I first came across this piece, originally published in the People’s Home Journal, back before I had my own kids. I wish it had sunk deeper into my soul then! As with most of you, I find myself getting after my kids in all the same ways; petty rebukes over careless actions, expectations even adults would struggle with, or publicly humiliating them in hopes they will learn some abstract lesson.
When I first came across this I was inspired, so I stashed it away thinking I’d re-read it often. Well, often never came and I found that I only found this again as I was cleaning out my files. I read it, was inspired again, and stashed it away again!
Fast forward a few more years and grey hairs to when I decided to start this blog. It was clear to me that this should be my first post. I am still an imperfect father, but I do feel that I am getting better as I become more mindful and listen to my children’s words and actions. I hope you can find inspiration and hope as you read it as well.
Father Forgets - W. Livingston Larned Listen, son: I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw crumpled under your cheek and the blond curls stickily wet on your damp forehead. I have stolen into your room alone. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me. Guiltily I came to your bedside. There are the things I was thinking, son: I had been cross to you. I scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face merely a dab with a towel. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes. I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor. At breakfast I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too thick on your bread. And as you started off to play and I made for my train, you turned and waved a hand and called, “Goodbye, Daddy!” and I frowned, and said in reply, “Hold your shoulders back!” Then it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came up the road I spied you, down on your knees, playing marbles. There were holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before your boyfriends by marching you ahead of me to the house. Stockings were expensive‐and if you had to buy them you would be more careful! Imagine that, son, from a father! Do you remember, later, when I was reading in the library, how you came in timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes? When I glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door. “What is it you want?” I snapped. You said nothing, but ran across in one tempestuous plunge, and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, and your small arms tightened with an affection that God had set blooming in your heart and which even neglect could not wither. And then you were gone, pattering up the stairs. Well, son, it was shortly afterwards that my paper slipped from my hands and a terrible sickening fear came over me. What has habit been doing to me? The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding‐this was my reward to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years. And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character. The little heart of you was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills. This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me good night. Nothing else matters tonight, son. I have come to your bedside in the darkness, and I have knelt there, ashamed! It is feeble atonement; I know you would not understand these things if I told them to you during your waking hours. But tomorrow I will be a real daddy! I will chum with you, and suffer when you suffer, and laugh when you laugh. I will bite my tongue when impatient words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual: “He is nothing but a boy‐a little boy!” I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet as I see you now, son, crumpled and weary in your cot, I see that you are still a baby. Yesterday you were in your mother’s arms, your head on her shoulder. I have asked too much, too much.
Fatherhood is one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences a man can have. It’s a time of great growth for both the father and the child, as they learn to navigate the world together. One of the most important things we can do as fathers is to help our children grow into happy, successful adults. Unfortunately, sometimes our parenting style can inadvertently damage our children’s growth.
For example, when we harshly criticize our children for petty mistakes or give them frequent “rebukes” rather than praise for accomplishment we send the message that they are not good enough and that they cannot meet our high standards. This can damage the child’s self-esteem and make them reluctant to take risks or try new things. Additionally, it can make the father-child relationship seem more like a battle than a partnership.
Fatherhood is an opportunity to model positive behavior and help children learn how to express themselves in a healthy way. Instead of constantly critiquing our children, we should try to be more mindful of our words and actions and by so doing can help their children grow into confident and emotionally intelligent adults.
Here are a few things that I have come to be mindful of when interacting with my kids:
- Do their actions annoy me or do they truly put them in some sort of danger and need to stop immediately? If I am just annoyed with the situation, then I can be the one to change – either my attitude or my surroundings. Sometimes moving myself to a different room helps me calm myself without getting in the way of the kids being kids.
- What space am I in right now? Am I in a place where I am seeing the situation clearly? If not, what will it take for me to get there? I avoid trying to parent my children when in fact I am the one in need of parenting in the moment!
- Am I applauding successes more than judging weaknesses? I have found I need to make a point to applaud something my children do each day; applauding successes more than pointing out weaknesses builds trust in our relationships!
- Are they in a belligerent mood and unable to think rationally? If that is the case, all that I can do is validate their feelings and address the issue with them later. Sometimes this means putting a reminder in my phone or calendar to remind myself to talk with them. Trying to communicate with them when I am the jerk because their text messages are delayed a few minutes never works out well. Giving space for both parties to cool off always does.
What kinds of things do you watch for in yourself as you parent your children?