Parenting toward Happiness

“I Just Want Him to be Happy”

Several years ago the mother of a 5th and 2nd grader came in to talk. She was in the early stages of a divorce and was having a lot of trouble with fifth grader John. About fifteen minutes into her descriptions of unpleasant incidents she said with tears just behind her eyes: “I only want him to be happy.”

“That is probably not a realistic objective right now,” I said.

It was the right thing to say. It was understandable that John was unhappy, and he had a perfect right to be unhappy. His parents were going through a divorce, for heaven’s sake.

But my statement has general validity, too. Continue reading

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What Do Good Parents and Good Schools Have in Common?

How to Exercise Authority

Of the 20 schools I visited last fall, two stand out. Any parent would know in the first five minutes of each visit what I knew: I want my child in school A, and I will fight like hell to keep my child out of school B. One was a place of education and one felt like a prison. I will call one The Learning Academy and the other Brand X.

In The Learning Academy all kids were on a mission, they seemed lit from within with the joy of learning. In two hours I saw no bored or unhappy students, and they were all engaged in challenging academic work. Each classroom exuded creativity—in every corner of every classroom.

In Brand X I saw three students Continue reading

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How to Learn from Children

Let Go and Listen

Thirty-two years ago, when my son Peter was eight, we were driving south from downtown Kansas City to our home at 3600 Charlotte. At 27th street we saw an enormous wrecking ball smashing into a ten-story building.

“Dad, can we stop?”

“No. We have to get home for dinner,” I said.

“Rats,” he said, and the simplicity of his reply went straight to my heart. The car hadn’t gone a hundred feet before I realized that “no” was the wrong answer. But momentum is a funny thing, and I just kept driving.

During my 44 years as father I have worked with thousands of other people’s children. Almost all the parents were good parents. Many of them are simply marvelous parents, Continue reading

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Can the Good-enough Parent Demand Mastery?

Great vs. Excellent

Last week when I wrote that trying to be a “superior parent” is crazy, I seem to have been like the little boy who said: “The emperor has no clothes.” The idea that if children get only the three things they need (love, respect as a decision maker, and accurate feedback) they will turn out just fine hasn’t been said much. Once said, however, almost everyone nodded, cheered, or breathed a sigh of relief. Striving to be “The Best Parent I Can Be” is driving parents crazy.

What about our children? Should they be striving “to be the best they can be?” Continue reading

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“Superior Parenting?” That’s Crazy Talk. Children Need Only 3 Things.

Years ago, I was standing in the back yard of my uncle’s house talking to my cousin. “I feel like I messed up my kids,” I said.

“Oh, Ricky, Don’t you know? We all mess up our kids. It’s all set up that way.”

I was an educator, who by then had known about a thousand parents, and was experienced enough to know that she was right. However for me, the Dad, I needed to be reminded that there is no way to do the job of parenting “right.”

Since then I have seen about three thousand more parents in all situations, and I still know that she was right. Three of my four children have children, and I watch with admiration how they raise my five grandchildren. I also watch the “mistakes” they are making, and I am smart enough to keep my mouth shut. Anyway, just look at them. They are terrific. My cousin was right.

So when Amy Chua came out in the Wall Street Journal ten days ago claiming that Chinese mothers are “Superior,” Continue reading

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Playing Position around Homework

When two players on the same team both “go for the ball,” one of them is often “out of position.” When a parent says, “We had a little trouble with our homework last night,” someone is out of position. Continue reading

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Five Tips for Teachers (and Parents)

One day Iliana (age 6) seemed to want to strike up a conversation as she was leaving school with her Mom.

“Goodbye, Mr. Rick.”

“Goodbye, Iliana.”

“You’re the principal.”

“That’s right. I am the principal.”

“You are in charge of everything.”

“That’s right.”

”You can DO anything you want.”

At that point I realized I was in a different conversation—not the usual pleasantries in which mutual affection is communicated, but a conversation with substance. Continue reading

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Start Talking Entitled

Exactly two weeks ago, I met Greg Lippman for a cup of coffee and a muffin at Peet’s at 1295 The Alameda in San Jose. Greg’s mission is to help low-achieving students become the first in their family to graduate from a four-year college. Having already helped to launch one charter school which is now achieving this mission, his latest project is to create and sustain five new charter schools in Santa Clara county, Continue reading

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High Responsibility; Low Control

Genius is the axis of the spinning top that we call school. To keep great teachers in the business and get the test scores up we must spin on this axis. Increased reliance on tutors and the demoralization of students are all manifestations of the top wobbling. Fear has caused us to lose our center as a democracy based on the decision making capacity of each human. When the top starts to wobble, bring the focus back to genius. The commitment to lead each character’s genius into the world teaches us the art of “High responsibility; Low control.”

Yesterday my beautiful, brilliant, corporate bigshot wife Continue reading

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Leave and Learn

Having trouble separating from your children on the opening day of school? Separation from our children goes deep.

The sun rose at 6:30 on the morning of August 22 in the hills above Philo, California. I know because I was awake to greet it having risen, myself, at 5:30 like clockwork. You’d think I thought it was my responsibility to make sure the sun got up all right.
And indeed, it did rise beautifully. This Sunday morning the dense fog bank that has plagued northern California for a month seemed to be thinning out over the coastal range to the west. In the east the mists now lay (as they should) like blue-tinted cotton batting in the valleys below me, and they were beginning to rise in fibrous filaments toward the bluing sky.
However, it was much later that day that it finally dawned on me that in five days I would be leaving California. My 28-year-old architect daughter Katie and I had agreed that our goal for the weekend Continue reading

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