Sometimes life leaves emotional scars on children. How can we dads help them most effectively?
A stepdad named Eric wrote to us about this. He said that the greatest difficulty he has faced with his children has been dealing with the hurt they brought with them from earlier years. Eric’s wife went through a nasty divorce, and the kids were deeply affected.
Eric wrote that because his stepchildren went through that drama and pain—and they had no say in the matter—they live in fear. And they’ll fight to control every aspect of their lives.
So today, as Eric attempts to influence and love these kids, all that baggage gets in the way, particularly when he needs to correct them or enforce consequences.
Eric has four insights and suggestions for dads that I’m passing on to you today. And I realize that these might come off like I’m presenting easy answers to complex problems in a few hundred words. So, keep in mind that these situations are never simple or easy. Still, I believe his ideas will be helpful to other stepdads—and can be applied by all dads.
- When kids express rejection or defiance, remember there’s often something deeper going on. He identified it as fear in his children, and it may be a range of other factors for other kids. But the real challenge is to remember and consider that deeper cause in the heat of the moment. When a child is misbehaving and you’re feeling all that rejection and attitude, it isn’t easy to keep your cool and think about what might be causing it. But it’s very important.
- Find support. I recommend this for every dad, but it’s particularly true in complex situations. Find a men’s group or another group that can encourage you and remind you that you’re not alone in your challenges.
- Always tell the truth. Children who have been through a lot need to know without a doubt they can count on you. And trust you. And that may take months or even years. So always be honest in day-to-day matters as well as the big issues.
- Don’t make promises. This one might be surprising, but here’s Eric’s thinking: When we make promises to our children, it’s so easy for plans to change and we can’t follow through. And that can leave scars on fragile kids. It’s better to say “If we can” or “We’re hoping to” than to make a firm promise when we probably haven’t thought through the entire situation. As the proverb says, “It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.”
Dad, whatever your specific situation or challenges might be, I hope these ideas have been helpful to you.
What would you add to Eric’s ideas? How have you had a breakthrough with a stepchild or another child where you had a difficult relationship? Please join the discussion at our Facebook page.
Action Points for Dads on the Journey
- When a child is misbehaving, ask a lot of “why” questions—to the child and in your own mind. Too often, our assumptions or our first impressions of a situation can be wrong.
- Stepdads: patience is key with your children. Allow them time and space to define their own comfort zones as they relate to you.
- For all married dads: make it a high priority to love your wife and maintain a strong relationship. One big thing kids need—especially after a divorce—is family stability, and keeping your wedding vows is a big part of that.
- When your child comes forward with a confession of truth or shows some other form of courageous honesty, lavish him or her with praise. Make a convincing statement that telling the truth really is the best—and only—choice.
- Have you ever made a promise and then realized that it was misguided and not in the best interest of your child? That’s a great time to humble yourself, confess where you were wrong, and then commit to a better solution.
Carey Casey is the CEO of the National Center for Fathering, a nonprofit organization seeking to improve the lives of children and establish a positive fathering and family legacy that will impact future generations by inspiring and equipping fathers and father figures to be actively engaged in the life of every child. We encourage you to help us change the culture of fathering in America by joining the Championship Fathering Team. You can also sign up for Carey’s weekly email tips by clicking here: “Yes! I want tips on how to be a great dad who lives out loving, coaching and modeling for my children.