Cops get to be inside more homes than the pizza delivery guy, so we see a lot of messed up families. Even though we know that good parents can have bad kids and bad parents can have good kids, we know that most of the screw-ups we send to prison have no dad in their life.
The nightmare is when we imagine how messed up our own kids could be without us. I want to acknowledge that children with organic brain disorders, developmental disorders, and mental illness require lots of special care and expert help. But for most of us in a pop-psychology Oprah-driven world, how does a dad know what is best for his kids?
We can start by refusing to believe some popular but bad advice. Here’s my Top 10.
Kids need quality time, not quantity — Your son or daughter doesn’t crave high-impact moments filled with wow. They need you. A lot. They need raw, non-Disneyland time. You don’t have to always be entertaining them or learning something or asking about their day or helping them with their homework. But quit your second job if you have to. Get your face out of Facebook. Be there.
Kids are resilient — Sure they are. They’ll survive the divorce while you go “find yourself.” But they’ll survive the fight for your family and marriage a lot more. I’m not judging here. If things are that messed up then do what you have to do — I haven’t lived 32 years of marriage without the “d” word cropping up — but don’t fake yourself out thinking the kids won’t be hurt. Reach out, get help, make it work if you can.
Be a pal — Kids have friends. They need a Dad. Dads are smarter, stronger, wiser, more disciplined, and will care about them longer than any friend. And Dads can be always become good friends later. That’s what making them good adults is for.
Kids need to be kids — Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely want kids to be kids, I just don’t want them to lose out on becoming healthy grownups. There are some tough lessons to learn about delayed gratification, putting others first, and dealing with disappointment. Don’t deny them life skills by protecting them too much.
Teenagers are crazy — American extended adolescence is anthropological fictional that has been way oversold. Don’t fall for it. Stop calling them teens and start calling them young adults, then treat them that way. Keep your expectations high. This is the prime time to determine how you will relate to your offspring for the rest of your life. They actually like you more than you think.
Kids need their privacy — Of course they need to be their own person. But I’ve had parents who think the Fourth Amendment applies to them. It’s OK for your kids to know that it’s your house with your rules. If they constantly cocoon in their rooms they can forget that they are a building block in the family. Let them feel needed and connected, and accountable, not like they have a free apartment.
Kids need to be involved — Extracurricular are great until it’s the family that becomes what they do in their spare time. Life lessons are poorly learned in the minivan between activities. Frazzled kids and tired parents cry out for balance. Just say no every once in a while.
Don’t force religion on a kid — I’m not selling any particular brand of faith here. Research shows that active involvement in a faith community is associated with lower delinquency and later onset of sexual activity. It seems if we make kids eat right for their body and do their schoolwork for their mind, that some strong direction for their heart and soul is a good thing.
Kids first — Studies show that today’s young people have lower levels of empathy than in previous generations. Whether child-centered parenting is creating these narcissists, or it is the result of loss of human contact because of our digital society, children need to learn that they aren’t the center of the world — even yours. Here’s another hint: put their mother first and them second!
Kids have it worse than ever — Whether it’s advertisers, psychologists, Hollywood, or even our benevolent government... everybody wants a piece of our kids’ minds and dollars. But this is America and growing up in the 21st century is awesome! Our opportunity to win our kids back and keep them is still in our control.
Step up, Dad, you can do it!