Tag Archives: communication

Sex, Drugs, Violence And Dirty Words

My son and I sat down to watch a classic movie with a PG rating – Beetlejuice.  

Photo Credit: Muotoilla * via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Muotoilla * via Compfight cc

I had fond memories of the 1988 movie – the Tim Burtonesque feel, the comic genius of Michael Keaton, and the Banana Boat Song.  And it was not even a PG-13 film like Iron Man or The Avengers – both of which he saw and I had no problem with.

I had forgotten a few critical scenes, words, and concepts my son might not have been ready to take in.  I had forgotten a PG rating in the 1980s could be just this side of an R rating.  Watching it again, I wonder if Beetlejuice should have been rated PG-13.

I began talking with other dads about this.  There was the one who showed his son The Bad News Bears having forgotten about the amount of language and drinking in that PG film.

We have also talked about our tendency, especially with our boys, to afford more leniency with violence than we do sex and nudity.  How can we show them Braveheart and The Patriot because of the overarching story and message and turn our heads at the brutality, violence and blood?

I have another friend who will allow for a moderate level of violence in the media his son consumes, but draws the line when the story involves the mistreatment and disrespect of women.  But even those story lines can provide great opportunity for conversation about the consequences of being a jerk toward women.

So, what is the right answer?  Do we let the Motion Picture Association of America decide what our kids can watch based on their age and MPAA guidelines?  Do we say “no” to everything with adult content?  Do we shelter our kids as long as we can?

I do not have all the answers and, frankly, have quite a few questions.

Even if I censor the content at home, my son still goes to school, still visits friends (with older siblings), still rides in the car and sees billboards for local adult boutiques and Captain Morgan Rum.

I want to hear what you think, but here is my attempt to develop some boundaries:

  • Stay engaged in your kids’ lives and know what media they consume.  This seems like the first, logical step.  Ignorance is not bliss.
  • Educate yourself on the content they want to consume.  I routinely use sites like IMDB, Kids-In-Mind, and Common Sense Media to get reviews and recommendations about the content my son consumes.  He usually knows which films I will say “no” to, but often I need more information – especially if I have not seen it before and want a sense about what he will see.  Some of the sites even give you topics to discuss following the movie.
  • They probably know what you watch, so do not be surprised if they think the same content is OK for them.  In the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do category, our kids take cues from us, so if you do not want them watching horror movies, you may want to reconsider your Friday the 13th movie marathon.  They can see the “recently watched” shows on Netflix just like you can.
  • Engage in the discussion with your kids.   I remember watching a movie called Phantasm at a friend’s house when I was in late elementary or early junior high.  For whatever reason, I could barely go get the mail in broad daylight for several days after seeing it.  I was just waiting for the Tall Man to jump out from behind a tree or show up behind me when I looked in a mirror.  I have told my son about that experience, and it may have tempered his desire to watch a horror movie…for the time being.  Be honest about why you set boundaries on the movies they watch and let it be a conversation, not just a lecture.

What limits have you set on movie/TV content for your kids?  How do you approach the subject with them?

Saying Goodbye To My Son

In a few days, I will walk my son down to the American Airlines gate and say goodbye to him for the summer.  The time has come for his annual, eight-week summer visitation with my ex.

Photo Credit: Roberto Trm via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Roberto Trm via Compfight cc

For nearly five years, I have traveled with him each time he flew, but this year he will fly alone at his request.  The airline charges an additional $300 round trip to accommodate him, and he will have someone with him at all times while negotiating the gate changes.  But it is a milestone nonetheless.

I have a love/hate relationship with this particular visit to see his mom.

I love the opportunity to catch my breath, to do a little less laundry, to read a little more, and to catch up with some friends I do not often see.

I hate not having him near, not playing with him, not tucking him into bed, not hanging out with my son for two months.

I know he wants and needs time with his mom, and understand how critically important it is for him to connect with maternal grandparents and relatives beyond phone calls or FaceTime sessions.

I know I will soon be the one on the other end of the phone or iPad for those brief moments to talk and tell each other what we have been doing during the summer.

I know how quickly eight weeks can fly by, but also know how long the walk will be from the American Airlines gate to my truck in the garage.  I know I will cry.

You may face a similar circumstance this summer or at some point – a time when you have to say goodbye to your kids so they can be with your ex or with her family.

During these times, consider the following:

Your kids did not choose this separation from their mom and they long for that connection.  Do not let those natural feelings they may share with you intimidate or make you feel like less of a father.

Allow your kids to be with their mom without guilt.  If we try to manipulate our kids so they will want to be with us instead of mom, it will backfire.  Again, I do not have a double-blind placebo study to back up that statement, but common sense tells me it is true.

Ask your kids how you should communicate with them while they are away.  I have made it a practice to ask my son how often he would like me to call or FaceTime.  In the past, I have smothered him, but learned over time the value of finding a balance with him.  Each child will have different communication needs, so let them tell you what they desire and find a balance.

When you walk by their empty bedrooms, express gratitude for being a dad.  When your kids return home, your grateful attitude will help ease their potentially rocky transition.

I can’t wait for you to come back home, son.

How do you prepare for an extended time away from your kids?  How do you prepare them for an extended time away?

Giving Space To Our Kids

At first I thought I heard laughter from my son’s room.  But within seconds I knew first impressions were wrong.

I immediately began to walk down the hall to check on him.  Each step confirmed he was not laughing, but instead crying.  Not the type calling for me to race down the hall because of an injury, but the type calling for gentle, deliberate sympathy or empathy.

Photo Credit: stienman via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: stienman via Compfight cc

He was balled up on his bed with Blanket over him.  Always one for precision, my son named his soft, light green blanket Blanket.

Gently rolling back and forth he cried.

“What’s wrong, bud?”


“Are you okay?”

Through the tears and a little bit of snot, he said, “I miss Mommy.”

Before I could fully develop the words of comfort and encouragement, I said two short sentences.  “Mommy misses you, too.  Would you like some alone time or would you like me to stay?”

Every parent wants their kid to say, “Dad, please stay,” but mine said, “I want to be alone.”

And with a reassuring kiss on the forehead and squeeze on his shoulder, I got up and left with no words but, “Okay.”

For a brief time, his crying got louder, but he seemed to get it out and process the way he wanted to.  Before long, he came out to the kitchen and took a long drink of water.  He walked over to me and hugged my waist.

No words.  Just a hug.

“Dad, can I have a Power Crunch bar?”

He needed a little time and a little space to process emotion himself.  Next time, he may want me there, he may want some words of wisdom or encouragement.  Today, he wanted space.


“Ts” Of Single Fatherhood – Trust

I heard a story about a father and daughter visiting the Grand Canyon and walking along one of the trails. One narrow stretch of dirt pathway appeared quite treacherous and the father got a little scared. He asked his daughter to hold his hand for safety.

Photo Credit: Jim Boswell via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Jim Boswell via Compfight cc

The daughter replied, “No, you hold my hand.”

Puzzled, the father asked what the difference was.

The daughter replied, “If I hold your hand, I might let go if something goes wrong. If you hold my hand, I know you’ll never let go.”

First, let me apologize for using a sappy story. I will try not to do it again.

Second, let’s talk about trust in our relationship with our kids. When death, divorce or separation has brought them into a predominately single-parent world, trust can be tenuous. Can dad be trusted or is the world now an untrustworthy place? Will my questions be answered honestly or will dad lie to make everything seem better?

Your kids may be asking slightly different questions, but at the core, they want to know if they can trust your words, your presence, and your commitment.

The little girl in the story viewed handholding as a relational bond, not a physical one.

So, how do we foster a trusting environment with our kids? Think about these ideas:

I DO WHAT I SAY: My son (and I suspect your kids) holds my feet to the fire when it comes to consistency and follow through. Ever tell your kid if they do a chore you will take them to QuickTrip for a treat? Nano seconds after they complete the task, they are all over you about when you will take them. Am I right?

Ever threaten your kid with punishment for some minor infraction (mainly because you are frustrated and tired) and then not actually invoke the consequence? Your kid will remember your threats can be idle. Trust is diminished.

Be slow to speak and be thoughtful, because your words need to match your actions. Trust will increase when your words hold true. If, for some reason,, you cannot follow through, take the time to offer an explanation…and honest explanation…so trust will not erode.

I SAY WHAT I DO: Kids have amazing imaginations. So, if you allow them room to create their own narrative for words or facts you leave out of an explanation, they will come up with some amazing (and potentially harmful) stories. Kind of like a bad game of parenting Mad Libs, except not as funny and possibly harmful to your relationship.

My son pretty consistently asked me if I was dating anyone. In fact, we were driving back from visiting my parents one day, and he informed me I could get a girlfriend simply by providing some pertinent information to eHarmony.com. He was seven at the time and, frankly, my dating life was not any of his business. But, he cared enough to ask and deserved an appropriate answer. I gave him an honest answer he could understand at his age, and he was not forced to make up his own narrative about my dating life.

Uncertainly and mystery do not foster trust. Give age-appropriate or situation-appropriate explanations, but do not force your kids to create their own explanations when you could otherwise build trust.  So, like the girl in the sappy story suggested, lean in to your relationship and strengthen the bond with your kids.

Name a time you have threatened a punishment and not followed through. What were the consequences? Also, share a question your kids asked and you did not want to give an answer.

“Ts” Of Single Fatherhood – Truth

“Your son will never lie to you.  But do not believe a word he says.”

Let it sink in…

I had the same thoughts you have right now when my son’s therapist told me this.  But you need some context.  My son was seven at the time and what he told my therapist and me about some events did not seem believable.  Later, she reminded me he was sharing his perceptions of events, and even though his words gave rise to concern, I should take them with a grain of salt.

He told me the truth, but his truth and reality may not completely align.

He had no motivation to deceive me, but his ability to understand and interpret the actions and words of adults confused him and his reality may not precisely reflect what was said and done.

Enough psychobabble.  On to what you and I face every day.

Photo Credit: Lucky1988 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Lucky1988 via Compfight cc

Kids take words quite literally.  It is all fun and games when we tell them the moon is made of cheese, but altogether different when the “parent” hat is on with serious matters to discuss.

I never want my son to question my intentions or actions.  I want clarity and want him to feel comfortable asking for clarification if he does not understand.

That only comes when your home has a culture of truth.  I am all for blaming the dog for a fart, but, again, on serious matters, our kids need us to be honest.

Some of the ways I foster a culture of honesty and truth are:

Saying “I don’t know” when I don’t know.  We do not have all the answers and our kids need to know it.  Whether we do not know the math equation to find the volume of a box or do not know why or how to explain the actions of our exes, we have the freedom to say “I don’t know.”  We cannot stop there.  We can empower our kids to explore and figure out math equations.  We can also give our kids some insight to being a normal person who may not understand the actions or words of another – to rest in the tension that we will not always be able to figure out why friends and family do things.  Why a best friend would say something hurtful.  Why a sibling would lash out and call them names.  We may not always know the answer, but we can control our response and reaction.

Invite clarification.  Ask your kids to repeat to you what they think you said – especially when discussing difficult issues.  Get yourself and teach them to seek clarity so communication becomes clear and confusion disappears.  This discipline can help everyone at home, school, work, and life.

Affirm the value of their words.  My son comes up with some pretty fantastical stuff.  He saw a rattlesnake while hiking.  He saw a Great White shark when kayaking in San Diego Bay.  Someone stepped on his face with their cleat during flag football.  Instead of deflating their stories we should engage, seek clarification, and help them navigate the awesome world of childhood imagination and play.  We can gently push them toward truth and remind them of the story of the boy who cried wolf.  But we can also let them be kids and remember their perceptions of reality may differ from ours depending on their age and development.

Be honest.  This should go without saying.  You and I have already discovered how closely our kids listen and how much they remember.  If we deceive our kids, they will learn from us and do the same.  I remember when my son just turned nine and he asked me about Santa like he had done in years past.  But this time was different.  His demeanor, his tone, and his eyes told me it was time to let him know the truth.  He also asked me about his mom and my divorce.  To this day, I tell him the truth – all he needs to know is that his mom and I love him and the divorce was not his fault.  It does not answer the question he wants answered, but it is honest.

What is the most awesome/funny make believe story your kids have told?

“Ts” Of Single Fatherhood – Talk

“Hi, son!  How was your day?”


“What happened at school?”


“Anything happen you would like to talk about?”


Sound like a familiar conversation when you pick your kid up?

For our purposes, we will acknowledge conversation between father and child benefits both the father and child.  We will acknowledge the importance of verbal communication for the development of our kids from a social and emotional standpoint.

Photo Credit: Alkavare via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Alkavare via Compfight cc

If you have had experiences like the one I shared above, we need to move beyond the “why” and get to the “how”.

OBSERVE:  When do you like to talk to others and when do you like to be left alone?  Do you want peace and quiet before breakfast?  Until you get to work?  Do you need some time to decompress after a long day and collect your thoughts without engaging in conversation?  Well, our kids have similar preferences.  Learn yours and learn theirs.  Use that information to determine the best time to engage in meaningful conversation.  Many kids do not want to talk about their day at school immediately after leaving, and instead would like to listen to music or shoot some hoops – not a good time to actively engage.  Instead, figure out when they are most open.  For many, it is at bedtime (see my post about bedtime rituals for some thoughts on this).

ASK QUESTIONS:  Would you rather get a lecture or engage in a dialogue?  Often, we equate talking to our kids with telling our kids what we think.  Instead, observe which questions pique their interest and elicit a response more than a simple “yes” or “no”.  Sometime our kids need to hear from us in the lecture format, but talking to them involves a two-way dialogue.  Properly worded questions can sometimes teach more than any droning lecture because they encourage our kids to think about choices and the reasons behind them.

INVITE QUESTIONS:  We used to have a time before bed where I told my son he could ask me any question he wanted with the promise I would give an honest answer.  When he would ask about the divorce, I honestly told him it was not appropriate for me to discuss and went right into my “broken record” explanation.  When he would ask a question about an aspect of science I did not know, I told him I would do some research and get back to him. Sometimes he had no questions and sometimes I knew the answer.  Encouraging our kids to ask questions seems to make them more comfortable with talking – at least it did with my son.

LISTEN:  In those moments you want to really talk to your kids and connect, give them your attention when they talk.  Let the phone keep ringing.  Do not check your text messages like Pavlov’s dog when the alert sounds.  Turn off the television.  Engage in eye contact and repeat what they said to you so they know you listened and understood.  If our kids sense we do not pay attention to them, why would they talk?

DO SOMETHING ACTIVE WHILE YOU TALK:  Throwing a football, going for a walk, or swinging at the park can be great ways (especially with boys) to connect and converse.  They still have your attention, but there is just something about walking and talking….

Because we regularly play the role of dad and mom, we need to redouble our efforts to connect with our kids in conversation.  They need to express feelings and ask questions, but they may not if the foundations of regular communication do not exist.

My son has recently shared some concerns with me on his own, with no prompting and seemingly out of the blue.  I have told him how appreciative I am he asked me and thanked him for trusting me with something bugging him.  I do not believe he would have asked had we not developed our communication skills.

Having said that, I still get “fine” and “no” when I pick him up from school.  And then he turns on the radio.

When do you find your kids most willing to have a good conversation?

What Every Single Dad Needs To Know About Discipline

Photo Credit: eric_maniac via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: eric_maniac via Compfight cc

You know the drill. Before a business negotiation you and your partner decide which one will be the good cop and which one will be the bad cop.  Some have it down to a science…and then there is me.

I have a tough time being a bad cop – something about being a people-pleaser and watching too much Andy Griffith Show growing up.

I relate to Alan Arkin as the precinct captain in “So I Married an Axe Murderer” who struggles to find his tough cop voice.

Many of us remember the infamous line from our childhood, “Just wait until your father gets home!”  Cliche, but pretty accurate.  Dad was the enforcer and mom was more of the compassionate cop you could go to after the fireworks (or the belt strap).

I do not want to suggest healthy parenting requires parents to be good cops and bad cops on some rotating basis to keep the rugrats obedient.

As single-fathers we know it’s way more nuanced.  You and your kids are in this position because something tough happened.  You may all be in counseling trying to deal with the pain, guilt, sorrow, anger and trauma.  Talking about emotions and feelings has become more comfortable, or at least something you’re working on.

You and I are both enforcer and refuge.  Disciplinarian and comforter.

I have figured out it’s pretty much impossible to play both roles, so I have had to refine my view of how to approach discipline.  Volumes of leather-bound books have been written on every side of the “how to” discipline, but we need to examine the bigger picture first.

Here is what I am learning about disciplining without a spouse:

1 – What you say goes.  Your kid doesn’t have anyone else to turn to (maybe even manipulate) when it comes to rules and discipline.  Remember the power and finality of your words before you speak them.  They can easily build up and teach or tear down and drive away.

2 – Establish clear boundaries, rules, consequences, and expectations.  I have lots of room to improve in this area – mainly on the consequence side of things.  The consequences I impose on my son for the same action have varied based on the kind of day I had.  Not a good strategy.  This point deserves more discussion in a future post, but in the meantime I recommend “Boundaries With Kids” by Dr. Henry Cloud – an excellent resource.

[NOTE] This February I had the privilege of hearing John Cotton Richmond speak at Donald Miller’s Storyline Conference.  He gave an excellent presentation on parenting and the rules in the Richmond household.  Keep your eyes open for him and any speaking he does in your community – very inspiring and full of wisdom.

3 – Clear communication maintains the relationship.  If we are clear with our kids, set boundaries, and demonstrate love consistently, they will instinctively know we love them even when we have to correct them.  Parent after parent confirm this through their life experiences: children want the safety and security of rules and boundaries.  My son does not love the correction, but he understands I love him unconditionally so the sting isn’t so bad.  I don’t have to turn around and take him out for ice cream after taking away a privilege so he knows I still love him.

I want my son to know I discipline him because I love him and set boundaries with consequences because I want the best for him.  That’s the bottom line.

Let’s leave the good cop/bad cop shtick to screenwriters.

What lessons have you learned about disciplining your kids?  Leave a comment below.

4 Ideas to Improve Your Bedtime Ritual

At the ripe old age of “I’m almost 10” it happened.  My son has asked me to stop laying down with him at bedtime.  He’s a big boy now and it’s time to go to bed alone despite all the zombies outside his window and a forecast for a 50 percent chance of sharknados.

But I’m still in control.  I inform him I will be laying down for a moment to read to him, scratch his back for 10 seconds, and say our prayers.  I confidently assure him it will be quick and painless and I’ll be out of the room in no time.

Rewind four years to when we started this discipline.

I’m thankful for lots of great advice from professional psychologists who worked with me and my son during our transition to a single-parent home.  To a person, they instructed me to maintain and improve upon his bedtime ritual to both provide comfort and promote a strong emotional connection.

His primary therapist insisted recreational book reading happen in bed because, in her experience, it enhances the emotional connection between parent and child.  An added benefit I discovered was an overall easier time falling asleep because of the consistent and safe routine.

So, here are four things I’ve learned about bedtime:

* Bedtime stories (not associated with school) need to be read in bed.  It’s a safe and comforting place to bond during reading.  This, somehow, enhances emotional bonds between father and child.  I don’t understand and don’t have any metrics to prove anything for certain, but I know my son’s emotional state was stable when I did this consistently.  He had his moments (and me mine), but it must have helped.

* Just suck it up and scratch their back.  After a long day (still anticipating folding laundry and doing dishes before I could turn in) the last thing I wanted to do was lay in some awkward position and scratch my son’s back while propping up my arm on a pillow so it didn’t fall asleep.  But I knew it mattered.  A lot.  Touch is so important with our kids and a lot of us dads forget.  So just do it.  Scratch their backs and give them a good night kiss.

* Invite questions and conversation.  Your kid will benefit from being in an emotionally safe place where they feel connected with you because they will be more likely to share their feelings and engage in some amazing conversations.  Depending on your circumstance, your kid may experience some deep hurt, fear, and guilt – what can it hurt to let them know you welcome their questions or want find out what’s on their mind?

(DISCLAIMER)  I have tried the question thing with mixed results.  I told him he could ask me anything and I would answer honestly…even if my response was “I don’t know” or “we will need to talk about that when you’re older” or “that is a grown-up issue between your mom and me.”  He occasionally pressed to get details about our divorce, but I stuck to my script (more on this concept to come in another post).  Sometimes he said he didn’t have any questions or want to talk.  That’s fine – it’s an invitation, not a requirement.

* If something has to get done before you go to bed, try to get it knocked out before the bedtime ritual.  Your day probably began 15-16 hours before it’s time to lay down with your child.  You will, occasionally, fall asleep.  You will barely function after your brief, pre-bedtime nap.  As they get older, this gets more important because their bedtime is closer to yours.

Connection with our kids keeps coming back to communication, time and touch.  So, invest some energy into your bedtime ritual.  It will make a difference.

If you miss a night here and there, don’t worry about it – just be as consistent as you can and know it will pay dividends.

As for me, I’m going to get this bedtime ritual in as long as I can, even though it’s abbreviated.  Plus, you never know when a sharknado will strike.