The Foundation for An Easy Child

One of my favorite parenting books is Your Baby Your Child by Penelope Leach. She does an amazing job presenting a psychological approach to parenting, really digging into the why she suggest things should be done a certain way.

My son is strong willed (and a friend questioned me the other day….”I wonder where he got that from?) So I thought I’d bring up her suggestion for keeping an easy child. My son is past the point of being a toddler, but maybe theses tips could be applied to my 18-month-old daughter.


The example, in the section one year to two and a half years of age, is getting your toddler to help pickup blocks. She uses gentle suggestions and the analogy of a competition, saying “I bet I can pick up these books before you pickup those blocks.” In the end, the toddler doesn’t put the blocks away because dad said so, they put them away because they wanted to.

Self direction is big, whether you are analyzing education, corporate culture or personal life. We all perform our best when we decide upon the next action to take, rather than someone demanding we do something.

Leach also looks at the opposite effects. Have you ever demanded your son or daughter do something? Who hasn’t? What happened? If they are a typical toddler or strong willed, you’ll get a similar oil and water effect that I received with my kids. They do the opposite of what you are demanding.

As fathers, we must get creative in presenting our demands. Rather than presenting demands, competitions as the above example work well. Games, rewards and and making something as fun as possible can have the same effect.

She goes on to say that if your son or daughter reaches the next state of growing up feeling that you are on his or her side that he will behave as you wish. But if he or she sees you as overpowering, incomprehensible and basically against him, your son or daughter will see you as unpleasurable and throw trying to please out the window.

That can sound like a lot of pressure, but I interpret that in the form of a question to myself. Am I battling with my kids or are we working together? No matter where life takes them, they are going to need to learn to work with people, so it is our role as dads to help them learn these skills.



Ninety Percent of My In-Person Time with My Kids is Happening Now

Raising young kids takes up time. Lots of time, as an understatement. So much time is spent feeding, changing, cleaning and playing with them that when I rented The Force Awakens from the library, the DVD was never even inserted before the week loan period expired.

Time. We are here for a short time. You hear it all the time. But recently a blog title Wait But Why popped up in front of me with an article titled The Tail End.

He uses visual charts to display how many months, days and weeks are given to a person who lives to be 90. The charts also display things like how many more times he will see The Red Socks play or how many more chances he will have to swim in the ocean or eat pizza.

The thing that stood out to me was his stat that by the time he left for college, he had used up the 93% of his in-person parent time.

This stat applies to me in the fact that I’m 37 and the majority of my in-person time with my parents has been used up. But applying this to the time with my own kids, this big picture perspective makes me want to spend more time with them.

Time with the kids

My wife and I do a good job putting the kids before dishes, reading to them every night and taking things slow on most weekends.

This idea that 90% of the time I’m going to have with my kids in-person is happening right now makes me want to shut off the phone more, drop what I’m doing when they ask for something, and play. Just follow them around and play. This precious time–as stressful and chaotic as it can be at times–is just that:  precious.

My son is five. My daughter is one. We are in the thick of raising two kids. In the thick of constantly running the dishwasher, tears being shed regularly, short nights of sleep. Sweeping the floor at least five times a day, wiping butts and the inability to have a grown-up conversation for more than a minute and a half.

But we’re also in the thick of the 90% of our time with them. God help me be present and content with our time together. And thanks Tim Urban for writing The Tail End.

Which is more Fatherly? Parenting So They Like You or Giving Them What They Need

I’ve written before that I‘ve always been a little more of a pushover than someone who stands up for what they believe. At least this has been true up until my mid-thirties.

I’ve recently heard hindsight as described as 10K rather than 20/20 vision, and I am feeling like that is true. I can now see the value in being able to stand up for my views, saying no and not always making decisions on whether I think I’ll be liked or not.

So keeping this hindsight in mind, what position do you think I should father from? The position of wanting to be liked by my son or the position of doing what is best (however you define best).


Recently, my four-year old and I pulled up to a soft serve ice-cream stand. I ran in to grab three treats, so the they could be shared by my son, myself and my wife. My son proceeded to whine and cry about wanting to get out and eat at the picnic table.

This was a beautiful day outside. The type of day in Minnesota that should not be ignored. However, bedtime routine was approaching, and I wanted to include my wife, who was stuck at home with the infant, on this occasion. I wavered, and there was a part of me that felt it would just be easier to eat outside than to put up with the whining and crying.

And then he resorts to, “You’re a boring daddy.” How can this three foot tall pre-schooler drive an arrow through the very goal of my fatherhood? By pushing this very button. I fear being a boring daddy. The growing culture of disrespect is discussed well in this blog post from July 14.

I’m happy to report that I didn’t give in. I came close but held strong. Which is what I find I have to do when I am doing something that is worth teaching or something I feel is in their best interest. I need God’s help in this because I want to please my son.

God always hasn’t given in when I’ve thrown my tantrums. My world slowly got smaller and smaller until there wasn’t much remaining for God to take away. And then I came around.

Stay strong, guide children the best you can and they will respect you for it. (This is me talking to myself, so I can continue to not give in.)

I recently had coffee with a new friend. He told me about his upbringing as an immigrant family in Chicago during the 80’s. They experienced many challenges and didn’t have much. He told me how his father would assign book reports to him and his sisters. Yes, book reports, outside of school assignments, from a father who didn’t even know English very well.

My friend told me how he hated his dad for this. But knowing my friend in his late 30’s. Knowing how sharp, intelligent and successful he is. I can see this paid off. (I also picked up that his sister is a successful doctor making a quarter million a year.)

All money aside, look at the impact this father had on his kids. He wasn’t liked for it, but the lesson he taught in valuing education spread through to his children.

Setting or Settling The Bar?

I was gifted the opportunity to volunteer with a nonprofit called Start Reading Now that provides first-graders in poverty the ability to take ten books home before summer break. One particular study shows that giving low-income kids books over the summer is equivalent to sending them to summer school.

The program empowers students to select the ten books themselves, and they get their own personalized backpack. This is ground-level combat to narrow the achievement gap, and I will remember the experience for the rest of my life.

The response from the first-grade students at one elementary school melted my heart. I heard things like, “Do I really get to keep these books forever and ever and not bring them back?”


The students gracefully clamored for picture books, chapter books and even books that included a charm or Matchbox car. Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a popular early reader that appeals to all, and I remember one boy in particular excitedly snagging his own copy from the bookcase. This proud looking boy with a fresh fade hair cut and sharp, clean athletic gear had his arms full, approaching his selection of 10 books.

That’s when I saw the friendly educator reach for his arm and say something about that book being too hard for him, and that he should, “pick from the shelves over there,” as she pointed to the picture books. Yes, these are first grade students of varying reading levels, and maybe he’s still navigating Go Dog Go or Llama Llama but this moment is stuck in my head. Why? Why would you divert a student from challenging himself?

Managing a child’s frustration is one thing, but I vow, as a father, to never say anything is too hard for my son or daughter. My four-year-old enjoys flipping through the pages of my novels or business books, even if it is to enjoy the fan of the breeze and jumble of paragraphs without eye-catching illustrations.

And I have books that may be “too hard” for me. In fact, I enjoy snagging a book like City On Fire (944 pages), adding it to my shelf and hoping that I get around to reading it someday. The Bible I received in high school confirmation is still a little “too hard” for me at times–using old English and dense parables get pretty thick for me at times–but I still like the idea of  reading it. And someday I will get through it all.

Yes, maybe the energetic first-grader is shooting high, but what about his future. Shouldn’t he be encouraged to shoot high? What about a year or six months or by the end of summer when he’s ready to read about the adventures, struggles and drama that this book can relate to elementary students?

I volunteered at another book fair the same day, and I was shocked to hear it again, this time from a younger male teacher, rather than the approaching-retirement female educator from the previous school. What are we doing to these kids when we tell them a specific book is “too hard?”

We should be encouraging them through school and reading because chances are these students at the poverty level and below are getting little to no support at home. Parents and guardians are just too busy making ends meeting if they are around at all.

One particular literacy specialist at the school said, “I gave a book to a second grade student last year and she said ‘now, I have two books at home.'” Tears welled in my eyes.

The same research that shows reading over the summer has the ability to reduce summer setback shows that students in extreme poverty have an average of less than one book at home. Less than one book. That means no books. What does that look like?

I grew up in a fortunate family. We weren’t upper class but we didn’t have to worry about our next meal. We were blessed with family vacations, reliable transportation and a peaceful neighborhood. I also remember having more books than I could count, along with regular trips to the library dragging home bags of books. And I don’t ever remember hearing the words, “that book may be a little too hard for you.”