21st August 2023
It’s never too late to learn how to be a good father. My teenagers are 16 and 14 now, and yet I realise that there’s still time for me to put into practice better ways of being a father to them, even if I can’t mend the mistakes, I believe I made in the past. Now that I know better, I can do better.
I have been inspired in recent weeks reading Toxic Childhood Stress by Dr Nadine Burke Harris, which revealed flawed mental models about parenting that showed up for me unexpectedly when I became a father. And then reading Good Inside by Dr Becky Kennedy, to relearn how to parent.
Both books share similar perspectives on parenting. That it is ineffective to use force and coercion to control children’s behaviour. Rather instead we should work on the connection: spending time in the child’s world, putting a loving arm around their shoulder; show me, tell me, I’m here.
And how important it is to validate our children’s emotions and worries. If we can hold space for a wide range of emotions and be OK for our kids to experience and express how they feel, rather than dismissing their emotions, then our children will feel safe and learn to self-regulate.
I am already putting this into practice with my teenagers, seeking opportunities to be with them in their worlds, whether that’s putting my phone down and putting an arm around them when they show me a funny video, or breathing calmly when they express frustration or impatience.
Another insight is about setting boundaries. Rather than expecting an out-of-control child to be able to self-regulate to our “Don’t do that!”, I can more effectively say “I won’t let you hit …” or “I won’t allow you to insult …” which I’ve already been able to put into practice with another adult!
How my childhood could have been different, at home and at school, if I’d known this and had the confidence to be able to say to bullies, “I won’t allow you to”. I was a submissive people-pleaser (well, I had just lost my mother), so I need to give myself some grace. At least I know now.
And how much of a better parent I could have been all these years if I had known how to do it. My love and presence were there, I always left work on time so we could have dinner together. I just deeply regret how I lost my way at some points. I have since deeply apologised to my children.
Maybe there is a dad out there whose own upbringing was tough and didn’t teach him about the gentleness of fatherhood. Through loving hugs and shared moments, the strength to hold a range of emotions, and the healthiness of setting our own boundaries. You can start being that dad today.
There is so much strength in being gentle with your children, physically and emotionally. And it starts by being gentle and forgiving with ourselves. Time to let go of what happened when you were too small to have control over it. Now you have choices, and you know better, you can dad better.
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