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Praise and conflict

I am the father of four children. I have two young adults living at home. One daughter that is 20 and one son that is 17. I am very familiar with the concept of praise and conflict. Sadly enough I am probably much more familiar with conflict than I am praise. How and where did we learn our parenting skills? We learn them from our parents mostly. We learn them from listening to other people who are supposed to be subject matter experts in that field.

When I became a parent I had to try to erase the memories from my childhood when it came to parenting. My parents are long since gone and there are many things I am grateful for. Nevertheless there are some areas that they were very lacking in. Praise was certainly one of those things that I rarely experienced. As a teenager I was always doing my part to be rebellious towards them no matter the consequences. My parents constantly communicated with me that I was never good enough to meet their standards.

As I try to be an example to my young adults I constantly find myself going back to my parental example to remind myself to not do what they did. The gap in this equation is that while I am trying not to be judgemental and harsh I am trying to figure out how to do the right thing in the current situation.

Raising young adults (teenagers) is like herding cats. They are always doing their thing no matter how much you try to guide them. Not too long ago I went to breakfast with my son Justin. Justin is my 17 year old son who has taken a liking to playing different types of guitars. Since he has been working he has spent most of his monies on outfitting his room with sound equipment. Justin has always been at odds with me with regards to his hair length. Having been raised in a strict military family I was always forced to have a very short hair cut up until I was 17 where I was allowed to let it grow out a little bit.

I remember having this talk with my son with regards to him getting a hair cut. His comment to me was this. “I have spent the last 17 years trying to get your approval by being a good son”. “I do not understand how the length of my hair is such a big deal to you.”. I had to take a few moments to contemplate that statement. His comment took me by surprise. I have gone out of my way over the years to demonstrate my love towards my children both verbally and physically. I believe that it is very important that they received praise, affection and affirmation from their father. I especially understand it because of how screwed up I had been by not receiving it in my childhood.

After some quick reflection I was honest with my son and told him that there were two reasons why I insisted that he get his hair cut. One reason was because I was afraid that if I compromised with him over his hair lenght that I might be compromising with him over other things. I also told him that I had been programmed by my father to believe that young me did not have hair that was as long as a girl. Young men do not wear nose studs, tongue studs or have tattoos either.

I went out of my way to praise Justin during this conversation and let him know why I thought he was a good person and a good son. I have always been transparent with my family and communicated with them my weaknesses and my understanding on how it affected them.

I am very proud that while my young people have given me their fair share of conflict, that I have not had any major incidents to deal with when it comes to drug or alcohol addiction. I have not been awakened in the middle of the night by a police dispatcher or a call from jail or the hospital. I realize that anything can happen, no matter how hard you try to do the right thing.

No matter what the conflict I will always try to find ways to affirm my young people and give them the best advice possible. When conflict arises I try to remember that I too was their age at one point in my life. I try to remember that they are feeling their way through life and that they are seeing the world through their eyes and dealing with peer pressure and raging hormones.

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