A Father’s Job

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to dust off my parenting skills. This opportunity has reminded me of some of my thoughts on parenting, which I thought I would share with you this Fathers Day. Perhaps they will help you be a better parent to your child:

  • It is our job to be there for our children. Parenting means providing your child unconditional love and support. That doesn’t mean you always agree with what they do, but love must come first. Your child must feel free to talk with you about anything. Anything. A N Y T H I N G. Without any fear of your reaction. You are there to support and help them.
  • It is our job to uplift our children. In the broad sense, we are our child’s greatest cheerleader. In the broad sense, our children are by definition beautiful, smart, and talented, and we keep telling them that because that self-esteem serves them well throughout life. This doesn’t mean a particular piece of clothing might not make them look bad, or they might take a stupid action, or be untalented at a given task. But in the broad sense.
  • It is our job to respect our children. By showing them respect, we teach them what respect is and how to give it to others. Don’t pick up your child by calling them and having them come out — go to the door and meet them. Don’t call them names, make fun of physical attributes — that’s bullying. Respect their time, if you want them to respect yours. If you say you will be there at a certain time, be there at that time. In short, this is just the Golden Rule: Treat them as you would want to be treated.
  • Gently Encourage, Don’t Shame. We all have ways we want our children to behave — things we think are right. But the way to get those good behaviors is not to shame bad ones. Calling someone fat, showing how they are a slob only tears them down and makes you a bully. Instead, do things that encourage the right behavior. Have healthy right-portioned family meals together. Have family non-screen activities. Teach techniques on how to succeed. But while doing this, remember one thing: your love for your child is not a reward or something that can be withheld — it must always be present.
  • Couch Criticism Carefully. Every child is going to do something stupid. It is part of growing up. But think about criticism in a TQM sense: what have they been doing right, and where can they improve. Criticize only those things the child can change, and tread carefully on criticizing the child vs. the action. Make it clear when something is your opinion vs. a general societal judgement. “I don’t think that dress flatters you.” (or even better, “You would look better in this“) is much better than “You’re fat.”. Saying “I think that was a silly thing to do.” is much better than “You’re dumb for doing that.” Remember that the job of criticism is not to tear down (destructive criticism), but to show us how to improve (constructive criticism).
  • Don’t Hide Consequences. Actions have consequences — that is a fact of life. It is one of the most important rules a child must learn. Good actions have good consequences. Bad actions have bad consequences. As actions come from your decisions, what you do and how you decide to behave will have consequences. A fundamental lesson. However, we must temper that with the temptation to create artificial consequences, or to hide the impact of a decision. Real life consequences are often lesson enough.
  • You Will Make Mistakes. Expect that both you and your child will make mistakes. No one is the perfect parent; no one has a perfect child. Learn from your mistakes, and admit when you made them (and what you would do differently). That is how a child learns they don’t have meet an impossible standard of perfection, that they can make a mistake — learn from it — and move on. This also encourages them to tell you about their mistakes and get your help in recovering.
  • Avoid Yelling. Yelling does precious little other than relieving stress, or communicating with someone far away or not paying attention. Once you have someone’s attention, talk calmly and with confidence, and they will better hear you. People don’t want to hear yelling and tune it out quickly. We rarely yell in our household (we do, however, talk through issues, which is often painful enough).

Alas, I know there are some people out there with dads that perhaps don’t do what I’ve listed above. Reading my various feeds and news sources back in May, I found this wonderful essay: To All the Brave Kids Who Broke up with Their Toxic Dads. It should be required reading for all children with fathers — no, make that parents — that work against their self-esteem and success. It lets them know that such a break-up is OK, and even to love them from afar is fine. Here’s the opening paragraph to give you a taste: “You are going to be more than okay. Whether it was because of an addiction, constant excuses for not being there, an irresistible urge to put you down, an indifference or inability to give and receive love, his past, pride, selfishness, the fact that he’s weak or scared, or just the heartbreak of dealing with a man who’s broken, you did the hardest break-up that your heart will ever have to endure. You need to understand how brave you are.”