On Saturday, I was woken up by my wonderful wife, three young kids, some crumpets, coffee, a bevy of gifts, and some very sweet handmade cards.
One phrase in my daughter’s card really caught my eye, she’d written “you are the best dad ever”. This wasn’t just an idle compliment, like ‘wow, I had the best day ever!’, to her very literal seven-year-old mind, I am the best dad that she can imagine a dad can be. To her, there is no more suitable dad for her in existence - there is just me. I am the only person she can imagine having that title in her life.
Now the paradox here is that I feel like I let her down all the time – every day. I am far from a perfect father and parenting has often felt like an exercise in reacting and regretting, in making decisions without any clear way forward and then living with the fact that I am far from perfect and so is my parenting. My wife is an incredible natural parent – empathetic, patient, emotionally intelligent, and insightful. I, on the other hand, am the opposite of all those things!
So, this Father’s Day I’m thinking about what it means to be ‘the best dad ever’ within the shape of my person and responding to the unique shapes of my children. And there are three things that I think every father figure wants for their kids, no matter their age.
We want them to feel safe
Nobody wants to see their kids get hurt, but all too often I find myself reacting (or overreacting!) to the idea that they’ll get physically hurt with cries of, “don’t do that!”, “get down from there!”, “STOP!!!” This is just one aspect of safety though, and arguably the least important. Does it really matter if my kids scrape their knees or trip and fall? Maybe, maybe not. Do my kids feel safer and more confident to explore the world if I hover over them, the perpetual safety helicopter? Absolutely not.
So how can I make them feel safe?
Well, to start with, I can be a safe person.
My kids don’t need a stressed-out dad policing their every move. They need someone they can rely on to be there to comfort them if and when they fall. They don’t need a reactive dad who is constantly barking at them. They need a predictable dad who is steady, unflapped by a spilt drink or torn book, who will to remain steady even if they tantrum or get out of control.
Safety doesn’t mean controlling their behaviour, safety means controlling my response.
And when I get it wrong as a parent I make it a priority to apologise, give them a cuddle and let them know I love them, and commit to finding a better way in the future.
In our family we talk to the kids about ‘hard truths’. Our kids know that if they need to come clean about something then they can tell us they have a hard truth, and we will respond without judgement or punishment. That takes trust and we have to be diligent about honouring our end of the bargain, but I hope that as they grow older they will know that they can always come and talk to us about anything and know that we will respond in love as safe people – and that will help us keep them safe.
We want them to be protected
Lots of men grow up with the notion that protecting the people they love is about being physical. It’s about fighting off the mugger or rescuing from the fire. But we don’t often stop and think beyond these (dare I say it!) fantasies to consider what it means to protect our kids in the day-to-day.
There are two very important ways that we can protect our kids every day without wrestling a bear.
Firstly, we can protect their self-esteem. Nothing is going to hit our kids harder, especially if they are girls, than knocks to their self-esteem and sense of worth. Injuries hurt, but the things we believe about ourselves shape our lives. Of course, we can’t follow them around their school batting away hurtful words, and we certainly can’t be inside their heads shooing away negative self-talk. So, what can we do?
We can be their biggest cheerleaders. We can believe in them. We can be vocal and generous with our love and praise. We can let them know that we see the best in them. Not for their achievements and abilities – as great as they may be – but for their intrinsic worth. We can let them know that they have value.
Following on from this, we can be their advocate. Growing up is tough and navigating challenges by yourself is tougher still. Kids need an advocate – not to go and yell at their teacher or demand special treatment, but to see them, see their needs, and be active in helping them through life. Some kids will need extra help with their learning, others with their mental health, and others with making friends. We can be their advocates, see the need, speak on their behalf, and find them the help they need to fully flourish.
We want them to be nurtured
If you want a plant to flourish you give it sunlight and water (and keep it away from our house!) Kids need nurturing to flourish too, and there are lots of ways that we can do that. The most important one though is to love our kids unconditionally
Love can be expressed through time spent, words said, touch shared, through apologies, acceptance, or advocacy. Love undergirds every interaction you have with your child, gives context to you as a safe person, and reinforces the encouragement you give. But most of all, love conveys worth and as a parent, this is incredibly formative for your kids.
We have a saying in our house that I encourage every reader to adopt – it is a mantra we repeat to our kids on good days and bad:
I love you every day, in every way, no matter what you do or say. I love you.
Brent Grimes | Communications Officer