employment, that they do not become one of the dead. When dealing with death it always matters. This is why we do autopsies. This is why we have hospital ethics committees. This is why we investigate when a body is found. We want to make sure that whatever happened will never happen to another person again. And if your job is to protect these people, and the system you set up failed, you need to know why, and you need to fix it. It should be your top priority, so it never, ever happens again.
8. A leader needs to communicate.
Even if you believe everything that can be done has been done, you need to communicate that to the people you are accountable to. They need to know the situation has been resolved, and that someone cares. Caring may seem like a little thing, but it shows the people who place their lives, and their loved ones’ lives, in your care that they can trust you. People who care understand a families’ need for closure, and to know that their loved one did not die in vain. The people who continue under you need to know that everything will be done so that this never happens again.
So how can we apply this to our own lives?
1. We watch our words. While we try to avoid all lies, we realize that lies that shift the blame to others are especially heinous.
2. We take responsibility for our actions. When we realize a mistake has been made, we fix it. This is especially important in jobs where people’s lives depend on you. In healthcare, if a mistake is left uncorrected a person may die. As an electrician, a house may catch fire etc, etc. You never, ever ignore problems like this and hope no one notices.
3. You do everything you can to ensure the safety of those who depend on you. If your child claims they are being mistreated, you investigate. You do not leave them at the mercy of a bully, or a pedophile etc because it is an inconvenience. And you trust the child to know when he does not feel safe.
4. If you know the situation is not safe, you do not leave someone there. You do not leave a child in a daycare you do not trust. You do not leave your dog outside without water in 100 degree weather. You do not leave a baby unattended by the stairs and hope nothing will happen. You do everything in your power to ensure the safety of those who rely on you.
5. When there is a problem, you get help. You do not refrain from calling 9-1-1 because you might be embarrassed. You do not refrain from seeking medical help because you are afraid of the outcome, or that the doctor might think you are a bad parent. You get help because help is needed and you care more about the lives of the people who rely on you than you do about your feelings and reputation.
6. You plan for the future, even the ones you do not want to face. You buy smoke detectors and practice safety drills. You have flashlights, batteries and back-up power for when the electricity goes out. You purchase jumper cables and have insurance. Why? Because even though all of these things are a waste of money if nothing ever happens, they will be invaluable if something does, and as responsible people, we plan for these events.
7. You examine the things that go wrong in life, and try to keep them from happening again. If you lose a job, you try to ensure your next job will be more secure, either with a better company, or by obtaining more skills (or by not doing the foolish thing that caused you to be fired…). If someone gets hurt, you fix the step, melt the ice, etc. You do not allow others to suffer the same injury if possible.
8. You let people know you care. You show them the fix, comfort them during their time of loss or convalescence etc. Doctors are told that most lawsuits do not begin when a person is hurt, but when a hurt person perceives that no one cares. This applies to teachers, mechanics, waiters etc. Mistakes will be made, but if the person knows you care they can trust that you will do your best to make things right and that is all most people are asking for.
These are just rules of basic living. I think that’s why this scandal, more than any of the others I have lived through, bothers me so much. The other scandals were mainly stupid and involved being incredibly short-sighted (too short-sighted to be in the positions they were in), but this one, this one violates so many principles a decent person should have internalized by just being alive, by just being a parent, by just living in this world, that it causes me to question deeply just how morally bereft our society is, especially when many people have a hard time seeing why this was so wrong…
Let me summarize, in case you missed it:
Our government put our representatives into a situation where we knew there would be people who would want to kill them. They did not provide them with even the minimal security an embassy should have, but instead called it by a different name so they would be exempt from the need to protect them. They then had no plan to help should trouble come. (Or, would not allow that plan to be implemented.) They then stopped the people who were willing to go to help from doing so. Then they lied and told us about a ‘spontaneous protest’ and a video. If we find out this was all to ensure someone got re-elected, it just gets so much worse… How do you not see something wrong?