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In the parenting days, there was no internet to turn to for mommy advice. We couldn’t jump to the nearest computer (or phone) to find problems that were too big to solve on our own. Instead, we cut out magazine articles or went to the library to find books on the subject.
Parenting Advice Column
In my mother’s day, the most common way to get advice was to apply to a set of twins: dear Abby and Ann Landers. Our town newspaper had a column by Ann Landers, and my mother loved her open and frank style. At that time, instead of pinning things to a virtual whiteboard on a computer, articles were cut out and placed on refrigerators and bulletin boards. Our house was filled with yellow clippings of the Ann Landers news that my mother found particularly profound.
A Pile Of Advice Books Won’t End Your Parenting Anxiety. Here’s What To Do Instead.
One of Mrs. Landers’ most famous pillars was the Twelve Steps to Raising Children. Mothers all over the world begged her to reprint it and she did it again and again. And now, decades later, I’m reprinting it for you. It’s amazing how her advice has held up after all this time.
Purification by Fire Back to School #4: Making Friends in the Social Media World. that’s good for me. I don’t talk much about my profession here. We’ve lived in this house for many years (although we’re moving in a few days), and in all that time I haven’t talked to anyone on our street about my writing. From their point of view, I’m just another family man who works from home.
I’m dealing with my father, who always said it’s bad to be famous in the neighborhood. “The last thing I want is to be famous,” he told me when I was a kid, much to my surprise. “This can’t be true, Dad!” And you answered. In my opinion, at that young age, what could be more exciting than the life of a celebrity? How can any sane person mock glory?
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The Age Of Peak Advice
My father lived in the shadow of fame. But very deep in the shadows. He never went to college, and spent most of his career working as a valet—starting as a cab driver in Los Angeles, then traveling the world as a chauffeur, and finally starting his own retail business in his forties. I later found out that he drove some famous people, but I only got those details by commenting on random chats.
For example, around my tenth birthday, the actress Jane Mansfield died in a car accident, and my dad, reading about it in the paper, looked up and said, “I’m glad that didn’t happen while I was driving.” Or the family will go to an event at the Mark Taper Forum at the Los Angeles Music Center, and Dad will make some comments about what Mark Taper’s house is like. Why is my father visiting millionaire Mark Tapper’s house? He must have been driving a limo. Or we’d be talking about Vietnam, and my father, who rarely had an opinion on foreign affairs, would say, “The worst thing was when they killed Ngo Dinh Diem [who was president of Vietnam from 1955 to 1963]—of all the politicians chauffeur, he was the most diligent. Just a good guy, no interest in partying – unlike the others.”
Now I wonder who the others are. But I didn’t ask. Like many of his generation, my father was not open to talking much about his past. Unfortunately, I rarely thought about the claim.
I realize now that my father has good reasons for seeking doubts about fame. Many celebrities he met in his career died young because of their fame. But he also thought it would be a royal pain to have people stare at you everywhere you go, check everything you do, and turn to you just to stare and talk. He believed it was much better to spend quiet time with his family, enjoying the simple pleasures of American life.
What Would Atticus Do?
But despite my best efforts, I have now gained a reputation in my neighborhood. For good reason (as you’ll see), but it still bothers me. For example, when I got my hair cut last week, the stylist said:
The same thing happens at the dentist, coffee shops and other local places. News travels fast through the suburban vineyard, and I’m a father whose kids go to Harvard. I live in a neighborhood of ambitious parents — many of them doctors, engineers, and technologists of all kinds — and they don’t care one bit that I’ve written a ton of books or published them in fancy magazines. My two children gave me local fame.
That’s because the acknowledgment of my small dose of fame is always accompanied by, “How do you do it?” What’s the secret to getting into the Ivy League? “How
An experience they value here. No, they don’t want my advice on great new albums. They are not interested in my comments about the future of streaming platforms. They won’t even stop and listen as I see it from Miles Davis in the midterms. This is useless information, from their point of view.
I Write A Parenting Advice Column (or How I Became Famous In My Neighborhood)
What they want is parental advice. When I talk about raising children, it’s like I’m EF Hutton. They stop and listen.
Unfortunately, I fear that much of what I say will either disappoint or shock them. But I know they are sincere in wanting to learn about our family’s approach to parenting. Tell them directly. And maybe you are interested too. So I decided to put it on a (virtual) sheet of paper for you all. After all, if you subscribe to my Substack, you deserve my most requested advice.
If parenting tips and college prep aren’t your thing, you can skip the rest of this. I’ll be posting some music lyrics soon to make up for it. But for the rest of you, read on – at your own risk.
What parents should be doing nowadays. We did not place heavy demands on our two children. We didn’t push and shake, but grunts and badgers. We didn’t send them to private high schools or their own home schools, but kept them both in the local public school system from kindergarten through high school. And we ignored almost every other dominant rule for success—for example, the view (shared by every other parent we met, apparently, except ourselves) that their children’s education should prioritize STEM, ie. “science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”
Smart Parenting Advice
Even now, when people ask what my son is studying at Harvard, they are horrified when I tell them
. They don’t know much about philosophers, but they know that there is no one to hire them. My oldest son followed a similarly unusual path, majoring in history as an undergraduate before entering Harvard Law School (while also pursuing a doctorate in history at Columbia University).
. I do not give my children unsolicited advice about courses, majors or jobs. She encouraged them to think for themselves and build their own life plan. I tell them, “Every career decision has its pros and cons.” “You have to live with the consequences, so the responsibility for the decision should be yours.”
All around us I have seen the negative consequences of parents giving their children too much harsh advice and guidance. Many young people in our region, even the very talented ones, experience burnout long before they go to university. Worse, they feel only a lukewarm commitment to their education and future career because they never make those choices. Always try harder to follow your own agenda rather than someone else’s. (By the way, this is why democracies always beat tyrants in war – you fight hard when your freedom is at stake, not just the dictator’s glory.) If your parents deny you freedom of choice and self-determination when making important life decisions, you may never recover.
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Rancourt, Karen L.: 9780989627405: Amazon.com: Books
I recently read a great article “How to Work Hard” by Paul Graham. I highly recommend it. However, I’m not even sure why I read it – because, after all, what could be simpler than the rules of hard work? Put your nose to the grindstone and your feet
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