Be The Parent Your Kids Need You To Be

Over the years I’ve changed my attitudes as to what it means to be a successful parent.

As a young father, I was pretty much the living, breathing version of the dad I imagined I should be — influenced by an assortment of things including my own father, life experiences, stereotypes in the world and even some of the popular dads portrayed on television. I wanted to be the cool-but-wise dad. The dad with the answers. The unflappable dad.

And that’s the dad I started out to be.

In truth, however, I was really just a caricature of a dad. Don’t get me wrong. I was a good father. But I was a product of an era. Mine was the generation of young dads who were told that earning a living and providing for a family was job number one. Everything else — including family and fathering — came second.

So guys like me learned how to improvise. And for me, I learned how to play the role I thought I had been cast to play.

But it’s not a role.

Fathering is not a role.

It’s a relationship.

And for the longest time I didn’t understand that. What that meant for my children was that I tried to fit them into the vision I had for how this whole parent-child-family thing should work.

But then life happened. People I cared for died. I was diagnosed with cancer. My marriage ended and I found myself raising three kids alone. I realized life was slipping by. And I also realized that the one thing I really wanted to get right was being a father.

So I tried something different.

I focused on being the parent my kids needed me to be. Each one of them. Individually. I also decided to shed the baggage of my stereotypes and pay attention to on the signals my kids were giving me. I also committed myself to going outside of my own comfort zones.

And you know what I learned?

Kids are smart! Even at a young age. They are quite skilled at letting their parents know what it is they need at any given time.

Personally, I learned that my own children needed different aspects of my parenting at different times in their life. My oldest son loved the more visible dad and he relished spending time with me. And parenting that kind of kid felt natural. But that’s not the father my daughter needed from me. She enjoys her privacy. She needs a little more space. And I needed to learn to respect that aspect of her — and discover other ways to connect. Simple things — like baking or running together — became our way to connect. They were activity-centric which felt more comfortable to her. But I also had to learn that there were times when she did need my emotional support in ways that were comfortable to her. So if that meant camping out on her bedroom floor in a sleeping bag when she was having friend problems as a 13-year-old, that’s what it took.

What does that mean for us parents?

It means we have to be nimble! Because kids’ needs shift like the winds. And no two children are the same (how many times have we heard that?)

We’re called to be the nurturer. The protector. The clown. The therapist. The teacher. The shoulder. The safety zone. The listener. The drill sergeant. The encourager and the beacon of light – to name just of few of our roles. And we may be all of them in the span of a few short hours!

Be the parent your kids need you to be.

When we do that, we send a message to our child that they are valuable to us. And that our relationship with them is valuable.

Be the parent your kids need you to be.

A simple concept that requires awareness on our part 24/7.

But from my experience, it’s worth it. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

featured image – Definitely, Maybe

Jim is the Bobblehead Dad — author, speaker, radio show host, spokesperson, and cancer warrior.

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