By Anne Gagliano
Tips one through six included living with the firefighter schedule, developing a work ethic, teaching your children about life and death through pets, creating good students, finding positive peers by being involved in the classroom, and finding your children’s talents to help with their self-esteem. These tips apply to the firefighter family in particular because that’s who and what we are, and proud to be so. I’ll continue with my tips that lie in the arenas my husband Mike and I have deemed to be important; it is our hope that they help and encourage other families out there who are, as we were, trying to raise decent kids in a not always decent society.
7. Family time is daily, not just during holidays or vacations. Because of the erratic firefighter schedule, quality family time can be lost, especially if you’re waiting for big chunks of free time to overlap for all. We busy families can push meaningful interaction aside, missing out on golden opportunities each day to connect, hoping instead to get caught up during expensive vacations or holidays. But life is most enjoyed if a little time, just a few focused minutes, is treasured each day, for family life is made up of our simple routines as well as our grander traditions. For example, make getting out of bed in the morning special with silly “wake-up” songs—we did. Play “I spy” during your daily drives to and from school or to various activities. Share the day’s events over dinner—even that can be made into an enjoyable game as each of you takes turns saying “Today I learned that ….” We used to play the “face game” when our kids were little: We’d make a face, and the others had to guess the emotion we were trying to convey–happy faces, scary faces, and so on–and we’d have a good laugh at what we came up with. Every day can be special with your kids in all the little things you do. We still, to this day, love to have heart to hearts with our grown sons; we talk of the simple, such as shows we’ve watched or books we’ve read, and we talk of grander things, such as our hopes and dreams for the future. Family time comes in many forms, and the most precious memories are often made when least planned. Don’t let your family become isolated by television, computers, and video games; day-to-day bonding in simple ways is not only free but absolutely priceless.
8. Childhood obesity is best avoided through freedom, not by strict rules. I know this idea flies in the face of modern conventions, for it seems that people today are more obsessed than ever with what they eat. Every day I hear of new dietary restrictions from the people I meet: “I can’t eat this” and “I don’t eat that,” yet America’s kids just seem to be getting fatter and fatter. My kids were never overweight; they were always quite slim. Today they are fit young men; our son Rick works out every day. One might think I was some sort of food Nazi with my boys; I was, in fact, quite the opposite. I had two simple food rules in my house: #1—Mom is not a short-order cook so you have to eat what’s put in front of you; #2—you never have to eat all of what’s put in front of you, just stop when you’re full. I learned very early on that children have tiny little bellies; they literally can’t eat very much at one time, so it’s cruel to force them to. I let my boys “graze” all day; they were allowed to snack at will but with my choice of snacks. I did limit sweets and they rarely drank soda, but sugar was never “forbidden.” They did have to sit at a table and actually eat dinner with us, but they never had to clean their plates. I genuinely believe that forced feeding and strict dietary rules cause children to become preoccupied with food and can actually lead to eating disorders. Of course, food isn’t the only issue with weight; activity must be present as well. With the dangers of predators today, our kids can’t run around unsupervised, so you have to supervise playtime—make it safe. This requires more effort than ever for us parents, but it’s worth it. I did this by sharing the work with other parents; send them to each other’s houses, take turns. Kids are more active when they have buddies to play with, and this can happen all year, not just during sport seasons. And because Dad the firefighter had to work out to do his job, the boys learned all about gym equipment from an early age; this helps most of all, because children often follow their parent’s lead.
9. If you want your child to find a good spouse and be a good spouse, then watch how you treat your own. Researchers at the University of Washington claim they can predict with 87 percent accuracy which newlyweds will divorce and which will stay together for a lifetime. How do they determine this? Their predictions are based on how a couple talks to each other. Those expressing fondness and love to each other tended to last; those who were always rude and critical often divorced. I’ve known couples like the latter: They’re nice to everyone else except their spouse; in fact, their bickering is so prevalent as to make everyone in the room uncomfortable, and these couples did eventually divorce. Imagine being the child of these people; they learn that Mom and Dad are hostile to each other, so that’s how marriage should be and that’s how they should allow themselves to be treated by their own spouse someday. Is this really what you want for your children? Mike and I have always treated each other better than others, not worse. We speak well of each other in front of people and behind closed doors. Show your kids by your example what you want for them in their own marriages– kindness, friendship, encouragement, and support–and this is what they’ll choose for themselves. Our son Michael did: He married his best friend, not his biggest critic, which is exactly what we wanted for him. And he has nothing but praise for his bride, which makes us proud of the kind of husband he is.
Tip 10 is such a vast and important topic that my entire next column will be devoted to it: raising respectful children.
Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 27 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.