As a dad, I have this tendency to have a hard time letting my kids learn from their own experiences. I want to shelter them and protect them from all of the storms of life.
As my kids are getting older I am finding it to be a tougher battle inside of me to let them experience life and failures on their own. My son Zeke is now 5 and my daughter Ella is 4. I always knew the day would come where I would have to start letting go of the reigns a bit but never did I think the day would come this soon. My son is to the point that he can wake up, fix himself breakfast (consisting of burnt toast and a bowl full of his favorite fruit of the week- which currently means blackberries). He will then proceed down the second set of stairs in our townhome to let the dog outside to go to the bathroom. After Dakota goes out, he gets himself dressed, puts some water in his hair in his best attempt to comb it, sprays on a shot of cologne and grabs his back pack for school.
As I watch him jump out of the car, walk into school and start up conversations and laughter with his friends with such a calm and cool attitude, I am honestly in awe…for several reasons. The first is his innate willingness to love other people. Without abandon, he looks to serve others and love on them. How does this longing for a sense of community come so easily to such a young person?! I am thirty years old and still trying to navigate the intricacies of friendships and love. I think Jesus said it best when he said you need to humble yourself and become like a child. Children tend to not over think their situations, they are quick to forgive and live with reckless abandon. Somewhere along the way (more than likely it’s been multiple times) I felt hurt or rejected, and part of that childlike spirit within me was torn away and jaded.
A second thing I am in awe of is how easily my son (and daughter) can make friends. They do not meet a stranger. They’re determined to find a common interest with someone just so they have a reason to play together! That baffles me! Over the past thirty years, while I’ve been growing up on the outside, my ability to maintain and manage positive life giving relationships has stopped growing and even reversed in many areas. Throughout this past year I have sat and often wondered where along the way someone has stolen these pieces of child-like hope and energy for real community from inside of me?
This thought process has started to scare me as a dad. I wonder how I can protect my son’s and daughter’s hearts as they continue to grow and navigate friendships of their own. What can I do now, or how can I equip them now to handle it when that hurt or rejection comes? As an adult, I know that eventually it will come!
Here are a few thoughts of solace that have helped me navigate this new time as a parent:
1) Trust God
2) Trust your kids
3) Be vulnerable with your children: Have conversations with your kids about real issues. I have noticed that my kids want to hear about my experiences in life and want to know about my screw ups. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable with your children and share with them the ups and DOWNS you have experienced in your life.
4) Be willing to listen. A lot of times I honestly could care less about the stories about their friends from school! But you know what? Those friends from school mean everything to them and they want to tell me about their experiences with their friends and the memories they made with their friends.
5) Comfort them, but don’t fix them. While tips 1-4 are important, I think this one is probably the most important for me to practice because it is the one I suck at the most!! I am a fixer by nature and am constantly wanting to resolve and eliminate problems in their lives. There might be times where I do in fact need to step in and take care of a situation with a friend but about 90% of the time, my role as a dad is to listen to their problems and comfort them through their problems. I want to always be that sounding board for my kids. I want them to know that no matter what happens, they can bring their problem or achievement to me confident that I will ALWAYS be there to comfort or congratulate.
Its an interesting reality of parenthood that while we are teaching and training our kids in life, they are simultaneously teaching us what we’ve forgotten or failed to retain in life as well. All the years I lived before Zeke and Ella failed to teach me half the truths I’ve learned in the five years they’ve been with me. I hope we continue growing up together.