I write a “dad’s wisdom” letter to my adult children in December of every year. This is my letter to them this year.
“The greatest impact on delaying the onset of sexual activity, and reducing drugs and alcohol (use), is the number of words spoken at the dinner table!” – Lisa Osherow
Raising children is not only rewarding, it is hard and exhausting – I get it. It wasn’t easy for my parents, for your mother and I, nor is it easy for you. Balancing careers, supporting your children’s education, finding time for extracurricular activities and family time are just a few of the stresses a parent feels. On top of that, trying to find time for the kids to be kids and the parents to be partners sometimes feels impossible. Yet, here I am about to ask you to squeeze one more activity into your already busy schedules.
I’d like to encourage you to make certain you find time to regularly discuss sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll as a family. Ideally, these discussions will be somewhat routine (not necessarily regular, but they should be routine enough that all are comfortable).
Of the three, sex may well be the most uncomfortable, but also probably the most important. Yes, of course you will need to have discussions with each child independently. And, of course, as these discussions progress, they will need to be age appropriate. However, having open and honest discussions about sex at the dinner table (or in the car, or anytime you are together as a family) will allow the opportunity for your children to ask questions and eliminate myths they might hear at school or from friends. It is important for your children to hear your values. And perhaps more importantly they need to be comfortable in seeking your advice, knowing that you are willing to listen and not judge. It would probably be a good idea to talk to your children’s teachers, as they are probably as close to what is currently going on as anyone. Think about this: Who do you want your children to learn about sex from – the other kids in the schoolyard? Their grandfather?
When it comes to drugs and alcohol, the first step is to understand what is currently going on at the schools and in the community. Again, talking to children’s teachers or other educators in your school system is probably a worthwhile place to start. If possible, check with the local police – or, if there is a community police officer, check with them. When you discuss with your kids, help them understand about their bodies (which is now easier as you’ve already started discussions about sex) and how they are still developing and how the risks are so much higher on bodies and brains that are still growing and developing. Make certain they understand that those who are pedaling these poisons probably don’t have any idea what the drug they are selling is made up of or how it’s been changed as it progressed from the creator to the final seller. Make certain they understand that the people selling the drugs don’t like or care about the people they are selling to. In fact, they probably don’t like your kids, as they think they are privileged. And please remind them that it’s the use of drugs and alcohol that can easily get in the way of making good decisions. Who do you want your children to talk to when they begin to learn about drugs and alcohol – you or the person profiting from the sale?
Discussions about rock ‘n’ roll are really discussions about poetry, literature and music. Start with a poem (or song, or essay, or any classic literature) that means something to you. Ask them to read it, then read it out loud together. Ask the kids what they think it means (it is important here for you to just listen). Don’t be afraid to ask questions, challenge them gently and maybe provide your observations, always remembering that it’s not about what you think, but the encouragement for them to think, analyze and learn to enjoy the written word. With time, the goal is for them to discover and bring forward written words that are meaningful to them. What a wonderful way for you to better understand what is currently going on in their world. You will be pleasantly surprised by the depth your relationship will take over time.
I probably haven’t told you this enough, but I have truly enjoyed watching each of you grow into the fabulous parents that you are. As a parent, my single most important goal was for you to be better and stronger as a person, professional, partner and parent than I am, and you have far exceeded my wildest hopes and dreams.
So, this is not about your parenting; this is about the opportunity to routinely hear what is going on your children’s lives and, most importantly, to make certain that there are always open lines of communication, so when they face the unpleasant situations in life, they know they can confide in you and that you will listen, not judge, and be there to talk through possible solutions.
With love and respect,