If you have heard it once, you have heard it a million times–it’s the phrase that every kid has heard–so much so that it eventually reverberates in their ears like that of noisy cymbals or a loud gong…if they even hear it at all.
It goes something like this:
“I’m your father…that’s why!”
“I’m the boss of this household and you must do what I say!”
Pick any variation of it cause I know you have either heard it before, or have said it yourself (and when you find yourself uttering the phrase yourself, it’s then that you know you have jumped the shark in your parenting style).
Why Point Out Fathers
This is a statement that all parents will eventually utter at some point in parenting, usually coming at the point of exhaustion, and with the helpless feeling that there are no other choices. Hence I like to call it the nuclear option of parenting. It’s the proverbial line drawn in the sand…and, if this doesn’t work, well then we are left there shaking our heads, or waiting for things to escalate.
Moms and dads both say such phrases, but I find that father’s most often resort to this methodology of parenting. I have noticed in my 15 years in youth ministry and in my recent years as a therapist that fathers tend to stick to this one way of parenting more than moms, while mothers tend to be more resourceful, often reading books on parenting, attending conferences and getting support in parenting groups. With these resources, moms find less of a need to resort to the “I’m your parent, that’s why” card, but instead have a plethora of creative parenting options at hand that dads often tend to lack.
Now, I know I’m stereotyping here, and I know plenty of dads who don’t only resort to this, but in my experience it is definitely more common. When your child was in the womb it was more than likely that it was your wife who was reading all the books and researching things on food, immunizations, toys and cribs, while you thought she was lucky to have you attend a birthing class or two. If it wasn’t for mothers, our babies would be born into this world and fathers would drag the babies back to a cave to eat the leftover meat of the mastadon that they clubbed the night before. And this doesn’t end there at womb and birth, but tends to be a habit dads carry on into their kids later years.
More moms come into my office with books in hands, having tried all kinds of things to reach their kids. Where dads often give me the look, “Your lucky I was even willing to come into your office.” Not all dads. Some dads though for sure. And nothing creates more marital strain than when father’s are unwilling to think more creatively about parenting. What often begins as kids coming to see me in therapy ends with couple’s counseling because wives have felt like their husbands were not as engaged in the rearing of the children or only exasperated the kids with the “I’m your father…that’s why!”
Why It Isn’t Enough
Dads…hear me out. I’m not saying that kids should not listen to you because you are their father. But we have to evolve and grow in our parenting style, otherwise, that same methodology of, “I’m your dad, so do what I say”, doesn’t translate too well to the college freshmen who is having to decide if she should get wasted at the party tonight. Why? Cause you aren’t there at the party to tell her what to do anymore, and she needs more than “I’m your dad, so do what I say.”
That kid needs to know that you have been listening to them over the years (and nothing shuts a kid down faster, and tells them you aren’t listening than that phrase). You need to have had instilled in them reasons for why they should or shouldn’t do certain things. Dad, you need to have reached deeper into your creative parenting bag so that when your kids are out on their own you have instilled in them a sense of interior wisdom that comes from more than your authoritarian leadership.
It’s interesting that in the Bible there are really few instructions to a father on how to parent, and well the two that are given–well, let’s just say that they aren’t that flattering. Interesting how father’s are instructed in this manner and not mothers.
The Apostle Paul says twice, in Ephesians and Colossians, the following:
Fathers, if we aren’t careful, we possess the ability to embitter and discourage our kids like no one else–and nothing does this quicker in my opinion than the nuclear option we talked about above. I’m not surprised that as fathers we are warned about this twice by Paul in the New Testament.
And if you don’t believe me, I wish you could sit down with the hundreds and hundreds of college kids that I have pastored over the last 10 years who quickly rebelled when out of the home for the first time since they no longer had to do what dad said just because he was dad.
So if you are a dad and you are reading this, what can you do? Let me just offer some suggestions:
- How about reading some books on parenting. Seems simple enough, yet dads rarely do, often leaving it to the mom or thinking they already know all they need to know.
- How about attending a parenting seminar or conference with your wife, or just on your own. Perhaps one geared towards fathers.
- How about joining a support group of dads who are struggling with the same things. They are out there, but just harder to find than mom’s groups.
- How about working hard to catch yourself the next time you want to utter the phrase, “You must do what I say cause I’m your father.” And instead, pause, really listen, and ask yourself, “What is behind my kids behavior?” Or “What can I say here that would really reach my kid?”
- How about going to your kid if you have been a dad who has embittered or discouraged them like the Apostle Paul talks about and ask for forgiveness.
- How about going to your wife and thanking her for all her hard work as a mother and for doing all the things that often go overlooked (reading the books, taking care of the little basic needs dads don’t often think about).
- How about thinking back on your own childhood and how you felt when your dad said the same thing? And if he didn’t, or when he didn’t–what did he say that really spoke to you–caused you to listen and obey?
- How about going to a father you really respect and seems to do it right, and ask for some advice.
- How about going to your kids (especially if they are older, i.e. adolescents) and get their input on how they might receive what you have to say better. Trust me, kids can come up with some great ideas here that are win-win for them and dads.
- How about retiring the phrase, or anything like it, “I’m your dad, so do what I say” and see what else you can come up with that doesn’t discourage, embitter, or close off listening.
If you are a father, do you have any examples of how using the “nuclear option” hasn’t gone well, and what you started doing instead?
Do you have any suggestions you would add to the list?
Moms, have there been any ways that you have encouraged your husbands as they work on becoming better at communicating with the kids?