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From family therapist . . . to family essayist

I wrote my first essay for San Diego Family Magazine in 1985. By then I was already a practicing marriage and family therapist with professional knowledge to share, but I was still relatively inexperienced as a parent. I didn't want to be presumptuous, so I only wrote about parenting situations I had faced myself. I shared stories from my own family life, explaining the parenting choices I made and how they worked out for everyone. Every month I'd send my words off to press, hoping my approach to parenting would someday prove to be sound—not just for the sake of my own children and career, but also for the sake of those parents who might read my words and take them to heart. That was the beginning of my column, which I titled “Family Album.”

Today, my children are grown and I'm a grandparent. I can report with pride (and relief) that both of my children are mature, accomplished and happy adults...who still like me. I take my children's success as proof that my approach to parenting is sound. But as my wife pointed out to me with a smile, our children's success might instead be proof that they took their direction from her rather than me. I understand Susan's point. To be fair, I need to acknowledge that the parenting approach I claim as my own is actually the result of a successful collaboration with Susan. We both feel good about the job we did as parents, and I feel confident sharing what we learned over the years.

But aren't most parents already overwhelmed with too much parenting information? How are conscientious parents supposed to figure out which expert to believe and method to trust? My approach to parenting addresses that dilemma.

Don't worry about technique. When you’re the right person, you'll do the right thing.

That's what a wise teacher told me when I was training to be a family therapist. He wanted me to know that if I approached my work with the right attitude and motivation, just about any technique I chose would work fine. I believe the same wisdom applies to parenting. If parents approach their job with the right attitude and motivation, just about any parenting technique they choose will work fine. Parenting isn't an exact science. Smart parents keep up with the latest thinking about children and parenting; but only the wisest parents realize there's no scientific formula for raising well-adjusted children, and nothing can substitute for their own intuition, judgment and modeling of healthy behavior.

I direct most of my writing toward helping parents develop the right attitude and motivation for the job. My goal is to inspire as much as instruct. I know that many parents get so caught up in the details and emotions of the moment that they lose their perspective and risk making unfortunate choices that aren't in their children’s best interests. I try to help those parents step back and ponder the "big picture" of parenting, so that when they act, it is with clarity of mind and fullness of heart. Acting wholeheartedly is a spiritual exercise, and good parenting requires spiritual discipline.

It takes spiritual discipline to deal with a screaming two-year-old reaching for candy in the grocery store checkout line. Such moments call for calmness and resolve, but it isn't easy to keep your cool when little "sticky fingers" snares a box of Chicklets. It takes spiritual discipline to remain calm enough that you don't automatically give-in or get-mad. The best parents keep the big picture in mind and are able to do what is best for their child, even if it means enduring a bit of embarrassment or discomfort themselves. I hope my writing inspires and nurtures that kind of parenting.

I welcome the opportunity to share my essays with your readers.