Five lessons I learned about being a dad

It seems like yesterday when I found out I was going to be a dad.  My wife and I were excited about being parents, and I loved the idea of teaching a kid everything I knew.

‘Yesterday’ was more than 20 years ago, and I now have four adult sons. I have learned a lot training a child, but few of those lessons were things I would have said mattered before the first kid got here.

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). 

Teaching my kid everything I knew should not have been my goal.  My goal should have been to become the man I want my kids to imitate.  

We talk about how kids are born selfish and sinful, and that is true. But we forget that us grown-ups are also selfish and sinful. If we’re not careful, we will make our kids’ sin and selfishness problem worse because we’re not showing them anything different.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and any good training I did for my kids came after I learned five lessons about being a dad. 

1. My kids will remember how I spoke more than what I actually said.

No one likes to be yelled at or physically intimidated. This is especially true for kids. Early on, I thought might was right. I was the boss, the kid was the subordinate, and to get them to obey, I should use intimidation tactics like yelling or standing over them.

My kids, my wife, and the Lord gently showed me this was the wrong approach.  When you see your kids backing up as you begin talking to them, it’s not a good sign. I realized then that I had to lead my kids the way I wanted to be led.

Thankfully, God and kids are quick to forgive. I’m so thankful that this approach to parenting is out of my life. My wife and kids are really glad, too.

2. It is better to be embarrassed by my kid’s behavior than to have them exasperated by mine.

The most frustrated I ever got with my kids was when they misbehaved in public. All kids, at some point, lose their mind in a restaurant or a grocery store.

Over time, I started asking myself why their meltdowns got under my skin so much. Then it hit me: I’m embarrassed because I’m basing my identity on what others think about my parenting ability. As a result, when meltdowns happened, I immediately started doing everything I mentioned in No. 1.

In turn, my kids would take the meltdown to another level. Then, me and the kid would trade off shots in a might-is-right battle that no one wins. The best course of action was to see my kids through the eyes of a loving father, to pick them up, take them out of the store and calmly resolve their behavior outside the pressure-packed view of others.

3. Parenting by grace is better than parenting by the law.

The Bible has two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the Old Testament, God puts forth the laws people must follow and quickly shows all men that it is impossible to keep every law. In the New Testament, God solves our problem with keeping the law by sending Jesus to do it for us.

As a dad, I had to learn that the more rules I set, the more my kids are going to fail and the more frustrated I’m going to be. If my kids are constantly being punished for their failures, they’ll never know what it’s like to have a loving father who compensates for their failures and loves them anyway. They never know what it means to have a father who overlooks their shortcomings just because he loves them.

That’s what God does for me, and I want my kids to understand that God will do that for them, too. The best way I can show God’s love is to turn down the sheriff in me and turn up the Jesus in me.

4. Training their hearts is more important than trapping them in the house.

I always felt like one of my main jobs was to protect my kids. Protecting was way easier when they were confined to the house and always in my sight. Then my kids became teenagers.

Kids love being at home when they’re little. In elementary school, they might do sleepovers with friends, but they love to be home.  When they turn 16 and get a driver’s license, they may not want to be around as much. Teens want their freedom, just like I wanted mine at that age.

If, for the 15 years before my kids hit the road, all I have done is confine them, make decisions for them, and shelter them from mistakes, when they get this new found freedom they may not be ready for all the decisions they’ll have to make.

My wife and I made a conscious decision to not have a bunch of rules  — don’t get me wrong, we have some — but instead, to help our kids think through situations, consider the benefits and consequences, and make decisions in light of what the Bible says. We wanted our kids to learn to think and act out of a desire to please God more than we wanted them to learn to avoid punishment from their parents.

Three of our boys have cars and are out on their own, and though they’re not perfect, we see them make so many right decisions – on their own – because they learned to think through options in light of God’s word and potential consequences.

5. A full house is better than a full pantry.

Teenagers want their freedom, but they also like to eat (at least boys do). I wanted our house to be the place my teenage kids hung out, and I quickly learned that if you let kids come over and have whatever they want out of your fridge and pantry, they’ll keep coming over.

This sounds a little silly and there is probably more to why our house often becomes the place to hang out. But it really boils down to being open to kids having fun, creating space for them, and making them feel at home by not having to ask if they can have something to eat or drink or all the Oreos.

Sometimes, the best way to influence your kids is to make their friends feel at home. I would rather buy more cookies and have my kids feel like they can bring friends over than have a lower grocery bill and never see my kids or the kids they’re hanging out with.

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