Passing on More than Genetic Material to the Next Generation

When COP (my oldest who we refer to as the Child of Promise) was a little younger, one of her doctors suggested we take her for some genetic testing. So, we did. For me, it was one of the more eye opening healthcare experiences we’ve had. Talking with the Geneticist (or whatever the nerds call themselves) after the results came back was humbling for me. I am, by all accounts, an intelligent man. Everyone says so. But this guy was a legit genius. We learned a ton of things about our daughter’s genetic makeup and I got a feel for the extent to which she is marked and even driven by genetic factors. The prevailing lesson I have learned is that my children are drastically and sometimes irreparably shaped by who their father is. And this is a worrisome truth that extends beyond physiological characteristics baked into their DNA; it goes all the way to behavior.

Along with their physical genetic make up, my children will absorb and inherit my behaviors, my habits, my preconceptions, and my weaknesses. The real difficulty in fatherhood lies in the hard work of self evaluation to put to death the worst things in me before those things have a chance to take root in the lives of my children. This is also my greatest source of failure.

So, how do we do this? How do we pre-empt the passing on of our worst traits to the next generation? How do we protect them from even ourselves?

  • Routine Perpetual Self Examination. One of the more pervasive traits of fathers everywhere is each man’s blindness to his own weaknesses. Fatherhood is difficult. It is even more difficult when you’re an idiot and still further difficult when you don’t know how much of an idiot you actually are. For the sake of our families, we have to be willing to confront what needs to change in ourselves. A practical way of examining self is to make it part of your routine. I have begun to set aside a few minutes every Thursday morning to specifically list out where I am most unskilled. During that time, I’ll make a list of 3 (that’s not to say I only have 3 areas of need. I just need to focus and I wouldn’t be able to do that on the 721 faults I currently possess). Once I have those 3, I think about one practice I can implement to correct each one just this week. Brother, if you can’t come up with 3, ask your wife. She’s got you.
  • Call Out Your Own Weaknesses. The worst thing we can do with our mistakes is to try to hide them or act like they don’t exist. Man, your kid knows you aren’t perfect and she loves you anyway, so why on earth would you fake otherwise? There’s a better way. If we acknowledge when we fail, and actually call attention to those failures, they can then be used as effective object lessons. Don’t waste teachable moments. Tell your kids about your mistakes and let them see how you work to make sure you don’t repeat them.
  • Apologize and Ask for Forgiveness. Some of the most memorable moments in a deep father daughter relationship stem from the exposure of the behavior of one met by the tender forgiveness of the other. When a father recognizes his own faults and asks his daughter to forgive him for them, he draws her in to the process of his own development and solidifies a unique bond. He also provides her with real life experience in seeing how healthy adults resolve conflict.

My aim is for my children to be better humans than I am. They will have difficulties and face challenges all their own, but one of the greatest gifts I can give them is to see to it that my faults go to the grave with me. What are you going to pass on?

The Most Difficult Part of Parenting – A Protocol of Discipline

Within the modern parenting game, there are 3 major thought wars being waged at any given time. The opinions on both sides of all three disputes are militantly defended to the point of downgrading the existence of holders of the opposing viewpoints to subhuman. Vaccines, Breastfeeding, and Spanking (sometimes incorrectly referred to as “discipline”) comprise the golden triangle of parent shaming. I’m going to take a run at the latter of the three but I want to offer a few words regarding all three.

Knock it off. Parenting is difficult. It’s more difficult when you have to dodge the flaming arrows from self-righteous Mom shamers. Most of us are doing the best we can for our kids with what we have, where we are. If what you have to say will not edify and encourage your fellow parents, tell it to the dog and no one else.

Now, onward.

To me, discipline is the most challenging part of being a dad. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. A lot of dads walk in a great deal of confidence in nearly every other aspect of their lives. But when it comes to the disciplining of our children…we have questions. Am I too harsh? Too lenient? Where is the line between disobedience and them just being a kid? What about my special needs kid and the different way her brain works? What about multiple kids who respond in different ways to different things at different ages? How do I explain the differences in things my kids are allowed to do in comparison to what they see their friends are allowed to do? Time out? How long? Spanking? Grounding? Dr. Phil’s weird military boot camp deal?

I can keep going if you’d like. I have more. A thousand questions. Very few solid answers.

For me, each new phase of parenting with regard to discipline has made me feel like a rookie NFL quarterback; the game moves way too fast for me to keep up and I always feel like there is someone trying to take out my knees or put me on my back. So, what’s the response? How do I get out in front of this storm of questions before it swirls all around me?

 

What I have found to work best is setting a Protocol of Discipline that dictates what my response will be in any given disciplinary interaction at any time with any of my children. (As a quick aside, one of the thought leaders who has really come to influence me is a guy named Ryan Michler who founded orderofman.com. Guys, check it out. Phenomenal stuff. Anyway, he talks about developing a set of protocols for your life which are overarching principles that govern your behavior.)

My protocol of discipline sits as a general guideline over parental decision-making to the point where I don’t have to generate a lot of creative energy about my response to any given situation. It is a 3 tiered framework and it looks like this (complete with real life examples).

1. Provide vague general warning. When any of the She-Gables begins to step outside the bounds of what we have loosely defined as “acceptable behavior”, they will receive a first warning. This serves multiple purposes. It alerts them to the fact that I am paying attention to them. It opens the door for easy redirection. It reminds them of previously established boundaries or it notifies them of new boundaries they have not yet tried to cross. It is an unmistakable shot across the bow. Many times, this first warning is enough to curb the behavior. An example of this one happened just this morning. Instead of continuing to play with some magnetic stacking block things she got for her birthday, Goldilocks (our 5 year old middle child) was told by her mother to go brush her teeth. She, of course, preferred to keep playing so she made a little show of her disapproval and just sat there. This is called pouting and it’s not one of the things we tolerate. So, I immediately dad voiced my vague general warning across the kitchen with a resounding “Yes ma’am”. This was sufficient to convince her to repeat the words and head to the bathroom to brush those little teeth.

2. Provide specific warning with detailed consequence. There are quite a few times when a vague general warning is not enough to change behavior. When this happens, the disciplinary protocol prescribes a second warning. While serving the same purpose as the vague general warning of tier 1, the second tier warning is specific in nature and carries detailed information concerning the future should this second warning again be insufficient. This tier happens often at our house, which is ok because they are children after all. One example from a few days ago: my sweet wife requested that all 3 She-Gables gather in the “play room” and commence the process of picking up and putting away all of their toys – a reasonable request because that place looked like a little bomb had gone off in there. She explained each of their tasks and off they went. After a few minutes, it was apparent they were playing instead of cleaning. (Playing and cleaning have far different sounds.) Their mother had already graciously given the tier 1 vague general warning so she elevated to tier 2 by visiting the play room and reiterating the need for it to be picked up. She also offered a clear consequence threatening to ground all of them from that play room for an entire week if there was not significant progress in 10 minutes. After allowing about 15 minutes to pass, we both converged on them to find a good portion of the toys had been picked up off the floor and placed in reasonable proximity to their assigned buckets. To us, this was a success. Most of the time, we do not get beyond tier 2 specifically because of the times in the past where we’ve elevated to tier 3. Most of the time.

3. Execute detailed consequence with a view toward rehabilitation. Tier 3 is where Dad has to plant his feet and act. He cannot afford to allow the warnings of tiers 1 and 2 to become idle threats. The lynchpin of the effective disciplinary protocol is the swift execution of clearly defined and appropriate consequences. These actions contain perhaps the most concentrated teaching moments available to parents. For this reason, the consequence or punishment for past behavior should be viewed in terms of what appropriate future behavior looks like. This is rehabilitation and it is powerful. When our kids identify what acceptable behavior looks like in the midst of experiencing consequences for unacceptable behavior, the coupling of the 2 images produces fewer tier 3 instances. An example: A few weeks ago, two of our daughters were playing together and a little spat started. One of them was playing with a certain little doll thing that belonged to the other. The other saw her playing with it and decided she wanted to play with it. And Fight! Anyway, we bolted through tiers 1 and 2 with a “Stop fighting and work it out” and a “If you do not stop fighting over that thing, I will take it and you won’t be able to play with it anymore. Work it out.” Any guesses on what happened next? That’s right, more fighting. At this point, I walked over with the intention of making good on the tier 2 warning. Then I saw my youngest snatch the doll thing out of her sister’s hand and throw it right at her nose. I’ve never been more shocked. After a serious chat, a spanking, and some hugs, 15 minutes later and the girls are playing happily together…with a different toy.

 

I dearly love my daughters but in this arena, I feel like I fail them often. Most days, I fall quite a bit short of the ideal. But this struggle is worth it. Aiming to provide discipline in their young lives may be the most far reaching and influential thing I ever do. Whatever discipline looks like for you and your family, it’s worth serious consideration. Good luck, my friends. You can do this.

“Who’s the boss?” – Why Daddy is In Charge

 

 

“Anything without a head is dead. Anything with two heads is a freak.”
-Adrian Rogers

When they arrived as babies, I never thought my kiddoes would ever be able to do anything for themselves. Ever. But, as they have started to grow and mature a little, I have learned that there are things with which my children came equipped; things that were built into their DNA.  No one had to teach them or train them in these things but their skills are off the charts. They are exceptional at things like making messes and giggling. They also have an uncanny ability to sniff out hypocrisy especially regarding their father and the reason he can have two pieces of candy and they can only have one. But the most encompassing of their pre-loaded traits is their dependence on a clear hierarchy of power in every setting.

My children always, by their words and by their behavior, demand to know who is in charge. It is baked into their psyche. At all times, whether conscious of it or not, they are seeking out confirmation that there is someone leading. When they sense that there is a leadership vacuum, they will, by instinct, fill the void and take over. They cannot help it. They seem to be wired for this. In fact, my kids (and my assumption is that this is universal to all children) are always pushing the limits to gauge whether or not someone is in charge. They “test the fences” like Velociraptors trying to find a weakness. This does not carry any malice, it’s just what kids do.

The problems arise when the ones who are supposed to be, are not willing to be in charge for whatever reason. At this point, children always commandeer and occupy the leadership role. As soon as they sense an empty throne, they fill it, immediately. But they are simply not equipped for it and I would argue that they don’t want it and are relieved when they don’t have to do it.  We all know what it looks like when the kid is in charge.  It seems the grocery store is the most common place kids assert their kingship; a tantrum grows louder and louder until Mom/Dad gives in and buys whatever trinket the kid king demands of her subject parent. We see it all the time.  In fact, if we’re honest, we have all felt those times when our kids just seem to own us.  It is a dreadful and helpless feeling of failure.

As Dad, one of the chief responsibilities I have is to provide a familial framework of understanding, love, and safety, where every member of my family knows exactly who is in charge and which direction we are going.  The most convicting and devastatingly accurate complaint about modern men is that we grown men so often act just like little boys.  We are selfish, passive, and scared. (God help us). Being Dad is a hard road but it works best when he takes the reigns of leadership.

In our house, it looks like this at a high level.  Mom and Dad sit down together and set the vision.  We outline rules, boundaries, and limitations.  We enforce these things together.  Daily, we will run up against a situation or 3 and I will ask one or all of the She-Gables, “Who is in charge?” and the response will be “Daddy is”.  Other times, their desire to do something will clash with what they have just been told to do.  They will say, “But, I want to do this…” and my response “Well, what did Daddy say?”  What I want them to see from me, and what I want them to feel in this family is a constant understanding that Mommy and Daddy are in charge so they don’t have to be. I want that idea ringing in their ears.

This understanding provides a home environment marked by a few things:

  • When Daddy is in charge, they can relax.  Kids arrive with the imbedded desire to be in charge, but they don’t come equipped to handle the pressures of being in charge.  The framework of stability gives them freedom to be children.  As they grow and mature, they are handed small pieces of additional responsibility and they are able to learn how to be an adult without the harsh consequences of “on the job training”.  Let them be kids.  Train them to be adults.
  • When Daddy is in charge, they have a healthy view of authority.  Rebellion and resistance to authority are part of the air we breathe (at least here in America).  We are ever cognizant of “the man” and so on and so forth.  But with kids, a healthy view of authority is imperative.  Starting at a young age, authority figures are a large part of their lives.  I want the She-Gables to have a complimentary relationship with the authority figures in their lives, not a combative one.  If I show them at home what authority should look like, they will more easily find it in their teachers, and in their coaches, and in their bosses, and in their civic leaders. Beyond that, they will be able to exercise authority when it becomes their time.
  • When Daddy is in charge, his faults and mistakes are amplified.  This is a great and wonderful and terrible thing! The reality with which all families must come to terms, is that we are all capable of monumental failure.  All men fail.  All women fail.  We make great mistakes and we make a mess of things.  The great trouble comes when we think we can hide from our mistakes. Here’s a truth: the most free a man will ever be is when his mistakes and failures are exposed and his family loves him anyway.  When that happens, he can soar.  He can ask for forgiveness.  He can strive to do and be better.  He can lead.

So, who is in charge?

 

 

“Daddy Loves You” – The One Thing I’ll Never Stop Telling My Daughters

“A girl’s sense of self worth and personal dignity are directly linked to what she believes her father thinks of her.” – Dr. James Dobson

 

Some of our regular conversations around here:

 

AG: “Girls, guess what.”

She-Gables: “What?”

AG: “Daddy loves you.”

Goldilocks: “You always say that.”

COP: “…exasperated grunt…” (not very ladylike)

 

AG: “Girls, daddy heard a great story today.  Do you want to hear it?”

She-Gables: “Yeah!!!!”

AG: …dramatic pause…

AG: “Daddy loves you.”

She-Gables: “That’s not a story, silly Daddy.”

 

AG: “Girls, I heard the funniest joke today at work.”

She-Gables: “What is it?”

AG: “Alright, here goes.”

AG: “Daddy loves you.”

She-Gables: “Daddy! That’s not a joke.  You’re messing with us.”

 

 

I tell my daughters I love them a few dozen times a day.  They are reminded of this when they wake up and when they go to bed.  They hear it when we are in the car or when we sit down to dinner or just at random.  From the time each of them was born, the first thing to cross each of their ears was “Daddy loves you” and at any given time throughout the day, the last thing they will have heard me say is “Daddy loves you”.  At least for now, this is my mantra.

 

There are two books I recommend to every father who has a daughter, wants to have a daughter, or is about to have a daughter. Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters by Meg Meeker is one (phenomenal book).  The other is Bringing Up Girls by James Dobson. In Dr. Dobson’s book, he writes about a group interview he had with a room full of college girls where they talked about their fathers.  One of the girls in the group said something that shook me right down to the ground. “It is essential that girls get affirmation from their fathers, because that’s something I didn’t experience growing up.  This is the foundation of all my insecurities – the feeling that I wasn’t really loved by my father.  It is the root of everything I’m dealing with.”

 

I read this book for the first time when my oldest was a year old.  This one theme has stayed with me.  It has kept me awake at night.  It has framed my reactions to everything.  The most fundamentally amazing part of being a girl dad is the monumental impact he has on the entirety of his daughter’s life.  For me, this was the realization that my words will echo in their ears for a lifetime.  Even after I am in the ground, the impact of the things I say to my daughters will outlive me.  Not only that, the absence of words I should have said will resound for generations.  This is no game.

 

In light of this, a father must approach his fathering with the end in his mind.  He must ask himself, “When my daughter is grown and she looks back on her relationship with me, what is the one thing I want her to feel about me?” The reality is that, whether I like it or not, she will have strong feelings about me either way.  She will either ache for affirmation from a man who was emotionally distant, or she will display that special kind of adoration only seen in the best of father daughter relationships.

 

This is where I fail, and fail with great vigor.  When I am grumpy and angry, when I am short with them, when I am sarcastic, when I am too harsh, too impatient, too critical, when I am lazy and cavalier with my words to these little girls…in these times, I unwittingly load them down with baggage they are not meant to carry.   So, I take every chance I can to say “Daddy loves you”.  It is my hope that these candid affirmations will follow them wherever they go.  And when they leave my house, they’ll say of me “That man had some major faults but he never let me forget that he loved me.  I couldn’t pass him in the hallway without him saying he loved me.  I can’t remember a single car ride where he didn’t say it.”  I hope when they remember all the “Daddy loves you”s, the load from the harsh words of my weakest times will lighten just a little.

 

Make a point today to tell you daughter you love her. Let’s not make her guess.