“Give me a child until he is 6, and he is mine for life” – Karl Marx. That speaks volumes about the importance of the early years, and lays down a serious challenge for us as fathers and mothers. 6 years flies past incredibly quickly, so fast in fact that there are no dress rehearsals, and definitely no restart. Every single moment counts.
This is a challenge because I am a father, and I have a daughter and 3 sons whose character I am accountable for forming. There is overwhelming evidence that “more is caught than is taught” – our examples count for much, much more than our words. So we – I – need to clarify what our values are; what behaviours of ours exemplify it, and what behaviours detract from it. And the most critical question to answer is what these behaviours look like through the eyes of our children. Then we need to be willing to unlearn the behaviours that don’t work.
I read an article where Barack Obama was commenting on evening dinner at the White House, and he said words to the effect that his children “aren’t interested in his day. They don’t care that he is the President. Dinner time is about their day and what was important to them” – and he leads those conversations. The leader of the USA is at home at night, at the table, and talking about his kids’ days! I know some comparatively very junior leaders who can’t get that one right. So big in their own eyes they force their families to value and honour their busy schedules and lives, but cannot value and honour their spouses and children…
We are deciding what our children will regard as “normal” for the rest of their lives. That is a pretty awesome task. As adults, we now are responding positively or negatively to things in our lives that we perceive as normal or abnormal. That view of normal/abnormal was set in stone a long time ago for us, as young children, by the behaviour of our parents or caregivers. So what are we busy setting in stone for our children? If we look objectively at our worlds, what is their “normal”?
My best source of information about me, is my wife. She can really help me put things in perspective. Sometimes, she even puts them in perspective for me without me asking… 🙂 But, if I am brutally honest, she is wise and considered, and when she speaks, it’s worth stopping and listening. Regardless of our faults, and our wives faults, it is always wise to receive input, and regardless of the source, consider that input carefully for any truth. Truth doesn’t have to come from perfect people. In fact, it never will!
So, men, what can our wives tell us about the impact of our behaviour, attitudes and habits? We need to hear them. And we need to listen. And ladies, what can your husbands’ help you to see about the impact of your behaviour, attitudes and habits? Are you listening?
The most important question we can start to ask ourselves, is to look at our habits, or the things we prioritise, and the permissions we have given ourselves, and ask: “What does this look like to my child?” Children are simple and they see the world simply – adult rationalisations are meaningless. And they certainly can’t “theorise” objectively about things – to them, it simply is what it looks or sounds like.
- What does it look like when I am working too hard to be there consistently for bath-time, dinner and bedtime stories? To a child, does it look like I am a busy important man, or does it just look like I don’t care?
- What does it look like when I use a harsh tone of voice, or lose my patience? To a child, does it look like I have good reasons for finally losing my cool, or do I just look threatening and scary. And how can one person be the daddy I love and also be so scary?
- What does it look like when my wife and I are both trying to win the argument instead of working out the problem? To a child, does it look like a normal event in a mature healthy marriage or does it look like the end of the world? How can both the people I love be fighting with each other?
I am sure we can all think of more examples… so, folks, lets start seeing the world through the eyes of our children, and build a “normal” for them that truly is normal.