Raising Kids Takes a Lot of Luck

Category: Weekly Columns

Raising kids, like many things in life, involves many factors but luck is a key factor.  Raising kids takes a lot of luck.  I’ve faced recent reminders about this when I attended the Bar Mitzvah of a young man with severe learning disabilities, whose parents had the poor luck that he had these problems.  Or, the recent visit from my best friend who shared a conversation he just had with his wife in which they were each trying to figure out what they did wrong that resulted in their three adult children lacking any career focus in their lives.  And, finally, the two men I know who are suffering the horrors of dealing with late teen or young adult drug addicts.

In the world of show business, to illustrate another world and example, do you really think the big stars in Hollywood are the most talented?  While I love Jennifer Lopez and do indeed think she is quite talented, there was a certain degree of luck that they were making a movie about the life of Selena when J.Lo was just beginning her career.  If her first movie had been a flop, would we be seeing her in every celebrity magazine? 

As a former showbiz veteran, I often said it requires two things to succeed: “talent and luck.”  Other showbiz examples are numerous, going back to when Lana Turner was discovered having ice cream on a stool at the long gone Schwab’s drugstore on Sunset Boulevard. in Hollywood.  It may have been a legend, but there are plenty of those stories that are true.

I maintain that luck is a huge factor in parenting.  The two families that I know who are suffering the ongoing terrors of having a child who is an addict are among the most stable, loving, and wholesome families I know.  These are not families of divorce and they each have a stay-at-home loving mom, an involved dad, financial security, religious values, etc. Yet, I know both couples are constantly berating themselves over what they might have done differently.  In their minds loving their children, apparently was not enough. 

Bunk!  There is luck in life.  I feel lucky to have gone to college when I did and to have had the entertainment career that I had.  Neither would be possible now, with the grades I had and the nature of showbiz today.  I also feel lucky that I was born in the U.S., to wonderful loving parents, that I’ve always had my health, and I’ve had more than my share of good fortune along the way.  I just as easily could have been born in a third-world country, with various health problems, and poverty and hunger as a way of life.

No, luck is a big factor for all of us.  I also believe we can influence and make our own luck by working hard, developing our talent, and when we are in that right place at that right time, knowing we’re prepared to take advantage of it.  J.Lo probably did the greatest audition ever for the role of Selena.  Yes, the timing of it was luck, but she developed her talent to take advantage of the opportunity.

I got in showbiz the same way, turning a fortuitous meeting into my first job and using some knowledge I had about my future boss’s best friend and associate to ingratiate myself with him and make him laugh.  It was luck that I met him and good prep that I knew whom he knew. 

But, with parenting, we cannot beat ourselves up for how our children turn out.  We can help, we can guide, and we can instruct, but ultimately they will grow up and make their own decisions.  If their friends are into drugs or drinking, will they have the strength to withstand that peer pressure?  I hope we’ve raised our children to say “No,” but only time will tell. 

The irony is that I do believe we can mess up our kids easier than we can make them into model citizens.  It is sort of like how one bad driver can cause a mess of trouble for a whole freeway of good drivers.  Poor parenting does more damage than good parenting does good.  I still urge all parents to give, do, and love their children to the very best of their abilities.

I used to read to my sons almost every night when they were young.  I patted myself on the back at being such a great dad when they both spontaneously began to read in Kindergarten.  What a great job I had done, or so I thought.  I later learned of many other parents, my friends, who read just as much or more than I did and whose children had all sorts of difficulties learning to read.  It made me re-think my contributions to their spontaneous reading.  I’m sure my reading didn’t hurt, but how much it helped is unknown.

The same applies to all the good things we do as parents.  I still believe strongly that I’d rather stack the deck in our favor by making every effort I can to instruct, model, and otherwise instill good habits and values in my kids. I know just by reading the paper or watching the news how much luck impacts everyone’s lives.  Right now, I have to unilaterally declare that I’ve had a big pile of luck.  I just hope it continues as the boys grow up.