I remember when my daughter couldn’t speak.
When she was tiny, and independent only at breathing and bowel movements, Livi mesmerized us. We used to stand over her crib and watch her little chest rise and fall. Being a dad for the first time was electric, and totally mind-blowing, but even then, standing over her crib, I was torn. I couldn’t wait for her to grow up a bit so we could talk and get to know one another, but 4 years of marriage had revealed hidden character flaws like so many coins and pens under the couch cushions, and as I grew to know myself more, I liked myself less. I wanted to talk with my daughter, but I wanted to fix myself first.
At first, it seems like you’ve got some time. Years! What can’t you do in 5 years? Surely I could become the perfect father by then… or at least better at hiding the flaws.
Fast-forward 9 years, and of course I’m still the same schlub. I take too long to explain things, I make promises I can’t keep, I lose my temper, I forget stuff, I’m controlling, I’m scruffy, and I still don’t like going camping (unless there’s an RV in the pitcure!).
But I’m also her dad, and thankfully that seems to go a long way.
One of the things you don’t think about as a parent until too late is this… your kids know you. They know you like the back of their hand, and very little you do surprises them. That’s why my number one rule of parenting is that ancient Greek axiom, “know thyself.”
Whether or not you know your big flaws, by the time your kids are 10, they are going to know most of them. If you know thyself you can watch out for yourself and stop in your tracks from time to time. You can also ask for forgiveness quicker because you’ll realize your mistakes sooner, and that kind of exchange leaves a powerful mark on our kids. It prepares them for healthy intimate relationships in their future.
And, if you know your strengths, you can look for opportunities to shepherd them through those parts of life that you’ve got a good handle on. Maybe its dribbling a soccer ball or maybe it is designing your living room. I’ve got a knack for music and relational skills, but I’m terrible with money and even worse with organization. We carve out 20 minutes for each kid every morning before school for music lessons because that’s something I can give. And a couple times a week I try and ask open ended questions about the kids relationships at school, usually right before bed when all my daughter wants to do is stay up and talk.
These days, I know I’ll never be the perfect parent or person, but knowing that about myself lets me relax and enjoy my kids more. And if I don’t have to be the perfect parent, then my kids won’t have to think they are supposed to be perfect either. Talk about leaving a mark on your kids… how bout not leaving the mark that they should be ashamed of themselves for their mistakes.