common mistakes

5 Most Common Mistakes Dads Make

A friend of mine was on a business trip when he received a 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, too. My friend’s son had called to tell his dad he had lost the election and to explain what his classmate had done. My friend snapped back over the phone, “He can’t do that! That’s unfair.” A 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 explained to my friend that he was making excuses for his son’s failure when he should have walked his son through how to respond in the midst of loss.

None of us is perfect, especially at fatherhood. We need all the help we can get to learn what our blind spots are, make fewer mistakes, and get better. 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 things. Here are the 5 most common mistakes dads make.

1. Thinking We 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 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 others’ wisdom and receiving feedback 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 teaching our kids, we have to choose our words wisely, especially when pointing out that 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 and what they think they might have done differently, 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 for Everything

Sometimes, life is just plain heartbreaking. Every time my kids express sadness, my initial response is, “Yeah, but…” I’m always looking to fix the problem or give them some silly silver lining, often minimizing their pain in the process. Yes, there are times 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 I put on myself to make everything OK. That can be exhausting and cause me to make the next mistake.

4. Disengaging/Being Passive

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 or puck, even taking a step toward the shooter. He did, bravely, and made a bunch of great saves. As a dad, when the weight of responsibility gets heavy, I feel paralyzed. I just want to unplug and hide. But I need to follow my own advice, the advice I gave my son, and step into it.

5. Not Being Vulnerable With Our 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 in how healthily we process 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 are some other common mistakes dads make?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Are there any mistakes you think I make consistently?”