Burning at the core of every child’s heart are some questions that beg to be answered. And the man who needs to answer is their father.
Who am I dad? What am I made of? Am I enough dad? Am I strong enough, smart enough, attractive enough? These questions are asked of every dad a thousand times in a thousand different ways. The boy who runs out to greet his dad with a boisterous tackle when he comes home from work is crying out, “look how strong I am dad! Am I strong enough?” The girl who dresses up in mom’s oversize dress and parades in front of dad is crying out, “look how beautiful I am dad! Am I beautiful enough?” Miss enough of these moments and you miss your child’s heart forever. Catch these moments and answer the question well and you will gift your child with an unshakeable emotional foundation.
Every girl longs to know that she’s lovely, that she’s worth fighting for. Every boy longs to know that he is powerful, that he has what it takes to be a man. And every father needs to answer these heart cries emphatically. He needs to leave his children in no doubt that who they are is good and what they are is enough. A strong, healthy sense of self is the greatest gift a father can give his child. Healthy self esteem is about identity and worth. It is about knowing who you are and that who you are is both valid and valuable. It means believing that you and your life count for something and that the world is a better place because of you.
Sadly very few people arrive at adulthood with a healthy sense of self and as a result spend much of their lives either trying to prove that they are enough or resigned to the fact that they aren’t. The beauty industry is fueled by women desperately trying to be beautiful enough. The world is full of men trying desperately to prove they have what it takes. Bars and boardrooms are overflowing with men posturing and posing trying to show that they are big enough, strong enough, rich enough, smart enough.
I’m convinced that the epidemic of poor self esteem contributes to more bad choices, destructive behaviour and broken relationships than any other single factor in the world. Almost every bad relationship decision is rooted in a poor sense of self, almost every decision to abuse or dominate or go to war is based on an impoverished or over inflated sense of worth. The most destructive epidemic in this world is the epidemic of damaged self esteem. And the primary cure is good fathering!
No-one has the power to build or destroy like a father. No one has the ability to build or tear down a child’s sense of self like his or her father. It’s something every father needs to understand and take very seriously because it is a major determinant of the quality of his children’s future and ultimately the state of the world!
Here are five key principles that every father can apply to raise his children to have a healthy sense of identity and worth.
Presence. The two most important words in a fathers lexicon are “Be there”. Being present, not just in body, but engaged in heart and mind gives the message to your child that he or she matters. Being absent, unavailable or disengaged gives the message that there are more important things in my life than you, you don’t really matter.
Words of affirmation. The words you speak to your child become the words of their inner voice as adults. Words have the power to build or destroy and a good father knows this and uses his words to build his child’s self knowledge and self love.
Acts of love. Love is an action not a feeling and good fathers show their children how much they love them by countless acts of love throughout their childhood. Everyone has a unique way in which they need to be loved, their own personal “love language”. Good fathers become fluent in each if their children’s love language and speak it fluently and often.
Discipline. Setting and maintaining fair, clear and consistent boundaries is crucial to developing a healthy sense of self. A father who never disciplines, or is inconsistent, unfair or unreasonable in his discipline will damage his child’s sense of self. Too much discipline crushes, too little discipline spoils. Affirmation without discipline is the beginning of delusion.
Acceptance and validation. Good fathers never try and write the script for who their children should be. They help their children read the script that is already written in their souls. They make a point of knowing their child, accepting their child and validating who they are.
As fathers we are the most important men in our children’s lives. How we live our lives and father our children will set them up for either success or failure. Be the kind of father that will leave your child with a deep and enduring sense of their own value and identity. It’s an invaluable gift to them and to the world.