Tag Archives: parenting

One Good Thing

onegoodthingI believe the only metric for parental success is whether you raise human beings who are a credit to humanity.

To that end, my wife and I are trying very hard to raise three boys who are a benefit to the world instead of detriments. One way we’re doing that is to impart the importance of compassion, empathy, and kindness to our kids. And that’s not always an easy feat.

Will likes to help people, but he’s only 7 years old and doesn’t fully understand the impact of his words or the importance of tact. Such was the case during the first week of school when he mistakenly thought his idea of helping a girl in his class was to give her unsolicited fashion advice and critique her wardrobe. He thought he was helping, but we had to explain to him how hurtful words can be — even when that hurt is unintentional.

First we explained why it’s not proper to criticize the way anyone dresses because it hurts feelings, and then we had him apologize the following day. But we also saw an opportunity to take things a step further. In addition to apologizing to the girl, we also asked him to figure out something nice he could say to her and give her a compliment.

He was hesitant at first, but he did it. Will told her he really liked her glasses. And then he said “Mom, dad — she smiled. She was really happy and she said thank you. I liked making her smile because I never meant to hurt her feelings the first time.”

And just like that, “One Good Thing” was born.

We told him since he liked complimenting her, he should do it again — except this time to someone else. And he did. Every single day for the last three weeks, Will has gone into school and given someone an unsolicited compliment. He has complimented boys, girls, and teachers. He has positively commented on Minion jackets, cool jeans, how someone got an answer correct in class, and dinosaur shirts other kids have been wearing. He’s complimented friends as well as kids with whom he doesn’t usually talk.

When he gets off the bus, the first thing he does is tell us who the recipient of his “One Good Thing” was, and the specifics of the compliment. It’s become his routine, and a way to inject some positivity into the world.

I won’t lie and pretend he’s an angel who did this without resisting a bit. At one point he rolled his eyes and said “Why do I have to keep doing this all the time?” So we spent an hour or so talking about Karma, and the idea that the good you put out into the world will come back to you tenfold when you need help from others. He looked at me like I was crazy.

But guess what? He no longer thinks I’m a nut.

Will brought his beloved arrowhead to school earlier this month for show and tell, but accidentally dropped it while showing it to friends. It shattered into a million pieces. Will’s art teacher told him she’d do her best to fix it, but it was beyond repair.

However, she had other plans.

She knew Will got the arrowhead at Clark’s Trading Post on a trip this summer with his grandparents. So she graciously took the time to call up Clark’s in New Hampshire and buy another arrowhead for him on her own dime. However, she was talking to one of the owners of the store and upon hearing her story, he generously agreed to send her a new one at no cost.

Boom. Karma explained in a way my meager words ever could.

I’m not a raging hippie or a New Age guru. But I absolutely believe the good you put out into the world is palpable. And contagious. I know it sounds naive to believe the world would be a better place if everyone just did a little more good, but that’s OK. It might be naive, but I also think there’s some truth to it. So I’ll continue to practice small, random acts of kindness. And I’m going to teach all three of my boys to do the same.

One good thing isn’t a lot, but multiple ones add up quickly and this is an easy way my kids can be part of the solution instead of the problem.

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How Are Parents Voting for Donald Trump?


“I don’t like him. He’s STUPID!”

My oldest son, 7, was having some problems getting along with another kid at camp. Frustrated by the inability and unwillingness of the other boy to agree on the rules for a new game they had created, Will waited until camp was over and we were in the car to lash out and vent his anger which had been building all week.

My son is a good kid. A very good kid, actually. But he has very specific and strong opinions as to how things should work, and when someone opposes those beliefs he gets instantly frazzled. As soon as he called the other boy stupid in front of me, he knew he was a goner. And so was the beloved iPad, taken away for two days. Because in our house, frustration with someone does not give you the right to call them names and belittle them. There are better and more productive ways to deal with a problem than throwing a tantrum and calling everyone who disagrees with you stupid. Because manners are important, as is treating other people with respect.

This lesson, which most people begin learning as toddlers, has apparently escaped the current Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump.

Trump has surged ahead in polls recently despite a string of incendiary comments and verbal gaffes that would sink most candidates in a heartbeat. “They’re rapists,” is what he said about illegal immigrants from Mexico. “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured,” were the words he had for Sen. John McCain, who was held prisoner and tortured for five years during Vietnam. He also wants to do away with the 14th amendment of the US Constitution, which grants birthright citizenship to those born on US soil.

And when asked about his history of making misogynistic comments during a recent presidential debate, Trump joked that he only referred to actress Rosie O’Donnell in that manner. I repeat, the leading Republican candidate for this country’s highest elected office called a woman (who wasn’t at the debate or part of it in any way) a fat, disgusting, slob on national television. But that wasn’t even the most horrifying part of the night. Do you know what was?

The applause following his comment.

Trump called Rosie O’Donnell a fat, disgusting animal and hundreds of people in attendance began cheering for him. Cheering, hooting, and hollering for a man publicly making misogynistic comments and fat-shaming a woman who wasn’t even there to defend herself.

Surely some of those people celebrating Trump’s misogyny are parents themselves. Hell, I know Trump supporters in real life who are parents. I know for a fact they would NEVER let their kids get away with calling someone a “fat pig” in public, and there would be swift consequences if it were to happen.

And yet they’re voting for someone who does this kind of thing routinely. It’s fundamentally baffling.

My son made a disparaging comment about someone in the privacy of our car where no one else could hear, and he still got in trouble. Yet Donald Trump engages in despicable personal attacks on the grandest of stages, and gets a bump in the polls following each disgusting display? Something isn’t right.

I hear so many people talk about kids today and how they have no respect. No manners. No discipline. And sure, some don’t. But some of these same people are voting for Trump, who sees respect for others and decency in general as a weakness. They like him because he’s “un-PC” and “says what’s on his mind.” Except they’re forgetting a few things.

Saying everything that’s on your mind at any given time is not a sign of strength, it’s a sign you lack self-discipline, social awareness, diplomacy, and manners. And calling Rosie O’Donnell a fat pig or all illegal Mexican immigrants rapists isn’t a case of being courageously politically incorrect — it’s just being mean-spirited, cruel, and wrong.

If Donald Trump can’t be better than this, then we as Americans have to be better.  I understand people are fed up and scared and frustrated, but that’s no reason to condone a candidate who uses that fear and frustration to incite hate and bigotry. Who preys on the voters’ existing anger and seeks to make it OK to voice insults and engage in name-calling without forethought or remorse. Who inspires two brothers to beat a homeless man while he sleeps simply because “he looks like an illegal.” Who is supported by people like this:

“Hopefully, he’s going to sit there and say, ‘When I become elected president, what we’re going to do is we’re going to make the border a vacation spot, it’s going to cost you $25 for a permit, and then you get $50 for every confirmed kill,’” Jim Sherrota said. “That’d be one nice thing.”

Donald Trump is a walking, talking temper tantrum who screams first and thinks — well, seemingly never. If my kids acted like this they’d be living their lives in time out, which is precisely where we should put the Trump presidential candidacy. Presidential candidates don’t have to be perfect, but they should at least be civil and able to conduct themselves with basic human decency, especially if they’re going to be participating in tense, diplomatic negotiations.

Strength and unchecked aggression are two very different things, and strong leaders don’t have to resort to bullying tactics and name-calling to make their points and exert influence. Unfortunately, too many people are confusing the former with the latter.

That’s why I don’t understand parents voting for Trump. If we won’t put up with this behavior from our children, let’s not make it acceptable for presidential candidates either.

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Should We Tell Kids They’re Special?

photo credit: I am Special via photopin (license)
photo credit: I am Special via photopin (license)

“Dad, am I special?”

What seems at first glance to be a question with an easy, straightforward answer from a parent (“Yes son, of course you’re the most specialiest specialty in the history of special!”), suddenly wasn’t so simple. If you think about it, that question is fraught with unexpected complications and potential repercussions depending on your answer. As a result I had to think long and hard about how I responded.

Some parents are recoiling in horror at this very moment because I didn’t automatically and exuberantly tell my son how special he is. I get it. However, what message are we really sending to our kids when we resort to that?

They say all kids are special. Well, if that’s true, then doesn’t “special” lose meaning? If every single child is special, does ordinary become extinct or nonexistent? Don’t we lose the perspective necessary to make special a distinction if everyone falls into that category?

But more important than that, aren’t we creating dangerous levels of entitlement? Hey, there’s nothing wrong with positive reinforcement for hard work or a job well done. But I’m sorry, you can’t convince me that constantly telling children they are special at every turn doesn’t create a the potential for an unbelievably entitled generation of kids.

Unfortunately, I only need to look at my oldest son for a real-life example.

A few years ago, I played a trick on him and convinced him I ate all of his Halloween candy. Well, the Jimmy Kimmel Show saw it, liked it, and used it. Suddenly Will was watching himself broadcast to millions of people. They even used his image as the thumbnail on the YouTube video, which has been seen by nearly 40 million people.

I was really excited and I went on and on about how special this was, and how special he was to appear on television and be seen by millions of people. Then the local media found out, and we were featured in newspapers and even had a segment on the local TV news. Soon Will was telling his friends, other parents, teachers, and everyone he could that he was a TV star. I just thought it was really cute and I encouraged it, because damn — it’s JIMMY FREAKING KIMMEL!

About a week after all the hoopla, I took Will on the train into Boston for an event. When we walked on board the crowded car, he was smiling and looking around at everyone. I just thought it was because he loved trains, but after a few minutes his smile faded and he started to get grumpy. I asked him what was wrong and his answer hit me like a brick.

“Why aren’t these people saying hi to me, dad? Don’t they know I’m special because I’m famous from the TV?”

Oh. Shit.

It took quite a bit of doing to walk that one back. I just didn’t realize what was happening, but what did I expect? I spent a solid week telling him how special he is, so how could I be surprised when he believed every single word of it and expected other people to treat him that way too?

I spent a lot of time after that talking less about being special, and more about being privileged. As a writer and blogger, I get some nice perks and things sent to me by companies. But now, when that happens, we spend a ton of time letting our kids know we’re lucky to be getting these things, and it’s not the norm. That they’re not getting them because they’re special, but because companies are advertising. I tell Will he’s no better or worse than any other kid in any other part of the world. However, he’s luckier than most and he needs to try to understand and appreciate that privilege without thinking he’s better than anyone else because of it.

I’m not supporting the degradation of kids or calling for the total elimination of positive reinforcement. Sometimes it takes a teacher/parent/friend showing a special interest in kids to make them feel worthy and propel them to success. However, I don’t want my son thinking he’s special just because he’s been told that all his life. Because make no mistake, far too many children fall into that category. Just ask this guy.

I will tell my sons they were born into a certain amount of privilege that will aid their ability to be great, should they concentrate their efforts and abilities. I will tell them I believe in them and support them wholeheartedly. I will tell them they have great potential that can only come to fruition with hard work and perseverance.

But that doesn’t make them special. It makes them like millions of other kids all over the world. It shouldn’t be a bad thing to tell kids that, either.

So how do I answer the question with which I began this piece? I tell my son he’s special to me and always will be. But other than that, no. He’s no inherently better, worse, or more special than any other kid.

If I do my job right, that message won’t destroy his fragile self-esteem — it’ll push him to work harder and be less self-absorbed.


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I Thought My Son Was Never Going to Talk


Seven months ago, I was petrified Sam was never going to talk.

We were at his 15-month check-up and the doctor asked how many words Sam had in his repertoire. She didn’t ask IF he could speak, mind you, but how many words he could say. I immediately looked down at the floor in shame, because Sam didn’t have any words. Not a one. Zero.

And despite her assurances that he was just a little bit behind, I was POSITIVE something was cataclysmically wrong with him.

Less than a week later, we had Early Intervention come in and evaluate him. I had heart palpitations with each test he wasn’t passing. Failure to turn the jack-in-box crank? He’ll never graduate high school. Couldn’t say “mama” or “dada?” There goes college. By the end of it all, I was in a full-blown panic as I envisioned Sam at 30, living in our basement and still unable to utter basic syllables.

When the EI folks finished, they said Sam was slightly speech-delayed, but not so much that he qualified for Early Intervention. But I only heard those two words: speech delayed. And I was crushed at having somehow failed my son.

Yes, I realize how crazy I was being. Now. But then, in that moment, it was very real and very overwhelming.

We have certain standards kids are supposed to meet at certain times, and they’re hard for me to ignore. I know I’m not alone. These concrete milestones our children are supposed to meet are set in a sea of fluidity, and don’t seem to take into account the individual nature of children. We know enough to tell ourselves “everyone goes at his/her own pace” and “they all get there eventually,” but if your child is on the slower side then those markers are always there, blinking in the background, taunting you mercilessly.

It’s problematic if you’re someone who did everything early and generally had things come easy to him. It’s even worse if your firstborn was the same way — walking, talking, and putting sentences together well ahead of the curve. In that instance, you love milestones. Because who doesn’t enjoy looking at an achievement in the rear view mirror?

So you start wondering what’s wrong with this one. Why isn’t this one early, or at least on time? Did I leave the TV on too long and damage his brain? I didn’t read to him enough, did I? Why can’t he be more like his brother??

And suddenly you realize what an utter and unreasonable asshole you’re being.


Seven months later and 8 days shy of his second birthday, I look back at myself and shake my head. Especially as this plays out in the car on a daily basis.

“Hi dada!”
“Dada, wheels on bus!”
“Dada, you see choo-choo?”
“Dad, what’s that?”
“Thank you, dada.”

Words. So many words. So many new words every day. I come home from work and discover he’s added two or three more to his expanding vocabulary. They didn’t arrive on the generally accepted timetable, but they came nonetheless. They came when Sam was ready. They came exactly when they were supposed to.

I know I worry because I care. Because these kids are the most important thing in the world to me. I’m sure that’s true of most neurotic parents who unnecessarily sweat the small stuff. I’m also a firm believer that if you don’t feel like a complete fool at least a couple of times a month, you’re probably not a parent.

Kids are not identical assembly line automatons. They are not here to validate us by meeting arbitrary deadlines that serve as parental bragging rights on social media. I know this. Most parents know this. We just need to keep it at the forefront of our mind more often, and not fall victim to unnecessary worrying about things that almost always work themselves out.

Seven months ago I thought my son was never going to talk. Now? I’m worried he’ll never stop.

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11 Things Dads Should NEVER Say in the Delivery Room


The delivery room is a strange, scary, and spectacular place. There are mystical wonders to behold, a multitude of wires attached to your loved one getting ready to deliver, and a cacophony of beeping coming from unfamiliar machines that leave you unable to decipher good from bad. It is where miracles happen, memories are made, and life is brought forth into the world.

Unless she kills you right there in the birthing suite because you’re one of the brainless jackasses who says something irreversibly stupid at the worst possible moment.

Having talked to L&D nurses, read humorous (yet cringe-inducing) accounts of ridiculous things said inside the delivery room, and having written about a semi-related topic in the past, I thought it best to get specific. In my ongoing quest to help fathers (not just fathers but anyone who plans on being in the delivery room) improve, I think this list is important simply to keep people alive.

Everyone processes emotions differently in stressful situations, and many people (myself included) resort to attempts at humor as a defense mechanism. However, your latest pun might not be well accepted as the mother of your child is attempting to pass something the size of a watermelon through a hole the size of a lemon.

I thought long and hard, consulted a few mothers in my life, and came up with this list. And I added animated GIFs so hopefully the women reading this will laugh instead of instantly try to murder their partners who undoubtedly said one or more things listed below.

Continue reading 11 Things Dads Should NEVER Say in the Delivery Room

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