People often seek my services for parenting issues and, in turn, I have learned an awful lot about family dynamics and what sorts of parenting choices tend to lead to which outcomes later in life for the children.
Here are some important things I’ve learned, in no particular order or number:
Fathers and Sons:
Fathers, be soft with your sons, not hard. The world and their own budding testosterone will eventually harden them up and the extremely difficult challenge for them later on, as husbands and fathers themselves, will be to soften up. So don’t make it harder on them than nature already does. It’s your softness that will build up their real self-confidence, not your hardness and unapproachability, which only breed fear and anger in boys masquerading as ‘respect’.
Fathers, do things with your sons. Teach them something, anything. It doesn’t have to be rocket science (though it can be if that’s your thing!), but share your interests and passions with them. They need to emulate you and be close to you that way.
Fathers, let your sons outdo you. Do not take offense to your son’s growing need to test his mettle against you. And don’t be defensive or punishing about it or try to snuff him out. He needs to try to beat you at something, even just play wrestling or swimming. And he needs you to allow him to occupy what you consider your domain, whether that is your sport or your office.
Fathers, do not hit or humiliate your sons. Your relationship with them is about leadership, which I take to mean guiding and teaching them as well as loving them. It is not about overpowering them or humiliating them. Nothing creates an angrier or more destructive man than repeated boyhood humiliation.
Fathers, teach your sons conflict resolution. Show them how to make a situation right as best they can. Teach them about personal responsibility and how to conduct themselves with respect. Again, assertiveness (or at least aggression) will come with testosterone as they grow up into men, so help to balance that by giving them the foundation of accountability to themselves and of how to master the much more difficult art of resolving things with words rather than with behaviors.
Fathers, do not disrespect the mothers of your sons, even if your relationships with them are not good. If you do so, it will do two things: 1) it will undermine your sons’ self-esteem because that’s their mother, and 2) it will force them to choose their loyalty (which is unfair to expect of them), and to either disrespect her or you directly or indirectly.
Fathers and Daughters (pretty much the same as with Sons, with a few additional notes):
Fathers, know absolutely that the way you treat your daughters will affect their self-esteem as well as how they will allow themselves to be treated later in life.
Fathers, LISTEN and pay attention when your daughters speak to you. It’s a gift and they won’t do it forever if you don’t listen now. Don’t ignore them or listen only half-heartedly. First, get to know your daughters by listening to them, then love them unconditionally for who they are and convince them that they are perfect that way.
Fathers, much like with your sons, let your daughters outdo you. It’s the same principle.
Fathers, let your daughters see you expend energy on them. Get excited around them and about what you’re talking about together or what you’re doing together. Don’t be tired or grumpy around them all the time or even most of the time.
Fathers, be men that your daughters can respect and admire. Be honorable both in general and to their mothers. Be consistently present in some way or another in their lives. Never cheat, lie, or otherwise be dishonorable or immoral in your behaviors for they WILL find out about it. Don’t abuse substances or constantly display addictive or overly-childish behaviors.
For Fathers of either Sons or Daughters:
Have patience. Then have more patience. Don’t act out your anger if you’re trying to teach them not to act out theirs.
You are not their friend. You are their Father, which entails both teaching and guiding them, as well as loving them unconditionally.
Last, but not least, having either Sons or Daughters is the ultimate opportunity and reason to really grow into the man that you’re supposed to be, regardless of your own life’s story and beginnings. React less and listen more. Train yourself to be patient and to wait a bit longer than you think you can and to choose your words wisely and with your leadership role in mind.
Remember, you are their Father: teach them, guide them, and love them unconditionally until the day you die, for they will absolutely need you at least until then.
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.
Author, Don’t Get Married! (Unless You Understand a Few Things First)