Parenting 101: Give Your Kids A Support Group

The Scott MenMy boys rock. I have five. As I write this, they’re between the ages of 16 and 21. I’m thinking a lot about one of my boys in particular right now. #4 is on his senior trip with three of his buddies at the beach. He just turned 18. Just graduated high school. Am I nervous? A little. Am I worried? Not really.

So far none of my kids are brain surgeons or rocket scientists. But from what I can tell, they’re men of solid character. Don’t get me wrong; nobody’s kids are perfect, and I know there’s plenty that goes on that I don’t know about. But in times when they had the opportunity to let me down, they didn’t.

The Best Parenting Advice Ever

When my kids were young, someone gave me some great advice. It was at church, and several of our peers heard it at the same time. We grabbed hold of the concept and have held fast to it, even to this day.

“We” is important. Don’t kid yourself, this isn’t something you can do on your own. Heck, parenting is always a group effort. Mom + Dad = a group. (Before you send me hate mail, I know all about single parenting, but that’s never the best method of raising kids.) The larger the group of adults supporting your kid, the better.

Here’s the advice in a single statement:

Surround your kids with other adults who hold the same values that you do.

It’s Not As Simple As It Sounds

This sounds reasonable, but it’s not as easy you might think.

First of all, you have to find committed adults. Committed means in it for the long haul. These can’t be your average highly-mobile, suburban parents. These need to be people with deep roots who will be around to watch your kids grow up. This could be a grandparent or an uncle, but it should also be someone outside your family. These people have to actively pursue a relationship with your kids. This is only effective if kids and adults have a genuine relationship with each other.

Second, they have to share your values. You’re committed to your world view. Right or wrong, you see the world a certain way, and if you’re committed to that world view, then you’re going to want to pass that on to your kids. When your kids hear multiple voices say the same thing that you do at home, it’s more likely to stick. Hearing messages about character and values not just from parents, but from other trusted adults gives the message legs it wouldn’t have if mom or dad preached it at home, by themselves. But it’s not always easy to find adults who share your values. There are a lot of men in my life: guys I work with, guys I play rugby with, guys who live in the neighborhood. I wouldn’t want most of these guys giving advice to my boys.

When It Really Counts

The younger you start this, the better. If a child grows up with adults he knows he can trust, then when it really counts, it will.

When does it count? Adolescence.

Think about it; when a kid becomes a teenager, nothing – nothing – his parents say has any value. Overnight they become idiots. He tunes them out and begins navigating the world on his own. But if there are other adults out there who he trusts, they will still be able to speak into his life. This is when the investment pays off.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called the men who have invested themselves in my kids’ lives to let them know of a big decision or crisis one of my kids is facing. “I’ll talk to him”, they say, and they do. It’s frustrating when your kid thinks his mentor is a genius for saying the exact, same, thing you’ve been telling him. But you move on, because it’s more important for your kid to hear the message, than for you to be right.

Where Do You Find These People?

You have to start with defining your values and what you want to pass on to your kids. The most important thing, for us, was for our kids to have good character and values that aligned with our religion, Christianity. Before you spit out your coffee, think about these core values of Christianity: peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control, honesty, love. If more families practiced these virtues, whether they were “Christians” or not, we’d live in a much better world. Naturally, we wanted to pass on these values to our children. So our faith community was the first place to start.

Second, it helps to find guys who are in the same place as you. We were fortunate enough to have several families with boys the same age as ours in our church. As I said earlier, we all heard the same advice at the same time and committed, verbally, to be that outside voice for each other. As our families naturally mixed together, there were more opportunities to connect. For us that meant lots of slumber parties, paintball fights, camping trips, work days, Sunday school classes, and one-on-one conversations. And when you’re all sharing life together, you provide your kid with peers who share the same values as you. In fact, several of the kids from that group are on my son’s senior trip. I trust them completely, because I have a close relationship with all of them.

Third, it helps to have some older folks as your kids’ mentors. Let’s face it; you should almost never trust parenting advice from your peers. It’s the blind leading the blind. When you call an older guy about a problem you’re having with your kid, often you’ll find that the problem isn’t near as big as you think it is. When prompting a mentor to give my kid advice, often it’s me that’s gotten what I needed. And there’s something about a loving grandfatherly figure that gives him authority with your kid. Instant street cred.

I see too many young families trying to parent on their own. Parenting is hard. I have the scars to prove it (literally). There’s no reason to do it by yourself. And besides, you have no idea what you’re doing. Put down roots. Join a community that shares your values. Find trusted, like-minded adults. Make a commitment. This is the long game. I promise it will pay off for you, and more importantly, your kids.

Functional Fitness at Fifty

Corban, Stacey and I
A great day – playing on the same rugby team as my son

It’s Monday, and it’s my first day back after an 8-day summer trip. It wasn’t a vacation; far from it. Nine teenagers and three adults spent the week working at a summer camp for kids with special needs. It was a challenging, enriching, emotional experience. And in the midst of the trip,  I found myself grateful for the fact that at 50 I’m fit enough to participate 100% in a journey like this.

What Is Functional Fitness?

“Functional Fitness” is a term you hear a lot if you spend much time reading fitness articles or listening to fitness podcasts. It’s the idea that you should be able to perform the physical acts your body is required to do.  It might be something as simple as reaching up to take a book off a shelf, or as difficult as picking up a heavy box off the floor where you work.

Obviously, athletes or people who perform physically demanding jobs have higher fitness requirements. A smart athlete is going to train regularly in a way that keeps him fit. A worker with a demanding job is going to stay fit by regularly performing the actions required by his job.

As we get older, our fitness requirements seem to get lower and lower, and we succumb to the lie that says that guys “our age” can’t perform at a certain level. Or, we’re stupid enough to think that we’re still “functionally fit” enough to perform, when we haven’t put in the work. Then we get hurt. A couple of years ago I went on one of these trips with a guy in his mid-30’s. We were working at an orphanage in Mexico, painting, cutting trees, laying cement. He pulled a muscle in his back the first day and was out of order for the rest of the week.

What You Miss When You’re Not Fit at 50

Life’s not over at 50. When you settle and believe the lie, you miss out on a rich life. Here’s what I got to do last week:

  • I was able to maneuver kids to/from wheelchairs who couldn’t give me any help.
  • I played kickball, basketball and touch-rugby with my teen-aged sons and their friends after a long day of working at camp.
  • I held a paralyzed pre-teen girl in my arms for nearly 30 minutes allowing her to jump at a trampoline park. Note: I’m not sure I’ve ever been as physically tired, but her excitement made every minute worth it.
  • I spent an afternoon swimming with my kids at a local river. We swam across the (admittedly small) river several times together, enjoying a great summer day.
  • I white water rafted for a day at the Ocoee River.

I was pleasantly tired at the end of each day, even a little sore, since I don’t go rafting or jump on trampolines often. But I was able to participate fully. I returned home intact, with no back injuries or hamstring pulls. I was useful to the staff and kids at the special needs camp. And I had a great time with my kids.

Start by Dreaming

Instead of settling for “I’m too old”, set some goals. Dream of what you’d like to do, or what you miss doing. Start with asking yourself these questions:

  • What do you want to do with your kids? Play a game of pickup after work? Go canoeing?
  • What would you like to do with your wife? Take a hiking trip? Maybe go on long walks at night, without getting winded? Have better sex? (Hey, we’re guys here, right?)
  • What do you miss? Would you like to play on a softball team again? Would it be fun to build something outside, or work on your car? Maybe you were a runner in high school, and you’d like to do it again?

You don’t have to miss out. Set a goal to be functionally fit, to perform at the level that allows you to enjoy the life you dream of. List one of your goals, below, or tell us why you’re happy that you’re already functionally fit at fifty.

My Morning Routine: How I Set Myself Up for Success

Set Yourself Up To Win

I want to crush the day. I’m a husband, dad, small business owner, service technician, consultant, coach, mentor, and more. I have a lot of roles, which means I have a lot of people relying on me to be my productive best. I also have expectations of myself: I need to be fit. I want to be present with the people I love.  When my work day is over, I don’t want to be haunted by “open loops” of work left unfinished. I need a good night’s sleep.

It’s taken me a while, but I have nailed down a morning routine that launches me into the day and sets me up for the greatest possibility of success (possibility, because even though I set the day up well, I can still blow it).

Here’s a breakdown of my morning. Note: I have a home office. My kids are home-schooled. My wife works outside the home. These are all variables of my morning equation. Thus, your morning will probably look different than mine.

Wake-Up

The alarm goes off at 6 am. That doesn’t mean I get up at 6. I like to hit the snooze a couple of times.  “Feet on the floor” is determined by the time my wife leaves for work (7:30) and the time my #2 son leaves for school (8:00). They both need coffee, and neither are ambitious enough to make it for themselves. I am the Coffee God. I prepare and supply coffee for those whom I love. (In fact, this is the way I tell my wife every morning that I love her. No kidding.) 6:20, two snoozes, is “feet on the floor”.

Me Time

I grab my phone from the bedside (it also serves as my alarm clock) and turn off “airplane mode”. Although emails and notifications come flooding in from overnight, I ignore them. As I travel from my bedroom down the hall to the kitchen, my podcatcher (“DoggCatcher“) updates all my morning news programs. As I prepare coffee, I drink one glass of water and listen to the NPR News Now podcast to see if the world came to an end overnight. Once the coffee’s finished brewing, I deliver a cup to my wife (with steamed, foamed milk), pour myself a cup, and seat myself in the den.

It’s 6:30, and it’s quiet. Even though my wife is awake, she won’t be up for quite a while. None of my five kids are stirring yet.  I sit on the couch next to my leg lamp and read something for my personal development (not professional, though the better I am as a person, the better work I’ll perform). I’m currently reading “How God Became  King“, by N.T. Wright, my favorite theologian, and I have just started “The Five Minute Journal“, to help cultivate more gratitude in my life.

I only allot thirty minutes for this. I find that my mind starts racing toward the rest of the day’s activities if I spend more time. Thirty minutes isn’t much, but thirty minutes over 5 days is 2 1/2 hours. Ten hours a month. 130 hours over the course of a year. Compounded interest. I hate to be clichéd, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Get To Work!

At 7 am I move from the couch across the room to my desk, or I head to the kitchen to my standing desk. I pull my phone out and crank up the podcasts once again. I have a large list of work-related podcasts I listen to each day (if you want to know the list, let me know). As the podcasts play, I tear into my email, both personal and professional. My personal load is generally very low in the morning. My business account, however, is packed. My work as a geek relies on monitoring computers, servers and networks for problems. Overnight I get a steady stream of alerts from my customers: “Backup succeeded!” “Backup failed!” “Disk full!” “An intrusion was detected!”. I also get news alerts from various technical news sources. I don’t read many of them, but they all get scanned for relevance.

Once email is done, I begin connecting to all the different networks I’m responsible for to look for any issues that might have occurred overnight. This takes a while. The whole process of reading email and checking networks takes close to two hours, if no one interrupts me. During this time my two oldest kids have left for work and my wife has gone as well. Invariably one of them gives me an item for my “to do” list, so interruptions are common. Also, if it’s during the school year, I take a break at 8 am to wake up my high schoolers and get them rolling.

Breakfast

It’s now 9 am. These days I don’t usually eat breakfast until 9 am. Why? Just recently I’ve been playing with the practice of intermittent fasting. Nothing extreme, except I’ve seen some research that says a short feeding window to fasting window has some benefits. Right now I’m trying to hold to at least a 12/12 window, though I’d like it to be 10/14 window. I’m having trouble with the 10/14 window for two reasons. First, because we cook real meals, we generally don’t eat dinner until about 7 pm. Second, I’m a snacker. 9 to 10 pm I start craving something salty. I used to crave sweets, and so you’d find me with a big bowl of ice cream around 10 pm. Thankfully, that habit’s broken. But I still keep stuffing nuts or corn chips in my face late at night, pushing my window further and further back.

Breakfast – at least first breakfast – is a protein shake loaded with all kinds of stuff. I take a second breakfast around 10 am, something a little more substantial with a good load of complex carbs and protein to set me up for my workout later in the day.

What’s Next?

That’s my morning. I usually don’t take appointments before 9 am, so that I can keep this routine. Of course, emergencies happen, phone calls come in, but on average this works. Being on the job by 7 am means I don’t feel guilty when I call the day at 3 or 4 to hit the gym or head to rugby practice. If I’m hitting it hard for a solid 8 hours, then I’ve done a good day’s work.

What’s your morning routine? What works for you? Where are your time leaks? Share it with me in the comments, below.

Obligatory First Post

This is the obligatory “first post”.

I wish we could all just skip to the next, obviously more meaty “second post”, but alas, you and I are stuck with this one.

Besides, if we did skip ahead to the next post, then that one would, by definition, be the “first post” and we’d be back here, where we started. So let’s make the best of this one.

I’ve had several blogs over the years. My first covered stuff like professional interests, hobbies, and family life. It died a long, slow, painful death and is now in the mausoleum of the Internet Archive. My second blog was a gardening and beekeeping blog, two passions of mine, but alas, it too, has died, along with my tomato and squash plants.

I still keep a blog for my business, Shoestring Networks, that doles out computer and network security tips to small businesses.

And now there’s this, most originally titled, blog.

My vision for this blog is to cover the crafty schemes, plots and intrigues of a middle-aged man, answering questions like:

  • How do you navigate a middle-life crisis (Do you buy the sports car, or trade in your 40 year old wife for two twenty year olds?)
  • How much should you exercise, or should you give up on abs and accept your “dad bod”?
  • What should you do as a twenty or thirty year old man so that you’re successful in your forties, fifties and sixties?

By the way, I’m not sixty. I think I just voiced, out loud, my hope that this blog won’t die a premature death.

Is that enough for a first post? Can we move on to the next, certainly life-changing blog entry?

I think so.