Speak well of your ex for your kids’ sake

Speak well of your ex... your kids need that from you.I saw this image posted on Facebook a few weeks ago and in the last few days I was reminded of it. In recent months I have encountered a few situations in which an ex, or soon-to-be-ex, was talking either to their children or around their children about the child’s other parent. In most cases when this happens the parent is respectful and mature enough to not bad mouth their ex or, short of that, they are at least somewhat strategic in the words they use or how they deliver their thoughts. I think this is important because defaming your kids’ other parent is both vicious and damaging, and will ultimately end up harming the kid’s relationship with their other parent.

While I think it’s important to treat everyone with respect, I think it is especially important to treat the parent(s) of your kids with respect, even if you have to struggle through doing it. And along with treating your ex with respect, I personally think it is equally imperative that you speak respectfully of your ex in the presence of your kids. I know you might not have any ounce of respect for your ex. And I know that your ex may have hurt you beyond imagination and because of that you can’t muster even the slightest positive thing to say about him/her. But that doesn’t give you license to harm your kid’s relationship with your ex.

If your kids are within earshot please have the courtesy to speak well of your ex or, at the very least, not speak of your ex at that time. If something happens to come on in a TV show or a movie that reminds you of your ex’s shenanigans, keep that to yourself for a bit. And if your kids have the unction to ask you about why you and your ex are no longer together, it’s ok to be vague to a degree. Saying things like “your mom liked other men more than she liked me” or “your dad is emotionally abusive and detached” might make you feel vindicated in the moment but can cause all sorts of confusion in your kid. There is nothing wrong with saying something like “we just couldn’t make it work and to make things as good as we could for you, we decided to split”. There can be a deeper discussion about that later, or even at that moment, without going into specifics. But at that moment the best thing you could do is protect your children and their relationship with your ex.

Now please understand that I am not saying that you need to lie to your kids, or that you need to keep them in the dark forever. But when they are still kids, or are not yet capable of completely digesting your anger toward, or hatred of, your ex, I personally believe it is best to shield them from potential harm to their relationship with your co-parent. It pains me when I hear people talking smack about their ex without even considering the words coming out of their mouths.

A boy insulting another boy is not the end of the world

tl;dr Boys are way different than girls and aren’t little meanies because they call another boy a name

Raising a son is hard. And I have to say that raising a son as a single mom or a mom with no help from dad is probably the hardest thing that can be done as a parent today because there are so many societal “norms” that are being applied to young boys that sometimes letting a boy’s natural character out means that he’s in some way a problem child. I am not complaining about raising a son in any way, shape or form. Instead I am saying that raising a son can be challenging, particularly when the natural character of a boy is at odds with what a parent, or society in general, deems appropriate.

The reason I say this is because of an incident I learned about today involving my son. He has had his share of scraps and run-ins this school year, and has been spoken to quite a bit for behavior and behavior related issues. To me, this is to be expected for an eight year old boy. Hell, when I was his age I was doing much of the same stuff he’s doing today. Pretty much every boy in my school was. I think that’s because, in general, boys have a way about them that is unique to boys. We are loud, aggressive, forward, vocal, sometimes condescending, sometimes domineering, sometimes mean and sometimes rude. I am not saying these are all good qualities. I’m just saying, put a group of boys (or men) in a room and in a short amount of time you will see all of these qualities manifest in some capacity among the males in the room.

As boys, we know this. We live this. We expect this from other boys. And because of that, we, as boys, challenge the norms that we are faced with (that is another quality of boys). When we see a boy that might be bigger, stronger, smarter, faster… our inclination is to establish dominance over that boy. We do that in various ways, from hurling insults to competing in sports to physically dominating another boy. And sometimes, as a stronger, smarter, faster boy, we are challenged by another boy trying to establish dominance of his own. Again, this is not only understood among boys, it’s expected. And how we as boys handle these situations begins to identify us among our sphere of influence. This process begins at a very young age and continues for most, if not all, of a man’s life. To understand this concept, observe a group of guys enjoying drinks and talking. How long does it take before one of the guys insults one of his friends, calls him a name or challenges his manhood? How long does it take for a man to establish his own amazingness by telling stories of his work, or how he handled a situation with a coworker, or how he handled something with his kids? It is the way we are with each other.

The incident that my son was involved in went like this… he was playing a game of Mercy with another boy. When the other kid lost, the kid began to whine about it to which my son replied “Stop being a little girl”. Now to those that don’t understand boys, this might come across as rude, condescending or even bullying. To those of us who grew up on the playground, we know this is a way of establishing presence and dominance among our peers. While I am not excusing the conduct of my son, I think it needs to be stated that among boys, games of strength and bravado always come at a cost in that there will inherently be a winner and a loser. In both the winning and the losing, there is a way to conduct yourself that is honorable among other boys. There are also ways to conduct yourself that are less than honorable among boys. So when a boy behaves in a way that is “dishonorable” among the group, it is natural for another boy to call him on that. This happens quite often in regular daily activities of a lot of men (and women, too, but probably not in as pronounced a way as with the guys). Again, I am not saying it is right or wrong, I am merely saying that this is to be expected, particularly among boys.

In the case of my son and his behavior, it is easy to look at him and say he was being mean or bullying the other boy. Personally, I think that’s a load of crap. Bullying, to me, would be something like my son seeing another boy, that he isn’t close with, wearing a pink shirt or sporting long hair and, out of nowhere, approaching him with a “What are you, a girl?”. To me, that is not only bullying but completely unacceptable behavior. It is unwarranted, unmerited and totally inappropriate. But in the case of two boys playing a game of strength and one boy losing then whining about it, to be derided for it in some way, to me, is not bullying. It is playground politics. It’s the same playground politics that say if we’re playing dodgeball and I know you can’t catch, you’re the target I’m throwing at. It’s the same playground politics that say if we’re playing tag and you’re the slow kid, you’re getting tagged first. And it is also the same politics that say if you’ve handled being the slow kid, getting tagged and not being able to get out of it while still being cool about it, you’re probably gonna end up being tight with a couple of dudes that will make sure you are never tagged.

Now moms, this is for you: boys and girls are different in many, many ways. How we feel things is different. How we respond is different. But trying to make your boy understand things from a girl’s perspective – or even YOUR perspective – will more than likely not work most of the time. While your boy may nod at you and say “yes momma, I understand”, the chances of it sticking with him are pretty slim. This is because you can never really take the character out of the boy. You can punish it, discipline it… even make him feel bad for it. But ultimately his character will continue to shine through – good or bad – and he will do what he will naturally do. If you are a single mom raising a son, or if your son’s dad isn’t as involved as he should be, please know that your best bet as his parent is to lead, coach and teach your son how to manage his boyness. Don’t condemn him for being what he naturally is. Don’t try to stifle his character or shut it down, but instead find creative ways to let that character of his flourish. No, that isn’t easy, but it is much less frustrating and much less likely to cause resentment from him later on life.

Incentive driven motivation

Yesterday, while doing some yard work I went into the back yard to handle some massive overgrowth in our lawn. Completely disgusted with our yard, and utterly frustrated with the growth of the grass that my push mower just could not cut, I decided that the yard would just have to wait a little while so I could focus on the front of my house.

My 12 year old daughter, Rebekah, had other plans. Always the entrepreneur, she actually offered to cut the grass for a mere $10. To which I promptly replied “thanks, but no thanks”. I was of the opinion that the grass was maybe a $3 job since I had already cut some of it and the lawn is not that spread out.

So Rebekah sweetened the deal a little bit, offering to not only cut the grass but straighten up the patio. After much back and forth over price and what the work would cover for that price, we agreed on the following:

  • Cut the grass
  • Clean up all dog poop
  • Clean up all trash
  • Straighten up all patio furniture and toys
  • Clean up the tan bark areas
  • Sweep the patio and sidewalks
  • Do it all within three hours (from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM)

And the cost? $15, as agreed upon by the two of us, which to Rebekah was a bargain and to me was a steal.

So while I was out in the front yard working up a sweat she was out in the backyard earning her money. And you know what? For her, I discovered, money is an excellent incentive.

She managed to accomplish everything on the list of things to do (with the exception of cutting the grass completely, but this was no fault of hers). And she did it in two hours, not three. I was so impressed by her work ethic, her focus and her quality of work that I actually paid her $20 for doing such a fine job.

Looking back on this, I know there is a lesson in this. I could have asked the kids, all of the kids – you know, the ones that made that mess? – to clean the yard they helped dishevel. And I would have saved myself $20 in the process. But Rebekah, who has no problem working for her earnings approached me with a proposition of services rendered in exchange for payment. And ultimately it was that payment that drive her to accomplish such an impressive amount of quality in her work.

So if I take anything away from this, outside a clean yard of course, it will be that with the proper incentive, almost anyone can accomplish almost anything.

Excuse my reasoning

A point of view is a dastardly thing. It can be useful in some situations, but in a case where your point of view allows you to turn an excuse into a reason it can be devastating.

Excuses, in and of themselves, are nasty little buggers. They are purposed reasonings that one establishes to allow latitude and leniency to pervade their own inability to satisfy a need or a condition in which another person, organization or establishment is dependent upon the satisfaction of that need. In essence, they are a rationalized way out of a responsibility that should not be shirked.

Worse, excuses that are believed to be reasons are all the more dangerous because they are no longer just a way out of responsibility, they are now the driving force behind it. And along with that they become a convenient means to allow oneself to really never do the responsible thing.

The reason I bring this up is because it is so easy to do. Excuses, or in most cases, reasons, are so easy to come up with and even easier for others to believe. Children seem to know this inherently. So do spouses (yes, men and women). In fact, I tend to think it is human nature to be able to drum up an excuse, er, reason, at the drop of a hat in most cases.

I am just as guilty of this as the next guy. Which is why I chose to write about it. I find myself doing this more and more and, the truth is, it needs to stop. A wife, children, a boss… they all need reliability out of a man. And reliability is impossible if there is a way out of responsibility through excuses.

So the next time you feel yourself in a place to excuse your way out of something, think twice and see if you can reason with yourself to the point of not allowing the excuse. People are counting on you.

Why I disabled my Facebook account

Thinking of disabling my Facebook account. It is entirely too easy to not talk to my wife in lieu of reading her wall. #stupidfacebook
6:10 PM Oct 3rd from web

@RobertGonzalez

A couple of weeks ago I disabled my Facebook account. I also audited some of my accounts on other social networking sites and either disabled those or deleted them altogether. I have also started to cull my following list on Twitter.

So what prompted these actions, you might ask? The honest answer is… my marriage.

It became clearly evident, shortly after my wife joined Facebook, that my use of social networking was becoming a huge problem for us. What made this so evident was how easy it became to converse with my wife over wall posts and post comments as opposed to real conversations. We stupidly sat in the living room together, commenting on each other’s wall posts and replying to each other’s comments. And when we weren’t communicating with each other on Facebook we were ignoring each other altogether as I sat and Twittered or posted to my Facebook friends’ walls and my wife did the same thing with her Facebook friends.

The saddest aspect of all this was that I had never seen that I was doing this until I saw my wife doing this with me. She joined Facebook in June, and while she has only been on it for a couple of months I have been Facebooking for years. I have been Twittering for over a year. I have been keeping up with people through their blogs for years. I have been involved in forums for almost six years. If you look at it, I have traded relationship with my wife for interaction with strangers for upward of six years.

I chose to make myself available to people I would never meet, in whose lives I would really never have any meaning and whose lives really had no significant meaning to me while at the same time choosing not to put any time, effort, energy or expressed interest into the one relationship that should have taken the highest priority in my life. I have made many connections with other women, some married, some unmarried, and have put myself in a position of “caring friend” to them. And while I am sure that these women needed a caring friend I should not have been that friend. My wife needed that caring friend just as bad as the next lonely woman, she needed me more than any other person could have needed me, yet I never took the time or had the inclination to offer myself to her.

Facebook, Twitter and all the other social networking sites… even email, allowed me to spend time I should have spent with my wife, with someone or something else. I spent time getting to know other people. I spent time building relationships with complete strangers. I spent time spending time apart from my wife, even when I was within physical proximity to her.

The truth is, anything that allows a married couple to not spend time with one another while harboring an air of developing relationships with others is just plain bad for your marriage. Facebook definitely fits into this category. So does Twitter and every other social networking site.

By their nature, social internet networks are designed to bring people together with or for a common cause or idea or ideal. While this is not a bad thing, in my opinion, it is terrible if you are substituting a real relationship for virtual ones. Yes, I was doing that. No, that can never be good for your marriage. And no, it wasn’t good for mine.

Your spouse should be the most important person in your life. And if your intimacy and relationship with your spouse is suffering then you need to do whatever you can to feed it. In my case, I needed to starve my Facebook relationships and Twitter relationships in order to feed my marriage. And I’d do it again if the need ever arose.

So you may notice that every couple of days my “following” count on Twitter goes down. If I currently follow you and then one day I am not following you anymore, understand that my marriage has to come first. It is nothing personal. I just need to protect my marriage.

And will I ever make it back to Facebook? I don’t know. For now I am sticking to the idea that I am only gone for the time being. How long that time is depends entirely on how long it takes me to feed my marriage, which has starved for far too long. I may never make it back on there. And if I don’t, I’m fine with that. To me, what is most important is that my marriage is nurtured and that my wife knows, without a doubt, that she is so much more important to me than some website.

Until then, if you really have to keep up with what is going on with me, my family or things that I notice around me, you’ll just have to come here to find out if I have mentioned anything. But you can be certain of one thing: I am pouring myself into my marriage now like I used to pour myself into Facebook, Twitter and every other thing I let take the place of my marriage.

For the men: If you notice your marriage starting to take a downward turn take a look at what you might be spending your time on other than you marriage. Your marriage is your most important relationship you could foster. Make sure to treat it that way. Your wife needs your gentleness, intimacy, strength, your concern and your heart. Give it to her, gladly, and sacrifice whatever else you need to in order to allow your marriage to flourish.

For the women: Though I feel horribly unqualified to tell you anything as a man, I can tell you that when it comes to your marriage, your husband needs to know that he is the most important person to you just as much as you need that from him. Pay attention to what you are putting your heart into and where your time is being spent. Your husband needs your intimacy (not sexual intimacy but emotional intimacy) like you need his. Be cognizant of this, and be ready to offer to him whatever you can to show him he is just as important to you as you know you are to him.

Bite your tongue

Sometimes you just need to not say whatever it is you are planning (or even not planning) to say. For most folks this goes without saying. For many, however, the words that come flying out of your mouth are words that should not have even been thought, let alone released.

I say this as a man that has yet to learn his lesson with controlling his tongue. Too often I will allow myself into a place where my perspective, my own opinion clouds the moment I am in. I allow myself to stop listening intently to the other person and begin to develop my response before the other person is even done talking. What’s more, the words that I formulate in my head are often not appropriate for the conversation or for the edification of the person with whom I am speaking. Have you ever experienced that?

I don’t have any concrete examples that I am willing to share, but there have been occasions recently in which I was talking with someone and as I spoke it became clear to me that what I was saying was really not at all empathetic to the other person. Really what I was doing was trying to make myself heard over the conversation without listening to what was being spoken to me. How awful that must feel for those that I communicate with. Imagine speaking from your heart and laying it all out there just to have the person with whom you are speaking respond with something completely out of context because he/she felt it was necessary to pour their own feelings, their own opinions into the conversation without a need, really, to do so.

There is a lesson in this for married men. If you are ever talking with your wife and you feel the need to reply in haste or if you have already begun to develop a response to something she has said before she is finished talking, it is a sure sign that what you are about to say would be better off left in your brain. Specifically, as it relates to marriage, it would seem to me that as men, we should want to be able to communicate with our wives on their level of communication. What that means, essentially, is actually listening to her words, and her heart, as she speaks and really trying to empathize with her as she pours herself out to you.

I think sometimes that we as men are so quick to defend ourselves or provide our own spin on things that we lose sight of what is really important at that moment: understanding the person that you are conversing with. Truly, how can we ever really understand someone if we cannot unplug our own opinions and ideas for just a brief moment to really try to see it their way?

Just throwing this out there, for those that are not scared off by a challenge: the next time you have already prepared your response to someone that you are talking with before they are done talking, or before you respond out of your own perspective or opinion, bite your tongue, stop and think for just a second about what they just said, then try to feel it for yourself as they have described it. You might be amazed at what you can learn from someone when doing that.

Reconciling the past

You ever have a moment where something you did weeks, months or perhaps even years ago rears itself up and manifests itself in your life again? I had that experience this morning.

This morning I discovered that some of the things that I have written in this blog have offended some very specific, very special people in my life. I won’t go into detail on those people or the subject matter in question; however, I will say that I am truly sorry for the grief, anguish and betrayal I have caused you by writing about those specific experiences in my life.

While I don’t think it is ever the intent of anyone to purposefully cause pain to someone (unless that anyone is mean and truly wants to hurt the someone), nevertheless, people do get hurt. And while I will not take responsibility for anyone’s feelings, I will certainly take responsibility for my actions.

To that end, I apologize for the latitude I have taken in some of the writings I have posted here. And though I cannot promise to not post from my heart again, I can promise that I will be more cognizant of the potential harm it could cause to those that read this blog.

All three of you. 😉

Happy anniversary

Today is my anniversary. Well, my wife and my anniversary actually. No, not our wedding anniversary but the anniversary of when we actually started dating – September 20, 1991.

I remember it fondly, albeit not as clearly as I would like (it was 18 years ago – I can barely remember what I did last week). I remember hanging out outside the history building at Newark Memorial High School (I think it was the 400 building, but I could be way off) at brunch with my then “woman in hot pursuit” and my eventual wife, Sandi Millet. We had been talking since the beginning of the school year and had been moving closer to becoming a couple, though by this point – all three weeks into this fledgling relationship – we hadn’t so much as held hands.

What I remember about this day the most was that right before the end of brunch bell rang, I hugged her to tell her goodbye. As we separated from the hug there was a bit of an awkward pause between us. It was this pause that set us on our road to destiny as Mr. and Mrs. Robert Gonzalez. As we stared at each other, still in each other’s arms, Sandi leaned into me and gave me the biggest, most awesome kiss a 17 year old boy could ever hope for. Ever.

I was shell shocked. I walked to my calculus class stunned, amazed and in awe. As I got to class my best friend at the time, David Watkins, asked me why I looked like I just got hit by a truck. All I could muster was “She kissed me”. Yes, I was stupefied.

So today, 18 years later, I bid my wife, friend, lover and favorite woman in the world a happy anniversary. I am so glad we spent that brunch together. And I am so, so, so, so glad we ended up together, and stayed together, to get to where we are now. I love you babe.

For the men: How many times has your wife asked you if you “remember what today is”? How many times have you actually remembered? I have a challenge for you.

Try to surprise your wife one of these days with remembering something that to you seems mundane or otherwise not as memorable as you would think it should be and gently mention it to her. Something I have learned about my wife is that she loves it when I remember things that are special to her. Like the anniversary of when we started dating. I dare you to show your wife you love her by remembering a date that is special to her that you may have historically not remembered in the past.

An outing of sorts

Today my wife needed a break badly. She has been without one for a while and asked me a couple of days ago whether last night would be alright for her to go out and have some “her” time. Last night did not exactly happen for her, but today did, so I gave her that time and decided I would spend some time taking the kids for a walk to get slushies because the kids really love doing that, generally it doesn’t cost too much and it usually wears the kids out and makes for an excellent quiet time when we get home.

Quick tip for the husbands: Your wife needs a break. Whether she tells you or not is irrelevant. Give her a break frequently. She needs it and she will be very appreciative of your thoughtfulness toward her. And even if she isn’t, you should do it anyway.

Quick tip for the fathers: Your kids need to get out the house. They need to blow off steam and they totally need to do that with their dads. This is not to say that they cannot get that with their moms. In fact kids need mom time too. But dad time is crucial, so if you have kids make time for them doing something you all can enjoy together.

So we set off on a walk, the six of us, to the 7-11 just down the street from us. The weather was nice, a little chilly but sunny, so the walk was pleasant right off the pop. We hit up 7-11 and grabbed slushies for all of us – well I prefer coffee so I did that instead – and a couple of bags of chips to snack on. Then we headed out to the front of the store to kick it and snack.

But that is something we always do, so I decided we would change things up a bit so instead of sitting out in front of the store we walked a little bit further to Mission Boulevard where we found a bench and sat on it, snacking and slurping and watching the cars pass us by. This is what it might have looked at from the cars’ perspective:

the-kids

After our snack time and car watching was over was decided to cross the street and check out Mission San Jose. It wasn’t until we got there that we realized it was going to cost more money that I brought with us so we just sort of hung around the outside and checked out as much as we could without spending any money doing it.

After a short while we decided to start the walk home with a planned stop at the Olive Hyde Art Gallery. This ended up being a much shorter trip than I wanted it to be seeing as the gallery was displaying quilts and artwork that ran as high as $10,000. If not for the fact that four of my kids suddenly had to go to the bathroom at the gallery we would have only been there for a couple of minutes. In fact we were there for almost a half hour.

After that we took a slow stroll home and ended our two hour walk by coming home and resting. So when Sandi got home from her alone time she was able to come home to a quiet, resting house. Now how could this day have gotten any better?

Think BBQ. I know I am.

Happy 13th birthday Sarah

Today my oldest child, my daughter Sarah, turns 13 years old. And I am so not sure what to do with that.

I can remember vividly the moment she was born. How she looked when she came into this world, how small she was and soft she was. I remember her trip home from the hospital and how we spent every minute of the first 15 months of her life parenting right out of the books.

I remember when she started walking, talking, learning, growing. I remember when she learned to ride a bike, when she got her ears pierced for the first time, the first time she spent the night at a friends house, the first time we left her home alone for a few minutes to jaunt to the store.

Most recently I can remember her developing into a young woman, changing physiologically, getting super tall, looking older. 13 years passed me by in about three paragraphs.

Where does that time go? When you have as many kids as I do time does move pretty quick. Anyone that tells you a minute is a minute never had a house full of kids. But 13 years? I mean, they just started last week it seems. And no sooner did I take her out of diapers than I am preparing her for high school, her first work for money and the prospect of driving lessons in a few years.

I am a blessed man to have the children I have. Each of them is independent and individual, and each has their own unique quarks, personalities and characteristics that personifies who they are. Sarah is an outstanding musician. She can play just about any stringed instrument and can readily learn the tune for a song on the piano in a matter of seconds.

She is a drama queen. Not like your usual kicking and screaming, throwing a tantrum type drama queen (not that she hasn’t done that before) but the kind that loves the stage, theater and acting. She has an amazing sense of humor, sometimes bordering on gross or dry, but always funny and always well past her age level.

She has a keen eye for fashion and designs dresses whenever she has the time to doodle in her journal. She also loves to work on her comic strip “The Robinsons” from time to time, showing a sense of humor and wisdom well beyond her years.

And the characteristic that I love about her the most, one that the entire family is blessed with daily, is her ability to belch like a longshoreman. There is not a person on this planet that can rip ’em like Sarah can. I love you for that baby. 😉

Seriously though, I have had a hard time coming to grips with my daughter’s coming of age. She is an amazing kid and is turning into an amazing 13 year old young woman today. I am so happy for her, so proud of her, so glad to be her father and so ecstatic that I get to experience her 13th birthday with her and our family. Few men get to live the life I live when it comes to children and family.

So as I sign off of this little emotional rant, I would like to offer this suggestion to you parents, and specifically you fathers… love your children mightily. Men, if you have daughters, treat them like the lady you would expect her future husband to treat her like. Tell her she’s beautiful, smart, funny and awesome. Tell her you are a better man because she is your daughter. Let her know what she means to you as a man and as a father.

Every little girl needs to know her parents, specifically daddy, loves her. Make sure your son(s) and daughter(s) know it today.

Happy birthday my Sarah. I love you baby.