Becoming a new parent can be downright terrifying. Like many of you, I remember being surprised they actually let me leave the hospital with our baby. I kept telling myself to look confident and defer to my wife when the nurses asked me questions. This post is for men who were just like me.
When our kids were small I made an offhand comment in front of a good friend and coworker. When he humbly asked if he could challenge me on something I said, I knew there was something big coming. Little did I know just how big of an impact his advice that day would have on me.
I had just made a comment about not wanting to “screw up” my new baby. After all, he was so cute, so tiny, and so fragile. My concern was that I would get home and start aimlessly taking care of him, and thus eventually “screw him up.” It made sense to me. But as my friend quickly pointed out, I was dead wrong.
Kevin, your son is already screwed up. He was born that way. He was born broken, spiritually dead, and separated from God. He needs a father that points him to Jesus, where he can find Life.
What great advice. It sounded harsh in the moment, but my friend was exactly right. We can be mesmerized with our babies’ cuteness that we forget the desperate situation they are born into.
I meet with many young couples and talk about parenting. Earlier today I started thinking of all those different points floating around in my head and heart that I love to give to young couples. Here are a few of them:
Fathers, your words are the most powerful in your kids lives. Men, this should humble us. Studies show time and time again just how powerful our words can be to our kids. They can be incredibly positive, and can be terribly destructive as well. One comment about how lazy or uncoordinated your child is will last with them for a lifetime.
I was helping a friend on a building project once. During our time together he told me he wished his grandpa could see him now. I asked why. He said he still remembers the time when he was in high school and his grandpa was disgusted that he slept in on a Saturday morning. In the same breath he told him just how lazy he thought he was. 30 years later, my friend is still trying to prove to himself and his deceased grandpa that he really isn’t lazy. Men, recognize the weight of your words. Use them wisely.
Teach your kids firm boundaries. Your kids need to learn what “no” means, and they need to learn it from you, the parents. There is a subset of parents that think we should “distract” our kids until they turn 18. Never should a child hear “no” from their parents. Unfortunately, this is not the example God gave us in his interaction with mankind. God was quick to paint boundaries. We should do the same.
How do you teach them boundaries? Firmly. Consistently. Get down on their level, within 3 feet of them, lower your voice in tone, and simply tell them no. No yelling. No grudges. No sarcasm. Just firm boundaries consistently enforced. It shows them you love them.
Wrestle your kids. Physical touch is so important with young kids. I call it “Papa Bear” time. All 5 of mine try to tackle me and tickle me all over at night. I act like a crazy cowboy and go crazy all over them. They love it. So do it. Their strength is tested. Mine is spent up. It makes for a great 15 minutes at night.
Give them plenty of opportunity to laugh at you. Dance with your kids. Dance in front of your kids. Play air guitar in front of your kids. If you are an accountant, loosen your tie and unbutton your shirt a little. Kids need to see their parents be more than disciplinarians.
Teach your kids how to be respectful. Kids can look people in the eyes. Most don’t. But they can be taught to. Sure, they are sometimes shy, but many times they just don’t want to. When you are holding a young one and see someone you know, remind your child to look them in the eye and say hello. This eventually turns into teaching them to shake hands and greet others. Your child will beam with excitement when they get it right.
When my family rolls into a restaurant, our kids have been pre-warned. They aren’t threatened within an inch of their life to behave or else… No, my wife and I just give them a good reminder before we get out of the van. We remind them that people are on dates or trying to talk to their families. There are 7 of us total in our family, so we need to make sure we are serving them well by being quiet. As well, we let them know we need to leave our table spotless. Going to a restaurant isn’t a time for parents to turn their brains off. It provides great opportunities for training kids.
It’s not just what you do, but how you do what you do. Jesus was grace and truth. As christian parents, we can focus on truth so much that the grace of God is missed in our lives. We insist on going to church, but pay no attention that we often fight the whole way there. Tenderness, compassion, humility. Words like these should describe our interactions with our kids.
Tell them how glad you are that they are your child. My kids light up every time I tell them this. They can’t hear it too often. I use phrases like, “Son, I can’t believe how lucky I am that I’m your dad,” or “Baby girl, I love you so much,” or “Have I told you today how thankful I am to have a son like you.” Tell them at random times. They always love it.
Don’t let them mess with your wife. I’ve only used this phrase a few times so far. When my kids really start pushing the buttons of my wife, I change one simple word in my correction of them. I don’t say, “Don’t talk to your mom that way.” Instead I say, “Don’t talk to my wife that way.” That one word change makes a huge difference in the mind of a child.
Let your kids fail, or experience fear and frustration. Parents used to be considered “Helicopter parents.” Now they are referred to as “Lawnmower parents.” The reason for the change is that today’s parents want to go before their kids and mow everything down in front of them that might have caused them pain. Smooth sailing. That is their goal. That’s unfortunate. Your kids will come to know their need for Christ when they experience failure or look fear straight in the face. Don’t rob this from them.
Build courage into the hearts of your kids. One of my kids is more naturally unsure of himself. However, from a young age I started telling him when I saw him be courageous. Pretty soon he started believing me and started acting courageous. I want my kids to learn to take up for others, and to be a friend to the friendless. This takes courage. So build it into them from a young age.
Ok, I’ve gotta stop there. The ideas are coming all too quickly now. Instead of me saying more, I’d love to hear any other advice people would offer to young parents…