When our oldest son was little, we got a kick out the way he tied his cuddle blanket around his neck, made guns out of whatever was around, and ran off to fight the bad guys. When Brent’s leather holders for badges and guns were retired, our son appointed himself heir to them. Then as he got older, it was Nerf guns and laser tag. At times our home was converted into a war zone, with the screens taken out of the windows, the lights out, and sweaty boys hiding, shooting foam darts at each other, and leaping in and out of the house through the windows—serious fun. Finally he progressed to Air Soft guns and paintball as a teenager. He and his buddies found empty fields with lots of bushes, trees, and ditches and got down and dirty, strategizing all the way. I think he even borrowed some of Brent’s old Kevlar panels and eye gear to protect himself from welts.
As you can see, we have a relaxed view of guns in our family. But that doesn’t mean we don’t take gun safety seriously. When Brent brings his duty weapon home, he keeps it secure and teaches the kids about how the gun works and the correct way to handle it. He also cleans his weapon at work. There is an attitude of respect, not making a big deal out of it, but rather stressing the importance of keeping it pointed away from everyone even when it is unable to fire. The kids know that they are never to handle it by themselves and under no circumstances with another child. This would never happen anyway; Brent keeps his gun with him and will leave it in his locker at work more often than not.
If your home has other weapons, though, it is imperative that you get a safe that is childproof. We all know of a tragic story or two where accidents have happened. Kids can be unpredictable even when we train them. Talk with your kids about guns at friends’ homes as well or if someone brings a weapon to school. They may respect your rules at home, but their curiosity may get the best of them somewhere else. We also use news of gun accidents to remind them of what to do in these situations.
Guns aren’t the only thing we need to think about. Kids also need to understand that they don’t want to get into the pepper spray, Taser gun, or the handcuffs. One afternoon Brent laid his gun belt on the bed right beside me, and our youngest son asked to see the handcuffs. Brent got them out and gave them to him. But before we could say anything, he put them on himself and started laughing. Until he realized that Brent’s handcuff keys were at the office, forty minutes away! It took some rummaging through the junk drawers and a call to a cop neighbor before we finally found an extra key. Our son doesn’t go near the handcuffs anymore. Sometimes natural consequences cure whatever foolishness our kids dish up.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" October 27th, 2013
Posted In: A CHiP on My Shoulder
Kendra’s six-year-old son knew Daddy went to work to arrest bad guys. Diedra and her husband sat their boys down at the ages of twelve and ten and had a heart to heart about what Dad’s job entailed. Betty’s eight- and nine-year-old kids watched their daddy on television during a standoff. I have been asked over and over, what are the guidelines for letting our kids know what their daddy does? How much information is okay and when?
As I’ve thought about this question, I’ve realized that there’s no right answer. It really depends on the relationship you have with your kids, what you think they can handle at what age. I don’t remember ever sitting our children down to have a heart to heart about Daddy’s job. If they had questions, we provided an age-appropriate response. We didn’t offer more than what we thought they could handle at the time but made sure we answered their questions truthfully. I don’t remember our kids ever fearing for their dad’s safety on duty. I think this is because Brent and I never made it a habit to worry about what could happen, and they took their cues from us.
I do know that our kids suffered disappointment when Brent wasn’t there for sports games, Fourth of July fireworks, and other things that came up here and there. Over the years he’s tried to make as many events as he can, but there were times he just couldn’t be there. But if there was something important that he couldn’t make it to, we always tried to make up for it later.
When Brent was commuting to the Bay Area during the week and home on weekends only, he had to miss many kid events. Our youngest daughter was in a program through our church in which she conquered challenges weekly and received promotions in return, using a medieval theme as the backdrop. They had really great ceremonies where the child would be honored for their accomplishment. But the ceremony was on a Wednesday night. She was really sad that Dad was gone. We told her that although he wouldn’t be able to be there, we would tape it so he could see it later. What we didn’t tell her was that Brent worked out his schedule and drove back that night, arriving just in time. The look on her face when she saw him was priceless. She burst into big, happy tears and ran to hug him really tightly.
With a little planning and creativity, we can redeem the events our husbands miss. As moms, we have to lower the expectations of our kids when the career calls. But when we take the time to make special efforts to make memories, it makes up for it. In fact, these are some of the best days of their lives.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" October 20th, 2013
Posted In: A CHiP on My Shoulder
Mom and Dad: United Front
So, what if you have a different parenting philosophy than your husband? What if you don’t match up on the expectations of your children? Who determines what the rules will be?
Both of you do. If the two of you have different standards of behavior for your kids, nobody wins. Your kids will be confused for awhile, and then they’ll figure it out and be very smart. They will parent shop and inadvertently pit the two of you against each other. At that point it becomes a real mess. But if you and your husband have different viewpoints, you’ll do yourself a favor to unify.
Start with things you both want your children to embrace. Morals. Values. Education. Faith. The big things you both want to instill in your children. Then work from there. Look for positive ways to teach them, such as spending time and actually talking about values. When situations arise you can use them as teaching moments. How you conduct yourself in the home and with others is also instilling your values in them as they watch you. Ask yourselves, “Where are the boundaries?” and “What are the consequences of crossing those boundaries?”
Brad and Heidi valued truthfulness in their kids. They felt that if they could trust what their children said, then they could build core values on that trust. Because kids are tempted to lie, they came up with a serious consequence: it was Tabasco sauce on the tongue. Fully edible and harmless, it brought temporary pain. It was a powerful deterrent for their children, a lesson that lies cause real pain. They didn’t have much trouble with their kids telling the truth after that.
Children need to know where the boundaries are and the consequences of wandering outside those boundaries. Most law enforcement parents understand this because they administer the consequences of those who don’t have boundaries every shift. But here’s the key: children who have lovingly been given the perimeters for behavior and firm follow up to help them rely on those boundaries feel secure. It doesn’t mean they won’t try to push the limits. But it gives them peace, knowing that they have room to grow and be kids within the safety of balanced behavior. These perimeters also give the child a sense of dignity.
A couple of years ago, Brent and I had an issue with one of our teenagers. There was a breakdown in trust as boundaries were broken. For the first time, we found ourselves with different views on how to handle things. Brent took an aggressive approach, and I preferred to be more passive, seeing our child’s point of view. Both of us loved our child fiercely, but we had differences in how to respond. As the months passed and things began to improve, I realized I had taken sides with my teenager. This wasn’t wise. I could see both sides, but because I didn’t align myself completely with my husband, I caused more harm to their relationship and ours. Brent didn’t feel supported, and I think our child lost some respect for me in the process. But it’s never too late; we talked it out and realized there were more similarities than differences that we could agree and act on. The most important thing was to be unified as parents.
When you and your husband set the boundaries for your kids, respect his instincts. It’s always better to set the bar a little higher and adjust later if needed as you both grow in your parenting. Giving more privileges up front and then taking them back later causes a lot of frustration in your kids.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" October 13th, 2013
Posted In: A CHiP on My Shoulder
Our three boys grew up knowing the risks. We never lied to them about it, but it wasn’t what we talked about at the dinner table either. But what they also knew was that if Mom or Dad died doing the job, we’d go out with a sense of pride, purpose, and loving what it was we were doing.
Jeri, former CHP and wife of CHP[i]
I felt a little left out when my son became a patrolman. Suddenly he and my husband had their own little language and a camaraderie. When your kids go into law enforcement, it’s a whole different ball game.
Cassandra, wife and mother of CHP officers
It was a beautiful day at the park. The Easter egg hunt was over, but not all the eggs were found, so the older kids were searching the deep grass. Hot dogs sizzled on the grill. A couple of the dads were marveling together at how well the day was going.
“The kids are so well-behaved. I think it’s because we don’t let them get out of hand. They know if they misbehave, we’ll clobber them!” said one officer, laughing.
Heads nodded in agreement because we understood; most cops’ kids are held to a pretty high standard. Their dads have seen what happens out there on the street, and they don’t want their kids to become customers. Chances are that if someone else heard this conversation, they might get the wrong idea. With all of the confusion about parenting these days, there are mixed messages about what is acceptable and not acceptable. But law enforcement parents tend to lean toward a stricter standard.
What’s It Like To Be a Cop’s Kid?
Cops’ kids generally don’t get away with much. Police officers are trained to be able to tell when someone’s lying and their kids all the more. There’s also a network of information that gets around as well, especially in rural areas. If an officer’s kid gets into trouble, there’s a good chance he’ll find out about it.
One tendency for law enforcement parents is the need to protect. Recently we had a situation with our nineteen-year-old daughter in that she and her girlfriends befriended a boy who was very handsome and likable. Because they met him at a church youth group, the assumption was made that he was a great guy, and one of the girls developed a dating relationship with him. Then Brent found out that the boy was going to court for stealing a car and had a prior for marijuana possession. Oh, the tearful conversations we had to have with that one! We talked about boundaries with a person who engages in criminal activity even though likable and that it was a bad idea that he come to our home. She was convinced that he had changed his ways, yet Brent could tell from his excuses that he hadn’t yet experienced a turnaround. Out of respect for Brent, our daughter made a choice to distance herself from him in their group and set boundaries like not driving him places. A couple of months later, he abruptly left the group to live on the streets in another state. Hurt that he left without a word, her friends suddenly realized that hanging out with this guy wasn’t the smartest idea.
We can trust our husbands to protect our kids. But sometimes it can go too far. I had a conversation recently with an officer who’d seen a lot of death on duty. I asked him how he dealt with it. He told me that it manifested itself in being overprotective of his wife and kids. He has forbid them to go anywhere at times and won’t allow people to drive them anywhere unless he first okays it. As you can imagine, this hasn’t gone over well. Arguments ensued, and his wife thought he was being jealous. But that’s not what it was. It was his inward responses to watching people die in his arms, guarding a little girl’s dead body for hours to comfort a friend, and wiping another officer’s blood off his uniform. It was these horrible images that manifested themselves into fear for his family.
These situations are so tricky because his fear is valid. The need to control is very real and possibly the only thing he can do to ensure the safety of his loved ones. But it’s also problematic. The answer here is to recognize the reasons for the behavior and work from there to communicate. Your officer needs to be validated and respected in the process, and together you can move toward a workable solution.
Appearance may be a big deal to a police parent as well. Earrings, tattoos, baggy pants, and hairstyles matter to police officers. I’ve listened to several of our non-law enforcement friends talk about not making a big deal out of phases their kids go through. But police officers make judgments every shift about people they deal with on the street. Their lives can depend on it. They are looking for signs of criminal behavior and if the individual has a weapon. There are clues they look for in clothing and behavior, and some of these same clues may appeal to our own kids at some point. But law enforcement parents just don’t want their kids even remotely resembling the people they put in jail.
[i] Correspondence, Code 3 Magazine, (Spring 2007).
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" October 6th, 2013
Posted In: A CHiP on My Shoulder
On Monday I drove my little Prius to the Bay Area to attend a Below 100 Training. This is the third such training I’ve sat through, and it gets me every time.
Below 100 is a campaign to bring our national on-duty death toll down from 140-160 a year to below 100. By simply reminding peace officers of the five tenets of officer safety, perhaps there will be more officers going home to their families. That’s the goal – to bring our officers home at the end of each shift. Because we spouses benefit from such a campaign, I support Below 100 with every fiber of my being. Keeping families intact and thriving includes keeping our officers alive!
The first tenet of Below 100 is Wear Your Belt. Not the gunbelt, but the seatbelt. This seems to be number one because so many officers don’t wear their seatbelts in the patrol car. It is perhaps the hardest tenet to follow, because police culture, even some departmental training, stands by the belief that wearing a seatbelt will inhibit easy departure from the vehicle. It may or may not be true most of the time (how long does it take to take it off and is it worth that to put yourself at risk), but when the patrol car suddenly loses control, the occupants will have an easier departure from the vehicle than they would like. Many of our on-duty traffic fatalities are because the officer is not wearing a seatbelt and they are ejected or thrown violently into the windshield.
The second tenet is Wear Your Vest. My husband came on at a time in CHP history where the vest was beginning to be worn in the Academy. They were trained to put it on as a piece of equipment – as necessary as the gun or badge. My husband wears his vest even today as a Chief – even though he doesn’t pull people over anymore. Some departments don’t even issue a vest as part of the uniform. On Monday I listened to my friend Gene, a retired CHP officer, talk about surviving a n incident where the criminal tried to finish him off by shooting him point blank in the back. We sat riveted as he recounted his story of survival and saw pictures of the vest. The vest was toast, but Gene was very much alive.
The third tenet is Watch Your Speed. Why do cops speed? Because they can! Our officers love to drive fast – but time and again, speeding to something that they really don’t need to has resulted in accidents that cause extreme hardship on the officer, other officers, and/or Joe Citizens. At the training, we watched as an officer speeding to a stolen car incident took out a kid on a bike and killed him. Trust me, that was difficult to watch. And then we listened to the officer get into the car and start crying like a baby. For good reason.
The fourth is WIN – What’s important now. This is a reminder to think on duty. Making choices to keep situational awareness for the task at hand. Approaching a car on the safest side depending on traffic (CHP approaches cars on the passenger side to keep themselves from getting hit by distracted motorists), making sure there is adequate safety for deploying spike strips, and other safety concerns while policing.
The last tenet of Below 100 is Complacency Kills. This is the reminder to our officers to keep alert. After day after day of routine policing, there can be a tendency to settle into that routine and be caught unawares by something dangerous. We watched a video of an interview with one of our CHP widows. She said that the day her husband was killed on duty, she had been spooked by another LODD a few days earlier and told her husband to be careful. His answer – “Don’t worry, honey! I’m invincible!” Other than a goodbye, that was the last thing he said to her.
We as spouses are very much affected by this campaign. Already there are stories that are coming forward that this training has saved lives. Kids have their parents, spouses have their officers, mothers have their kids because we are intentionally reminding our officers to be safe. You and I, too, can add a little reminder here and there as our officers head out the door to keep the peace.
It just might save their lives.
For more information on Below 100, visit Below100.com.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" October 3rd, 2013
Posted In: Uncategorized