Friday, March 28, 2014

Oh! That'll Be Trouble: Daughters and Sexuality

We now know that the Koalid is a girl, and, while I am trying to avoid people buying her lots of pink frilly things and dollies, I do tell people that she is a girl when they ask. Some of them give an answer along the lines of: "Oh! That'll be trouble!"

Obviously, they do not mean that little girls are harder to raise than boys. The conventional wisdom is that girls are better behaved that boys. What they mean is that someday, my little girl will discover boys and hormones, and then I'll be in trouble! I'll be up against those sneaky, nasty, conniving boys who are scheming to defile my daughter and steal her virtue.

I generally hold my tongue because my extensive knowledge of sales strategy teaches me that telling people that their thinking is idiotic and outdated is a poor way to keep friends.

The Koalid will be born in 2014, not 1814. I had my first sexual experience just shy of 16, which is fairly common. Unfortunately, also fairly common (although fortunately not my experience), too many of these young lovers, especially girls, are exploring this new realm in isolation from their families. They have been given cursory sexual education and generally are forbidden to do it. Of course, whether their parents want them to or not, the teens will find ways to explore their sexuality.

As a parent, there are two choices: force the teen to explore their sexuality without the benefit of parental experience and guidance, or be there to educate, support, and protect them as they explore. The third choice of preventing it from happening is a fools paradise. Even if a parent does manage to keep the teen from ever engaging in sexual activity while in high school, they are simply pushing the behavior to college years, with a few years of extra built up anticipation to put a bit of urgency to the exploration.

I am not afraid of this part of the Koalid's development as I am not afraid of any other part of her development. She will be taught to be confident and strong. She will not only be taught the basics of safer sex, but she will be taught the significance of sex. Not just some Disney version of perfect romance leading to perfect physical love, but the fact that it is an intense and intimate experience between two people, and that everyone experiences it differently and has different desires. She will be taught that no desire is improper as long as the expression of that desire is done in consideration of the needs and wants of all involved, as well as safety. She will be taught to express herself and her desires (or lack of desires) with confidence and without fear. She will be taught that she has the right to say no and that her lover has the obligation to abide by that. She will also be taught that she has the right to know what she wants and to ask for it.

I will not be the father who meets the date at the door and warns him to keep his hands to himself. I will be the father who raises a daughter who is strong enough to know whose hands she wants where and be able to deal with hands that go where they should not.

That said, I should make clear that for any boy who would choose to hurt by daughter for his own desires: the range, depth, and breadth of ways to bring Hell on Earth to an individual without significantly running afoul of the law are limited only by the dedication and creativity of the father of the girl you wronged. When motivated, I am very dedicated and creative.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Teenage Years as a Beta Test Period

In the last post, I discussed the idea of strategically educating a child to prepare for success. Let us now explore how this educational strategy can survive the challenges of adolescence. My mother referred to that the teenage years as the "alien period". When I was 14, she says, I was replaced with an angry, practically unintelligible alien, to be returned at 19 with a pleasant, well mannered young man.

That is a valid point, adolescence is a time of pulling away, exploration, and independence, but not necessarily a time of alienation. I believe, based on some research and considerable anecdotal experience, that the most severe adolescent conflicts are caused by the unexpected transition from obedient and respectful child to adventurous, curious, and independent teenager. Most of the conflicts center around the teen's attempts to assert her independence versus the parent's desire to keep the child close and safe.

This next paragraph is one of those that I may read years hence and either pat myself on the back for my prescience or laugh at my naivete...

My theory is that if the teen years are looked at a different way it can increase their educational value, prepare the teen for adulthood and preserve the parental bond better. Rather than seeing the teen years as a difficult extended childhood, view them as a beta test for adulthood. Increase independence and responsibility progressively. Like any other training process, allow the teen just slightly more responsibility than she is ready to handle, then provide support as she grows into the challenge.

Rather than use arbitrary punishments to teach lessons, use natural consequences. Grounding is an artificial construct which has no parallel in the adult world. It shifts the lesson from understanding what she might have done wrong in the real situation to a lesson in how to win against mom and dad. A grounded child does not sit in her room and contemplate what she did wrong; she sits in her room and contemplates her anger at the punishment and how she can avoid it in the future: an absolutely useless learning process.

I cannot protect her from this, but
I can provide the mental resources
for her to protect herself.
If the teen does not live under the immediate fear of parental punishment, it allows her to open her awareness the more distant, but much more real, set of real threats and dangers in the world. Traditionally, a teen who goes to a party and stays out too late is most worried about the most proximate danger: mom and dad finding out. In reality, the real dangers are much more serious: alcohol poisoning, drunk driving, drug complications, personal injury, rape, etc. How many teens have died in drunk driving accidents because they did not want mom and dad to know where they were? How safe did that discipline structure keep that child?

Alternately, what if a teen of 16 is given the autonomy to make her own choices, under the condition that parents must be kept informed of where she is and what she is doing, not because they do not trust her but because adolescence is a form of training mode where the parents are available as referees, lifeguards, and coaches on call to assist when she gets in over her head but allowing her to have the experiences that will prepare her for the rest of her life.

Barney Stinson approves
of a restrictive parenting
style. I believe my point is made.
To those who think that I suggesting too permissive of a parenting style, I will give one more piece of evidence to support my theory. Ask a typical college boy how he feels when he meets a college girl who tells him that her parents were very restrictive and kept her safe at home, not letting her go out much. The word "JACKPOT" comes to mind, because he knows that she is ready to make up for all that she thinks that she missed out on, and mom and dad are no where in sight.

If the Koalid decides to party hard in college, I want it to be because she knows the risks and has weighed them against the rewards, not because she is trying to make up for lost time, and I want to be sure that she knows and understands that if she gets in over her head, even in college, her old dad and mom are still there for her.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Raising a Child Like You Make an RPG Character

When you are playing a tabletop role playing game, the first thing you do is make, or stat out, your character. This generally involves selecting skills, talent, and equipment for your character, which you choose based on the challenges that you anticipate the character will face.

Traveller, a system renouned
for its highly involved
and customizable character
creation system.
The natural reaction to a title such as this is that an RPG is a game and raising a child is serious. You can't think like you would in a game for real life! Really? What is a game, but a simulation for real life? Chess was most likely invented and was commonly used to give children an understanding of strategy, necessary risk, and tradeoffs.

Most parents do their best to make sure their children are ready for the world. They teach them manners, boost their self esteem, push them to do well in school, but too often they fail. Many children are growing up to find themselves in the adult world completely unprepared for the challenges that they face. Many cannot balance a checkbook, read a bus schedule, or go to a job interview without embarrassing themselves.

If we assume that most parents are fairly well educated people who are doing their best to prepare their children, how do their children end up so ill-prepared. I would suggest it is a lack of strategic thinking, born of thinking that their job is to provide encouragement and support while the school system will provide the hard skills that the child will need in the world. Moreover, if a parent does try to set their own curriculum of things that they think their child should know, they could be seen as "overprograming" or "stifling creativity." This is partly because school makes learning so unpleasant that a child doesn't want to come home and do more things they don't want to do.

I intend to approach this differently. Looking back on my life, I can see skills and knowledge that I learned later in my 20s, which I would have been much better off to have received earlier. Using this experience of my own and my best projections of what a child coming of age in 2032 will need to succeed, I will prepare the Koalid with a variety of skills.

When statting out an RPG character, one usually selects a good mix of basic skills so the character can do well on her own with a few specializations to give the character unique value to the party. The strategy here is similar. She will be taught a variety of basic skills: math, financial literacy, balancing a checkbook and managing a bank account, cooking, cleaning, manners for polite society, proper carriage, situational awareness, basic self defense technique, persuasive skills, etc.

The more specific skills would be based on her interests, but whatever those interests are, there are common things that can be taught to develop those interests. For example, selecting a project, planning it, and following through. If she takes and interest in flower arranging, then she will be encouraged to learn about all kinds of flowers, gardening and other related skills, then put those skills to practice by actually making arrangements. No matter what the subject she pursues, learning to follow start and follow through a major project will give her confidence that she can succeed and help her to understand what working for a goal really means.

Whether she decides to be a flower arranger or a bounty hunter,
the Koalid will be equipped with the skills and worldview
to allow her to be successful.
 My goal is that in August of 2032, when the Koalid is ready to go out into the world, she will be prepared for success. Whatever she decides to do, she will have a suite of basic skills to stay safe, assess and handle challenges, make a plan and execute it to success, all with ethics and moral integrity. This means adopting a mindset more of trainer and coach than protector. It does not one bit of good to keep her safe from the world until she is 18 if I then dump her out into it completely unprepared. While others her age are still trying to figure out what a work ethic is and wondering why they have already ruined their credit, she will be able to pursue whatever goals she seeks to follow.

But Michael, you might object, in this kind of strategy, the four years before she goes into the world would be the most vital in preparing her, but that's adolescence, the time when a child pulls away from a parent!

I'll address that extremely valid point in Thursday's Koalid post.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Are Children Spoiled or Just Forced to Rely on Christmas?

If you have been to a family Christmas with any family that has small kids, between the ages of around 7 to 13, you have probably seen this scene. The child excitedly tears into a gift, dreaming of all the exciting bounty that lies inside. Suddenly, he stops, crestfallen. He looks up, tears in his eyes, and whines, "this is the wrong one! This isn't what I wanted!" The parents, deeply embarrassed by their child's behavior, try to settle the situation, apologizing to the deeply offended gift giver, trying to explain to the child that they should be appreciative and thankful. Meanwhile, everyone in the room is thinking that this kid is an ungrateful brat. Perhaps a phrase like "entitled little snot" comes to a few minds.

Is this child and entitled little snot? Or, is this child responding in a very reasonable way to a very poorly thought out economic dynamic?

My education background is economics, and that is what I have my degree in. Economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources to satisfy unlimited needs. It studies why people do what they do to get what they want and how an economic system teaches a person to behave.

Let us consider this from an economics perspective. What do you do when you want something? You buy it! If it is too expensive, you may save up for it then buy it. However, let us imagine that you don't have money. I don't mean you are broke. I mean that you do not have access to the concept of money. You can't earn it. You can't save it. You don't have it. (Or if you do have it, it is such a small amount as to be irrelevant.) If you want something, the only way you can get it is to ask someone for it. Sometimes you can ask for something and get it, most of the time, you will not, and the more often you ask, the more negative the reaction you get it.

However, there are two times a year when you are allowed and even encouraged to ask for things you want. These times are Christmas and your birthday. You are asked, nay, hounded for a list of what you desire. This list, you know, will be disseminated to family, friends, friends of family, family of friends. You will get many things on this list.

For a more in depth explanation of
opportunity cost, you can read
this article.
There is a limit, to what you will get. There is a finite number of people who will be buying you gifts, and, it is likely that they are coordinating so that two people do not get the same gift. This brings into play an economic concept called "opportunity cost". Opportunity cost is the highest value alternative option. In other words, if you have $5 in your pocket and get a burger with it, the cost may be $5, but the opportunity cost is the next thing you could have bought with that money.

If you want 10 things and there are 6 people buying gifts, then you will not get 4 things you want. The opportunity cost of the 6 gifts that you get is the 4 gifts that you do not. That's fine, and you understand that you will not get everything on your list, but if you get 6 things from the list, then they all have high value to you and you are happy.

What if one of the items is wrong? What if you asked for a Pathfinder Player's Handbook and you get a D&D Player's Handbook? The item is not what you asked for and it has no value to you at all. One might say, "it was a present, you should still be grateful. After all, it was free." But it wasn't free, was it? It cost you one of your gifts. That D&D book that you didn't want cost you the Pathfinder that you did want. Likewise if one of those six gift givers gives you a pair of socks or a nice sweater. Not only did you not get what you wanted, but one of your precious, highly limited, irreplaceable gift slots is taken up with something that you didn't even want in the first place. That sweater cost you, in terms of opportunity cost, the most exciting of the items on your list that you did not get.

When you get upset about this, are you an ungrateful little brat, or a person who realizes that the next chance to get what you want is 6 months away, and it is entirely likely a similar mistake will be made again, and there is not a damned thing you can do about it?

Many parents limit most gift giving to birthday and holidays, which makes sense from their perspective. Most kids get about $200-$500 of presents for each. What does a 9-year-old need more than $1000 of presents a year for? Indeed... if they are the right presents.

Many parents also do not believe that children should be paid for chores or doing their homework. This makes sense from the perspective that you want a child to understand that there are somethings that need to be done because they are your obligation.

These two very reasonable concepts come together to a very negative result. Either a child only gets gifts for birthday and holiday in which case, the whole "joy of giving" concept is entirely lost on them, since the pressure to ask for an receive the correct things is intense, or a child gets gifts throughout the year, learning that the way to get what he wants to is cajole and bamboozle mom and/or dad to get what he wants. Neither of these systems teach a child what you would want them to learn.

Very nice, but would not trade an
iPhone for it.
We consider gifts to be delightful things because they are either highly thoughtful things we could not get ourselves, such as hand made or unique items, or they are something we like that we could get ourselves. If grandma gave you a handmade sweater, you'd really appreciate the thought that went into it. But, what if getting that sweater meant that you couldn't get that new iPhone. You'd be a bit less appreciative. There is no pressure to receive the right gifts for an adult, under most circumstances. If you don't get what you want, you can just go to the store tomorrow and buy it for yourself. Most children have no such option, and they should, in the same structured and limited form that adults have.

Obviously, you can't just go to the store and buy everything you want. You have limited money. Teaching a child the value of work and money means allowing them to experience that same situation. Telling a child that they cannot have something that they want does not teach them any valuable lesson except that he should learn to settle and do without: a terrible lesson to teach a child. Telling him that he can't have what he wants then eventually caving in and getting it for him is an even more terrible lesson: "if I ask hard enough I can get anything I want."

Instead of "no", the answer should be "here is what you will need to do to earn it." Perhaps a structured system in which chores are assigned a specific value and the child can accrue credit, taking on additional chores to earn additional credit. Yes, I know, adults don't get paid for doing chores, but unless you're going to suggest the kid go work at the factory, there must be some method to transmute work into satisfaction of desires for the child to learn how that process works.

What are the benefits? First, the child learns to associate hard work with getting what he wants. Second, you don't have to figure out what the balance is between privation and spoiling, the economy you create does it for you. Third, you never have to say "no, you can't have it," instead saying "sure you can have it, and this is what you have to do to get it." Fourth, Christmas can be about what it is supposed to be about, instead of it being some kind of high pressure acquisition exercise.

Post Script: adults do get paid for doing chores. They get paid in the value of having a clean house, clean dishes, clean clothes, etc. What's that worth? Ask any cleaning company how much people are willing to pay to have chores done, and you'll see that it does have economic value. The child does not yet recognize the value of the chores, and may not care as much as you do about the benefits of those chores even if he does see the value.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

When All You Have is a Hammer, All the World's a Nail

Inappropriate for taking care of babies!
First, let me make clear that the title of this post is an expression. Neither hammers nor nails should be used in the proper care of a baby.

This blog for the next four months is, of course, entirely speculative. The following years of writing will be looking back at the first few months saying, "woah, why did I ever think that?" Your entertainment, dear reader, is that as you read each post, you can places your bets on which posts will get the "Woah? What?" treatment in years to come!

Humans have the remarkable ability to synthesize knowledge of the familiar to prepare for and respond to the new and unfamiliar. So, as I approach the coming challenge of raising a child, I draw upon my extensive knowledge of sales and management techniques. The knee jerk answer to that is "a child is neither an employee nor a prospect, and the same principles that apply to them cannot possibly apply to a child."

The core principles of business which I follow are fundamentally about understanding a person and what they want. It is about understanding their needs and desires, especially those that they are are unwilling or unable to express, and finding a way to fulfill those desires in a way that is mutually beneficial. That sounds to me like child raising... if it were explained by an emotionless robot.

In the research I am doing in preparation, I am reading a book called The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First Year, by Armin Brott. Brott explains that a baby wants to communicate. She wants specific things, and she wants to let you know what those things are. It is simply up to the parent to be open to those signals. Of course, those signals will not be as clear as "please get me a bottle because I am hungry." It will be more like "wah, wah, waaaah," but hopefully with some sort of gesture of pitch that might differentiate it. In sales it's not always clearer. When I sold cars, sometimes the best indication I had of what a customer wanted a guttural grunting sound when we approached and SUV or a hatchback, or a subtle grimace at the thought of a red car.

In sales, there is a concept of WIIFM: What's In It For Me which I speak of often in my other blog, People I Meet. Most people go through life only thinking about what they want, and not what the people they encounter want. The salesman who wants to make a sale but does not consider why the customer would want to buy. The panhandler who wants people to give her money but does not consider why they would want to. The parent who wants the baby to stop crying but does not think about what the baby wants.

Too often, people blame the other person for their lack of success. The salesman who is not making sales will blame these stupid customers who don't want the product. They can blame the customer all they want, but it won't make one more sale. The only thing the salesman can control is the salesman, so the only useful line of thinking is "What can I do to get the result I want? What does the customer want and how can I provide that?"

Likewise, some parents with a child that is crying will blame the baby. "What's wrong with this kid, he cries all the time!" That is not useful thinking. The only thing the parent can control is the parent, so the only useful line of thinking is "What can I do to get the result I want? What does the baby want and how can I provide that?"

Sure, sounds easy enough, but what if nothing seems to work. This happens in sales too. Sometimes the
customer will just say no while giving no objections. Obviously there is a reason why he is saying no, but he's not going to tell you. This is where being a professional comes in. Knowing the possible objections allows the salesman to answer all the possible objections even without input:
"I understand that you are a bit hesitant, but we do have a less expensive model if that interests you."
This could apply to either scenario that I describe.
"The vehicle is available in a number of different colors and styles."
"There is another trim level that gets better gas mileage."
"You can get a back up camera, heated seats and bluetooth in this car."
"Oh, why didn't you say so."

Likewise, a baby might be similar.
"Do you want you bottle?"
"Is your diaper dirty?"
"Do you want to be cuddled?"
"Do you want to your binky?"

Most of the customers I have worked with, I have had a great personal respect for, and I have done my best to understand where they are coming for. Some, however, have sounded a great deal like crying babies. Now, to reverse the process and hear a crying baby as a person with unexpressed needs that I will use my skills and experience to satisfy.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

How Are You Decorating the Nursery?

One of the standard baby questions, shortly after "do you know what it is?" is "How are you decorating the nursery?"

One correct answer to that question for the Koalid is "Muppets and Winnie the Pooh."

The other answer is "whiteboards."

After leaving my last job, I had a choice to make. The Koalid was due to arrive in 6 months. I could have found another job in my field, which means sales. Most of the sales jobs I have had have been business to consumer, meaning that I had to work when the consumers could buy: evenings and weekends.

The alternative was to go independent. I have a variety of skills including sales, social media, marketing, event planning, and sales. I'm also a decent salesman. Between these skills, my experience and varied background and contacts, I felt that I could make a good go of my own business.

I had decided early in Amy's pregnancy that the Koalid would be my main priority going forward. Of course, every parent says that, but for me it is different. I have already completed most of the great things that I would like to do in my life. I owned a game store and presided over an amazing community for many years. I have had experiences that many would give their left arm for. I have done many things, and it is time for the next phase in my life: the Koalid Phase.

I am happiest when I have a single directing goal. When I ran Phoenix Games, that was was my single focus. Everything I did was to keep that place going. When I worked a side job, it was to make money to keep the store going. When I got up and brushed my teeth, it was so my teeth would be healthy so I could eat to have energy to run the store. That kind of focus provides a good framework to direct one's decisions.

Now, that focus is the Koalid, so in forming the next phase of my career, everything is for the Koalid. As such, I craft a business plan that enables me to work from home. The decor of her nursery will be whiteboard because we are moving to a two bedroom apartment, and her nursery will be my office, allowing me to work while she does her baby things a few feet away.

I don't remember how my nursery was decorated or even if I had one. Perhaps she will not remember how her nursery was decorated either. Or, maybe, when she looks back, she'll say that she doesn't remember what was on the walls, but she remembers daddy always being there.

Friday, March 7, 2014

When Changing Everything is Easier than Changing Something

I am about half way along this second stage of fatherhood. The Koalid is coming out in about four and a half months. Ordinarily, having a first child would be a dramatic life change. If it were a matter of staying in the same apartment, working the same jobs, and doing the same things but making the adjustments that a child requires, that would be quite a thing.

What happens, when everything else changes at the same time? Amy started a new job a few weeks ago. I left the car dealership in December, just ahead of a complete collapse of their business. Due to the new situation, we have to move. Does the tumultuous situation around us make it harder, or does it make it easier? After all, isn't it, in some ways, easier to accommodate one change when you are already making many other changes?

I left a certain dealership just before their sales took a
dive of over 50%. For the record, their cars are still neat and
well maintained and clean. They just aren't selling many.
It is certainly true, that many changes that would have to be made for a baby have to made for other reasons as well. We live in a one bedroom apartment, so we would have to move anyway. So now, rather than move down the street to a two bedroom, we move down the shoreline to another two bedroom.

In some ways, the end of my job in December is quite fortuitous. With my salesman's schedule and Amy's full time schedule, we would have needed full time day care. A very expensive proposition where we exchange a great deal of money for the privilege of having someone else raise our child in whatever way they see fit.

I have always been a bit of an entrepreneur. Started a business right out of college. I've always had a project or two brewing on the side. However, since my first effort at full time entrepreneurship, I have never been in a position to give it my full attention until now. Now, suddenly, the math changes. If I would be paying 40-60% of my income to daycare, that means that if I could make 60-40% of my normal income and take care of the Koalid myself, then we are in the same financial position while knowing that the caretaker is one that I can trust. (At least I hope I can trust myself.)

Back up plan, in case the Koalid
ever has to come in to work with me.

Many men in my position have great fear and trepidation about how they will figure everything out. How will they adapt to this one new thing in their life. For me, when everything is different, when I'm making everything up from whole cloth, I find that I have one choice: the choice I have been making since Fall of 2012 that has gotten me this far. I can accept God's plan, have faith that the way will be made clear for me, and hold on tight for an amazing ride.