If parenting is so hard, why do we keep doing it?

The answer… because we’re addicted to it.

Here’s a great article from Slate with the premise that humans get such a physiological jolt of pleasure from the occasional hug, kiss or snuggle that it makes up for all the blood, sweat and tears that comes from raising children.

To put it another way – if it was so hard – we’d all be one children families. Here’s a passage from the piece:

“Parenting is a grind, and most parents are stressed out much more than they are happy. But when parents think about parenting, they don’t remember the background stress. They remember the cuddle and the kiss. Parenting is a series of intensely high highs, followed by long periods of frustration and stress, during which you go to great lengths to find your way back to that sofa and that kiss.

We have a name for people who pursue rare moments of bliss at the expense of their wallets and their social and professional relationships: addicts.

Children regularly give parents the kind of highs that only narcotics can rival. The unpredictability of those moments of bliss is an important factor in their addictiveness.”

Intrigued? Read on:

Calm Cool and Collected… Parenting

Heard a fantastic NPR segment this morning about how parents can best manage the drama and craziness of their teenage sons and daughters. The premise of the piece was based on a new book called Getting to Calm: Cool-Headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens + Teens – and from the four or so minutes I caught in the car – it’s an extremely helpful guide for navigating what are for some parents very tumultuous waters and uncovers the drivers for many infuriating aspects of teen’s behaviors. Apparently it’s not just about bad attitudes, being spoiled or disrespectful or carelessness or other commonly thought of drivers but simply an under-developed prefontal cortex.

Here are a few examples of the situations the book address and provides approaches for parents on how to handle:

  • When your teen is rude and sarcastic
  • When your smart teen does something really dumb
  • When teen problems drive a wedge between you and your spouse
  • When your teen is acting like a spoiled brat
  • When you’re worried you’re losing your teen
  • When teens are mean

The book, written by psychologist Laura Kastner and Jennifer Wyatt, is based on years of research so it’s not based on subjective opinions or lifestyle choices. What’s really helpful is that the book actually provides a blueprint on how to handle specific situations. So clearly one that you want to keep on your nightstand for several years.

Dads, Be Prepared. Worry More.

When I was younger I used to read (or more accurately “skim”) Cosmopolitan Magazine because it offered me what I thought at the time was insight into how women think, what they want and what they’re looking for. Way back in the day – when I was doing this, occasionally I’d stumble on a couple of bits and pieces that I actually used. If nothing else, it provided interesting material for chatting up a cutey pie on a Friday night.

Recently, I’ve found more relevant and more helpful content at DoubleX – a women’s focused website with buckets of well written content on news, politics, parenting, relationships, etc. that I access usually through my Slate.com visits. As a husband and father, the Cosmo sex quiz or “How to Get Guys to Buy You Whatever You Want” articles aren’t as helpful anymore… go figure.

Click here for an article I came across highlighting an interesting perspective that men ultimately suffer more than women when their kids leave for college.  This is consistent with my personal experience (and distant recollections) that guys take longer to get over serious relationships simply because we aren’t skilled at managing and sharing our emotions  –  with ourselves or our friends, which helps tremendously in coming to terms with a break-up and moving on.

The DoubleX article details how men, who – according to the piece “…don’t worry about things until they happen”, aren’t prepared for the shift that’s required when a child leaves home. The author, Mimi Swartz, writes that she (and her friends) begin the process months if not years before, thinking, worrying and mourning the pending seperation and are therefore better prepared when it happens and consequently able to work through the process much more quickly – and easily. With men, apparently not…

So Pops, if you want to make things easier for yourself when it does happen – start now. Although my kids are still in elementary school, I do try to really be present and relish every moment I can get – cuz it’s flying by so fast, college applications will be flying out the door in what will seem like a blink of an eye.

I’d love to hear from any dads (or moms) that can validate (or refute) this but it makes a lot of sense to me.

Top 10 Realistic TV Dads

I started thinking the other day about the portrayal of fathers on TV after watching “Californication” – Showtime’s steamy Sunday night guilty pleasure staring David Duchovny as the LA-based, sex-addicted, Porsche-driving, rebellious-author-turned-walking-social-commentator dad of a goth teenage girl.

Although the story lines get a bit over the top IMHO, there’s something authentic about his well-intentioned but flawed attempts of trying to be a stand-up father figure for his daughter.

But since the early days of the tube we have typically been served cardboard cut outs of paternalistic cliches  – either bland, uninteresting prototypes (think Ward Cleaver, Mr. Brady) or the knuckle-headed slob (Al Bundy, Homer, et al).

We’ve all seen the lists of TV dads that exemplify the vaulted model of daddy-dom…Dick Van Dyke and Clifford Huxtabel.  I started thinking – who were the TV dads that actually reflected the real, conflicted, emotionally confused and less than perfect pops who are out there doing the best they can?  So, for your review, reaction and rebuttal – I submit the following:

10. Gomez AddamsThe Addams Family

He was rich, stylish, madly in love with his wife (remember “Cara mia!”) never flinched at stressful or scary moments and always looked at the bright side of things. Although a caricature, his ability to stay well above the normal fray of fatherhood bucked the trend of the stressed out or overly protective dad that would typically be portrayed to TV audiences.

9. Dan Conner Roseanne

He got angry, slammed doors, yelled at his kids and his wife – perhaps not exemplary behavior but John Goodman brought real angst and frustration that I always though was kind of ballsy for a prime time sitcom. Although a hard worker – was constantly stretched financially and those issues were also brought to bear on the show – but he ultimately stayed grounded and worked through the messes – a good real role model.

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8. Tom CorbettCourtship of Eddie’s Father

Bill Bixby’s character (originally played by Glenn Ford in the 1963 movie that spawned the series) was a role model dad that struggled throughout the show to find a partner – thus the title. His failures with women brought an authentic vulnerability and made him real – not a super dad who can handle any problem or challenge thrown at him (he’d save that for when he’d get angry and turned into the Hulk). BTW – Ron Howard played the son in the movie.

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7. James Evans, Sr.Good Times

Although angry and frustrated with the indignities and struggles of being a working man, James Evans, Sr (John Amos) still brought an even-handed rational approach in relating to his wife and kids. You could tell that he was trying with all his might to leave his troubles at the door. And with a son like JJ ( Jimmy Walker), he was a shining example of restraint, as JJ’s repeated “dynomite” would cause a lesser man to toss his butt out the window of their high-rise.

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6. Elliot Weston ThirtySomething

Michael Steadman was too stoic and restrained, while Elliot Weston (Timothy Busfield) was the emotionally charged, passionate but at times misdirected father figure in the late ’80’s yuppie drama. Although his infidelities take him outside the bounds of accepted “fatherly behavior” – his love for his children while dealing with his conflicts with marriage and reconciling unfulfilled dreams, in short – his complexity as a character made him way more interesting than most of the other characters on the show.

 

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5. Mr. Cunningham– Happy Days

Mr. Cunningham is on this list despite the fact that he’s on most other top TV dad lists because Tom Bosley really brought forth the exasperation and surrender a father feels in dealing with their teenagers. He always redeemed himself in the end but the journey towards redemption was filled with the struggle of doing what he thought was right despite everyone around him encouraging him to do otherwise for the sake of keeping the peace. His desire to stay true to what he believed in and stand against the “would you rather be right than happy” mantra rings true now more than ever.

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4. Fred Flintsone The Flintstones

Although he came across many times as a bit of a dufus, Fred – based on Jackie Gleason’s character from the Honeymooners, always represented a dad who maintained respect in his household despite his occasional gaffes. He was a true blue collar kind of guy – bowling, pool, cards – he was a guy’s guy and his aggressiveness and loudness served him. He loved his Pebbles and his interactions with Wilma serve as a pretty decent model of a loving, attentive, well-meaning husband.

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3. Michael Bluth Arrested Development

As the only sane and somewhat decent adult figure in a cast of selfish, manipulative, co-dependent, mean and dysfunctional characters, Michael Bluth’s efforts to raise his son – George Michael (Michael Cera) stands out in stark contrast. His efforts to keep the family together while they all careen around him on drugs, booze and subversive sexual behaviors are noble and almost heroic. The struggle to keep from being pulled into his convicted father’s neurosis and paranoia while maintaining some semblance of a moral compass is hilarious AND exemplary.

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2. Hank Moody Californication

He’s a sex addict. He’s a recreational drug user. He’s a brilliant but burnt-out writer. He’s a dad. Juxtaposing the rock-n-roll LA lifestyle Hank lives with the sometimes mundane duties of being a dad is part of what makes Californication a compelling watch. He wants to do the right thing – and often does but his lessor instincts sometimes gets the best of him and he, like a lot of dads, has to figure out how to surpress the selfish streak that runs through all of us.

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1. Archie Bunker All in the Family

Considered the greatest TV character of all time by TV Guide, Archie Bunker was the quintessential bigot – loud-mouthed, ignorant, rude. But underneath the crust, Carroll O’Connor’s character was ultimately a man who was never motivated by malice or hatred – but was simply channeling a provincial and prevalent mindset of the times. Remember the episode he tried to stop a KKK cross burning? Or when he took in his Jewish niece? Whether you liked him or not – he’s on the list simply because he reflects a real perspective that very much still exists today.

What are your top picks? Send me yours and I’ll post them to this one. Either comment below or send an email to info@poppapa.com.

Make it Happen by Making it Fun

If you ever needed a reminder of how to get little junior or the tiny princess to do something you want them to do (especially something that’s good for them) without any prodding or cajoling – just take a look at this:

It’s also refreshing to see adults break their daily patterns and routine behaviors to try something different and fun.

Keep an eye out for the elderly man (at around 1:23) who can barely walk – yet chooses the stairs  – why? – cuz it looks like fun!

The Cradle to College List

While driving home the other day, I listened to the classic Harry Chapin song “Cat’s in the Cradle” on the radio.

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If you’re not familiar with the song it’s about a father who never finds the time to spend with his son and misses the boy’s entire childhood. For example, when the boy CB066201is 10 he asks his father  “…can you teach me to throw?” The father sings “… not today, I got a lot to do – he (the son) says that’s okay and walks away but his smile never dimmed said I’m gonna be like him…”

When the boy is older and home from college, the tables turn and it’s the father that is left longing to spend time with his boy. The last stanza – which is a killer – has the old man retired and lonely and wanting to see his son, who is now an adult but too busy with his own children and work and unable and unwilling  to make the time to see his father – “my boy was just like me…when are you coming home son – I don’t know when but we’ll get together then dad…”

I must have heard this song a million times before, but now, being a father, it’s a sock to the jaw. Although I think (and my wife attests) that I’m a pretty active and present father, the song left me almost heart-broken with the idea of missing opportunities to share great moments with my children… while they are still children.

So – similar to the “bucket list”, which is a list of stuff you really want to do before you die (i.e. “kick the bucket”), I figured, given how quickly our children grow and time passes, that making a “Cradle to College” list would help in ensuring that my children’s childhood doesn’t evaporate before my eyes and I’m left, sitting during their graduation, realizing my opportunity to share special big once in a lifetime moments with my kids has gone FOREVER.

I submit the following items as the beginning of my “Cradle to College” list (as of October 9, 2009):

  • Build a real tree house.
  • Climb a mountain – a 10,000 footer, and sit on the peak with my kids (and my wife).
  • Get them certified for scuba diving.
  • Take my kids to where I was born and where my mother is from – Lima, Peru and have them meet my extended family there.
  • Professionally record some songs with my children – in a studio, playing instruments and/or singing (it doesn’t matter whether they can sing or play).
  • Take my son and daughter to a political rally and have them understand why people are there.
  • Rent an RV motor home and go on an unplanned road trip.
  • See at least 50 of AFI’s Top 100 greatest movies of all time (before they graduate high school).
  • Develop in my children an understanding and appreciation for classical music and take them to at least one full season of the SF symphony and/or opera.
  • Have a several day stint in Manhattan, taking them to the museums, theater, restaurants and giving them a real taste of the magic of NYC.
  • Work side-by-side with them helping those less fortunate than ourselves – such as working the kitchen at Glide Memorial on a Sunday morning.
  • Go on several 2-3 day back country camping trips in the Sierra’s – sleep under the stars, catch & cook fish, teach them how to sling a bear bag, etc.
  • Make sure they’ve seen and know the Marx Brothers, Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Sid Caesar and make sure they can enjoy a movie made in black and white as much as one made with CGI in 3D.
  • Ensure they have a strong and well articulated opinion on who is a better drummer, Neil Pert, Keith Moon, John Bonham or Bill Bruford.mountain

This list will shrink and then grow as we check off and add items over time. And with a little luck and some effort and commitment – I, and hopefully you, will look back on the time we’ve had with our children and know that unlike the protagonist in the song, we didn’t miss the magic of our children’s lives.

Send your special C2C items and I’ll post ’em up for others to see – info@poppapa.com or below in the reply/comment field.

Are Our Wives and Mothers Becoming Unhappier?

If you believe that one of the biggest contributors to the well being of children is the strength and dynamic of the relationship between the father and mother – meaning that the health and stability of the primary relationship contributes greatly to the ability to be better parents, then today’s Forum subject warrants your focused attention.
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This morning’s show focuses on the findings that women (and more so – mothers) have been becoming unhappier while men’s happiness has increased – which is the conclusion drawn from 37 years of data from the General Social Survey which has tracked Americans’ moods since 1972. Click here to listen to the discussion between Betsey Stevenson professor of at the Wharton School of Business, Christine Carter, executive director of the Greater Good Science Center and author of “Raising Happiness” and Ruth Rosen, professor of history at UC Berkeley and former columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle and The Los Angeles Times. The discussion explores several potential causes such as the tendency for perfectionism among women, unrealistic expectations and media influences.

I was lucky and got to catch the whole broadcast on the drive down to Palo Alto this morning for a meeting. Let’s all give hugs, kisses and gratitude to our old ladies today.

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