Monday, October 22, 2012

Influential Fathers

Despite commonly held beliefs, you play the most influential role in the lives of your children.  Many parents believe that teens cease to care what their parents think, instead looking to peers for answers, but this is simply not true.  Regardless of how remote your teen acts, he or she still cares a great deal what you think of them.  This seems to be especially true for you fathers.  While mothers play a vital role in the lives of their children, you fathers seem to hold a special role that no mother can fill.  The well-being of your children relies on your ability to convey that you love, trust, and approve of them.

I spent a lifetime trying to gain my father's approval.  No matter how well I did, I never felt that I was ever good enough.  When I got an A- on my report card, the response was, "Why didn't you get an A?"  When I got an A on my report card combined with a comment that I wasn't living up to my potential, my father noticed the comment but not the grade.  I taught myself to draw at a young age and spent countless hours drawing from how-to library books and other illustrations.  However, I was told that I could not draw, I could only copy.  Eventually, I came to believe that I wasn't good enough, I wasn't and never would be an artist, that I was worthless.  I also began practicing risky behaviors (ie. drinking, using illegal drugs, and sleeping around) in an effort to gain approval and belong somewhere.  If I didn't belong to my family, maybe I would find belonging among the "bad kids" or find love and approval from the boys.  When that didn't fill the void, I turned to suicide, making one feeble attempt and spending years wishing I was just dead.  I returned to suicide years later as a young mother, wishing to spare my children the plight of being my children.  I knew I would never be good enough for them and that they would be better off without me.  My death would at least give my husband a chance of finding them a better mother while at the same time releasing me from unrelenting misery.  Fortunately, with the help of a friend who did listen (and listened for hours every day for months) I did not act on my plan.

After many years in a recovery program, I have gotten better.  I am no longer a suicide risk.  I believe that I never will be at risk for suicide again.  I've come to understand and believe that I do, in fact, have worth.  I've come to understand that while I am not perfect, I am good enough.  I've come to realize that if I can overcome growing up in a dysfunctional home, my children, too, can overcome the mistakes I am making in raising them.  I am always looking to improve even as I mess up.

With that in mind, I have some questions for us all to consider:

How often and in which ways do you show your children (of all ages) that you approve of them?

When was the last time you showed your child that they were good enough for you?

When was the last time your actions or words conveyed the message that your children didn't measure up?

How can you increase your messages that your children are good enough and decrease your messages that they aren't?

When was the last time you expressed approval of efforts (not accomplishments) your child makes in school or other accomplishments?

When was the last time you complimented your child on a character trait they possess?

How do you give each of your kids the impression that they are your favorite child?

How does the awareness that a father's love and approval has a profound influence on a child change how you talk to, spend time with, and treat your child?

When was the last time you "built up" your child?

When was the last time you listened to your child without interrogation or judgment and without providing unsolicited advise?  Just listened?

How often do you convey that your child is trustworthy and capable of making decisions?

When was the last time you allowed your child to make a decision and own the consequences of their decision without interference or "I told you so" comments?

When was the last time you showed affection, even if it is just a clap on the back?

Remember dads, it isn't about perfection.  Don't judge yourselves harshly if you find yourself lacking.  Instead endeavor to make a change one day at a time.  Show your child that you approve of them today and go from there.

***Note***  There were other things going on in my life that lead to my experience with depression and suicide ideation.  My father's inability to express approval was only one contributing factor.  I know now that he was doing the best that he knew how.  For example, he asked why I didn't get an A because he knew I was capable of it.  Perhaps he was trying to encourage me to branch out in my art and try more challenging material.  Unfortunately, he didn't know how to express that in a way that encouraged me.  Today, my father has gotten better at expressing approval.

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