I don't care what time I set my alarm clock. My 2-year-old daughter is always going to come bursting into my bedroom 30 minutes before it goes off. This morning, it was 7am. We had the day off but I was already awake. We have family in town and my wife and I have surrendered our master bedroom. That means my daughter had to make her way down two flights of stairs in order to find us in the basement office / bonus room. We smiled as we heard the door squeak open.
"Mommy-Daddy! Want me to turn on the light so you can see me?"
[Bright lights come on.]
My daughter proceeded to jump in the bed with us holding 3 plush Disney princesses. She had carefully selected one for each of us. She is a wiggler and she made her way around the bed. Crossing over my head, into the middle, then sprawled across my wife. As I struggled to adjust to the fluorescent glare of the lights, my eyes focused on a chubby little foot sitting dangerously close to my nose. There were only two words that crossed my mind in this moment: "Thank You."
There is no secret formula for being a great father. I've had some amazing examples in my life. I'm grateful for my own dad, for family members, for godly believers who have influenced me, and for the dads I've worked with while I was a student pastor. Through the years I've seen that sometimes parenthood can be extremely complex, and sometimes the biggest differences we can make come from very simple things.
1. Studies Show that Pre-teens with Happy Fathers Have Less Behavioral Problems.
A recent article in the The Guardian says that, "preteen behavioral problems are less likely in children with confident fathers who embrace parenthood." The emotional confidence a kid feels from their dad is an extremely powerful force. The article goes on to explain that this factor is even more significant than dads who engage with chores around the home. No word on how that impacts the marriage. :)
If confidence makes an incredible difference in business, dating, sports, and friendships, it makes sense that it would have a huge impact on our parenting. I'm the first to admit that I felt clueless when my daughter was born. Luckily, I had a ton of guys to surround me to explain that this was okay. Their humility normalized the huge change I was going through. It gave me the ability to focus less on the challenges I was facing and more freedom to notice how much fun I was beginning to have. That changed everything.
2. Gratitude is a Pro-Active Way to Guide Our Feelings.
Guys are stereotypically quiet about expressing their feelings. (Except for guys like King David. Have you read his journal?) I think that in general, men like to feel...stable. Strong. Emotions can be extremely destabilizing. In addition, it can be very difficult to steer emotions. Have you ever tried to be less angry while sitting in traffic? In most cases, it seems like our brain drops the word "less." In that same vein, it's extremely difficult to find happiness and confidence by telling yourself to "be more happy and confident."
When I constantly focus on how stressful my kid can be, I start to feel like a pretty crappy parent. When I begin to my energy on why I'm grateful for her, that trend begins to reverse.
Here's how it works for me. I stop focusing on the fact that I can get frustrated by a daughter who struggles to follow instructions at times. Instead, I think about how I'm grateful for a daughter with a beautifully strong will. I'm grateful I get to help her develop and channel her strength into changing the world for the better. I'm not mad about the fact that she just discovered the word, "WHY?" I'm deeply grateful for a kid who is growing into her own curiosity. I'm not upset about the fact that I have less free time than EVER. I'm grateful for the gorgeous soul who is enriching my life in 10,000 unexpected ways. When I focus on gratitude, I start feeling pretty confident about this whole thing.
3. Gratitude Brings God into More Aspects of Our Lives.
The Bible says in Proverbs 3:6, "In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths." That's a pretty great promise. I want my daughter to stay on a great path in this life. I want her to love Jesus, and to trust God. I've seen parents who try to force this on their kids. It doesn't usually go well. The best thing I can do is to surround my daughter with love, truth, the Gospel, and authenticity. The easiest way to incorporate these things into our lives on a daily basis is by practicing gratitude.
The first place my daughter noticed prayer was at the dinner table. I think it's because it was a simple way for her mind to connect the tangible to the spiritual. We were thanking an unseen God for the chicken and macaroni sitting right in front of her. In the past few months, we've had so much fun watching her begin to wrestle with these ideas. "Ghosts aren't real, but God IS real...right?" Practicing thankfulness is the most simple way to connect our kids to the kind of Divine strength that will carry them through their toughest days.
4. Gratitude Helps Establish a Positive Vision for the Family.
We live in a challenging world. It's really easy for kids to get caught up in the anxiety. I heard a news report today about 5-year-olds who were talking to their kindergarten teachers about how stressed they were about the election. Kids are begging for leadership. The most powerful place for them to find it is at home. What is my kid hearing in my house? Is she hearing about all of the things that make me mad? Am I teaching her to pick people apart and find negativity in everything? OR...am I teaching her to mine this life for joy?
5. Fathers Teach What They Know. They Reproduce Who They Are.
This is an old John Maxwell leadership principle, but it works for the family as well. This is something I've seen first-hand. I spent 7 years as a student pastor. It's remarkable how much kids become mini-versions of their parents. I've learned this recently by listening to my daughter's vocabulary. Yesterday my daughter started giggling in the car. "I did it! I f-----d!" (rhymes with started). I'm going to have to teach her words that rhyme with scooted.
It's a lot of pressure to realize that we as parents are always being watched. We are not always going to get it right, despite our best efforts. Rather than focusing on things we want to tell our kids, we have to constantly focus on our own lives. Do I want my kid to be happy? I have to find a way to be happy in all circumstances. Do I want my kid to be kind to other people? Then I have to model graciousness in public and in private. Do I want my kid to know the secret to having a more joyful life? Then I have to be grateful.