How I Parent: This Dad Believes It's His Job to Show His Children How to Be Sensitive and Vulnerable

Name: Howard Rosenstein
Location: New Rochelle, New York
Occupation: Sales & Marketing Executive
Family situation: Married with three children, ages 17 (daughter who is a high school senior), 20 (son who is in college) and 23 (son who is in graduate school). I work full-time and my wife chose to be a stay-at-home mom while the children were younger and then eased back into the work force as they got older. She did it all.
Parenting “philosophy” in a sentence: Be a parent. Children will have many friends over the course of their lives but they only have one set of parents — and they’ll need you to be a parent.

What was your journey to having the family life you have today?
One of the things that was really important to me early on was to have a partner who shared the same values and outlook on parenting. I wanted someone who could really be a partner and my wife is exactly that. Once we had our first child, my wife decided not to go back to work to become a stay-at-home mom. That was a really big decision we both had to discuss because it would impact us financially, especially because we were living in Manhattan at the time, but neither one of us regret it. She felt that it was something she wanted to do and I wanted to be supportive. We were both really on the same page.

Once our family started to grow, we knew we would have to make sacrifices — and we did. My wife decided to remain a stay-at-home mom for all three kids until they started to get older. During that time, she did a lot of volunteer work at our kids’ nursery school and, eventually, their summer camp, too. As the kids started getting older, the volunteer work turned into a part-time job and now she’s the assistant to the director of the nursery school. She also does real estate and still works at the summer camp. She wears a number of different hats but at the end of the day, she’s always on the ground running with the kids.

I always wanted to spend more time with my kids. My kids know that if I didn’t have to work, my favorite thing in the world would be just to be with them all the time. Even though I worked full-time throughout my children’s lives, I feel like I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve missed a concert or anything big. I still am very conscious of that. I would always block out my calendar for the first day of school so that morning, I could be there and take them. When I had to travel for work, I would always tell them where I was going. I would save my points from each trip and after a number of years, I was able to take the entire family on a vacation to Hawaii. I’ve always been present in my children’s lives but to treat them to a vacation each one of them really deserved was really amazing.

How did your upbringing influence your parenting style?
The way I behave towards my children reflects that way I always wanted to be parented as a child. I am one of four children and we were all raised in a loving home. I was a very easygoing kid, pretty self-sufficient. But when you’re one of four, it’s sort of whoever screams the loudest gets the attention. I just wasn’t [attention-seeking], but that didn’t mean that I didn’t need the same amount of attention.

As a father, I’ve become a huge advocate for my kids. I’m always looking out for their best interest and making sure that they feel supported at all times. It’s not like we go and fight their battles — it’s not about that at all. It’s just knowing that if there is an issue, we’re right there with them and we will help them and fight on their behalf too. We’ve done it before so the kids know that we’re always here to have their backs.

The thing that’s really so amazing is because we’ve been their backbone through life, they can all stand up for themselves. It is absolutely incredible to see that as a parent. It’s the most extraordinary feeling on the planet to feel like, “Oh my God, we did something right.”

Also, when my kids feel like we’ve done something wrong or we’re not understanding their needs, they’ll come to us and make their point. They’ll say how they feel and my wife and I will always say, “Wow, well, thank you for sharing because we totally didn’t get that,” or “I’m sorry, that was not our intention.” It helps cement our relationships because communication builds trust.

What’s your favorite thing about parenting?
It’s definitely spending time with my kids. I only have one child at home now, since the other two are in college and grad school, so any opportunity to talk to them and listen to what’s going on in their lives makes me really happy.

What’s the hardest part?
The hardest part is when your kids are hurt. It breaks my heart if they’re dealing with bullies or they experience a major disappointment in life. As the saying goes, you’re really only as happy as your least happy child.

What’s the best advice you can share with new parents?
Really enjoy every moment because it really goes by fast. It is so cliché, but it’s really is true. That’s why I always say, as long as it’s within reason, my answer will always be “yes.” Any time I get to spend with my kids is time well spent so I always think: I’ll have time in the future to catch up on sleep. I’ll have time in the future to sit in front of the TV and watch my favorite shows. I always strive to be present with my kids, especially now that they’re a lot older and they have their own schedules and lives.

I also think you should be true to your feelings and allow them to come through. Don’t be afraid to cry and show your feelings in front of your kids. I see this with other men now and I feel like it’s safe to be real, to be vulnerable in front of your kids, and to show them that you cry. You don’t always have to be this strong, macho guy as a dad because ultimately, it can be damaging to them. You’re always trying to set an example and if they feel like they’re not allowed to express their feelings, they might be hiding them or trying to suppress them and that’s terrible.

Kids will eventually learn that in certain circumstances, you do have to keep your feelings in check, but when you’re at home with your parents, you should be able to laugh, cry, say you’re scared, talk about why you’re angry — do what you need to do. It’s my job to be there and to show them how to also be sensitive because I never want my kids to have to suffer in silence. 

How do you embrace the most unpredictable moments of parenthood?
Humor and flexibility. As long as it’s not an emergency situation, I really try to keep things light. Again, it’s all part of listening. It’s also not allowing my frustrations to be taken out on them because life is completely unpredictable all the time. You’re constantly navigating and walking a tightrope, and you don’t want to misdirect your frustrations. Plus, if it has something to do with the kids, they most likely already feel badly enough. I try to handle each situation by really listening before I act.

What would you want your kids to say about you as a parent?
I would want them to say that they always come first and that I listen to them. I want them to say that they could count on me for anything and that I was a fun dad. 

My wife and I will sometimes have these moments when we’ll hear about something our kids are doing or we’ll watch them achieve something they’ve been working towards and we’ll pause to soak it all in. We’ll just look at each other and say, “Wow, can you believe it?” It’s crazy.

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