Tag Archives: parenting

What My Daughters Have Taught Me about Writing

Working as a writer has much in common with learning good parenting: more than how to communicate, it really starts with learning to listen.

my kidsAlso, both teach by showing you a lot of what not to do.
It was several years ago now, but I still remember it as clearly as when I first discovered it.
And of course, I thought I had my story straight as I was walking up the stairs.
Speak the truth in love. Remember to balance understanding and firmness.

As I make my way up to the smaller bedroom, I consider what the best, measured words might be to help my daughters realize they haven’t stayed on task in the bedtime routine. I know it’s a common parent gripe, this nightly battle over getting the pajamas on. But I need to help them respect the fact that because they’ve been goofing around up here and not getting ready for bed, it means no fun game together before brushing teeth. I’ve already explained that, and now it’s happened.

If they prefer goofing off that’s fine, but I also know they’ll be disappointed. And the truth is, now I’m disappointed too. I don’t get to enjoy them as much as I’d like and it’s always fun to play Memory or the Face Game with them.

I’ve tried to empower them to use their brains and compel themselves forward to make the best decision.

DSC_0002But as a parent in training, I’ve screwed it up. I got distracted and didn’t provide my usual 5-minute warning. I walk in and tell them their time’s up. Sorry, they didn’t make it. And of course, they’re upset and the younger one starts to argue: I didn’t give them the warning. She’s right, but instead of realizing this is a reasonable expectation and admitting my own distraction, I fight back and stay firm, aware that I don’t have much more time before bed myself and I need to finish up a few things first.

And that’s the first place I failed.The next one comes when I forget that this whole situation is just more practice for all of us, and it’s a glorious opportunity to show them something they’ll learn from, enjoy, and hopefully even remember for a long time. I blow it by not listening to my girls–in this case, both my audience and my subject–and I reduce the conversation to simply speaking decisively to them so things can be done. I don’t even explain. And because they’re naturally quiet, they don’t argue much–the older is naturally submissive, so she doesn’t argue at all. And I oversee the changing of the clothes and the brushing of teeth and we say prayers and turn off the light.


If you ever wonder why this parenting thing is so hard, this is exactly the reason: you simply won’t realize very often how stupid you’re being because you didn’t listen. You’d already decided what to do. And you’ll think you’ve got to be consistent. And firm. When really, you’re just proving why there are so few truly good parents in the world.

And you want to know the worst part? It totally doesn’t matter to them. In the morning, they’ve already forgiven you and you’ve lost no respect because they believed what you did was justified. You’re the adult. You get to disrespect them because they’re just kids. And that’s when you know you have to apologize before they drink up their juice and get out the door. Why did you have to be a power-tripping policeman instead of a dad willing to be gracious and kind to the two people who make his entire world spin?

DSC_0116It’s after the apology and their quick, undivided forgiveness, after breakfast is cleaned up and I’m back in my chair writing that I realize why they say writing is rewriting. It’s because it’s what it’s all about: learning from your mistakes.

So don’t let yourself get frustrated today, little writer. You didn’t quite get it right? It’s okay. You can get it right this time if you stop and listen. Don’t think you’ve already got it all figured. It’s really okay not to. And it’s also okay to need the support and encouragement. Raising a book as good as yours should probably take a bit of practice.

Today is just more practice. So give yourself the space to learn as you go. And don’t forget to listen. He speaks that all-important inspiration when you do.

For the higher purpose,


The Gift of Fear and Remembering

I suppose it would take something like a kids basketball game to shock me into remembering that fear is also a gift.

IMG_6493Most of you probably guessed I’m not exactly a sports super-fan. But basketball is just about the worst. For proof, if that’s needed, consider the amazing imagination it required to invent a game of throwing a ball into a bucket.

The entire game feels like a crudely-conceived relic of the Bad Old Days. Some bored wingnut decided to torture his students, and the students, who didn’t have the good sense to tell whoever-it-was that it was kind of a stupid game, said something helpful like, “Shucks, we should give players a big court to prance aroun’ on like showboatin’ divas!”

And that’s how basketball was born.

To the rational, none of this needs explaining. The ridiculousness of the game is obvious. But until someone makes libraries more attractive to the kinesthetic types, we’re probably stuck with it.

So why bring this up? Because on Saturday, I took my 10-year-old daughter, Charlotte, to her first team sport experience—a basketball game. Of course it’s crystal clear now how dumb this was—how did I not see it coming?—that two half-hour practices could prepare her for this. But I have this wonderful ability to rationalize brainless ideas and tell myself, No, this really isn’t that crazy.

But even halfway there, the larger part of me suspected this could get mentioned in a future therapy session.

IMG_6500We got there fine, found the colossal gym and headed to the table where they read (shouted) the team room assignments. We hurried fast around the pounding games in progress to the back hallway, found the room with a big table, and the other parents and girls and coaches all arrived in their snazzy outfits.

Charlotte turned from the table to find me and gave a shy wave while the buzz-headed coach briefly explained the court rules, the process of warm-ups, the colored wristband system of pairing up defensive and offensive players (yeah, totally caught all of that), and what something called a “screen” was.

My own heart began to dribble around my chest.

After a hasty prayer for a good game or something, everyone shouted and we all filed out to follow the coaches through the world’s most overcrowded hallway. I was never in ‘Nam, but the noise and bodies pummeling me made me feel for Charlotte’s little hand and grip it like a lifeline. From their excitement level, you’d think they relished the chance to lose their hearing while being trampled to death. I held her for dear life and happened to glance down just in time to see the tears burst from her eyes.

Not that I blamed her. I was barely holding it together myself through the assault. But I knew if we stopped now we’d die a gruesome death, so I pulled her behind me, dodging and ducking the endless stream of congenial yuppies and shouting offspring.

Someday, I thought to myself, Someday, I must learn what makes people enjoy this.

This isn't even half as crowded as that hallway was.
This isn’t even half as crowded as that hallway was.

I tried to console her as we jockeyed to the court. “It’s okay, honey! It’s just warm up. You can do it!”

Her voice was barely audible. “I don’t…(hic)…want to play.” Her cheeks were already blotchy.

“You don’t have to play if you don’t want to.” I wanted to scoop her up and get the heck out of there, but pushing yourself and bravery and not quitting was all hammering me at once. “It’s okay!” I smiled and tried to play it off, acting the concerned parent for all the wondering looks and blank stares as we headed to the seats.

“I can’t…(hic)…stop,” she said.

I knelt by her chair and put my arm around her, wishing I could shield her from the noise and tell her who she really was, an amazing, sensitive girl with incredible self-awareness and as brave as any kid I’d ever known. I knew how overwhelmed she was because I was too—I could feel all the parents and coaches watching, and I just kept smiling. I told her I was sorry, that I smile when I’m uncomfortable.

“That’s…(hic)…okay,” she said.

The sweet female assistant coach came over “I get nervous too,” she said. “You want to come warm up?”

Charlotte shook her head and clutched me.

Nope, sorry, she’s never even seen a basketball game before.

2004726_origAll my fear of sports came back to me in that moment. I’d avoided all this, happy to stuff it and say I survived. Luckily, I’d been fast enough and reasonably coordinated, but not to participate would have been social suicide, so I sucked it up. Now, to be here, expected to perform and to realize There’s just no way she can do this, I could feel that fear like a hot branding iron to the brain.

Such memories wake you up, tell you who you really are.

Vulnerable. Small. Alone.

For me it was on stage at a piano recital. I forgot my memorized piece and stopped twice. The thunderous silence of the giant church, all the eyes scanning me, the people thinking, wondering, waiting.

Feeling them all knowing how unprepared and terrified I was, that was the worst part I remember.

But my little girl going through it, that felt worse.

And yet it was afterwards, after we sat it out and watched the game and she calmed down and we finally left (never to return), I realized this intense fear wasn’t only a liability, it was also an essential gift.

It had brought an intense self-awareness and shown me who I’m not. I’m not a performer. And not because of the fear. The fear is a result. The cause is how I was made, personality-deep.

However it comes to us, the capacity to step outside ourselves, to disconnect and reflect on ourselves and gain perspective, it reveals us to ourselves. And maybe most importantly, it eliminates the false images.

Intuitively, we know it’s an important experience and maybe until something painful like this forces us to, we don’t realize we have this ability at all. But maybe with practice, it can become a tool we can use.

And I know it’d be so easy to forget about those clarifying memories in the common busyness. Just this past week I got distracted and forgot. I got cranky and started seeking my own way. I needed beauty and mystery in a fierce way and I hadn’t played music or pursued my novel for many days on end.

What brought me back was seeing my kid cry, whimpering terrified on the basketball court. I remembered that feeling, the irrational fear of playing piano on stage, and I realized I got twisted up this week because I’ve let fear distract me from who I really am. How do I expect to move forward in who I want to be unless I pay attention and practice habitual awareness?

As kids, we don’t need this discipline, but now we have fewer opportunities for reflection, and we’ve got to get in the habit. We stay in our mental cages more often than we’d like to admit.

This weekend, I was reminded and taken outside myself to see again. And the me I’m trying to be, the one who’s aware of his gifts and talents, I remember that’s who I wanted to be. And that’s who I get to be now, to help Charlotte be herself as well.

Maybe she not going to be a baller. But she’ll be who she wants if we can take the time to look for it.

If you’ve gotten distracted, go back and remember who you wanted to be. Use your gift of insight again. And imagine who you might be next year if you could just begin to remember to do this in the moment more and more…

Start an imagination habit and remember what gift your strongest fear taught you, as a writer and as a human being.

And let that fuel your pursuit of the higher purpose.


Dear daughters, thank you, thank you.


My dear daughters,

I just wanted to say thank you for being my best supporters, my favorite fan club, who no matter how much I mess up, you still love me.

I used to want to prove myself. I’d think about myself a lot. And how I wanted people to see me.

Now I only care how you see me.



I didn’t want anyone to see me before, to tell the truth. But I knew they did see. And I wondered what they saw because I was different. I was quiet and cared about things like light and beauty, truth and love, style and form, art and music. And words. Especially words.

I loved the mystery of how words could turn and change things in your mind. How they could make sound in your mind and tell you what someone was thinking without any noise at all.

I loved how books could invite you into the most intimate places. But until I had daughters, I didn’t know you could know someone so intimately and passionately without ever having met them.

And then I became a dad, your dad. Not just any dad, but yours. And that honestly makes me feel so crazy blessed by God, like the luckiest guy in the world. And you know your mom feels the same.


You’re our favorite thing to talk about, how amazing you are. And that’s not our doing, it’s just you being you. I don’t know why you are so good and always do what you’re supposed to. I was never like that.

And I don’t know if you feel this way yet but so much of life seems like, “Do all your work, help everyone you can, and go to bed when you’re told.”

But you need to know it isn’t just because it’s the rules.

It’s the difference between living well and living poorly. It’s about making that an attitude. The attitude you live by. And I used to think it was a parent that taught that to kids. But you’ve taught me that as much as anyone ever has, it’s the kids who teach adults.

It’s a difference of perspective, a choice of perception. You can’t choose all your circumstances. But you can always choose your response.

Recently, a realization about this has been brewing.


I think you’ve taught me the real difference between entitlement and gratitude.

See, I think gratitude goes in the place inside where entitlement could if you let it. And it’ll come out in what you do because it’s about what you believe. A lot of people believe they’re entitled to things and that makes them behave badly.

You don’t have that. You don’t expect anything. Sometimes I wish you did because it breaks my heart that you wouldn’t have everything you could ever want.

But this is the trouble with adults, not kids. Kids don’t need much of anything. You get older and you start thinking you need everything and more.

Religious folks. Racist folks. Political folks. People think they’re owed something simply for living.

This is the trouble with rich folks and poor folks. This is the trouble with prejudiced folks of every kind.


When someone thinks they’re entitled to certain things or think they have rights to something, they get an attitude. People are treated unfairly, they expect people to treat them better because of it. They do something special and expect to be praised or rewarded for it. And if that doesn’t happen, they get angry.

That’s entitlement.

But I look at you and how whatever you go through, you never act like that, never expect anything. If I mess up, you don’t make me pay for it or demand I get punished. And it makes me want to punish myself and never, ever get short with you again.

I want to remember how hard it is to be a kid and realize you get demanded of all the time and you go through so much for our sake. How can I expect you to bow to me like I’m a king and you’re a country I’m blessing with my patronage? That’s on me.

That’s my sin, like the original sin of believing we were entitled to more than God gave us.

So here’s what I’m thinking: I don’t ever want to control you or take away that essential freedom that’s yours. Because I think maybe entitlement like that is at the root of all our problems in this world.

Entitlement is the poison, gratitude is the antidote. And I want to trade the disease for the cure.

You can either take or you can give. You can take offense at how you’ve been treated, or you can give, forgive, and choose what you already know, that it’s always better to give than receive.

Whatever anyone tells you, your freedom is always that you can choose this and be grateful.

And if you’ll let me express my embarrassing gratitude to you from time to time, I think it’ll help keep me safe from thinking I deserve any better.

Because I look in your eyes and know: I already have the best.

Thank you, thank you.

With all my heart,

How We Love Our Kids


“Parents, reading this book is the best gift you could give your children and yourself. While it gives practical and insightful ways to understand and parent your children, it is not about a technique. It is about understanding your heart and soul as a parent, and learning how to give that to your children. Milan and Kay do so by helping us examine the dynamics of our own upbringing so that we can make the changes in our relationship styles that create rewarding and healthy relationships with our kids. Read this book and see how much sense it makes!”

– Larry Hamilton, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist


When I found out Milan and Kay had written this book for kids, I was a young parent. I can honestly say it has influenced my parenting and Sheri’s and my relationship as parents more than any other book, and working with them on it was one of the highlights of my editing career.

Every time I have a frustration or fear about my kids, about being a dad, or just want to remember what’s most important, I pull out this book. It’s exactly as Larry said in this review: it’s not about technique. It’s about giving your kids your heart and soul–learning to do that, hard and simple as that is.

Buy this book. Live it. And give it to your kids someday to help them with their kids.

If you’ve been wondering what’s missing, it really can be an incredible, beautiful journey. I’m so grateful to Milan and Kay for their influence in our lives.