I desire to be the best Dad I can be. Like you, I’m not a perfect, far from it in fact. I haven’t arrived. Heck, I haven’t even hit the teenage years yet (mercy, Lord)! Even so, I have learned a few things about fatherhood over the last 12 years that may be helpful.
As parents, our vision for parenting is simple and twofold:
- To raise world changers for Christ
- To have a life long relationship with our kids. The goal: that our kids want to come home even when they don’t have to.
In tribute to my three children for Father’s Day, here are six things I’ve learned that will help you become a better Dad:
1) Lead your family. Don’t leave it to your wife to shoulder the weight of decision-making and the direction of the family. You need her input, but it’s up to you to set the tone. Your wife and kids are looking for you to take initiative and lead the way. Here are a couple ways you shouldn’t compromise:
- Lead them spiritually. Are you investing in your children spiritually or are you letting them fend for themselves? Do you view it as the church’s job to lead them or yours? Let’s face it. It’s hard to disciple your kids. In fact, it’s hard to disciple anyone. We like to take an intentional but organic approach to discipleship with our kids. Deuteronomy 6 is a great blueprint.
Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.* 5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NLT)
Talk to them whenever you get the chance. It starts with you, Dad. Love God with everything you’ve got, love your wife and your children above yourself; and then teach it to your children. They will take their cues from you.
- Be intentional and proactive. Equip them for life. Don’t let the school system or the church raise them. This past year, we sent our kids to public school for the first time after several years of homeschooling. We’ve always been up front with our kids about tough issues but this required even more intentionality. We had laid a good spiritual foundation, but we also wanted to prepare them for what they were going to encounter, so we had age appropriate talks about sex and other things they were going to encounter (my son was 10, my daughter was 8). I wanted them to hear it from us before they heard it from their friends. Of course that’s not the end. We check in with them and leave the door open to talk to us when they hear something they are unfamiliar with. The book we used to prep for the sex talk is called, The Wonderful Way Babies Are Made. It has two levels of the discussion so it can apply to both younger kids and older kids who are ready for the full story.
2) Spend time with your kids. In 1974 the average dad spent just 5 minutes per day of quality time with their kids while today, the average dad spends 35 minutes. That is encouraging! This can be a struggle, especially for Dad’s. When we come home from work we are tired (but probably not as tired as Mom). It’s easy to want to relax rather than engage. One person I know calls it the rubber band effect. Like a rubber band, we have a natural tendency to let loose after work. Don’t do it. Keep the rubber band tight and stay engaged. Play with your kids, help them with their homework, help your wife out, and if possible, give her some time alone. Then, closer to their bed time, you can let the rubber band loose. Here are a few other ways you can be intentional about spending time with your kids.
- Schedule dates or outings with your kids. My wife and I try to take turns going on a date with each child alone once per month.
- Take them on special trips alone. My son and I like to camp, so we go on a special father/son camping trip once a year.
- Institute a family night. This is huge. Every Friday night we shut out the world and spend time together. We might watch a movie, play a game, or go get ice cream but the point is being together! My kids hate to miss it. They will skip other things just to do family night!
3) Don’t overreact when they tell you scary things. This happens more often as they get older. As I mentioned, we want our kids to hear the hard stuff from us first, so all along, we’ve been real with our kids. Even after that, they still come home with some things we haven’t talked to them about. Because we’ve left the door open and we don’t over react, they feel comfortable coming to us with their questions. They know we aren’t going to get upset and they are not going to get into trouble.
4) Severely limit their Internet use. The Internet is an amazing tool, which can be used for good or bad. Unmonitored Internet access for children is a ticking time bomb. The average age of exposure to pornography is around 9 years old. As someone who was exposed to porn early (in my day it wasn’t the Internet) and struggled with sexual addiction myself, I’m telling you, you don’t want that for your kids. Beyond porn, there are other landmines as well. Trust me, your kids are smarter than you are when it comes to technology. Don’t take their word for it. Do your best to train them so they understand the dangers. Call me old school but in the end their Internet access still needs to be monitored while they are under your roof.
If they do have a smart phone or iPad, you can set restrictions under the parental controls. Here are some other helpful tools to do that:
- Covenant Eyes – We’ve had good luck with this. You can have a family plan, set a personalized filter for every child, and have their Internet activity emailed to you.
- Circle with Disney – I’ve heard good things about this device that manages content and time across all devices in your home. For $99 bucks, it’s a no brainer.
5) Say yes sometimes. It’s easy to say no. It just becomes habit. As your children get older, their freedom needs to increase – if they are trustworthy that is. Freedom needs to be given bit by bit and tested. Start with small things like riding your bike around the block, staying home alone for 10-15 minutes, or allowing your kids to get their own snack after school. Give them clear guidelines and see how they do. Talk about responsibility. Let them try and fail in the small stuff first.
6) Be transparent about your shortcomings. I’ve never been afraid to tell my kids about my shortcomings (in an age appropriate way of course). Your kids already know you’re not perfect and they still think the world of you and want to be like you. We sometimes tend to think if we tell them the ways we’ve failed, they will think less of us. The opposite is actually true. They will respect you more because they know they don’t have to be perfect either. Use it as an opportunity to tell them about the grace of God. Tell them how you’ve failed over and over, but God forgave you and helped you overcome in time.
Also, don’t be afraid to say you’re sorry and ask for forgiveness. A bit of humble pie goes a long way with your kids.
7) Teach your kids to respect their Mom. I saved one of the most important ones for last. Dad’s, your kids will learn to respect their mom (and for boys, ladies) by the way you treat her. We don’t have a lot of rules in our house, but one of them is, respect your Mom! I tell them, if you do this, things will go well for you. If not, things will go poorly. Your wife needs you to back her up in the home. What Mom says, goes. Even if you don’t agree with it, back it until you can talk to her privately.
Dad, you are the leader of your home. God saw fit to place your wife and children under your care. He has the power and grace to help you as you step out in faith and become the leader and father He created you be. Now go do it!
What has helped you be a better Dad? Share your comments!