I’m starting to get submissions for Father’s Day and it got me thinking about the mistakes I’ve been making as a father. (Don’t worry – my kids are not scarred for life.)
My wife and I have five kids, ranging from ages 21 to 3, so that gives me a chance to keep on making the same mistakes until I get it right. It’s like the film Groundhog Day applied to parenting.
So in no particular order, here are the primary mistakes and issues I keep running into as a parent.
1. I need to be way more patient. As a Type A personality, this is one of my daily life challenges – to slow down and patiently, happily, good naturedly deal with my kid who has inexplicably become an immovable mass sprawled out on the kitchen floor just as the school bus is pulling up.
You’ve got to love God’s sense of humor; He blessed me and my wife with a son who has Down Syndrome. Apparently He saw that I needed a greater challenge to get me to work on becoming more patient. Thank God our son is a terrific, high-functioning kid, but he can be incredibly stubborn and has a different notion of time than I do. I need to constantly remind myself to stop, listen, validate, calm down and parent with love, not anger. It’s by far the longer shorter way.
2. I need to respect my kids’ free will. I cannot control them. My job isn’t to make sure they do everything I think is right. It’s to inculcate them with the Jewish values that will give them the best shot at making their own right decisions. Each one is their own person, and I need to allow them to make mistakes and grow, and help them bring out their own potential. That means they will make decisions that I think are ill-advised. I can hash it out with them, tell them what I think, but at the end of the day, it’s their choice. That’s how you raised independent kids. Deal with it.
3. Be a cheerleader, not a critic. Kids flourish with positive encouragement and loads of love. It’s not my job to point out every single thing they are doing wrong no matter how important and insightful I think my criticism is.
4. Parenting is a joint venture; make sure you and your wife show a unified front. Trust me, this is way harder than it seems. Even if there is a significant disagreement between us regarding our child, it’s more important to show my kids that I respect and love my wife and that we are on the same page, than to have my way. So talk out the issues with your spouse, keep your disagreement private, and then listen to your wife. Chances are she’s right.
5. Great parenting stems from a great marriage. Make that your priority. (Thank God I don’t think I’ve made a mistake with this one!) We all know this is true but in the daily grind it can be hard to put in the real time necessary to nurture your marriage. It’s a must. Ranks up there with taking a shower and brushing your teeth. You’ve just got to do it otherwise it can get pretty nasty.
6. Don’t take out your frustration and anger on your kids. Why is that sweet child who only wants some of your love and attention to blame for your problems at the office?
I’m sure my kids could rattle off a dozen more mistakes if you’d ask them, but these are the ones I confront on an almost daily basis. God bless Donald Winnicott for “good enough parenting.”
A suggestion to dads: to gear up for Father’s Day, take a moment to think about the common mistakes you’re making as a father, and what you can do to work on them. Feel free to share them in the comment section below.