Mike Berry reminds us that being present, not providing, is the key to being a great parent.
Joe was the cool dad.
Everyone in our neighborhood knew it too. Our kids always wanted to play with his kids, at his house, with his stuff, because he gave his kids the latest and greatest toy, gadget, electronic, stuffed animal, and gaming system.
All of us normal parents just couldn’t keep up!
Want a new bounce house with slide? Sure!
How about a new iPad and iPhone? Why not!
And a 60-inch flatscreen TV with every Blu-Ray DVD you can imagine? Done!
Let’s not forget a new PlayStation. You need that. It’s yours!
No wonder why my kids wanted to hang out with Joe’s kids at Joe’s house, and play with the stuff Joe bought. His kids had everything, brand new, when they wanted it, on demand!
And my kids? Well, my kids were “forced” to play with toys from last Christmas. They didn’t have iPads or iPhones. And our sled was the vintage 70’s sled, from my childhood, that my parent’s brought to me after cleaning out their garage that summer.
It wasn’t that my kids complained. They didn’t. But personally, I started to look at Joe’s stuff, Joe’s house, Joe’s seemingly happy kids with their always new clothes, and WiFi capable backpacks, and feel….bad. I felt like I was failing as a parent. I started to believe that my kids would rather have Joe for a dad.
Until Christmas break that year.
My oldest son, only 7 at the time, came trotting in on the last day of break and plopped down on our sofa. He had been down the street all morning playing with Joe’s son, Benjamin. “What are you doing home so soon buddy?” I asked. “I can’t play with Benjamin anymore,” he replied. “Mr. Joe has to work and no one can be at their house when he does that. He’s been doing that all week long.”
I started to think about what he said, as I put a few dishes away in the kitchen. Then I asked, “Has Mr. Joe been working all week long, even during Christmas?” “Yeah, and Benjamin doesn’t like it,” he replied. “Why not?” I asked. “Well … he’s actually kind of sad. He’s sad because Mr. Joe can never play with him. He always has to work.”
There was a pause, and then he said something I’ll never forget to this day …..
“I’m glad you don’t work all the time like that dad. I’m glad you’ve been here for Christmas.” Then, he jumped up and darted out our back door to the yard.
His words hit me like a rock. As I spun them in my mind I suddenly realized something: My kids don’t need me to be awesome ….. they needed me to be present.
They don’t need the latest, greatest everything!
You see, what I learned that day is that deep inside of my children’s hearts, they craved something deeper than anything money could buy. They craved me…my attention…my time…my focus. It’s true for me, and I can guarantee you, it’s true for you.
Here’s what they need more than anything:
- They need an example. In their young lives, they are studying you, trying to figure out this great big world around them, and what exactly their place is in it. That’s where you and I come in. We are called to be the example of how to move through this world and this life.
- They need someone to tell them no. As much as they hate it, resist it, and argue it, deep inside of your child, they crave boundaries. Within the fibers of their soul they know that “no” means “I love you.” If you asked them, they’d certainly deny this. Because, heck … they’re kids. What kid on this earth is going to rise up and express a heart of gratitude when told “No” to something they really want, or think they need?
- They need an investor. The future depends on your influence in your child’s life. Did you know that? Deep inside, your kids and mine know this, even if they can’t articulate it. Our investment in our kids lives now, will change the world tomorrow.
- They need a lighthouse. They world they are growing up in can be cold and dark. They won’t be exempt from the storms of life. As much as I hate to say it, they’ll be battered and beaten down by them at times. On these high seas our children need a light in the storm. They need someone who is there in the storm, leading them and warning of potential danger.
- They need consistency. They need a steady-as-she-goes, consistent, day in and day out, parent who loves them unconditionally, tells them no when they need to, and walks with them through the ups and downs of this life.
They need all of this more than they need the awesome stuff. Sure, the awesome stuff gives them a jolt and it can be a reflection of the love you have for them. But it should never be a replacement of your love. Nor should the cool stuff be a replacement of the most important thing … you!
Parents, our kids don’t need us to be awesome. They don’t need us to give them all of the awesome stuff, whenever they ask for it. They need us to be present, with them, guiding them, disciplining them, and loving them!
A version of this article was originally published on Babble.com.