'Perhaps the most important job in our lives'

Parenting "is perhaps the most important job we have in our lives," Merlin Olsen told the opening assembly at the Governor's Conference on Families, Sept. 18.

He said that problems such as gangs, violence and crime can result when families break down.There is a way to fight the epidemic, he said. He referred to a discussion he had at the Pro Bowl one year with former Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry about different kinds of people.

Olsen recounted: "[LandryT said, `You know, there are really three kinds of people: those who sit around waiting for something to happen, those who wake up occasionally and ask what happened, and then there are those who go out and make things happen.' . . . I think the most important message I can give you today is you can make a difference. One caring person can make a difference."

Olsen acknowledged that being a parent is a major responsibility.

One morning he was particularly sore after getting battered by the Chicago Bears in a game the day before. He said that as he struggled, moaning and groaning, to get out of bed, his daughter took hold of his hand and said, "Daddy, who signed you up for football?"

His answer was the same as the answer to the question: Who signed us up to be parents?

"I think the truth of the matter is that we really signed ourselves up. . . . And unfortunately, we weren't always ready. We didn't always have control of the timing, and certainly in many cases . . . we really weren't armed with the kind of information we needed."

But before parents complain about the challenges and trials of raising children they should understand that no family is perfect, he said.

"I'm reminded of the words of George Allen, one of my football coaches, who said that people without problems are dead," Olsen related.

Families that are filled with love usually have enough to share with others, he said. They can reach out with that love to those in the community who can't find it elsewhere.

"Imagine for just one minute what it would be like if every child could be raised with love," Olsen said. "Imagine the agony and the grief and the pain that we could eradicate. Imagine the violence and the crime that we could curtail. Imagine how much more productive we could be as a country.

"Just a dream? Perhaps. . . . But being a Merlin, I also believe in magic, the kind of magic that begins when someone who cares reaches out with love for a child."


Strengthening your family

Develop a game plan: To make families more successful, Olsen said parents should do what football coaches and businesses do: "Sit down and put together our own game plan. Think about what we are trying to do, what we want to do as parents with our children.

"And I think it's wise to get out a pencil and a piece of paper when we're doing that. . . . I would encourage you to take the time to put some things down on paper. . . . Then pull them out and look at them periodically."

Give time: "I really believe that the time that we can spend with our children is not time spent, it is time invested," he said.

Communicate: Olsen told of the time he answered the phone and on the line was a young boy.

"He said, Do you eat carrots and broccoli?' I said,Well, yes I do.' And he said, `Oh, my mother said you did.' To this day, I don't know who that was on the phone. But I do know that it was a mother communicating with her son," Olsen said.

"Of all the things we do, perhaps as important as anything is our ability to communicate with our children, our ability to share things with them. . . ."

Be patient: When children make mistakes, Olsen said parents should be understanding.

Jimmy Johnson, coach of the reigning Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys, was asked by a reporter if he screamed and yelled at his team after it lost its first two games this season. Olsen heard Johnson reply, "Screaming and hollering isn't always the answer. At some point, you look around and realize that the people that are listening are usually smarter than the people who are screaming and yelling."

Olsen commented, "I think the same thing is true in families. We don't accomplish an awful lot by screaming and yelling. It's much more important that we take time to really engage in a conversation."

Pray together: "It's important that we have the opportunity to pray together," he said. "I think the spiritual side of our lives is such an important part of the strengthening of families."

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