Andy Lax confesses that he is not perfect. He shares his five biggest mistakes as a dad. What are yours?
My sons and I have an ideal, unbreakable bond. There’s lots of laughter between us, demonstrative hugging, and ample quality time to just talk and play. We share unconditional love where we all feel blessed to be part of our family.
I continue to do my best to leave a favorable legacy, providing the guidance, direction, and inspiration that will help them to navigate life. While they will have to make their own decisions, I’m hoping that I’ve dispensed just enough wisdom and logic to support their decision-making process.
Moreover, of primary importance, I want them to love themselves and be enveloped with unshakable confidence. It’s my firm belief that by believing in themselves, they will be able to tackle challenges, overcome obstacles, and live fearlessly.
My parental goals are clearly delineated in my mind’s eye. But as I get older, I’m wondering about my execution in realizing these objectives.
So with the benefit of silence, free of any (kid) distraction, I’ve ruminated about best parenting practices and I must accept the fact that I’ve fallen short on some of them.
Here are my most egregious parenting flaws. Rather than serve as a confession, I’m hoping that by listing my mistakes, other dads can recognize similar weaknesses and eradicate them, if at all possible.
1) Extremely limited social circle (alright, non-existent one) – I moved to northwest New Jersey over 16 years ago, believing that I would find utopia in my new rustic setting. I envisioned making scores of friends and acquaintances, inviting new community members over to the house, and bonding with them as I cooked hamburgers and hotdogs on the barbecue.
Despite waving at cars as they passed by (does anyone still do this?), giving presents to my neighbors, and manifesting a friendly, courteous demeanor, I completely failed in all popularity polls.
After a couple of years, I just gave up, and remained as distant and aloof as my fellow residents. I have to take some responsibility for my inability to make friends because I was having just as much trouble connecting with people outside the community.
My lack of social circle did not do my children any favors. It would have been so worthwhile for me to model what healthy, friendly relationships look like. They would have seen the important give and take dynamics in play, the joys in connecting with others, and the art of communication in practice.
Instead, opting to be a loner, I have demonstrated that people can be difficult to connect to. I’ve made unflattering references about people in front of the kids. It’s easy to see how I may have molded their less than favorable views on people in general, perhaps pushing them to become introverts as well.
This is not to place a negative label on introversion. In fact, the folks that I’m inclined to get along with are introverts. But In this world where advanced social skills are crucial, I’ve fallen short on honing them in my kids.
Moreover, they’re on their own when it comes to expanding their social circle. While parents can find friends through their kids’ relationships, the converse is true … but just not in my case.
Also, while I’ve mentioned to my children that they can invite anyone they wish over the house, I’ve not really encouraged it. More play dates would have been more helpful in developing communication and social skills than X-box.
2)Other people are off – This is an extension of my first point and one of the primary reasons that I basically walk alone in life. I have to sheepishly admit that my attitude towards people is one of disappointment, distrust, if not aversion, at times.
I rigidly hold onto the concept of what people should do, and when they fall short, my judgment rears its head, and stays indefinitely in a position of disbelief.
Case in point: A woman once said to me, ‘Aren’t you the dad of the retarded boy?’ (For the record, my youngest son is on the autism spectrum.) I immediately recoiled like a snake, and promptly left after we exchanged some angry words. Instead of using her remark as a teachable moment, I rejected her instantly and did not handle the situation properly.
Worse, I’ve made too many ‘anti-people’ comments at home, and this can only adversely affect the kids. How can they establish healthy relationships if they feel people are unpredictable, callous, and self-centered? (I should be asking myself the same question.)
My older son made a joke last week that I had a lot of friends – Lassie, Rover, Benji, and all my other canine pals. My retort that I excel with the dog demographic was again underscoring the point that I’ve removed myself from others.
As my children get older, it’s so important that they form ties with people … not just with dogs, like their dad.
3) I’ve modeled depression and anxiety – I recently said to my older son that “I thrive under pressure.” We both laughed as we knew this could not be further from the truth.Now there’s nothing wrong with a parent who reveals sadness, fear, or any so-called negative emotion. After all, we’re only human and by wearing my emotions on my sleeve, the children may more readily feel that it’s perfectly fine for them to express feelings as well.
Ah, but it’s the frequency of negativity that thwarts effective parenting. Now I’m not quivering under the covers, or walking around the house in a state of gloom and doom. In fact, I’m often quite happy as I interact with the kids.
But when I’m not directly interacting with them, they may overhear my distress and unhappiness about a variety of issues. It’s hard for me to consistently approach life with positive expectation, but that should not be my children’s burden.
Yes, I’ve told them countless times about limitless possibilities, but they see the incongruence of that declaration in how I live my own life.
Children should have an optimistic, can-do attitude in life, and I’ve inadvertently undermined that by not modeling this principle.
4)I’m doing way too much – In my quest to be ‘Super Dad,’ I’ve done too many tasks on my children’s behalf. This is particularly evident when it comes to household chores. I’ve assumed 99% of the responsibilities, and while I’ve requested their help, on occasion, I have not demanded it.
My youngest son who is on that autism spectrum, told me the other day that he “wants to be dependent.’ I’ve set a very nice precedent for this to happen. I’m still helping him wash his hair, brush his teeth, and cut up his food. While he can perform such tasks independently, I also rationalize that he can’t do it nearly as well without my help.
But how can he get better if I don’t allow him to assume full responsibility of these tasks? Now, we’re taking turns but I’m ready to completely hand over the reins to him … for his sake.
I also get way too involved with homework assignments and projects. There is a fine line between availing support and dependency, and the kids and I need to make this distinction.
Sometimes, a hands-off approach is the real teachable moment.
5)I’ve not been consistent with discipline – By and large, I’m very fortunate because my children are rather well-behaved and exhibit good behavior. They’re model citizens – respectful, courteous, and thoughtful.
But there are times when positive reinforcement fails, and poor conduct surfaces. Using my ‘Father knows best’ coaching may not lead to any ‘Aha moments’ among the kids. Similarly, a rant may fall on deaf ears.
And it’s then when I resort to applying the most popular parenting negative consequence, punishment. “You’ve just lost your video games for the rest of the day,” I’ll firmly tell my youngest. However, don’t be surprised if you see him later in the day, enjoying Wii Sports.
Yes, my children are quite adept at manipulating Dear Old Dad. My youngest is particularly skilled at the craft, and has perfected the tears in the eyes, lost puppy dog look, that melts my heart, and has a high success rate of waiving any punishment away.
I explain to him that he ‘earned back’ his privileges but that sounds better than “Dad’s backbone is getting weaker.” My inability to deal with my children’s sadness and disappointment, and my own feelings of guilt, has prompted me to back down too many times.
I have to remind myself that instituting punishment does not make me the “Bad guy.” Moreover, how can I set up an effective deterrent against future maladaptive behavior if any negative consequence is summarily lifted?
Now I’m proud to declare that I don’t manifest a variety of other parenting taboos. I don’t overly pressure the kids, lecture to them ad nauseum, quickly lose my temper, or ignore them. I also don’t bribe them continuously, browbeat them, or physically hit them.
However, admittedly, I have committed some blunders that I’m trying to rectify now. While there is no such thing as a “perfect parent,” a necessary step in serving as a great parent is to become more introspective and see how your actions and interactions with your kids affect them.
Come to terms with your own parenting weaknesses and see if you can eradicate them for everyone’s best interests.
And realize that despite any parenting errors you commit, your children will love you anyway and may even think you’re perfect just the way you are.
Photo: Flickr/Lachian Hardy