The Evolution of Parenting

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m jealous of my boys.  No, it’s not because they got to enjoy a lifestyle and opportunities that I didn’t enjoy during my deprived childhood (you know, I walked to school barefoot in the snow, yada yada).  I had a fairly privileged childhood as well, never having to worry about my next meal, a warm, dry house, or even college loans.

Rather, I just look at them and marvel at how together they are.

Me at their age:  gawky, awkward, fearful, mousy, demanding, self-critical, insecure, academically and psychologically myopic, unsure, squabbling with my sister.  I was too timid to talk to most people and mostly moved through life trying to avoid notice.  I intentionally chose the largest university in the state (50,000 students) so I could hide in the auditorium.  Fortunately, I managed to have a pretty good time and got a good education, despite being my own worst enemy.  Not a total loss by any means but it wasn’t pretty either.

Them (cumulatively):  confident, handsome, self-assured, talented, engaging, interesting, funny, self-aware, poised, kind, courteous, popular, leaders.  They even get along with each other.  Like each other. Help each other.  So much more evolved than I was at that age.

By the time I had the self-knowledge and confidence they are showing now, I was late into my 30’s, even 40’s.  Sometimes I wonder if I was that put together in my teens, where would I be now…?

But all that is irrelevant.  That ship has long ago sailed, and it is not at all constructive to speculate in that manner.  Indeed, I had to struggle for years to find my place in the world and figure out who I wasI don’t actually regret it because those experiences and those struggles put me on the path to who I am today.  Feeling so uncomfortable was the best incentive for me to figure it out and grow up.

“You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one” James A. Froude

A little adversity* can be a good thing for young people.  I’ve known some people whose childhood was as smooth as silk.   They were beloved, nurtured, spoiled a little (or a lot), helped when needed, had breakfast and a bag lunch prepared for them each day, had a parent at every school event, had everything they ever wanted without having to save a dime.  I believe modern parents frequently strive to provide for their children a perfect childhood, but I’m not sure that’s a good idea.   The adults I know with easy childhoods did not learn resilience at a young age and had few opportunities for self-discovery and growth.   They entered life being unable to care for themselves, solve problems for themselves, or believing their role was to be taken care of, not to take care of others.  They were not given the incentive to forge themselves deliberately into a character until much later after their habits were firmly in place.

So even though I’m somewhat jealous, I am even prouder of the young men they have become despite a privileged upbringing.  Our parents worked hard for the American dream and to provide us with all the advantages, especially a great education and resulting careers.  Their dream was that we would be more successful than they were, and we are.  While balancing two careers and two babies, however, we quickly realized that the financial and professional success was fantastic – but what really mattered was raising a happy and healthy family.  So, while we have saved all their lives for their educations too, our mission has more importantly been to give them a healthier emotional and psychological start to their lives.  All the money in the world will not make them happy, but the ability to love and forgive both yourself and others, and commit to a journey of personal growth is an excellent down payment on that happiness.

I always say that childrearing is one big experiment:  You don’t get the report card until they go into therapy when they’re 30 and you find out how much you screwed them up.  So the jury is still out as to whether we were successful in our quest.  But at least I know we did our best for them, and hopeful that they will understand and forgive our sincere, though thoroughly imperfect parenting.  If we’ve successfully taught them to forgive themselves and others, they will.

Someday they’ll have their own parenting journey.  What will be their parenting legacy?  What will they prioritize for their children?  In what way do they want their children to do better than they did?  Grandma will be standing by to help.  Hopefully by then I’ll have developed the wisdom and self-control to keep my opinions to myself.

*Previous blogs on adversity – Conflict, Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don’t, The Joy of Loss, Blessings of a Dysfunctional Marriage, A Defining Moment:  Discovering the Hidden Gifts in Chronic Pain and Illness

and Now

and Now

I begin to lose my confidence

I begin to lose my confidence, Then…

Dealing With Mesothelioma While Raising Lily

Heather and her family

Heather and her family

By Heather, guest blogger

We have all experienced times when life seems to change dramatically. I experienced it when was 36. Experiencing all possible emotions, I felt extreme joy in extreme sadness within a short period of time. On August 4, 2005, Lily was born. Those who have had kids know the joy that comes with the birth of a child, and I cannot express the joy my husband and I felt. Unfortunately, that joy was soon to be dashed.

A month after the birth of Lily, I went back to work. However, something felt wrong; my energy was zapped and I was constantly tired. In addition, I was losing between five to seven pounds every week. This is obviously something thats normal for new moms, but my suspicion remained. Unfortunately, I was right-and something much worse was actually happening.

After enduring a battery of tests, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma just 3 1/2 months after Lily arrived. Caused by unknown asbestos exposure when I was a child, this cancer affected the lining of my lungs. If I refused treatment, my doctor predicted that I would survive for 15 months.

All I could think about was my Lily. My husband and I decided, however, that we would do all we could to fight, even if it meant drastic treatment. We traveled to Boston, and on February 2nd 2006, I underwent an extrapleural pneumonectomy under one of the best mesothelioma doctors, Dr. David Sugarbaker. The procedure was intense, and they removed my entire left lung and all of the surrounding tissue. I endured an 18-day stay in the hospital after. Following my stay in the hospital, I recovered for another 2 months before starting radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

Lily stayed with my parents in South Dakota while I was in Boston. My parents have a wide network of family and friends who were willing to help them during that time, and I will never be able to express my gratitude sufficiently. I missed out on many important moments in Lily’s life as she learned to eat solid foods and began moving around. Being away from Lily was difficult, but my faith in my parents gave me confidence while I fought to be there for her. I know that any mother would do the same thing for her child.

The cancer was the most difficult thing I have gone through, but some good did come of it. Without Lily, I may have given up along the way; I knew she needed me. We all appreciate life more now after seeing how fragile it can be. In even the worst situations, I strongly encourage those who are struggling to try to find the silver lining.

Read more from Heather at

Student Pitfalls and Opportunities in Higher Education

It’s heartbreaking to watch students and parents make bad decisions that have expensive and lasting impact on their student’s academic career.  I have spent the last 20 years as an educator in a professional (post graduate) school so I’m a little removed from the undergraduate student experience, but I imagine the problems and opportunities are about the same, perhaps just occurring with different frequency.

1.   Keep your “nose clean” – One of the most difficult issues I see is students not considering or heeding the consequences of cheating, stealing, or breaking laws or university rules.  When you’re 18, it may be difficult to imagine the consequences or even the possibility of getting caught, but your behavior will eventually be noticed.  Do not put your academic career at risk by taking foolish chances and jeopardizing your standing in the university.  The faculty are like your parents – we have a 6th sense for nonsense and it does not escape our attention.  Ask yourself: Am I prepared to suffer the consequences of getting caught? Answer that question with the assumption you cannot finesse your way out of the hole you dug yourself into.  If the answer is No, don’t do it.

2.  Your grades matter – Unfortunately, the job market and college admissions are very competitive.  Students who do not take their studies (either in high school or college) seriously and end up with poor grades may someday wish their grades were more competitive.  By then it’s too late.  You may have had an epiphany halfway through your program, but you’re competing against students who have worked hard the entire time.   So keep your academic doors open, even if you’re sure you’re never going back.

Also, unless you’re related to Mitt Romney and can afford to just cash in some stocks, it’s foolish to spend vast sums of money to obtain a GPA that will not open any doors for you.  Be honest with yourself.  If you’re not ready to take your classes seriously, maybe it would be better to take a year off before going back to school.  Students who are paying for at least part of their own education are much more likely to take it seriously.

3.  Your behavior matters – Students don’t realize that they have entered into a small, tight-knit community.  In addition to keeping your nose clean, your attitude in school is noticed by the faculty, who will be writing your letters of recommendation and working or socializing with your future employers.  If you have a bad attitude, you show you’re irresponsible or lack initiative, you ask for favors and exceptions constantly, you demonstrate you’re not interested in the class, it creates an impression that could impact which doors open for you, or which ones close.  It is not always possible to predict when or where that will happen.

Your behavior interacting with school officials before you’re admitted also leaves an impression.  If you cannot, for example, be bothered to read instructions, follow instructions, or look something up on the internet, you may be perceived as not ready for admission into the program (see also Item 6 below).

The opposite is also true.  You can stand out for having a positive attitude, show you’re a hard worker, responsible, team-oriented, willing to take initiative, and eager to learn. You also cannot tell when or how a positive impression will help you down the road.

4.  Make the most of it – “I’ll just figure that out when I graduate.” Again, unless you have unlimited time and resources to get degree after degree, before you graduate you should really invest in trying to figure out your path after you graduate.  This is not easy since students, by definition, are studying, not working.  However, you can improve your chances of knowing what to do academically if you open yourself to experimenting with potential interests early on, starting at least in high school.  Yes, extracurriculars and jobs are resume padders, but more importantly, they can help you ascertain where your passions, interests, and talents lie.  Note that not all of these passions, interests and talents are academic.  You might find that you love/hate working in teams, problem solving, public speaking, drawing, marketing or selling things or ideas.  That self-knowledge can help you inform your career path.  So, get involved, volunteer, get a job, take an interesting elective, get an internship, study abroad, talk to people who are in fields you might be interested in, join a club, lead a project, serve on a committee.It’s through these varied experiences you can expand the breadth of your self-knowledge.   It’s not just to pad your application.  It’s to learn who you are.


5.  Have a Plan B – Hopefully you’ve gotten to know yourself, your interests and talents, and you know how to pursue your dream job.  Keep in mind that it could take some time for you to achieve that goal.  Know what your interim and back-up plans are, as events do not always turn out as planned.  Also, don’t be afraid to ask for someone to mentor you if you’re not sure what to do.  Most people are happy to help a bright, industrious student with a good attitude and you will learn more from them than you anticipate.  Yes, have faith you can make it happen, but know that the path to your dream job may be bumpy, windy, and at times, circular and that you need to pay your bills during this time.  Pursue your dream but don’t close yourself to opportunities that may present themselves or to the reality of the economy.  You may have other talents or interests that you are not cultivating by being so myopic.

6.  Helicopter parents need to tone it down – Helicopter parenting is problematic for your child from at least two perspectives.  First, your student needs to become independent eventually, preferably by the time they leave home.  All the hovering and enabling is simply an obstacle to their development into an independent adult (see when Helping Becomes Hurtful).  In addition, once your child is 18 they are expected to manage their own affairs.  Your visible intervention with grades, admissions, hiring, job or admissions interviews, or other academic proceedings convey that your child is not independent.  Faculty or employers do not want to constantly deal with a third party for every bump in the road.   How would you like to hire a seemingly competent young person only to find you have to answer to the parent every time feedback is needed?

Do not take this as permission to teach your child independence by cutting off your participation in their lives. Your job is to be supportive, to listen, to make suggestions if asked, to provide training  and coaching as needed, but let your child take increasing responsibility for their own affairs.

7.  Don’t equate income with happiness or having a life – Despite the pressure and expense, college should be some of the best years of your life.  You will be growing intellectually, psychologically, socially, and emotionally, and you should enjoy and embrace that as much as possible.  Yes, having a good income is a nice and one of your goals.  But when you have a job, there is often just as much or more stress and much less flexibility and freedom.  So, don’t wait to enjoy yourself, relax or try something new (as long as you keep your studies your first priority), as life does not begin after your start a job/buy your house/start your family/retire.  Life occurs in this present moment, no matter the stage of life you are in.

My Self-(Un)fulfilling Reality

Create your reality

Create your reality

We make many choices in our life, not all of which we are aware of making.  Those choices have real consequences, and the less we are aware of making these choices the greater the potential impact on our lives.  The impactful choices are not even the big choices, often they are the small, daily choices that we take for granted.  These choices include what we say to ourselves (about anything) and what we believe (about anything).

For example, if I believe I deserve chocolate in my life, I will subconsciously act in a way that will invite chocolate to me.  I may go buy fine quality chocolate because I deserve it, I’ll notice chocolate stores when I’m driving around, I’ll stand in line for a free chocolate sample at See’s, and my loved ones will give me chocolate because they know it’ll make me happy.   Since I’m such a big fan, See’s may even make me their spokesperson and I would then have scotchmallows galore.  If, however, I feel I only deserve liver and onions, then I’ll buy liver and onions, I’ll notice when liver and onions are on sale at the grocery store and buy them in quantity so I don’t run out, I’ll be reluctant to order or eat fabulous foods because I don’t deserve them, and my loved ones will serve me liver and onions because they believe that’s what I like to eat.

See what I mean?  Our subconscious choices create our reality.

Now, substitute chocolate for happiness, success, love, safety, joy, peace, satisfaction, luck and the opposite of each of those nouns for liver and onions.

In The Luck Factor, Richard Wiseman studies what makes people lucky (he has his own wordpress blog, how cool is that?).  Wiseman finds that luck can be learned.  In comparison to unlucky people, lucky people are more likely to create opportunity, think/feel lucky and so make lucky decisions, and have a resilience that turns bad luck into good.   In one study, Wiseman set up an experiment where he asked participants to count the number of pictures in a newspaper.  Half way through he posted a message that said “Stop counting, tell the experimenter you have seen this and win $250.”  Guess who noticed the message?

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs* that I have an emotional perspective that tells me, among other things, I will not get what I need.  That belief, subconscious until well into my adulthood, colored my whole personality.  If I don’t believe I’ll get what I need, I won’t ask anyone for help and so I’ll take care of myself (and everyone around me).  In doing so, I am also showing others that I don’t need help, making them unlikely to offer help.  If someone can’t figure out what I need, then I’ll have a fit, making it less likely they’ll try again in the future.    Thus, my thoughts and beliefs become my self-fulfilling reality.  I think it should be called my self-unfulfilling reality.

So be aware of what you’re saying to yourself or believing on any level.  You can choose not to believe it and change what is your life experience.  So think Big.  Dream Big.  Be Big.

 “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” ― Lao Tzu

*Please refer to Personal Power: Use It or Lose It, When Helping Becomes Hurtful, Finding Forgiveness Moment By MomentWhat Every Couple Should Know Before Getting MarriedYour Shadow Self, Conflict:  Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don’t…. clearly a favorite subject.