Tag Archives: parenting

California Gaming Law Puts Rules Squarely in Parents’ Hands

By Jason Menard

Free speech comes with a cost – personal responsibility. The repeal of a California law banning the sale and rental of violent games to minors puts the responsibility for parenting right where it should lie – with the parents.

Unfortunately for many kids that’s not exactly a comforting thought.  Continue reading

Fatherhood – The Unbirth of Cool

By Jason Menard

All it took was one look at my daughter’s face Friday night to hammer home the final nail in the coffin that housed the last vestiges of one belief I held dear – that I was a cool dad.

Well, it was the look combined with the words, “Oh, please no dad. Please no!” Continue reading

Misplaced Call for Restraint

By Jason Menard

Some lawyers need to obtain a sense of perspective before they start throwing around accusations – after all, the bigger the glass house, the more shards can come crashing down. And, in the case of a St. Thomas man charged with sexually assaulting his child, this so-called lack of restraint may help to prevent similar episodes from occurring.

Bob Upsdell, the lawyer for a St. Thomas man who has been charged with sexually assaulting his own child live on the Internet – an act which allegedly was witnessed and acted upon by an undercover officer – is tossing the word restraint a little too loosely when it comes to castigating the police for releasing information about the trial.

Restraint? Restraint? Perhaps, if the claims are true, his client should have shown a little more restraint when it came to abusing his own offspring. Instead of chastising police and superciliously stating that they need to “restrain their need for validation of the work they do,” perhaps this lawyer should realize that he’s dealing with a client that allegedly should have shown more restraint in his need to validate his need for sexual gratification by fondling his own child.

When treading through filth like this, one must tread lightly. Upsdell instead has jumped in with both feet – and now those feet are lodged firmly in his mouth.

As repugnant as the charges may be, everyone is entitled to a fair trial. But the nature of this crime – allegedly willfully violating the parent/child trust for sexual gratification – is so abhorrent that the normal rules of decorum need to be thrown out. When one has seemingly shown so little regard for one’s humanity, it’s hard to take a position of moral superiority, but that’s what Upsdell has done.

Yet Upsdell is simply trying to protect the rights of his client. As any good lawyer should, he has his client’s best interests at heart. And in an attempt to ensure a fair trial, he’s well within his right to argue that police comments have the potential for tainting the jury pool. But knowing public sentiment for the crime his client has been literally seen doing, he should have come out in a less accusatory tone.

In the end, all Upsdell has created is more animosity for his client. I would think that one’s hard-pressed to find someone who sympathizes with his client’s plight. In fact, I would think the only reason that people are in agreement with the generalities of Upsdell’s argument. If all the reports are true, then it’s safe to say that no one wants to see the accused go free. As such, the general public are just as invested in making sure that all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed.

Sympathy for his client is in short supply, and appealing for that is a wasted effort. However, appearing conciliatory and co-operative will help ensure that public image only stays at the repugnant level. Actions like this only move it closer to the abhorrent category.

The fact of the matter is that you’re never going to find a virgin jury pool — and, honestly, do we really want to have a group of people who are so removed from the news and realities of the world that they are unaware of this case deciding the fate of anyone, anywhere?

All you can hope for is that a jury of this man’s peers – and thankfully that doesn’t mean a pool of other alleged sub-human child molesters – will be able to execute their responsibility with all the respect and attention it deserves. We don’t live in a vacuum, so the reality is that we have to trust that people are able to separate speculation, emotion, and hearsay from the cold, blunt facts.

The jury pool’s already been tainted by Upsdell’s client’s alleged actions. If true, he has no one to blame but himself for that. And when you’ve shown a complete disregard for the rules and regulations of our society – and, in fact, the very essence of human decency – then taking a stand based on human rights is one that’s not based on the firmest of footing.

Could the police have shown a little more restraint in releasing the evidence? Maybe. But I, for one, am happy that their actions may help to prevent actions like this in the future. Knowing that there are police acting undercover in chat rooms and watching the going’s-on may give just one person pause to reconsider his or her actions. It’s not going to solve all the problems. And if the Net becomes too unsafe, people who are of the mind to commit these atrocious crimes will simply find another venue.

But if only one child has been saved from just one incident of molestation, then I for one applaud the police’s lack of restraint. If only Upsdell’s client practiced the same standard of restraint that his lawyer expects of others.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Don’t Let Mother Strike – Fire Her Instead

By Jason Menard

The mother who’s fed up and can’t take it anymore, pitching a tent on her front lawn and declaring that she’s on strike from parenting shouldn’t be allowed to walk out – she should be fired!

Complaining that her children are unruly, disrespectful, and unwilling to help out around the house, she chooses to stage a grandstanding display for the masses deftly attempting to deflect the blame from where it should lie – herself.

Now, let me state that I know intimately how difficult it is for a single mother to make a go of it in today’s world. But I also know there are many single mothers – and fathers – out there who are making it work. They’re able to be proud of their children and these kids are often more responsible and dedicated that their colleagues from two-parent homes.

I also know unruly kids who, despite living with two parents, are veritable hellions – destructive, uncontrollable, and unpleasant to be around.

And in both cases, the majority of the blame falls to the parent or parents.

Kids need boundaries. Parents want to be their kids’ friends and not come across as the bad guy. The two don’t always mix. Sometimes parenting’s difficult, sometimes it downright sucks. And there’s nothing worse than having to see the sadness or disappointment in your child’s eyes when they’ve had a much-anticipated event or gift taken away for poor behaviour.

It breaks your heart. But it’s also part of the tempering process that will forge our children into responsible adults. Sometimes, you just have to say no – as much as you want to give your children everything and anything they desire, to do so doesn’t teach them the realities of life.

My wife and I aren’t perfect parents by any stretch of the imagination. To some we may be considered strict, in that our kids are severely restricted in their activities on school days. And if requested tasks aren’t completed, then playtime is postponed. Oh, and TV, video games, and computer time? A maximum allotment each day.

Is it easy? Of course not. It’s hard to make a 12-year-old see the value of dedicating time to homework while his friends, often from the same class, are out playing in the street in front of him. And while their parents may not see the value of putting their kids to bed early, we know that our kids need a set amount of sleep. If that means going to bed earlier than their friends do (or, more likely, say they do) then so be it. We’ll be the bad guy.

In any case – and this includes our own children – negative behaviour can be traced to parenting decisions. And once a behaviour is ingrained, whether it be coming out of bed repeatedly at night or refusing to sit at the dinner table to eat, it only gets harder to change as they get older. After all, if the children have been conditioned to accept one reality, why should it come as a surprise that they’re resistant to changes to their status quo?

Sympathetic to the plight of the single mother, her status does not allow her to abdicate her role as a parent. However, her lack of judgment is apparent in her reference to the state of her kids’ rooms (I’m sure people through whose homes Hurricane Katrina did go through would love to switch places, even today).

Sure, you can say the kids are old enough to know better. But if you’ve grown up all your life being told that blue is green, why should you be expected to believe otherwise just because of a calendar? These kids have grown up with behaviour that’s been accepted to this point, so is it their fault that they behave selfishly?

Unfortunately, empathy comes later in life. As we get older, we are able to look back and appreciate more the travails we put our parents through. But as children, adolescents, and teenagers, we live in a world that’s very small – it revolves around us and our friends. It is only through the restrictions and guides that our parents set that we develop into well-rounded adults, capable of accepting responsibility and making sound decisions. If we’re not taught that, then whose fault is it?

If this mother didn’t want her house to turn into a pig sty, then perhaps she should have made her kids clean the room. If they refused, then luxuries would be restricted. If they continued to refuse, then there would be consequences – certainly one that wouldn’t involve a foosball table. It may be hard, it may require patience and stubbornness, but eventually the delineation between parent and child, rule-maker and rule-follower would have been set. No one ever said parenting is easy – and it isn’t. But the rewards in the end far outweigh the challenges.

Instead, this striking mother has chosen to teach her children another lesson. One where when life gets too tough, or you don’t get your way, instead of working through it together in a rational manner, you simply give up and walk away from your responsibilities.

Forget a strike. This should be a lockout.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

New Measure of Manhood

By Jason Menard

Just one word is all it took to remove any of the last vestiges of any sense of cool masculinity to which I was still clinging. Of my own volition, I uttered the word “tummy,” and completed my decent into the land of doing fatherhood.

And you know what? I’m a better man for it.

There were no excuses for my actions. I awoke at night, feeling slightly nauseous, and when my wife turned to ask what was wrong I replied, “My tummy hurts.” And, at that point, it felt even worse as my concept of masculinity plummeted into my gut. Sure, I was tired, but there were no kids around. Just me and my vocabulary diluted to the point where “tummy” was my first reference.

The overall decent has been slow and gradual, like a glacier eroding away the rugged edges of a coast, my carefully crafted, grizzled exterior has been systematically smoothed away by an unyielding force of nature – children.

It’s an interesting parallel watching my son enter that delicate pre-teen age bracket. At 11 years old, his life is all about proving himself in front of his friends. Like all of us at the time, he has a foggy idea of what it means to be a man, but is unable to comprehend what manhood is truly about.

That lesson is one we don’t truly learn until later in life. Even as we progress into our teenage years and our young adulthood, our growth is all about defining ourselves as individuals, showing ourselves to be rugged men capable of standing up against the ravages that the world throws on us. We engage in social rituals and sporting events, which at their very root, are designed to establish a masculinity hierarchy. It’s just nature over nurture and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Yet, for all the chest-thumping, testosterone-fuelled bellowing we do in our youth, the irony is that the true indication of when we become a man is announced not with a roar, but with the dulcet tones we use with our children.

We spend our lives searching for ways to show our dominance. Whether it’s through drinking contests, games of one-on-one, or comparing financial statements, we spend our youth looking for external validation of our manhood. And when we do find it, it’s not through our friends or co-workers, but in the outstretched arms, unconditional love, and unyielding trust of our children.

It is at that moment, when we look into our children’s eyes that we see, reflected back to us, all we need to know in life. It is at that moment when nothing else matters in this world. We stop caring what anybody else thinks, because all that matters is that we do right by our children.

It is at that moment too when we can drop all the pretences and tear down the artificial walls with which we have surrounded ourselves. We can lie down on the floor and just be ourselves with our family. It is in that time when everything finally seems to make sense.

Yet still there are stereotypes that persist. As a parent with two children, one boy and one girl, I can attest that there are differences in the way we experience things. For my initial interaction with my son, the need to remove those traits of masculinity was lessened. He was and is going through the same things that I was and I can understand where he is in life. I can tell him what it truly means to be a man, but it’s a journey that he’ll have to take for himself, so that he can appreciate it more. But, as such, we can fall into the same trap of reliving a juvenile form of masculinity.

In a father-son relationship, we often look to help our children be what we determine a man should be: strong, yet caring; respectful, yet willing to stand up for your beliefs; tough, yet compassionate. Yet those are the same ideals that I strive to impart to my daughter. In the end, gender is a generality, and it’s the individual that matters. So there should be no difference in my experience with my children.

But there is. My son and I share common ground through his current experience as it mirrors my own youth. I’ve walked the path that he’s walked down, so there’s a comfort level associated with him. My relationship with my daughter has required me to step out of what I know and see the world with an entirely new perspective.

Of her own volition, my daughter became interested in babies, princesses, and all the traditional things that some would say stereotypically define a girl. My wife and I left her the choice to select her toys (and with a bunch left over from her older brother, there were no shortage from which to choose), yet she gravitated towards these choices on her own – and forced me to come along for the ride. And, in the end, it’s hard to cling to those youthful ideals of masculinity when you’re one the ground playing with your daughter’s Princess dolls.

The 17-year-old version of me may have laughed at seeing a grown man playing with dolls. But the 32-year-old version of me knows that young punk doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about. They say that a parent’s job is to teach their children, but it is with great thanks that I can say that my children have taught me the most important lesson of all – what it truly means to be a man.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Parenting Lets Us Be a Kid Again

By Jason Menard

Children are truly a gift. They enrich our lives, make us put things into a new perspective, and help us see what’s truly important. Those of us who have had the good fortune to have children have been blessed with a gift that will grow and blossom as the years pass.

Oh, and let’s not forget the toys!

While the politically correct thing to do when talking about our children is to wax poetic about the profound impact they have on our lives. And while all of those things are true, we parents have to admit that the toys are a pretty cool benefit too.

Having children allows us to relive our childhood. Take a grown man playing with Barbies in his basement, and you’d be ready to write him off as a borderline-psycho loner who probably hasn’t had a date in the past few years. But throw a three-year old daughter into the equation, and this more-than-creepy image morphs into a heart-warming expression of love between a father and daughter. A man lining up alone to see a Star Wars film? Probably living at home in his parents’ basement. However, when you add a son to the mix, then you have a devoted dad sharing a bonding moment with his child!

The most enduring films and TV shows are the ones that capture the imagination of our children, while appealing on another level to the adults who watch along with them. Shows like The Muppets and movies like Aladdin and the Shrek series resonate with our children because of the characters and the slapstick-style humour, whereas the parents are privy to another level of appreciation through carefully crafted dialogue and pop culture references. As The Simpsons has shown, kids will be drawn to the Bart and Lisa characters, whereas parents gravitate to the parents and the social commentary underlying each episode.

Kids let us revert to our childhood and recapture the innocence and freedom we enjoyed in our youth. Many parents will sit and complain about the quality of cartoons or movies directed towards our youth. We grumble and grouse and state that the shows of our youth were so much better. But it’s not a matter of whether or not we think they’re better or not: we’re just not-so-subtly trying to coerce our kids into watching what we did, so that we can justify our adult enjoyment of such childish pastimes.

Recently I was walking through a store and a DVD caught my eye, an anniversary edition of Schoolhouse Rock. In my youth, these brief snippets of animation were the highlight of my day. Wedged between Mary Lou Retton imploring me to get off the couch and exercise and Menudo showcasing its Latin-lite, choreographed vignettes, these slyly produced cartoons that mixed education with entertainment were captivating to me and many of my peers. The memories stuck with me so much that on a trip to Washington a few years back, I made sure to sit on the steps of the Capitol, singing quietly “I’m Just a Bill.”

The fact that I have an 11-year-old son and a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter made the decision to buy it a no-brainer. Not only could I make the purchase guilt-free, I’d also have a built-in reason to watch them! Fortunately, both kids seem to enjoy them, so all works out well in the end.

Obviously, as parents, we want to encourage our children to forge their own identities and explore their world. Just as childhood remembrances of The Electric Company, Star Wars, and the like have become shared points of reference for my generation, so too do my kids need to experience the memories and the cultural phenomena that will act as a common bond with the people they meet in the future. But if I can expose them to the occasional reference from my youth — then all the better.

The funny thing about all of this is that as we age, we’re constantly worried about whether or not we’re ready for parenthood. We question whether we have the maturity and the wherewithal to be good parents. But maybe we focus too much on the responsibility component of parenthood and not enough on the joy.

Growing up is a part of life, but who knew that having children would let us be a kid again?

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Overprotecting our Youth Today Limits Their Future Tomorrow

By Jason Menard

I worry, what’s going to happen to today’s children when we remove the protective bubble wrap and force them to head out into that big, bad, dangerous world all by their lonesome?

Sometimes too much knowledge can be dangerous. Many parents, who are regaled with new and potentially explosive news about the latest threats to their children, live in fear of letting their kids do the one thing they do best – be kids.

Kids are supposed to get dirty, they’re supposed to take a few chances in their life – that’s how they learn. As sensitive parents, we understand that we’re supposed to forgive our children’s mistakes and encourage them to use them as a learning tool. But how are they supposed to make mistakes when today’s society doesn’t even encourage them to go out and test the waters.

I feel my parents did a good job, overall. I’m still here, in general good health, and I take an active interest in the world around me. And, while they were aware of where I was in my youth, I remember spending all day riding my bike around the neighbourhood or playing in the park, no matter what the temperature. Rain, sun, heat, cold – we were out there enjoying life to its fullest – and we weren’t restricted to a 50-foot radius around our front porch.

Now, I don’t want to come across as an old fogey harping on about the Good Ol’ Days, but more and more today’s kids are being restricted in what they can do, what they can experience, and where they can go. Our societal fears are overwhelming our desire to watch our children live, thrive, and survive on their own.

On an average day, my wife and I will send our son out to play, only to have him come back shortly thereafter saying that none of his friends will come out, because it’s too hot (we’re talking mid-20s here, not fry-an-egg-hot summer days) – they’d rather stay inside and play video games. Looking back on my youth, heat was never a consideration – and the concept of dehydration was never even brought up. You played until you were ready to drop, came home, ate lunch or dinner, and then headed outdoors again.

Parents are dousing their kids in waterless antibacterial cleaners, because – God forbid – they come in contact with a germ. But what will the long-term ramifications of this desire to protect our children from disease be? Will we create a generation of kids who are in danger of being felled by the common cold because they’ve not developed a normal immunity, like the rest of us?

Even a recent trip to an amusement park indicates how protective we’ve become. Rides, which once sufficed with a lap bar or a shoulder restraint now feature intricate protection devices, double-belts, and the like. Signs for rides indicated so many exclusions, that only Olympic athletes appear to qualify to get on board.

Gone are the days where kids would get on their bikes and ride. Gone are the days when a forest was a place to explore with friends. Gone are the days when time could be wasted, pleasurably. Gone are the days when kids could get dirty all in the name of exploration, discovery, and fun. What those days have been replaced with

We live in a society built on fear – fear of litigation, fear of our children hurting themselves, fear of our children being abducted – and that fear has clouded our parental instincts to the point where we’re suffocating our kids’ abilities to experience the world in the same way we have.

Parents often issue the similar refrain that today’s world is different, which is true. But what’s more true is that today’s parent has changed. The available world around us has expanded to the point where its farthest reaches are within the click of a mouse, yet we’ve done our utmost to confine our kids’ world to their immediate surroundings.

Once, in my youth, I decided to take a running leap at the tree in our front yard, which featured parallel branches. Thinking I could make like an Olympic gymnast I leapt for the first branch, only to miss spectacularly. Lying in a crumpled heap, the wind knocked out of me and my head ringing, I learned a valuable lesson about risk management that I have applied to my every day life since.

And that’s the whole point. Our childhood follies and experiences teach us lessons for the long-run. We learn what to touch and what not to touch. We learn how to look before we leap. And, most importantly, we learn how to make our own way through this big, exciting – and sometimes scary – world.

By over-protecting our kids, we’re ensuring that they’ll make it to their future without a scratch – but are we not restricting the future they have by robbing them of the ability to experience life first hand? When we’ve finished holding their hands through their youth and keeping them at arm’s length, where will they go? What will they do? An animal raised in captivity often times is unable to be released into the wild because they don’t have basic survival skills. Are we doing anything different to our children by holding on so tight?

We need to give our kids the same gift our parents gave to us – the gift of a childhood. And if my son or daughter come home with a cut on the leg or a bout of Poison Ivy, then my wife and I will take care of them, and take comfort in the idea that each experience will add one more lesson learned to their youthful experience.

And it’s one more lesson that they can take with them when they step out on their own into that big world that’s full of the unknown, full of fear, but also full of beauty, excitement, and potential.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved