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America’s Relationship Guru

Leon Scott Baxter, “America’s Relationship Guru,” is the author of Secrets of Safety-Net Parenting and the founder of He’s the father of two girls, 12 and 16, and has taught elementary school for eighteen years.  

sock puppet
“I don’t know”: the phrase that is the bane of my adulthood existence. I am a third grade teacher as well as the father of two girls, Riley, 17, and Grace, 12, and I have heard “I don’t know” too many times in the last two decades, far too many to count. The thing is, it’s rarely in response to something the child truly doesn’t know. What’s the square root of 637? Why was the Republican Party first formed? Where on the human body is the optimal location for an acupuncturist to stick a needle to soothe a person’s second molar toothache?
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There was a time when Riley would talk to me of her own accord: Guess what happened to me today at school, Daddy. Wanna hear a joke? Can I ask your advice about something, Papa? Now she’s sixteen, and, yes, she talks to me, but it’s often like pulling teeth: “How was school today?” I’ll ask. “Fine,” she responds, eyes glued to her smartphone. I tell her a joke. She offers me a courtesy smile, then heads off to her room.
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“Be nice to your sister.” “Use kind words.” “What you did wasn’t very considerate.” As parents, we’re always preaching to our children about kindness and being nice, but it’s usually an after-affect of some not-so-kind words or impulsive acts they haven’t thought through. We parents exhort kindness once it’s too late, usually only after our kids have been unkind. For our children to really master kindness it needs to be taught on its own, an island by itself, and not a reaction to sass or bitterness.
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The new Ghostbusters movie will be out this summer, and my twelve-year old daughter, Grace, wants me to take her. “Not until we watch the original on Netflix first,” I respond. This doesn’t faze Grace, because when in 2010, Will Smith’s kid, Jaden, became the newest incarnation of The Karate Kid, I had Grace watch the first three Ralph Macchio/Pat Morita versions with me. Jurassic World last summer? Jurassic Park first.
I’m a dad and it’s important for my daughters to follow the rules: use the crosswalk when crossing the street, get their homework done before hanging with friends, no swearing, etc… But more important that following the rules is for my girls to know the difference between right and wrong. And, you would think that if your kids are following the rules, then they’re doing what’s right. And, in most cases this is so, but not always. That’s why right takes precedence over rules.
It’s par for the course for us parents to stretch ourselves pretty thin. It’s part of the job description, if I’m not mistaken. We get up early in the morning to make our kids’ breakfasts, pack lunches and pick out their clothes. We make sure homework is carefully stowed in binders, teeth are brushed, shoes are tied and crud is out of sleepy eyes.
I’m the lucky father (depending on the day) of two girls, Grace (12) and Riley (16). Riley was very recently the proud recipient of her driver’s permit. For those of you who might be unfamiliar, having a driver’s permit means my daughter now legally has the right to scare the begonias out of me in my very own vehicle. Suddenly, this teen who did all she could to avoid spending time these last three years with the old man who she used to call “Daddy”, now jumps at any chance to drive me somewhere…anywhere. “You going to the gas station, Dad? Can I drive?”
Mother Nature is amazing. She does everything for a reason. Makes lizard tails with quick-release switches to distract predators while the reptiles make their run for it, carnivorous Venus Fly Traps that eat flies because they’re too good for regular dirt nutrients, and sharks that have an unending supply of teeth because, as everyone knows, sharks never brush. Mom Nature knows what She’s doing. That’s why I was at first confused when my little angel, Riley, turned thirteen. She’s sixteen now, and for the last three years I’ve been trying to figure this all out.
(If you are a “parental push-over”, I am officially warning you right now, there’s a good chance you won’t like what I’m about to say. Now that’s out of the way, let us proceed.) So, your kid is of the age where he knows the truth behind Santa. Christmas is sneaking up and he’s consistently being disrespectful or refuses to do his chores or is being less that jolly to his little sister. You threaten that if this continues you’re cutting back on his gifts this year. He makes promises, but nothing changes. Should his actions really dictate what he finds under the tree this year?
I’ve been teaching elementary school for nineteen years. That first year I was terrified! It was a third grade class, and I had gotten an Emergency Credential, which, in my case, meant I had been hired to teach while I was still in school learning to become a teacher. As a result, I had never stepped foot into the classroom as an instructor until that first day in the summer of 1997.


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