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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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The storm is coming

How many families are one or two paychecks away from being homeless? How many families have no savings or no one to turn to in case of emergency? How many families want to help loved ones but is unable to, because they too are facing economic hardships?

These are tough questions that most folks would rather not contemplate. A majority of Americans have a roof over their heads, clothes to wear, the utilities are on, and there is enough food for three meals per day. Most of those folks have never been homeless or know of anyone that has been. Looking from this vantage point makes the reality of homelessness easier to swallow.

Having been homeless as a young man I can relate to the first story that was aired tonight on 60 minutes. The story is about the homeless population in one county in Florida. The 60 minutes reporters followed the lives of three specific families who were living in their vehicles. All of these families had at least one parent present and multiple children. Having lived through the struggles of being a young man on my own, and living on the streets of Houston Texas, I now realize how much easier that was compared to having a family right there with you.

How does one become homeless? In my case, I was far away from home and alienated from my adoptive parents.   First I lost my job and due to a lack of income I was no longer able to pay rent or make a car payment. I will never forget my first three nights living under a bridge in Houston Texas. I had three large plastic garbage bags full of belongings.

I selected this particular bridge because it was close to a mall that I had just worked at as a security officer. I was able to go there and use the restrooms, clean up and get whatever food I could. As a single person I was able to survive my experience. I guess you could say that I had hit rock bottom. Looking back at my life I can honestly say that it was good that I did not have a wife and children who would have been looking to me for help, guidance and protection.

As I watched the story about the parents and their children living out of their vehicles in Florida I have great empathy for them. Thanks to the story that was aired several organizations and people from all over, were able to donate money, food and clothing for these families. Over four million dollars were raised in order to help over 400 school-aged children and their parents.

If you watched the story on 60 minutes I can only imagine the hopelessness that you felt, as you watched the parents talk about their daily struggles to keep their families together. They spoke of the struggle to find food and a safe place to park their vehicles at night. One dad spent the nights watching over his family as he sat on a cooler outside of the vehicle.

One particular family consisted of a dad who was a construction worker who was unemployed and his 15 yr. old daughter and 13-year-old son. The father was camera shy, but I learned that the family lost their mother due to illness, just before the father lost his job. They showed a utility truck the father spent his last 1000.00 on because they could no longer stay in their home, and were forced to move out and live in the utility vehicle. It was amazing to me, how independent and strong these two teenagers were. Not once during the interviews did I hear these kids being bitter, nor were they angry with their lot in life. They said that they were viewing this time in their lives as an adventure.

The 13-year-old girl said that you have to do what you have to do to survive. These teenagers kept their chins up, did what they had to do, and attended public school during the day. They used filling stations to get cleaned up in the mornings, and in the afternoons their dad took them to the public libraries to study and get on the Internet.

In the 1980’s when I was homeless myself, I did not have access to this thing we call the Internet and the World Wide Web. Every day we are bombarded with images of suffering here in America, and all around the world. We see so much of it that we have become disconnected and insensitive to the plight of others. I am not saying that we do not care. Absolutely, we care and if we are able, we would like to do something, anything. The only problem is, we can only do so much. We can only care so much. The numbers of homeless families are staggering.

One of the ways that we deal with our inability to help is by saying that those people live in whatever state, city or country they are in, but we are here in the low country. How in the world can we hope to make a difference? What about the needs in our own back yard? Yes, I am talking about the low country. Just last year I found myself in a conversation with one school official at West Ashley High School. During that conversation I learned that there are kids in West Ashley High that do not know where their next meal will come from when they are out for summer vacation. When I learned this, it brought the reality of this recession much closer to home.

Yes, we are living in a recession. As I understand it, we are all looking at the possibility of a global recession. Things are not looking so good in Europe these days and that economy is ultimately going to affect our economy. Our government has us in debt to the tune of 14 Trillion dollars. I heard that China owns almost 50% of that debt. I am wondering if our view of the current recession is being clouded because of our ability to survive, for now.

I am not sure about you but when I see my fellow Americans facing these kinds of hardships, it forces me to take a hard look at how my family is doing today. It also forces me to think about how my family will be able to survive if this recession goes global. Will we be able to survive something worse than what is going on now? If my head is in the sand, which it is not, I need to pull it out and do whatever I can to get prepared.

Among the feelings of despair and hopelessness I believe that there is hope for us. I believe that our nation draws a lot of strength from our diversity. No matter what our differences are, when the chips are down, I believe that we will be able to put them aside, and do whatever it takes to survive. The important thing to realize is that we are in the eye of the storm. I predict that things are going to get much worse before they get better. When the storm does hit, we need to be prepared to do whatever is necessary to survive.

Are you ready?

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Raising young adults

Living in a house with 2 teenagers, who have 2 dozen friends the same age, is like herding cats.  Raising young adults is not for the feint of heart either.  I keep saying “raising teenagers” and someone much older and wiser than me reminded me of the fact that they are becoming young adults.  I have been suffering from a slight case of WPOR as the parent of said young adults.  WPOR stands for Warped Perception of Reality.   In my day dreams I imagined my young adults turning 18 years old, graduating from high school, going to college and moving out of my house.  That would leave Katy and I with peace and tranquility that we treasure.

I do not get to spend much time in my WPOR induced stupor.  Every day seems to be an adventure.  There are times that we attempt to look into the future and determine which child is more likely to be successful than the other.  They say that as parents we are not supposed to have favorites.  Hindsight is always 20/20 and to this day all my predictions have been blown out of the water.

Approximately one year ago we moved from Johns Island to West Ashley.  When we moved to Johns Island it was to be in a better neighborhood and for me to be much closer to Kiawah.  The 90 minute commute each day was getting old and costing me a fortune in gas.  What I did not realize is that the schools in Charleston county, especially on Johns Island suck.  We wound up having to enroll our teenagers in online curriculum through the state and that did not work out very well.  I suppose that the older the child gets the more they require socialization with other teenagers.  My teenagers let me know this in many different ways.

Recently I have decided that Katy and I have missed our calling as Foster parents.  We typically have 4 to 15 teenagers at our house.  I guess you could say that the socialization of our teenagers has improved quite a bit.  The only problem with that socialization is that their choices for friends sometimes leaves things to be desired.  I do not believe that any of these kids are bad. I believe that all of them, including my kids, are good kids at heart.  What we have learned is that most of these teenagers come from broken homes.  My son told Katy the other day that we are the exception to the rule.  He said that most of his friends live in homes where the mom and dad are either divorced or getting divorced.

Just recently we wound up dealing with a teenager whose parents keep kicking her out of the house.  This young person is 16 years of age and is in a very ugly situation.  I attempted to be a responsible parent and reached out to the mother of this teenager.  We had long talks and I made suggestions to her in which way she could go with dealing with their issues in their home with their daughter.  Whether or not those suggestions fell on deaf ears or not remains to be seen.  At first the parents of this young person were ok with their daughter living with us and did not say a word.  They knew our address and phone number and at any time they could have driven over here to retrieve their child.

For the life of me I do not understand how any parent could “disown” their child.  That is what my adoptive parents did to me and my sister at different stages of our life.  These parents have no problems with slamming the door on the young person’s face and tell them they are not welcome and they are filth.  On several occasions the mother dropped the young person off at a gas station and left her standing there with the clothes on her back.  I never knew that this was an option for parents.  I thought that parents were responsible for the well being of their offspring no matter what.  I also thought that parents were supposed to love and support their children no matter how many bad decisions the young person makes.  I thought that is what parenting is all about.  Helping the young person to learn from their mistakes and make better life decisions.

Yesterday the step father gets on the phone with me and proceeds to give me the riot act for being disrespectful to his wife and for sticking my nose into their business.  What gave us the right to give his daughter a place to stay.  We allowed his daughter to stay with us because she is a friend of our daughters and we did not want her to be living on the streets of Charleston.  The parents knew where she was the entire time and knew they could come get her.  At no time did they lift a finger to come get her.  After my brief encounter with the angry step father I advised him to come get his daughter and I had her pack her stuff and go outside to wait for him to arrive.

As of today the young adult has gone back home and her grand mother is coming down from North Carolina to take her back with her.  Hopefully things will settle down for this young lady and she will be able to go to school there and get life back on track. We want her to be in a safe place that is devoid of hateful and angry remarks.  We want her to be in a safe place where she does not have to worry about her step father provoking physical confrontations between the wife and daughter in the front yard.  With this obstacles out of the way maybe she can start to make the appropriate adjustments with some of her life choices and make better decisions as to whom she should spend time with.

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In search of Big Red

James&Katy datingI got home from work today to find out that our Friday night plans had been changed without much warning.  Our teenagers had plans which did not include mom and dad.  Katy and I decided that it has been too long since we have enjoyed Big RedBig Red is a drink that is very difficult to find in South Carolina.  Katy got on the Internet this afternoon and found a Walgreen’s in Greenville SC that has a full stock of ALL the Big Red drinks.  Katy spoke to the store manager and he assured her that he had plenty of Big Red in stock.  We could have ordered it and had it shipped from Bigred however, the shipping costs were more than the actual drink. 

Katy and I decided that we would rather spend the weekend together and took off on a road trip to the Upstate of South Carolina.  This was my first opportunity to take advantage of the ResortQuest-Wyndham associate travel discounts.  The Wingate- by Wyndham is a very nice hotel and I am glad we were able to get a room.  We have no idea what we are going to do tomorrow but we are planning on relaxing and doing whatever we want to do.  It will be nice to spend some time alone with one another without the teenagers and all of the pets for a change.  We have not had an opportunity to do this in a very long time. 

As with most travel plans that are as spontaneous as this trip we always wind up forgetting something.  I forgot the AC adapter for my HP ProBook 4520 and Katy forgot the fan that produces the white noise I need to go to sleep.  Luckily for me Katy has an HP laptop and her AC adapter is charging the battery on my laptop and we have a room AC/Heater that makes plenty of white noise so I will get some sleep tonight. 

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