Among the many ministries God has used in my life, Focus on the Family ranks right at the top. Back in 2003, I had the great pleasure of participating in two of their 225-mile fundraiser bike rides. And Focus publications are top-notch. But probably their most significant impact on me has been the daily radio broadcasts.
One program that particularly stands out addressed what children need emotionally. Although this particular broadcast targeted dads and their sons, the principles apply to both parents and all kids. But since this interview’s focus was on dads and sons, I will relay the lessons in those terms.
According to the psychiatrist being interviewed, sons need three things from their dads:
1. Attention – They need to feel noticed and important. This is communicated in many ways: spending time together, entering the boy’s world, and being present for the important moments and events in his life. Of course, these days, everyone is hyper-busy, and there are sometimes unavoidable schedule conflicts. Nevertheless, when your son stands back from his day-to-day activities, does he know that you are there for him no matter what, and that if there is a genuine need, he won’t be left dangling to figure life out by himself?
2. Acceptance (or Affirmation) – It’s one thing to be present in your son’s life, but another for him to feel you accept him. One obvious example of giving attention but not acceptance is the ultra-competitive dad who never misses a basketball game but berates the kid for every little mistake on the court. Yes, dad is giving him plenty of attention, but does the young man come away feeling affirmed or rejected? And what about the All-American quarterback dad whose son shows more interest in drama and the arts than in chucking a football with dad in the back yard? Does the son know that his dad loves him completely and is proud of his abilities and interests?
3. Affection – It’s so cool to see parent-child interactions where they can playfully joke with each other and just enjoy being together. Of course, it must be mutually respectful, and the objective is not for you to become your son’s “buddy.” He probably has several of those, but he only has one dad. Every boy should know that his dad both loves and likes him.
So there you have it: the three things boys (and girls) needs from their dads (and moms).
As someone who got none of these from my own dad, I can tell you how crippling these deficits can be. But don’t beat yourself up too badly. None of us is the perfect parent. With the hindsight only experience can bring, I realize that, given a do-over, I would do some things better with my own kids.
But at the same time, we must remember that God can make up for our parenting shortcomings. He has done this in nearly miraculous ways for me. However, rather than depending on God as our “backstop,” let’s do our best today to give our kids what they truly need.