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. My oldest, the Child of Promise, deals every minute of every day with the effects of a couple of brain bleeds she had in utero. She has Apraxia, attention issues, Visual Processing Disorder, and all sorts of executive function difficulties. I could go into each of those individually but they all cause difficulty in academic and social settings. She is a special needs child and every step of progress is earned by intense effort. But, she fights for that progress; like no one I’ve ever seen, she fights. By contrast, my middle child, Goldilocks, just understands things without having to work much at all. She will breeze through school with ease. She is also a highly emotive girl who feels everything. She is wonderful. To contrast further, my youngest, Dimples, has her own completely different set of strengths and personality points. She is amazing. 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.
- We will work hard.
Simple enough, right? Wrong. If you’ve never tried it, teaching children an appreciation for the disciplined sustained effort called work is a monumental goal. If I’m honest, most days it feels like the only thing I’m developing in them is the ability to conjure up new creative ways to complain. However, we persevere. We will not be deterred. This principle made it into our core values because of its basic importance and impact in our actual lives. We are working hard to clear hurdles from their paths so that they have no excuse to not excel in their lives. They are not, and will not be, hindered by poverty or societal expectations based on their gender or any kind of obstacle beyond their control. In a very real sense, my daughters will be able to rise as high as their effort takes them. The only thing holding them back will be their own unwillingness to put in the work required to chase their dreams. Additionally, I want them to value that strong work ethic in the young men they will choose to marry. Very few things can crush a woman’s spirit more than being connected to a man who will not work. On the other hand, a man willing to work himself into exhaustion, when he keeps it from turning into obsessive workaholism, affords his wife greater and greater measures of freedom. I want this for each of them.
So, how does a dad do this? How does he build in the heart of his daughter a fixation on perseverance? How does he develop in her an appreciation for personal effort to the point that she is the source of it even when he is no longer around?
Well, I’ll tell you what I think. Tactically, dad has to portray the effort and then he has to praise the effort.
- Portray the effort. At the most basic level, she’s not going to know what work looks like unless she sees it at home. She won’t see it on TV. She won’t see it in celebrities. She won’t see it in her friends. She won’t see it anywhere unless she sees it at home and a large portion of that is a conscious effort on dad’s part. In fact, a dad in our culture has to swim upstream with regard to work ethic due to the prevailing nonsensical stereotype of the lazy buffoon father we see every time we turn on the television. When what we see constantly from every angle is the definitive father figure as a lazy idiot sitting on the couch falling asleep with a beer and a bag of Cheetos, the cultural image of a dad with regard to strong work habits has been turned into a gag with a laugh track. I don’t find it funny at all. Dad, you must make a specific concerted effort to portray what it looks like for a man to put forth significant effort because your example has to drown out the Homer Simpson stereotype. Your daughter has to see you work. When my girls leave my home, I want them to see that TV dad with all his buffoonery and for there to be a disconnect in their minds. I want them to say “That’s not my dad.”. I want them to see a better way.
- Praise the effort. This is one I’ve been really trying to work on lately in myself. A little while ago, I was listening to a podcast from Larry Hagner at the Good Dad Project and it stopped me cold. (Larry does some phenomenal work highlighting what it means to be a good dad and also equipping guys to actually be good dads). In this specific podcast, the guest was a guy named Larry Yacht who is a Navy Seal with a business that teaches different things surrounding mindset. One of the more compelling things he said was ” You need to praise your kid’s effort, not the results of the effort”. When I heard him say it, I immediately disagreed. One of my main jobs as a father is to prepare my kids for adulthood. As adults, we are judged and measured by our results, and rightly so. This is basic, undeniable reality. So, in my mind, expecting and praising the results my kids produce seemed to be preparing them for the real world. But, as he explained more and gave actual evidence, my mind changed right there. In the course of a few minutes of listening, I recognized that in praising results instead of effort, I was actually training my children for future failure. If my kid excels academically, and one day she brings me one of her little math quizzes and shows me how she got all of the answers correct, my immediate response has generally been to praise the result. “That’s terrific, kiddo! You got all of them right! You are so smart!” That has been my response. However, if this is what I praise, I’m telling her that I value the result and not what it took to achieve that result. In her mind, she starts to think of herself as a brilliant mathematician. But, what happens when she hits higher math; math that requires real struggle? What happens when she doesn’t make the grade? In her mind, she is no longer smart and daddy is no longer proud of her. Then the downward spiral begins. She hates math and gives up. Dad then compounds the problem when he’s upset by her slumping math grades. But, if, from the beginning, my praise consists of recognition for the work she put in, then a whole different set of circumstances becomes possible. Now, when she shows me her perfect math quiz…”Great job, kiddo. I know you’ve been working really hard at math. Way to work.” This time, her mind realizes that dad values the effort, not the grade. So, when Algebra comes, and then Calculus, and then things get difficult, she’s not driven by results and she doesn’t rest on her laurels that she’s smart. Her drive is motivated in the value of the effort required and the final grade is just a byproduct. This will serve her well throughout her adult life.
So, dad, get up. Show your little girl what hard work looks like. And praise her efforts when she follows suit. Keep getting after it. You’ll be great.