Dadding Is Hard
4 things I learned by failing miserably
I've logged around 22 some odd years as a dad. And when it's going well, it's nothing short of remarkable. When I'm hitting on all cylinders and present, when my funny is on point and the sun's on my face, the wind in my hair... it's lights-out good. Other times... not so much. Dadding, I've come to realize, is a hard, yet incredibly rewarding experience. I'm sure lots of dads would concur.
Let us reason together
Me trying to convince Sy (again) why he needs to go to school.... He wasn't buying what I was selling.
For my wife and I, our kids hit the spectrum. I'm dad to:
≈ A 22 year-old beautiful young woman; a fireball of personality. Independent, strong and funny. Born to lead. This girl is a force; one who feels deep and falls hard.
≈ A pretty, blonde-haired, blue-eyed 17 year-old HS senior. She's captain of the cheer team, sharp. Unlike her older sis, mining for subsurface feelings takes work and she makes you earn it. But the pay-off is gold.
≈ And a 9 year-old mini-me. (SURPRISE!) This boy could not care less about sports, loves music, tech and lives for video games. He's witty, tender-hearted, stubborn, and about as lovable as they come.
All three seem as opposite as peanut butter & mayo at times, feeling and responding differently to the same stimuli. Parenting techniques have often required about as much diversity. For me, being a dad feels a lot like an oscillating fan; one moment I'm gently blowing sweet encouragement, basking in the adoration of those I bless with the breeze of provision; the next my attention has turned sideways and I'm flying out of town to fan flames of career, putting food on the table, that whole racket. Through the thick and thin of it all, I've come to a handful of conclusions:
1. Never, under any circumstances, underestimate the power of fun.
Fun speaks a thousands languages and rights a million wrongs. Fun, it turns out, creates an incredibly wide birth for grace. And trust me, as a dad, necesito mucho space-o for grace... like, 18-wheeler-wide. For any moment I've ever patted myself on the back for killing it as a father I've got three cringe-worthy moments that counter-punch with authority. Fun, at least for our family, doesn't mean I'm the on-call comedian. That's too much pressure for anyone.
Fun is 90% environment and 10% attendance.
Whenever my wife and I create an environment where our kids feel safe (sans criticism and correction), an environment where they can relax, laugh, and engage... they have fun. We all do. But don't go thinking these kind of environments come naturally, they often take some manufacturing. And don't feel guilty about having to work to make this happen. There's room here for fake-it-till-you-make-it. A space where conflict is moot, tension is neutered and anxiety is foreign is, well... kind of foreign. This means sometimes putting a feud on pause, making an across-the-board resolution that, "No one will utter another negative word about anyone else"... you've been there. But in doing so we create, if even for a few precious hours, an environment for fun.
Now for that other 10%.
Attendance should read as attitude, and if we can't set the tone here as dads then the environment is already trash. Think Clark Griswald's forehead vein in full bloom as he screams, "WE WILL HAVE FUN!" Envision that, minus the veiny rage. That's what we're after. A resolution that says, "My family, in this moment, needs fun. Needs fun like our next breath." And I will bend my will (by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, of course) so that if we don't have fun, it won't be because my attitude stunk up the place.
When we recognize fun as an environment as opposed to an activity, and lead the way by bringing the right demeanor to this sacred space... we're on to something.
2. We can't (and shouldn't) protect our kids from all pain, but we can prep them.
I've blown it here more times than I'd like to admit.
In truth, protecting our kids from harm is instinctive. It's right and we're hard-wired to do it. But that's mostly when it comes to playing in the streets or touching a hot oven; the disfiguring, maiming variety of hazard. For practically everything else, that's us being precious about our babies. And please don't hear machismo.
The idea is that we often protect our kids from social and emotional pain because of fear or pride or both.
Fear seems obvious, but this is actually us selling our kids short. We fear for our kids naturally, but the deeper fear is that our children might not be able to take pain; that posterity might not have what it takes to survive a world as brutal as the one we've navigated thus far. As a result, we feel the need to soften the edges. But the truth is, our world - their world - can be viciously cruel at times. If we're not careful, in protecting we cripple. A kid who's overly coddled after being left out of a game of tag at school will later stumble as a teen when she's ghosted by her former bff.
Of course, there are exceptions. Sometimes our kids need a lifeline that only a parent can provide. For certain instances of bullying (physical, emotional, cyber or otherwise), it's only appropriate to release The Kraken, or for our fam, Mama Bear... my wife. She scary, y'all.
We protect from pride in the sense that, since our kids are a natural extension of us, someone hurting my kid might as well be hurting me... and pride says, "Nobody hurts me." This is my kryptonite. Protecting is instinctual, but preparing takes work. Sometimes work we're not willing to put in. Prep'ing for pain means we frame any given situation for our kids within the trifecta:
a) Help them recognize pain as part life. This probably isn't the first time they've experienced hurt and of course won't be the last. Jesus himself gives us this heads up in John 16:33. God uses pain to shape character. It's never fun and doesn't seem fair sometimes, but it's often His way. Governing our children's expectations for life is that fine line between go-for-broke-sky's-the-limit optimism and life-will-knock-your-teeth-out-sometimes pragmatism. But govern we must.
b) Help them realize our natural responses to hurt are normal (rage, envy), but can't necessarily be acted on. My daughter and her friend have a falling out, triggering said friend to spread wanton, egregious gossip about my little angel. Enacting a strategic plan to wreck my daughter's (former) friend's life by letting her parents know she's slept with half the football team seems reasonable... but I can't lose my Jesus. Neither can my teen (1st Peter 3:9). Why my daughter was besties with this Jezebel in the fist place in this fictional example is another blog - don't worry about it.
c) Help them redeem the experience. The best stories have redemption in there somewhere. The hero has to transform, learn something about themselves that changes them forever. So, pick whatever cliche fits: our greatest pain becomes our greatest ministry, it's always darkest before the dawn, every cloud has a silver lining...
The Cross is the story of humanity's redemption. Our individual lives are nothing if not stories of a loving God giving us chance after chance. Why should pain serve a purpose any different? Redemption is buttressed by hope, and part of our jobs as dads is to help our kids learn how to fish hope from hurt (Hebrews 12:11).
3. Respect may be primal for me, but can also be the death of me.
Me man. Me Father. ME DEMAND RESPECT! Well, me might lay waste to myriad relationships in pursuit of this illusive beast if me not careful.
If we let this need supersede our family's need for peace then we fall prey to idolization, positioning our respect as the all-consuming god before which everyone must bow.
No matter how desperate we are to be honored and admired by those we love most, if we have to go to war to achieve it, supply will never meet demand.
4. Never, under any circumstances, underestimate the power of romancing mom.
Not your own mom. Gross.
Mom as in the anchor of reason and sanity for the home. Mom as in that smoke-show you chased like a stalker back in the day. You may have heard how children observing affection between spouses builds a deep sense of security in their psyches, but I’m convinced romance is even more potent.
We get wooing honest. The Father perfected the art of seduction long before the first insecure boy pioneered the first cheesy pick-up line. Eden was the setting of the Lord’s candlelight dinner. His uninhibited communion with Adam was the definition of intimacy. In romancing our wives well we model more of God’s heart for creation than a thousand sermons could ever teach. Our sons learn the discipline of pursuit. Our daughters grasp the nature of their own intrinsic value.
It’s easy to get lazy here, but romance between a mom and dad is God’s built-in love-lab for children. Safely within the confines of home, as we relate to our wives, children get to watch a dozen different relational dynamics play out all at once.
As husbands we have to fight the lazy. As dads we must be mindful of those younger eyes watching; ones that don’t miss much, eyes that take particular note of how earnestly we pursue and how hard we love.