Now that the school year has come to an end, my family and I are about to review March at our monthly family meeting, to see how well we did this month (and to sum up the whole school year).
As we do so, I have to be very conscious of striking the right balance between constructive and destructive criticism. While I am a naturally positive person, I sometimes tend to be a little impatient and critical towards my kids, and this is something that I’m working towards, only because I wanted them to avoid the mistakes I made when I was younger.
However, the mistakes I made did help make me who I am today, and I’m stronger, wiser, and smarter, because of them. A well-meaning dad may not know that his attempts to toughen his kids through constant reminders of their failures, or, on the distaff side, to shield his kids from the hurt and the pain of the world, may not actually be setting them up for success, but contributing to lower self-esteem (“I can’t do anything right”), laziness (“Dad’ll do it for me”), and complacency (“Whatever I do is a ‘great job’ anyway, so why try even harder?”).
Here are four things that I think parents should be conscious of when communicating with their children. I feel an awareness of these particular behaviors can be helpful towards avoiding soul-killing behavior in the future.
1. Dad constantly reminds him of past mistakes. Grace and forgiveness are two of the hallmarks of a nurturing home. Please don’t create a home that fosters habitual, constant bringing down of the child by bringing up his failures. More than just potentially lowering a child’s self-esteem, it creates a mindset that the child can never please his dad, because “it’s never good enough.” This kind of mindset towards performance-based behavior is dangerous; the child may spend his entire life trying to live up to your expectations.
2. Dad says he has no hope of improving. Fewer things in this world will scar a child than knowing their dad doesn’t believe they can improve. If anyone can speak hope to a child, it’s his father; if anyone can take it away, it’s his father. A person would rather the whole world lose faith in him, just not his dad. When our kids don’t believe we believe in them, I believe it becomes twice as hard for them to develop that confidence in themselves.
3. Dad labels or boxes him in. The Bible says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” (Proverbs 18:21) May we never box our kids into pre-cut stereotypes or preconceived ideas of who we’re supposed to be!
For example, when we were young, there were people who labeled me “the smart one” and my younger brother “the handsome one.” While this would appear to initially be a compliment by highlighting our strengths, so to speak, it also had implicit implications: I wasn’t handsome, and my brother wasn’t smart. Today, I work in creatives, have written award-winning songs, and have a great job and family, yet I’m fat and consider myself ugly. Meanwhile, my brother looks amazing and is in fantastic shape, but he still hasn’t finished school. (He’s 37.) Coincidence?
4. Dad does everything for him. Let’s get one thing straight: as dads, we’re here to steward our sons and daughters and help usher them into God’s destiny for them. We didn’t become their dads so we could do their homework for them, find jobs for them, give them money beyond graduation, and essentially baby them throughout life. We’re not here to baby them, we’re here, to paraphrase and adapt the mission of my church to a more secular yet important situation (in which we can and should raise God-fearing kids), to engage our kids, to establish them in the faith, equip them with the tools to live God-honoring lives, and empower them to become influential (and ideally honor God by making disciples).
What are other things you think dads may do that might do more damage than good?