What’s interesting in the lead up to the big moment of parenthood is that you learn all about how to have a baby. You learn how to breathe, what happens at the hospital, all the options for pain management. How to have a baby is a big deal, sure.
But nobody tells you how to be a parent. Maybe because the process for giving birth is much more straightforward. It’s a series of events that are pretty predictable after thousands of years of human existence. But parenting? Honestly, it’s anything goes. We all agree on the basics of having a baby, but how to ensure that baby turns into a good human adult? Opinions vary.
21 years ago this April, Robyn and I became parents. And we have done everything we can possibly do to ensure our oldest child–and the three that followed–are turning out okay. But it’s a struggle every single day, even as they get older and you realize that your roles and responsibilities change through the years. The tactics that worked with a two year old are not as effective on a 13 year old. The troubles your 11 year old faces are much different than the ones your “adult” kids have, and yet you still have a responsibility to them. After all, you made them. It’s your fault they are here.
I was thinking about this as I talked to a younger dad this week. He said, “You’ve been a parent forever,” which I took to mean I have experience, and not that I’m old, “what do you think are the big things I should do as a dad? How can I not screw up my kids?”
That’s the big goal, right? I honestly just hope that everything we’ve done as parents didn’t screw my kids up. I will find out someday when they hit therapy and tell me, “Hey, Daddy, we need to talk.”
So, based on my limited experience over 21 years, four kids, and a lot of incredible partnership from my wife, here are three things I think every dad should do to ensure he doesn’t screw up his kids.
- EMBRACE EVERY MOMENT AND CREATE EVERY MEMORY. We have eschewed a lot of the nicer things in life in the pursuit of creating moments and memories with our kids. We will drop what is “important” for the sake of the moment. Sure, a school report has to get done, but why not go enjoy Free Slurpee Day? Why buy the expensive furniture (that you have to yell at them to keep clean) when you could use that money to go on a road trip, stay in a hotel, and eat at a restaurant with swings in Durango, Colorado? Your kids are only going to be with you for a little while. Go do all the things you can, take all the pictures you can. Your bank account may not be full, but your heart will be–and they will place an importance on making memories with their own kids someday. That’s a legacy you want to give them, because it shows them they matter more than your stuff and more than your money.
- HAVE HARD CONVERSATIONS. This is not always easy. When you see your kids making unwise choices, step up and say so. Don’t expect them to be perfect, give them room to fail. But when they make choices that will hurt them in the future, remember: you are the parent. You aren’t there to be their pal. I’ve had to talk to my kids about sex, porn, drugs, drinking. I’ve had to confront them on bad attitudes and disrespect. I’ve had to talk about responsibility and initiative, confront them on plagiarism and cheating. And be honest–if you’ve screwed up in some of these ways, let them know and explain why you aren’t going to let them fail in the same ways. Create a place where honesty is rewarded and truth (even when it’s difficult) shines.
- RESPECT AND HONOR THEIR MOTHER. This is certainly true for married couples raising their kids, but it’s also true if you’re divorced or separated. You and your children’s mother may not agree all the time. You will fight and you will have moments where you don’t like each other. But when you model respect and honor, you teach your daughters to expect to be treated that way, and you teach your sons to treat other women that way. I wish I was perfect at this, and I know Robyn does, too. But I try hard to disagree with honor and avoid hurtful or disrespectful words or actions to my wife because I value the relationships my kids will have with their spouses someday. As a Christian, I take to heart Paul’s admonition that as a husband, I need to love my wife as Christ loved the church–which means giving myself up for her. Honoring and respecting her is a gift I give not only to the woman I love, but to the kids who love her as well.
After 21 years of fatherhood, is that all? No. You’ll notice I didn’t say here are the ONLY three things you should do as a dad. And these may not even be the top three, just the three that came to mind this week. I’m sure we could write a book about the things we’ve learned about parenting four incredibly unique and different children (and maybe we will).
But in the meantime, try these things out with your kids. Be the kind of dad your children need you to be. Try these three things today and see what a difference they make in your family.
Embrace every moment. Don’t be afraid to confront. Show as much honor as possible.