Holiday Reflection

We have good kids. They’re fairly typical of seven and ten year-old boys in this day and age. They like video games. They have a fascination with people who are famous, and there’s always something else that they “need,” which they could easily live without. What’s become an interesting challenge for my wife and me is our balancing our own quest with simplifying our lives without becoming overbearing and pedantic with our children.

From the perspective of many, that last sentence may cause some reflection. Many parents take the position that you tell your kids what you’re doing, and that’s the end of it. When a child asks “why,” the parent’s answer is “because I said so.”

My wife and I, we see that we are the parents, and we are the one’s calling the shots. Where we were from the “because I said so” camp, however, is our belief that there has to be a balance with understanding who your child is, and how that child’s personality works with his or her peers.

There’s a reason why the often joked about Kindergarten report card item of “plays well with others” existed when we were children. Learning how to play well with others is important. We are social creatures, something that is becoming increasingly forgotten in our era of text messaging and Facebook pages.

I know; that seems contradictory.

Think about it, however. There’s a HUGE difference between having friends and contacts and interactions with people through electronic connections, and actually having to deal with those people face to face. If a child sends another child a bullying email, you simply steer future emails from the offending child straight into the Junk Mail box. When a child steals another child’s hat on the playground, or steals a pair of sunglasses, or threatens to physically harm him or her behind the jungle gym, or after school, that kid receiving the threats has more options for avoiding conflict, or choosing to confront the conflict head-on. More importantly, none of the options rarely lead to immediate resolutions.

So, playing well with others? Very important. Getting back to our parenting methods, I think it’s very important to show kids that life is not absolute, which starts with not using the explanation “because I said so” because you’re teaching through showing, no telling. You’re teaching your child that instead of dealing with predetermined absolutes, even parents have to adjust expectations and even advice, which means that for them, the children, there are rarely single simple answers for questions…except for math.

My wife and I have reached a phase in our life where, ideally, we’d move to a neighborhood just shy of being off the grid: something rural, remote, and not so polluted by human influence. When you’re living in Northern California suburbia, with two children to whom you want to provide as good of an education as is available to us, simply selling everything and moving to this hypothetical place is fairly unrealistic. Getting back to the first comment about humans being social creatures, my wife and I feel that a child’s socialization in a school environment is just as important as the book knowledge and practical knowledge – like using tools – that they learn.

The boys, however, know where my wife and I eventually want to end up. They also know that from our choices that they, our kids, are at the top of our decision making totem pole. They feel secure. They know we’re not going to abandon them. They also know that they’re materialistic wishes will, on occasion, be fulfilled. And therein lies the quandary.

Do we simply withhold all materialistic wishes from our boys to prove a point, or mold them more into the vision of who we want to become ourselves? That direction seems quite selfish.

“Here, son. We have the money in the savings account. All of your friends play with this toy. We could easily afford one, but you get a box of blocks to play, insuring that you have nothing in common with your peers.”

Why withhold these small trinkets from our kids, when, basically, they’re good kids?

Obviously my wife and I haven’t found any good reasons to withhold these totems of childhood from our own kids; they have enough toys for any gaggle of boys. But maybe, just maybe, it’s time to begin the slow move towards that neighborhood just a few steps away from being off the grid.


RJ Lavallee is the author of IMHO (In My Humble Opinion): a guide to the benefits and dangers of today’s communication tools on sale at, Barnes and Noble, and

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