It’s hard to find things to hold to as a parent because kids have a way of proving us wrong every time we get confident or comfortable. I am a young dad, two daughters in elementary school. Most of my fathering is ahead of me, but I’ve learned a few things about being a dad. These 5 truths are ones I think dads can bank on no matter the circumstance or age level.
1) We have no idea what we’re doing.
Parenting is hard. It’s hard because we’re sinners who don’t know everything trying to care for and shape other sinners who think they know everything and aren’t always keen on being shaped. On top of that they just keep changing. And so do we. I have two daughters, but in their fifteen combined years of life I’ve had more like two hundred. Every couple weeks they become new people and I need to relearn. Discipline that they responded to last week falls flat now. Books they liked are now boring. Attitudes that didn’t exist now confront me. I scramble to keep up.
My own development and circumstances add to the confusion. I change jobs and my mind is distracted. I’m tired and lose patience. I get bad news and withdraw. I change as a person, hopefully for the better but not always.
There’s no formula. There’s no one-size-fits all. It’s not easy (though, thankfully there are some easy days). Dads who tell you otherwise are full of crap. Dads who make it look easy are just really good actors.
2) Always keep learning.
If we had a fathering formula we’d learn it, apply it consistently, and carry on swimmingly. But there isn’t. So we learn. And learn and learn and learn. What is their favorite food? What music do they like? Do they want conversation or activities? Who are their friends? How are those friendships? Do they respond better to hugs or compliments? Do they want to throw a ball or take a walk?
And then you relearn these things week after week as your kids change. Last week they loved Taylor Swift. This week they like Uptown Funk. Time to forget Taylor Swift (easy enough). An what will next week hold?
Roll with the punches. Lean into the turns. Enjoy the ride. The unexpected is a sign they’re growing and changing. That’s a good thing. If you fight the changes everyone gets hurt. If you ignore them you lose your grip on the relationship.
3) You’re pretty bad at this.
First the bad news: you’re not good enough to raise good kids. Every day is full of mistakes and regrets. You lie in bed at night replaying missed opportunities and mishandled moments in your mind. You see the mental movie of the lost temper, the face locked on the iPhone, the too busy. You wonder if you’re screwing up their future, if you can give them the opportunities you want them to have. Will they like you when they’re 25? Not if you keep this up, you tell yourself.
It’s important to just admit you feel this way. If we’d all just say so we’d realize that every dad falls short. We’re in good company. It’s not good, but it is normal. And that would really help us realize the next two truths.
4) You’re pretty good at this.
That mental movie of all your failings you watched last night? It had some gaping holes in the plot. It missed the big hugs for your little girls, the presents you brought back from your business trip, the movie night, kicking the soccer ball around, the surprise donut run last Saturday, leaving work a few minutes early to get to that swim meet, fixing the bent bike handlebars, brushing off the skinned knee, the conversations you had in the car on the way to run some errands, the silly voices that make them laugh. That movie missed all the good stuff. It missed all the times you were just there being a good dad without even thinking about it. That movie gets two thumbs down.
Sure, we screw things up a lot. But dads who love their kids and show up have a whole pile of successes in which to find confidence. You know why you remember all the wrong? Because you hate it (good!). It stands out because it’s the exception instead of the rule. It’s the vocal minority of your memories. Your fathering successes are the silent majority.
5) You are the best man for the job.
Fathering is a tall task, and none of us is particularly good at it. But all of us are exactly who our family needs. Don’t ever forget this. God didn’t give you those kids by mistake (even if you didn’t mean to have them at them time). You may look around and think other dads do better than you, but they won’t do better for your kids. They won’t do anything for your kids. That’s on you, and you were put there to do it. God has given you a very particular set of abilities and he has given you something even more – His grace and presence – to make up for your failures.
So . . .
It’s not too late to start, either. One of the amazing things about children is how much they continue to hope in their parents despite our failings. If you start making changes today, that bright-eyed hope they have will be realized. You can restore or build a relationship. If they’re adults it will be harder, but if you do what you must (admit, apologize, ask for forgiveness, and change) even those broken relationships can be mended.