Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Whisper of Fatherhood

If ever a story, a relationship, a social infrastructure, or a magical phenomenon been more under emphasized than the importance of a child’s need for their father’s love and attention, I cannot imagine what it would be!  My own experience, my research, shocking statistics, and the stories I have seen and heard all tell me this is true.

Of course, children also need their mother, but their story and importance is relatively very well known. A father would never be a replacement for a mother, but neither can she replace him. Ideal parenting involves the work of two people. Yet, mom is too often without the dad to help raise their children. A mom and dad are not opposites, but complements of their parenting partnership. Of course, there are many circumstances that do not allow a man and woman to raise children together. Some are unavoidable, but the lack of emphasis on the crucial role of fatherhood contributes to the avoidable incidents of a father’s lack of involvement.

There are nuggets of encouragement! The government has Fatherhood.gov. There are groups like the National Fatherhood Initiative and Gooddads.com. Business has Dove’s Men’s Health Care support of fatherhood. There are also many dad bloggers like myself, although we are outnumbered 17 to 1 compared to mom bloggers. But more emphasis on helping and encouraging families to stay together must happen!

Emotional Well-Being
I don’t think every father knows just how important he is to his children. Many do, but I don’t feel confident about saying most. I’m not thinking of financial importance, which is critical. I’m not even thinking about how a father protects his children, which is crucial! These are the areas that, unfortunately, many people think of when we talk of a father’s importance in a home. There is another matter in which fathers are fundamentally necessary to the health and growth of their children—emotional well-being!

A kid’s emotional well-being concerns their stress level, the emotion of happiness, self-satisfaction, and anxiety level. If any of these criteria are at risk, the child will suffer not only emotionally, but their physical health could deteriorate.

Children with good emotional health:
  • Do well in school, at home, and in other social situations
  • Feel good about themselves, and don't suffer from self-esteem issues
  • Believe that they are valued and belong
  • Are able to accept changes better and just go with the flow
  • Have fun and enjoy others
  • Have less stress, and are better equipped to deal with stress
  • Feel contentment with their lives
While the importance of fatherhood is discussed in relative whispers, its impact on children roars!

So how do we as fathers contribute to our children’s emotional well-being? Naturally, parents have the most influence and are the most responsible for all aspects of their children’s lives. We teach them whether we do so intentionally or not, whether we are good or bad examples. "Do as I say and not as I do," never works as a value system or mentoring technique, therefore, be sure to be a good example and a knowledgeable teacher.

Here are a few things to think about.
·      You must be careful with your criticisms and honest in your praise.
     Most important is your interest in them. A child ignored by his or her parents can feel defeated and lose their self-worth, then react to that feeling by becoming more aggressive or more reclusive. Be sure to listen intently when you know what your children are saying is important to them. Aggressively attend their parent-teacher conferences, coach their sports if possible, and give them flowers after their dance recitals.
       Teaching your children values to live by will give them the confidence to make decisions in their lives, especially when they must act on their own. This will become very important with the peer pressure that will undoubtedly challenge them. Being in control is a vital component of a child’s emotional well-being.
     Teaching your children kindness will allow others to like them and teaching them strength will allow them to ignore those that don’t. How do you teach these lessons? By being kind and showing strength yourself.
     Good parents pay attention to character in their children. Their moral and ethical actions and reactions to everyday events are key indicators of their emotional well-being. Kids have good character when they respect others, are responsible for their actions, and show humility. When you see integrity in your children, it is a very good sign that you have been a great parent or very lucky. If you don’t, their lack of character likely didn’t come about overnight and it won’t be corrected overnight.
     Dads are male role models for their sons and examples of male respect towards females. Boys need to prove themselves to someone male. If not their father, then who? When fatherless boys band together, you can be assured it is a recipe for trouble. They tend to want to prove their manhood to each other in all the wrong ways.
     Girls need male approval. Reassurance from their mother of their self-worth is not enough. They need the feeling of being valued by a male. Again, their father is in the best position to do this honestly. Without this, the girl will look for male approval in the wrong places and from individuals who may not have their best interests in mind.
     Dads actively parenting in homes helps our society. Look at various neighborhoods, comparing single vs two parent home statistics, then compare them to the crime statistics in the same neighborhoods. You will see what I mean.

I think fathers are aware of their fiscal and protection responsibilities much more than their nurturing responsibilities.  Society suffers one bad father at a time and is advanced by every good father who attends to the emotional well-being of his children, working of course with their mother. Today’s children are the leaders and parents of tomorrow. When we teach them well, they will do the same with their children, and if the trend continues with each generation, watch the social issues of our country dissolve into a mere distraction. Media, businesses, and our government could do more to help this often dire situation where fathers are absent. While discussion of fatherhood may be a whisper, the impact of fatherhood roars!

Michael Smith, the author of The Power of Dadhood: How to Become the Father Your Child Need, is the father of three adult children and grandfather of four. He is a retired US Air Force officer and resides with his wife in St. Louis, MO. Michael can be reached for question or comment at mike@michaelbyronsmith.com


Thursday, November 19, 2015

"I Hear You" -- How to Listen Well to Your Child

I was sitting at my computer working away on some project, when one of my daughter’s came in the room and started telling about a something she and her friends had done together at the sleepover the night before.  She spoke with excitement, laughing along the way, as I gave an occasional, “Uh-huh,” or “Hmmm…,” or “Oh, really?”  She evidently had finished her tale, as she finally said, “Dad, isn’t that so funny?!”  Only I had no idea if it was funny or not, because I had not heard a word she said. 

“I’m sorry.  I wasn’t listening.  Could you tell me that again?” I requested with a measure of embarrassment.  Her initial excitement about sharing the story with me had worn off, but she retold it anyway.

I wish I could claim that was a one-time event, but it wasn’t.  I had made a habit of being a poor listener.  On other occasions, the girls had told me things, but I had not listened well.  Later, after the conversation had passed, and when I was listening to them, I might ask with surprise, “When did you do that?”  “Dad, I already told you, remember?”  The problem was I didn’t remember; I had not really heard them in the first place.  We had been in the same room.  She had stood next to me and told me a story.  But I had not listened.

I decided that I had to change some things in order to be a good listener and really hear what my daughters were saying.

Here are a few things that I put into practice to become a better listener:

1. About Face: If at all possible, I stopped what I was doing and did an “about face;” I turned my body and face toward them.  Under most circumstances, communication really does involve the face.  When I turned toward them, I looked them in the eyes as they told their story.

2. Here to Hear: “I hear you” often begins with “I here you.”  Okay, I recognize that this doesn’t make sense grammatically speaking, but let me explain.  In order to listen well, I need to be present with them.  Being in the same room is not the same as being with them.  To hear them, I must also be here, in the moment, not on my phone or staring off in the distance or watching the instant replay of the game or working on my computer.  Doing an “about face” is really about showing that you want to be with your child and that they are more important (in the vast majority of cases) than what you might be doing at the moment.

3. Hold That Thought: Occasionally, if my train of thought for an email or document is really critical, I say, “Just a moment.  Let me finish typing this thought, then I will listen.”  It is important that this not take a long time.  If I need more than just a minute (literally), I ask, “May I take five minutes and finish this?  Then I will hear your story and not be thinking about this.”  Most of the time, they’ll be okay with this.

4. Engage: As you look your child in the eye, offer feedback.  “Wow!”  “That sounds fun!”  “What happened next?”  Children like affirmation about their experiences, not just their performances, though the two often go hand-in-hand.  If your child is small, put them on your lap and let them talk away. 

Active, engaged listening is crucial to healthy conversation.  It also builds trust, as your children know that you hear them and care about what they are sharing with you.  This encourages them to keep coming to you to share as they get older, because you have proven that you hear. 

And good hearing (and “here-ing”) will allow them someday to say with pride, “I have a good dad!” 

Deron Smith and his wife Becca have been married for 23 years, and have three daughters: Abby (20), Makayla (17), and Toria (15). Since 2004, he has been Preaching Minister at East Sunshine Church of Christ, Springfield, Missouri. As a preacher, he often says that he is "one learner telling other learners what he's learning." Besides his love for his family and church, he enjoys fitness, the outdoors, football, the St. Louis Cardinals, and anything "Razorbacks."

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Thankfulness Caught More than Taught

I love being a dad! I love the relationship, the love, the hugs, and even the challenge. As the dad of a 10-year-old, I now find myself beginning to reap the fruit and rewards of living out my best to be an example to my son, including being quick to admit when I make a mistake and fail. I have noticed our kids learn more and are influenced more by our attitude and behavior than our parent talk.

What I’ve learned about being a dad that helps his children be thankful can be shared by some of my driving ambitions:

I teach college composition as an adjunct instructor at our local community college and enjoy great illustrations of my students. This last week I was grading essays of my students when I had one of those moments we feel more acutely due to our role as parents. My student is a face painter, you know the kind that kids and parents love to see at a local festival or kid’s event. She shared about the shocking behavior of a parent who was so mad that her child did not get to have her face painted because the line had ended and the time for the face painting was long past its end. She threw a fit, screamed, shouted some choice words, making quite a scene. I wonder what that child “caught” that day from her parent? Our attitude and behavior as parents influence and shape our children more than what we say or don’t say. 

As dads, we can model a thankful attitude and crush any kind of entitlement in ourselves first, then help our children overcome this cultural attitude. I determined early on as a young dad, I was going to get used to saying, “No, I’m sorry,” often and it’s paid off. To this day my son very rarely asks for anything or throws a fit when he doesn't get his way. I have tried to be consistent and committed to model and encourage an attitude not of entitlement, but gratitude.

Of course disappointments occur and we can help our kids learn how to have a grateful attitude even when bad things happen. We were at a local outdoor festival last year when my son realized his dollar in quarters fell out of his pocket when we were trying out the hammocks in the booth. When he realized this, we went back and the money was gone. These moments of disappointment happen and we are challenged to respond and guide our children in an attitude opportunity. We talked about how he could learn from this, that if we find something valuable we’ll be sure and turn it in, and help the person find it that would come back looking for it. It was a Golden Rule Lesson, i.e., treat others as you want to be treated. He caught it as I asked him a few questions and he saw my calm and clear demeanor, choosing to learn  and turn a bad experience into a life changing attitude adjustment.

There’s a story about a pioneer circuit rider in the early era of the expanding West who shares about being “thankful for being robbed!” I have shared this story with my son and it haunts me in a good way. He writes in his journal the evening after he survives being robbed at gunpoint in the words between pioneer encampments.

“Today I am thankful I got robbed. I am thankful I had something to take. I am thankful he took my money and not my life; and most of all I am thankful I was the one being robbed and not the one doing the robbing!”

As a former Army soldier and chaplain, we learn a concept in military resiliency training called, “Hunt for the Good Stuff.” This challenges me to be a dad who lives out the kind of creative, brave, and resilient attitude and perspective of thankfulness, even in painful and trying situations.

I am a marathoner and ultra-marathoner—I’ve learned that parenting well is much like training for endurance races of 26.2-100 miles. Do the hard work of training daily and come race day when it matters most, that training pays off. 

What I’m saying about thankfulness is that, like other character and values formation, daily efforts, little things, and modeling in a child’s early years pays off later as they mature. An example of this is how I love how my son has “caught” my attitude of gratitude toward my wife, his mom. We’ve been married 21 years now and I don’t take her for granted anymore. I’ve really had a falling in love again experience after our early marriage I was distracted with the pursuit of saving the world, helping everyone else and being successful. I have to admit, I didn’t give my wife my best—I seemed to have given it to my work and hobbies and caring for everyone else. 

Today I make it my passion and choice everyday to cherish, love, honor, listen to and give lots of encouraging words and affection to my precious wife. Now that I’ve been consistently doing this, 
my son has caught on and he does this too! I’ve noticed him saying amazingly encouraging words to her, complimenting her, treating her so well and giving her lots of attention and hugs. My thankfulness for my wife has been caught by my son and I’ve never really had to say a word; thankfulness is caught rather than taught.

Shawn Moreland loves being the father of one terrific ten-year-old. He serves as a chaplain in the Army National Guard and lives with his wife and son in Springfield, MO. He can be reached for question or comment at shawnlivinglife@yahoo.com