While waiting at my gate at the Atlanta airport, I noticed some grandparents flying with a 5-year-old. These grandparents asked questions when the girl seemed frustrated. They gave her options when she wanted a snack. They were calm and collected throughout the layover, creating an atmosphere around this girl that allowed her to express her feelings. These grandparents weren’t doing the typical give-the-grandkid-whatever-she-wants routine. It was a beautiful example of parenting.
After seeing these experienced grandparents at work, I questioned my own fathering. My fatherhood feels frustrated and frazzled. Do you feel like your approach is working? I can tell you some parenting mistakes to avoid. Here are 3 fatherhood approaches I’ve tried so you don’t have to.
When my kids were young, it started out innocently. Go potty and get M&M’s. Don’t cry on the airplane, get M&M’s. But chocolate works until it doesn’t. As my kids matured, I didn’t stop at chocolate. I’ve tried money, more time on iPads, you get the idea. I’ve said to my kids with urgency, “Clean your room before your grandparents visit and I’ll give you five bucks.”
This approach is among the parenting mistakes to avoid because, aside from the bribe having to get better and better, your child doesn’t learn to sacrifice, serve others, or be under any authority in life. Bribery rarely helps your kid learn integrity, character, or responsibility. Bribery is a short-term play that may not bring the long-term heart change we want.
2. Using Irrelevant Consequences
Typically, this approach is impulsive and happens in frustration. I’ve known dads who’ve said to their kids who simply made a bad grade, “You’re grounded for the entire summer.” How does that punishment fit the crime? What did the child learn from the consequence?
Focus instead on the behavior and on what your kid can do to make the wrong behavior right. Grounding him or her for the weekend may work well for the kid who stayed out past curfew. It’s OK to take the iPhone away when it’s misused. The problem is when we use consequences that don’t teach kids—consequences that aren’t related to the bad behavior.
It’s easy to rationalize our behavior as dads, to tell ourselves that “my dad treated me this way and I turned out fine.” If your dad was uninvolved, you might rationalize that it’s OK to be passive as a dad. If your dad was overly critical, maybe you rarely give compliments to your kids—and you think that’s fine.You can’t parent the way your dad did because your kids aren’t you.
You can’t parent the way your dad did because your kids aren’t you. You do damage when you rationalize your parenting because you miss the point of engaging and teaching in a way that fits your kid. You can parent based on the age and stage of the child and by experimenting with what works and what doesn’t as a dad. Your kid needs a dad who does what’s wise rather than doing whatever he feels like doing and then finding ways to justify it.
Sound off: Which one of these three approaches is your go-to option?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What’s one rule I’ve given that you don’t like? What would you change about it?”