Today I sadly attended the funeral of my best mate’s mum whom I had known since primary school. I witnessed the impact that the loss of a loved one has on friends, family and most importantly children. Strong men shed tears and grown women were unable to contain their grief at the loss of such a wonderful woman.
Today I took on a deeper more reflective revelation of what it means to be a parent.
It was a sobering reminder to live my life in a way that I want to be remembered and to leave a legacy of care and support for my children, an inheritance of wisdom and guidance, a lifetime of joyous memories and above all an undeniable and unshakable knowledge that they are loved unconditionally.
I am a dad to three wonderful children. I have the responsibility (shared with my wife) of doing my best to provide an upbringing that will become a foundation for the way they approach and experience life in their adult years. I aim to help them find their uniqueness, to build their confidence, to develop their strengths and talents, to identify and overcome their weaknesses, to break through limitations and to empower them to be all that they can be. However, to be a dad that can provide all this for my children, I must first embrace these goals for myself. Being a parent is about recognising that to provide the best for my children I must first be my best in every whole, pure and good sense of the word ‘best’.
As parents, I don’t believe that we just teach our children, I believe that we reproduce ourselves. I am clearly talking about more than biology and genetics. I am talking about reproducing who I am; my spirit, my essence, my character, my ambitions, my values and also my fears and insecurities. Sure, each of my children will develop in their own individual way but by shear nature of association and influence, almost by osmosis; my traits will be infused into every one of them.
This is a joyous and exhilarating motivation to guide my life in the areas of strengths that I am confident in but it also means confronting weaknesses and characteristics in me that I don’t wish to pass on to my children; intolerance, criticism, self-righteousness, pride, anger, discouragement, dissatisfaction, inadequacy (you get the picture). Being a dad is about resolving the strong desire to be so much more for my children yet not having all the answers, not being perfect and not having everything ‘together’. This is certainly a challenging realisation but it is one that I feel at peace with because I believe that I have been given all that is required to get me through today. I don’t need to fear tomorrow if I can do my best today. And on days that I don’t have it all together I pick myself up, dust myself off and show my kids how to get back on track. If my children see that I am a work in progress then I believe that they will have a more realistic perspective of how they approach their own journey of growth and development and see that true strength is the ability to persist despite weakness, and resilience is the relentless pursuit of all things ‘good’ despite making mistakes along the way.
For me, being a dad ultimately means living my life as best as I can for the benefit of my children and others around me, and in doing so I am blessed.
What advice would you give other parents?
The principles that guide my role as a dad are quite basic but profound when put into action. I share some of these with you in the hope that they will not be just words but they will become building blocks that strengthen the foundations of your family.
1. Be in the moment
Turn off mobiles, TVs and other distractions. Put your daily check lists, works tasks and even your worries to one side and be present in order to enjoy the presence of your children. A ‘moment’ can be the tiniest thing but no matter how seemingly small they appear, never underestimate their importance because it is these accumulated acts of love throughout a life time that leave lasting memories.
2. Be someone who your children can aspire to
Be one of their greatest role models. Be their hero. Don’t forget to feed your own personal growth and continue with hobbies and interests then share these with your children. They ultimately may decide to do something different but they will learn the patterns of discipline, ambition and enjoyment from you. Even though it means a slight shift in your priorities, having children doesn’t mean giving up on being yourself. As they aspire to be like you, they will hopefully go beyond your achievements and discover their full potential.
3. Do not raise your children with a parenting style where they ‘have to’ listen to you
This will eventually lead to them rebelling and doing their own thing when they no longer need to listen to you. Raise them to ‘want to’ listen to you. This requires you to raise the bar on how you communicate and how you discipline but the benefit will be a long lasting rewarding relationship where your children will seek your input throughout their lives even as adults.
4. Remember rules have an expiry date
Our kids are continually growing. This means we should constantly re-evaluate the relevance and effectiveness of rules, incentives and consequences that we put in place to make sure that they are still age and developmentally appropriate for them.
5. Have rules that express and reinforce values
My children are brought up to know that when I am ‘going on and on’ about some life lesson or being strict with enforcing a rule, it is because I love them and I aim to keep them safe, help them to be the best they can be and develop strong and healthy relationships around them. Although rules can change, the underlying values are still being upheld and reinforced.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope that you are reminded of the joy, privilege and responsibility of being a parent.
Today, I hope that you will be the best that you can be and do what you can to leave a lasting legacy of love on your children’s life.