Even if you’ve never opened a Bible before, it’s probably safe to say you’re familiar with the fifth of the Ten Commandments: “Children, honor your father and your mother that your days may be long.” But very few men, even among those who read the Bible, are aware of Ephesians 6:4, which says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
The truth is, although we may love our children with all our hearts, we also have the power to break their hearts. So, allow me to share with you four common ways dads potentially can break children emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. Avoid these at all costs.
1. Isolate: Emotionally hide from them.
Let’s face it: It’s tough being a dad. And it’s even tougher when you’re trying to prove to your children that daddy is tough and strong. Marriage, work, money, and other pressures in life can be overwhelming. When life gets frustrating, it’s tempting to run and hide from your kids after work rather than sit and play with them when you’re struggling.
The temptation is to hide behind work, anger, porn, alcohol, sports, video games, or hobbies to help you numb your pain. But you may not realize that your choice to isolate yourself can accidentally inflict pain on the people you love most.
2. Fabricate: Refuse to tell them the truth.
When my son was six years old, I told him, “Kendall, I will always tell you the truth.” I repeated that to him over a dozen times until he graduated from high school. But one day he asked me, “Dad, why do you keep saying that?” And I confessed to him. “Because I often lie to people to protect myself from being hurt, judged, or rejected.”
I told him that in the past, I had lied to his mom, to my parents, to my peers, and even to myself—but that I don’t ever want to lie to him. He is my second chance to build a relationship the right way. Nothing breaks a relationship quicker than building it on lies rather than on truth. Children are quick to forgive our mistakes but slower to forgive our lies.
3. Vacillate: Break your promises to them.
Whereas lying to a child is the quickest way to break a child’s heart, I believe not keeping your word to them could prove to be equally dangerous. If you tell your child you’re going to do something, then do it. Teach your children that you’re a promise keeper, not just a promise maker. And never forget that you’re a parent, not a politician.
Let your children know that a real man does what he says he’s going to do when he says he’s going to do it. Continually breaking promises to your children will eventually break the foundation of trust you’ve built with them.
4. Debate: Defend your bad behavior toward them.The only thing worse than making a mistake is refusing to accept responsibility for it.
The only thing worse than making a mistake is refusing to accept responsibility for it. You’re a dad, so it’s not a matter of if you’re going to mess up with your children, but rather what you’re going to do about it when you do. And the last thing you want to do after you’ve blown it with your child is to try to justify your wrong actions.
Whenever you screw up, your child doesn’t need an explanation from you. What he or she needs is an apology. Never debate your mistakes. Instead, use your mistakes as an opportunity to show your children how to respond responsibly to their own mistakes.
Sound off: Which of these do you think dads struggle with most?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Have I hurt you in any way recently?”