Raising kids has to be incredibly hard. The constant pressure on a parent to teach lessons, to be aware of the impact of their words, to know that their actions are teaching lessons far greater than any homework, must be a tremendous burden on a person.

As someone who limits his parenting to himself and a dog, I have no real experience with this, but I see daily examples of good parenting and bad parenting in the child custody cases I fight. When I represent a man who is an excellent father by any objective criteria, it makes the fight that much easier for me. When I have a client who has questionable skills, which usually is just a matter of education more than bad intent, I send them to a parenting class.

Parenting classes come in many forms. They are available online and in person. They range from one day workshops that teach new parents how to change diapers, etc., to the extended courses that teach interpersonal skills and how to motivate the behavior that a person wants their child to exhibit.

This is not an easy subject to learn.

Because I realized that I was recommending them to my clients with greater frequency, I took one of the online courses earlier this year, and I figured I should at least know what they can expect to learn. Then a month later, I had an experience with one of my law partners’ kids. He’s about 8 years old, old enough to know better about some things and big enough to spout off to you.

We were in the kitchen and he dropped some ice on the floor. He knew he did it, and I knew he knew. I looked at him and told him to clean it up. He just walked away saying it’ll dry. I told him to get back here and clean it up. He ran away.

I was frozen with a sense of “how the heck do you handle this?” My mother would have yelled at me, which may be why I’ve seen a therapist.

In the end, it was a small piece of ice and I just cleaned it up because there were many elderly people around and I didn’t want anyone to slip. But the experience was illuminating for me.

It is one thing to take a course and learn how you are supposed to act to get a child to react in the way you want. The subject in the abstract seems so logical and easy. Taking a course makes being a good parent appear like a rather simple thing; it’s just a set of learned skills that need to be applied in the real world. The problem is, kids don’t react like a computer program.

After my eye-opening experience with the rebellious 8 year old, I know they are independent, headstrong and limit testing.

Seeing this made me more compassionate with my partner when he is with his kids. I realize how hard it must be to raise four kids in different stages of growth and rebellion.

I suppose raising kids is similar to my experience with my dog. I have learned that my behavior directly impacts his behavior. Except when it doesn’t. Nine times out of 10 he will behave exactly as I trained him to, and then a squirrel catches his eye and all is lost, or a bone is on the ground and I cease to exist.

Which makes me wonder why then some parents would make their jobs that much harder. This past week the balloon boy debacle was really about parents who are using their kids for money making and publicity gathering. Same goes for Jon and Kate and that chaos. Can the “Octomom” be gone for long?

On the one hand parents who use their children as sources of income are easily scorned. Who doesn’t wonder about Joe Jackson and his relationship with Michael? But would Michael have been Michael without Joe pushing him? Probably not.

On the other hand, look at the legion of child actors who have been to rehab, have ruined lives or died early because they turned to drugs and alcohol to soothe the pains of a lost childhood and an adulthood they can’t cope with.

Then there is the practicality of it all. Kate and her eight need the income from the show to provide for all those mouths. She’s doing what is in some ways best for those kids today and maybe tomorrow.

After completing my online parenting class, I knew how to raise a kid. After one battle with a 8 year old I realized I’m not skilled enough. And after watching all this drama over reality show families, I’m staying with the dog.


David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at dpisarra@pisarra.com or (310) 664-9969.

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