A friend of mine was on a business trip when he received a phone call from his son. His son had been running for student body president and in the last week the most popular kid in school decided to run. My friend’s son lost the election and was explaining to his dad what had happened. My friend snapped back over the phone, “He can’t do that! That’s unfair.” A work colleague on the trip with him, an older man with grown kids, heard the whole call. When the call ended, the older gentleman told my friend, “I know it’s none of my business, but I think that was a mistake.” He went on to explain to my friend that he was making excuses for his son’s failure. Rather than making excuses for why his son lost the election, he should have walked his son through how to respond in the midst of loss.
None of us are perfect, especially when it comes to fatherhood. We need all the help we can get to point out our blind spots, minimize the mistakes, and get better. Speaking for myself, I probably have more blind spots and make more mistakes than most. In fact, I could probably call this, The 5 Most Common Mistakes I Make. But I’ve observed many other dads doing the same thing. So with that in mind, here are some of the most common mistakes dads make.
1. Thinking I Don’t Need Help
Being a good father means loving your kids well and being engaged in their lives. It doesn’t mean being perfect, having all of the answers, and always responding the right way. One of the greatest gifts you can give your kids is the gift of humility by seeking the wisdom of others and receiving critique well, just as my friend did on that business trip. He thanked his colleague and put the advice into action.
2. Being Overly Critical
Our kids need to know that we are their best ally, not their worst critic. When it comes to teaching our kids we have to choose our spots, especially when pointing out when they have erred. Our kids need to know that we are their best ally, not their worst critic. You don’t need to have a discussion about every mistake they make. They probably are aware already that they messed up. Instead, ask them questions about how they feel, what they think they might have done different, and then give them encouragement. Tell them stories of your own failures at the same age. Listening and empathizing will earn you currency. Also, make sure you get excited and ask a lot of questions when they experience success. That will be their favorite subject.
3. Thinking There is a Fix to Everything
Sometimes life is just plain heartbreaking. Every time my kids express sadness, my quick response is, “Yeah, but…” I’m always looking to fix their problem or give them some silly silver lining, often times minimizing their pain. There are times when they need a perspective shift, but too often I miss an opportunity to provide a much needed safe space and empathetic hug. Sometimes my response is even worse. I’ll get upset because of the pressure to make everything okay. That can be exhausting and cause me to make the next mistake.
4. Disengaging/Being Passive
When the responsibility of fathering becomes heavy I can feel paralyzed. I just want to unplug and hide. My son is getting into street hockey and he loves playing goalie. I was hitting shots at him the other night and one shot hit his arm. It hurt. He flinched on the next shot. He said getting hurt affected his confidence. I told him that’s when he needed to make a conscious decision to move toward the ball/puck, even taking a step towards the shooter. He did, bravely, and made a bunch of great saves. As a dad, when the weight of responsibility gets heavy I need to follow my own advice and step into it.
5. Not Being Vulnerable with Your Kids
Kids need to see our emotion and the things that cause us pain. We all want to be a source of strength in our families. However, strength is not the absence of emotion and hurt. Strength is how healthy we are in processing our emotions and the experiences that cause us stress, pain, and loss. Our kids need to see us labor in our trials so they can see how it’s done, while also giving validation to their struggles.
Sound off: What is the biggest mistake you have ever made as a father?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Are there any mistakes you think I make consistently?”