Sunday, August 15, 2010

Establishing values in your children

Everyone has a dream when they're having a child.  You think about holding him or her, the sweet things you'll do, the hopes you have for being a good parent.  You hope you'll do the smart thing, the right thing, you won't spoil them to the point of them being selfish or self-absorbed, but you know you want to give them everything you can as well.

Where's the balance?  How do you achieve it and still feel like you gave them everything it was within your power to give?

Sometimes not giving everything that someone wants the moment they want it is the best gift of all.  Be selective about doling out presents and make sure some things are actually earned.  Not all parents are in the position to be able to just hand their children the sun, moon and stars, but making sure that they have the strength of character to know that it's something they can achieve for themselves with diligence and effort is an incredible blessing of abundance in itself.  

Truth - I was a child who was pretty much given whatever I asked for.  I was/am an only child so there was no one to have to share with or for parents to make certain equal portions were balanced at Christmas and birthdays.  I don't remember feeling entitled to whatever I wanted nor do I recall frequently asking for things in stores.  I do remember bartering this weeks allowance for said item, or offering to exchange extra chores for something which caught my eye, but in truth I have few memories of every leaving a store empty-handed when I asked.  My father worked hard every day of his life.  He did not come from money and is a self-made man.  We weren't America's version of super-wealthy, but we were definitely relatively well off.  We had a beautiful home, very nice cars, great clothes - all the things that contemporary society aims for.  

It never occurred to me that when I became a parent I wouldn't be able to provide the same.  It's a cold hard fact that bad things happen and after a devastating loss of our business we were leveled financially.  To say that I felt and still do feel like a failure as a parent for not being able to just say "yes" when asked if this or that can be done or had would be an understatement.  

My son has always been a hard worker, tenacious, resourceful and aggressive in his goals.  If he says he wants to do something - somehow he comes up with a plan and manages to execute it.  I would say he's blessed as well, because the kid has been to Hell and back on several occasions with medical matters and problems with some neighborhood people out for no good, but in the end he always lands on his feet and stronger for it. 

When he was five he began telling me how much he wanted to play guitar.  I bought him a child's acousitc guitar for Christmas which he fiddled with, but never really invested himself into it.  I trumped it up to a child's passing interest and dismissed it.  A year later he was on the quest of guitars again.  When I brought up the fact that he rarely played the guitar he was given he said, "I really like electric guitars best."  Not wanting to indulge and at the time was unable to afford an electric guitar I glossed over the subject.  When he was eight he was given a gift card to Toys R Us for $100 for Christmas.  He saved the card for six months and at his birthday was given another $50 in cash.  He headed to Toys R Us to buy a First Act Electric Guitar with mini-amp for $120.  His plan - at Christmas when he got the gift card he had hit me up again about the guitar. I said, "If you want to play guitar badly - you have to be dedicated to it and actually learn.  You have to take lessons for at least one year, you cannot complain, you cannot whine, you cannot quit.  And if you're really serious - you have to buy the guitar.  I will pay for the lessons, but you have to buy the guitar."

Low and behold in August of 2004 he bought himself the guitar.  One week later he was signed up for lessons.  This month makes his sixth year of taking lessons with Larry Pearre he turned out to be a gift to our family for my son.  Those lessons have become his escape when times were hard, because that was the one thing I would not let be lost from the downfall of our business.  Noah's skill is truly unbelievable.  He can now read music beautifully, can play just about instrument he puts his hands on and now owns having bought mostly for himself electric guitars, a bass guitar, a dobro, two banjos, a mandolin and two acoustic guitars.  All of which he takes lessons for from Mr. Pearre.   His First Act is in a hard case in his room and hasn't been played in years, but he still treasures it.  The original child's guitar I bought he has on display in his room on the wall.  

In all honesty I don't know if the guitar playing would have meant as much to him had I been the one to buy it, or had I let him quit which after four weeks he wanted to - badly.  He begged, he pleaded, "Please mom - I was wrong - I don't like it!  I can't play anything yet!  I hate it!"  Larry turned out to also be the Dean of Music at a college in Tampa and a professional player who toured with some of the largest names out of Nashville for years.  For him learning how to read music and music theory came before learning songs.  Noah would learn basic finger position on the neck and strumming and plucking, but for Larry - he needed to know the how and why of music instead of just, "Oh look I can mirror play the opening chords to "I love Rock-n-Roll."  For me I knew it would be a blessing that Noah wouldn't appreciate for years, but one day he would know how invaluable it was.  

It's hard to not give in when you hear your child beg to let them quit something when they lament about how unhappy they are.  You sometimes remember how badly you wanted to quit something when you were a child or just hated doing something.  Sometimes it gets the better of you and you let them throw in the towel when in all honesty that does no good for them in the long run.  They learn quitting is the easy solution to life when things get tough.  Lay down and give up.  Unfortunately things will always get tough at some point.  That's life.    To quote Tom Hanks in "A League of Their Own," "It's supposed to be hard.  If it wasn't hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great!"

The gratification we get from success and belief in ourselves cannot be measured by any means known to man.  It's a confidence builder and it's what makes men strive to dream and do great things in the world.   Every great success comes from failures, the difference was they didn't give up when it got tough.   

Establishing that skill and ability in your own children comes from letting them fall, letting them get up, dust 'em off and kick 'em back in the game.  Letting them do things on their own having earned it through their own merit is is what builds the values and character necessary to become strong, amazing adults.  Character, honor, integrity and nobility are earned, not things that can be given.  

Monday, August 2, 2010

Simple things your mother probably didn't tell you

Truthfully, because she probably didn't know herself.   It happens - in the past forty or so years moms having been telling their children fewer and fewer household tips about cleaning, because it would seem to be a dying art.  Art?  Well, yes.

People don't seem to think about it often, but most everyone likes to walk into a clean, fresh smelling environment.  Not many prefer cluttered, dusty, grimy and chaotic.  For the most part not much thought is given to the amount of work that went into keeping the area clean, but somewhere along the way in the past several decades the ability to actually do housekeeping well in our own homes is becoming a forgotten skill along with little tricks that make cleaning easier.

Four household items that no home should be without:

  • Lemon Juice (fresh is better, but bottled will do in a pinch)
  • White Vinegar
  • Baking Soda
  • Borax

If you're just setting up your household and are making the list of the things to get at the store - put stars by these and do not forget them.  If you've had your home a while and just never knew about it - add them to the pantry.

Lemon Juice and white vinegar are natural bacteria killers and grease strippers.
Borax is a great, microbe eating, odor killing, insect ridding, sanitizing, whitener.
Baking Soda can be added to lemon juice or white vinegar to create the homemade version of the now beloved, "Oxyclean."   Adding one tablespoon of baking soda to one cup of white vinegar gives an immediate oxygenated reaction that will do an amazing cleaning job.

Buying Arm & Hammer brand washing powder (yes it has to be the powder), and adding a few tablespoons to a glass baking dish filled with warm water and a sheet of aluminum foil lining the bottom makes the most incredible sterling silver cleaner.  Place jewelry or silverware on the foil and let soak.  It will lift years of tarnish in minutes, if not seconds.  Particularly great for deep etched patterns that never seem to come clean with standard polish.

My personal favorite - ketchup or hot sauce for cleaning brass.  Think I'm kidding?  Nope.   My mom recently asked me if I wanted some decorative brass pieces that had always been in her house.  She had decided to get rid of them and wondered if I wanted them.  I took them because of the memories associated with them in the house growing up or when she bought them.  She always took good care of her things so they were polished, but some of them had crevices caked with polish which I can remember her scrubbing at in vain.  I dashed on some hot sauce, made sure the pieces were adequately coated and then left them there in the sink to set for a few minutes.  I had only turned my back for a few moments when I turned back to see that the tarnish had already streaked and faded to a bright brassy-gold hue.  I rubbed a bit with a cloth, rinsed and then dried.  They looked brand new and with no polish build-up.  Beautiful!

There are so many household tips that are not only far more frugal, but entirely more healthy for your family.  In any given situation it's always better to opt for a natural, biodegradable, non-toxic way of keeping your home clean.  It's better for the family, the budget, the environment and the future.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Knowing when to pick your battles

Everyone knows that in any family you're going to have arguments. They're inevitable like fast food drive thru windows. No matter how much you try to avoid them at some point you're going to find yourself sitting in front of one.

Petty issues like who took out the trash or who washed the dishes last shouldn't debilitate into arguments. This is a trivial matter that in the grand scheme of things carries no weight. For the sake of your family or in order to teach children values and responsibility you may very well have a chore list somewhere with a rotation of household jobs, however washing the dishes is everyone's responsibility who lives in the household. If you see there are dishes to be washed - wash them. This isn't rocket science.

Unfortunately not everyone sees it this way and sometimes things like whose job is whose or who did what last suddenly becomes a screaming match and in truth that's rarely what the argument is really about. It was the just trigger that fired the gun.

There are things which are worth fighting over and others that should be discussed in a calm rational voice. It's equally important to know when to listen, because for as many points of issue you may have with your spouse, significant other or children, remember that they have points with you as well. If you're going to throw down the gauntlet over trifling things be prepared to be called out on your own faults. This usually ends up in hurt feelings, words spoken that can't be undone and little is ever resolved in the end.

You would think that by now everyone knows this, but for some reason as a society it would seem we're getting worse in regards to others feelings, understanding responsibilities and the importance of having a strong family unit.

Regardless of the structure of your family, living and working together in a way that establishes harmony begins with someone stepping up to be the example. Doing what is expected, being respectful and considerate and listening are key elements that need to be demonstrated, practiced and followed.

At all times one hard fast rule should always be, "No whining!" Whining is an abhorrent and obnoxious trait in children so why do we tolerate it at any age? Whining indicates weakness. Weakness in the belief in one's self, weakness in strength of character and weakness in the person who gives in to it. In our house this is a point of battle.


Allowing someone to whine, particularly a child is setting them up for failure in life. The older they get whining becomes contagious to other areas of their life and morphs itself into belligerence, quitting and impudence. These are qualities which will only lead to someone who is incapable of functioning in life as an adult. Adults who do it are people whom nothing was or is ever expected of, they have few goals, no backbone, possess little perception and lack the mettle necessary to be a solid human being.

Can that be changed? Of course, but it takes far more effort to make an adult get over themselves than it does in a child. In a child this does not take brute force or anything of the sort, it's a matter of being strong-willed, stating how it's going to be and never backing down. Children and puppies have something in common - it's takes dedication, commitment, routine, a calm assertive presence and plenty of fun and love to help them reach their full potential.

Sometimes people get a puppy because they see it in the store window and think he's cute. "Ooooh isn't he sweet! Look at his little face!" They buy him, bring him home and then expect magic to just happen. Biologically the puppy will become a dog, but if no one ever works with him, tells him no or makes him behave he'll be a nightmare to deal with and eventually will be labeled a bad dog or unwanted. That's not the dog's fault - it's the owner's.

I'm in no way trying to compare the value of a child to that of a dog for those who would rather go up in arms about the statement than seeing the truth that lies in the analogy. It's sad, but often people have children, because they think they want to have a baby or find themselves in a position of a surprise pregnancy and once the full weight of that child's upbringing becomes realized the parent(s) give up, they drop the reigns. You'll hear them say things like, "It's easier to just give her what she wants or she'll scream for days."

If you do not give a child discipline, rules to follow and explain what's expected of them - then you get the same result as the unruly dog. That child becomes an unruly nightmare to deal with and is eventually labeled. Unless something dramatic happens that causes them to wake up unfortunately they will suffer the rest of their lives never realizing their full potential. This is the defining difference in the analogy - people can choose to behave differently even if they were never taught to do so. They can recognize their own faults and choose to change it. A dog does not have this luxury, he can be retrained, but will not initiate the change on his own. However hoping against hope that the people around you will just spontaneously elect to be gracious, considerate, and respectful without being shown how is like winning the lottery - not terribly likely but it does happen.

Picking your battles is more than just thinking something is worth fighting about, it's about seeing things on a grander scale. "If I let my child act like this today, how will they behave next week, or next year or 20 years from now?"

In the same token, "If I tolerate being treated like a doormat today from my husband how will he treat me next week, or next year or 20 years from now?"

It doesn't mean having a knock-down drag out screaming match. It means being calm-assertive. People whether they're two or 92 recognize that presence. Be articulate, reasonable and strong. Remember that not everything has to be a conflict, but what may be a battle today if handled correctly can be harmony tomorrow.