Are you a seat-of-the-pants dad? For the most part, I was. No planning, no philosophy, no hard and fast rules. Thankfully, my wife was much better at that! I think moms usually are. I got by as an okay parent because of the most important aspect of parenting, I loved my children mightily, and I was there for them when they really needed me. It's the same today, even though they are all grown. Fortunately, they don’t need very much from me, unless it’s to borrow my truck or watch a grandchild. That’s what my wife, Kathy, and I always strived for—self-supportive and independent adult children.
I’ve learned a few things since my early days of being a dad, having been an active parent of three, and now a proud grandparent of three, almost four! Also, as a reader and a writer on the subject of Dadhood, I have learned so much from others. One of the more important lessons I’ve learned, and like to emphasize, is to have a flexible plan, or a philosophy to be a proactive parent. By flexible, I mean you must being willing to change your philosophy when it's not working, or when a better one comes along. Then be as consistent as possible with the new plan.
We know parenting is important, but we don’t usually have a plan. We plan weddings, parties, vacations and funerals much better than we plan parenting. Too often, there are those that don’t even plan to have a child then--VOILA! They’re a parent! What now?
Obviously there is nothing, not one plan, that will keep you from parenting on the fly. You will make stuff up as you go. Having a plan in parenting is more like having goals for your kids. Goals like having educated, independent, and kind children. Success in these areas is much more likely for those children that have been energized, supported, given dreams, and are exposed to living a full life.
What our children start with--is given to them. What our children end up with--is their responsibility, but impacted heavily by us, their dads. Let’s give our kids a great start by being responsible parents (with their mothers) and see how well they do!
Here’s the advice I would give new parents.
- Learn about being a parent. There are lots of books on parenting. I’ll be adding to that list this April. Not one of these books, nor anyone you may ask, will be the end-all-know-it-all of parental advice. Take in all advice and use what feels comfortable to you and your spouse.
- Decide on a parenting philosophy. What have you learned? Will you be strict and consistent? Will there be standards to enforce? Will you be easy-going with few rules so they find their personality? Will you be directing activities or observing their interests. Will you keep them busy or allow time for imagination. Will one of you stay home or will work be a priority for both? There are a lot more questions and choices to consider.
- Observe how your parenting philosophy is working. It may work for one child but not another. How do you handle that? If it’s not working at all, what next? If it seems to be working, great! But could it be better?
- Adjust your parenting philosophy if necessary. Your observations may point out weak areas in your parenting skills (see “Preparing Your Children”). Be flexible!
- Repeat! This means continued learning, continuing what works and deciding to change what doesn’t. Incorporating the changes then more observation on all.
What is a philosophy? It's a set of values. It is a way of life. Maybe your philosophy is exposure to as many places and things as possible! If you plant a seed of curiosity in the minds of your children and it takes hold, it will give them a yearning that will pull them forward. You plant this seed by stimulating their imagination and providing experiences to broaden their horizons.
We are born without fault or accomplishments, but we die with both. Nowhere is the opportunity for fault or accomplishment more apparent, and the results more influential, than parenting. Why not take the opportunity of being a father to do your greatest good? Make your number one accomplishment the independence, happiness, and personal success of your children. Be an example of enchantment, vision, and inspiration! Give them encouragement to move forward, compassion when needed, and celebration for their successes. Now that's a plan! It's not easy, and it may not even be in our wheelhouse, but it's a plan. What's your philosophy? What's your plan?
“A man is no better than what he leaves behind.”
Cecil B. DeMille-movie producer