My daughters are all different people. There are some similarities, but for the most part, each of them is a complex little dude in her own right. All three of them are as different as they look. This means that my parenting tactics have to adapt based on the various strengths or weaknesses, attitudes, abilities, and aptitudes of each individual. Knowing this, recognizing their differences, we have developed a set of core values we want to infuse into the lives of each of our daughters. These are the values we want to teach and live and model regardless of the differences of personalities or abilities. They are the essential principles around which we center our parenting philosophies and they are non-negotiable. Each month, for the rest of the time they are in our home, we will focus on one of these core values. For that month, it will be the focus of our conversations. We will point out stories and writings and examples that display that particular core value. In a very real sense, we will immerse our daughters in these 8 principles. They are simple statements now because the She-Gables are still young but the concepts supporting each will continually develop as they get older and gain maturity.
2. We will show toughness in mind and body.
There exists an undercurrent of assumption that coats nearly every conversation about, and interaction with younger generations today. This attitude of general understanding assumes every young person resides in perpetual weakness. The great put down of late is to call someone a “special snowflake“. This is no secret. Much has been written/discussed about the participation trophy children. We’ve heard about and witnessed the emergence of “safe spaces” on campus at the most elite houses of post-secondary education. Recognition of this general weakness has even sparked a burgeoning revolution surrounding the concept of “grit” as a desirable principle. Everywhere we look, there is another example of the perceived weakness of young people. It is almost overwhelming.
Whether we agree with the sentiment or not, the trend as a whole cannot be swept under the rug. What I have witnessed is that this is not necessarily a problem with young people (although it is very difficult to argue its prominence in that age group) but a characteristic that haunts members of every age. What we see today, are people all around us who are ill-equipped to handle the pressures of life and the suffering that is a definitive marker of being a human. We see people who bail on their commitments at the first sign of difficulty. We see folks lose their friggin minds over things like coffee and turn signals and cotton. We see over-indulgence (looking at you credit card debt and complex carbohydrates!) and lack of discipline. For far too long, far too many of us have been far too willing to let our relative wealth insulate us from the responsibility of toughness. I am guilty.
So, what does a father do? I am not comfortable allowing this legacy of weakness in my mind and in my body to find its way into the lives of my daughters. What I want for them is toughness. My desire is for them to learn mental and physical toughness, but not to the point that they become calloused. The specific brand of toughness I want for them is a beautiful and inspiring trait. It is the toughness I have witnessed in my dear wife over and over and over again and it is a defining characteristic of what I think of as “feminine”. It is a tolerance for pain, both physical and emotional, driven by and built upon deep contentment and strong truthful perspective. Building this toughness presents a new level of difficulty in parenting. It’s not like playing the guitar where you simply continue to expose your fingertips to the strings until they harden. This isn’t toughness. It’s callousness. In order to develop an internal toughness in our daughters, I think we need to focus on helping them build positive defense areas within them through specific practices.
Practice Repetitive Empathy. Empathy is the most effective way to maintain perspective because it requires an individual to remove himself from his own reality and inject himself into someone else’s. And when you have entered another’s reality, especially a more painful or more difficult reality, it is hard to complain about your own. Empathy expands our reference points for pain and suffering. When we truly empathize with the suffering of others, it creates a new high water mark for us and encourages us that we can face difficult days ahead because we’ve witnessed difficult days in the past. Whenever we witness someone having a difficult time, we do not shy away or hide it from the girls. We take the opportunity to have unique conversations. We highlight and explain the difficult situation and we walk them through the normal emotions they would feel if they were in the same place. Practiced empathy shows our daughters how to look beyond themselves and consider the plight of others. When we are able to empathize with painful experiences, that experience teaches us how to handle the same situations as they come up in our own lives.
Practice Memorial Celebration. Being able to look back and remember where we started and then survey all the ground we have covered, is a skill most of us simply do not have. For the most part, we are always looking forward to the next thing while disregarding where we came from and where we are now. Especially in parenting…”I can’t wait until they can walk”…”I can’t wait until they can play independently”…”I can’t wait until they can drive themselves”…
The reality is that before too long, we will “can’t wait” the kiddoes right into adulthood. And we will have missed it. In doing this, I think we communicate to our daughters that we love some future version of them instead of the present one. When we constantly look forward, we miss out on the pride of accomplishment of remembering just how far we’ve come. In our house, we aren’t purposefully reminding the girls of the ground they’ve covered. Each step of progress is framed by first looking back and thinking about who we were before that step was made. Practicing memorial celebration keeps our daughters’ minds in tune with their past. Remembering their victories and their previous struggles provides them with a base of confidence to face current difficulties. This is a key component of toughness.
Practice Helpful Response. One of the aspects of toughness we are trying to train into our daughters is a habit of immediate helpful response. When pain and suffering arrive in their lives, I want them to automatically be looking for ways they can help ease the suffering of those around them. Action, in the face of pain, is a remarkable way to anesthetize against that pain. Engaging difficulty with a helpful response also defends against becoming bitter which happens often. Whenever we see a difficult situation, we very simply ask the girls how they would respond…
“I wonder, what would you do in this situation?” This easy question gets them in the habit of immediately thinking about responding in a positive manner and provides creative suggestions for moving forward.
This is world can be cruel. The path my daughters will walk is full of hazards and dangers well outside of my control. I cannot prepare the path for them but I can work to prepare them for the path. Be tough, girls. Daddy loves you.