I have discovered I am generally in danger of being either too kind, or too harsh, and I struggle naturally to find the balance. It takes constant effort and requires my on-going attention and caution. This is a source of great frustration for me. It affects my relationship with my wife, and as they are more vulnerable, it especially affects my relationship with my kidlets.
It’s easy to blame culture (I am an ex-South African – and we are somewhat notorious for tending towards an authoritarian approach to life) or upbringing (I grew up in a fair but strongly disciplinarian home – so it’s my “normal”). It’s also possible to blame stress levels, and a myriad of other possible causes…
Although opinion is somewhat divided on this, I do believe that the reason for why we are like we are, is important – it helps to know where we have come from to make the changes necessary going forward. That said; getting lost in the past and blaming the past is extremely unhelpful – it is, after all, only a possible reason for some current behaviour, not an excuse for it. It doesn’t make it right or wrong, it just makes it clearer.
Much, much more important, are the choices we make about the future. As Dads, we constantly exert an influence on our children. Constantly, constantly, constantly. Did I mention constantly?
One of our key roles is to give our children roots and wings. The opportunity to be free of the shackles that bound us. This HAS to be a deliberate daily choice, because we will pass them on automatically if we don’t deliberately choose not to! This is one of those situations where a lack of decision is itself a decision. Burying our heads in the sand just makes our kids as hamstrung as we were. They might act it out differently, but it will have the same root cause.
This is quite a vulnerable post for me – I am so much a work in progress in this area… confession time!
I hate that I sometimes struggle to maintain consistent emotional balance when they are being disobedient or trying. Usually it’s at the unfortunate intersection of my tiredness, or stress, and their disobedience…
Definitely it pains me that they sometimes see two dads – cuddly dad and stern dad, and I would hate to be them. Trying to make sense of their little world with such conflicting behaviour coming from one of the two most powerful influences in their lives…. Children need consistency to be secure.
We underestimate the power of our portrayals, and we as so engrossed in how our world feels, we ignore or overestimate their emotional resilience.
It’s all about emotional safety. My wife and I have talked about this and it is a seriously important part of building our home life. With a busy work life, and limited time available for me to build the kind of family relationships we want, we want the time I do have to count well. We have identified the issues and have discussed ways of improving things.
Every day I ask myself what I have done to build consistency and security in my home, and because the question is asked every day, I am getting better at doing it. But I certainly have a long way to go. The biggest motivating factor for me is that every day I also ask the question – is their world emotionally and spiritually safer because of my behaviour today?
What are some rough ideas of the important ideas to work on to bring consistency into the home? (these answers might change as the kids grow older and more able to process things – this is for a family of young children and toddlers)
- Some things are not theirs to carry. For example, I don’t believe we should ever say to our kids, even if we are financially tight, that “We cannot afford it”. Financial battles are not theirs to carry. Why give them an insecurity or a problem they cannot deal with or resolve? There is time for those realities. Much better to choose a reason or a distraction that is neutral – “no time”, or “Lets rather go meet mommy” or something.
- Some things have no place in their world. Yes honesty is important. But I will never forget seeing my parents fight, and running in fear to hide in the garden hoping that if they thought I had run away they would look for me together and forget that they were fighting… Never ever can we make our children powerless observers or – even worse, force them to take sides – in our conflicts.
- Some things must be compartmentalised. Workplace stress is something that at all costs we should keep from our home environment. I am not the best “compartmentaliser”, I have to say – this one is a biggie for me. It helps a bit that I use the commute home on my motorbike to temporally separate work and home. Other areas, like marital stress, financial stress, these all need to be securely managed so that the children are protected. A rocky path emotionally might feel “normal” to some, but it is not a “normal” I ever want for my children!
- Some things must be demonstrated. There are things that need to be made certain for a little one; things that help them to establish a sense of stability in the world they have. One of those is seeing parents work as a team, communicating kindly and with grace under stress. They need to see affection. They need to see discipline and respect. They need to see that they are important and will be heard, loved and included.
- Everything is a choice. If we put something else in front of them, they know. And they remember. We must choose and maintain their place in our world. As my wife gently reminds me every now and then… “Stop parenting from behind your smart-phone!” Ouch. (But you guys would never do that.)
- Promises must be kept. A promise is not just an “I promise you that…” A promise to a child is any commitment. “I think we might find time to fly a kite on Saturday” is not a maybe, like it is to us. It is a definite promise of a time of wonder and adventure, stored away with great anticipation and excitement – and a little heart will be devastated if we treat it as a minor priority, negotiable at will…
So, that’s my priority list. What’s yours?