To summarize the ongoing lessons learned about fatherhood is in some ways unfair to your child (or children) and to you as a parent, because there are always challenges and unexpected joys that cannot be anticipated. That said, there are several observations and responsibilities I have reflected upon and in turn am presenting here that are based on the collective experience of raising our wonderful daughters with my amazing wife, Michelle, who are soon to turn 15 and 13.
These five principles are what I try to follow as a parent to ensure that my children are raised in a healthy, nurturing, and where it matters most a loving environment.
1. Love. No matter the age of your child, consistently express a positive message of kindness so that your son or daughter knows they are loved. This instills and reinforces positive self-worth, confidence and compassion for the people they interact with.
2. Listen. Always be a good listener whenever your child is explaining an incident or set of circumstances whether it is happy, sad, or anything in between, which for him/her, has given your child an opportunity in time to evaluate what are sometimes referred to as “teachable moments.” By being a good listener it provides your son or daughter with the assurance that you are there for them and that the incident they have shared with you is helping to shape your child’s ability to both comprehend its impact and problem-solve with confidence.
3. Confidence and uncertainty. Maintain the balance between communicating with confidence to your son or daughter, while at the same time recognizing that there will always be moments of uncertainty when you do not have a similar life’s experience to draw from, which in turn may cause you to believe that you do not always have the answers. When this happens it is perfectly acceptable to inform your child that you do not have a similar experience to share, but notwithstanding this void, as a parent you still want to do your best to encourage your child to ask their questions and as a father remaining poised in offering your response.
4. Co-parent dialogue. Whether married or not it is critical that parents consistently express their love and support for their child, which means maintaining an ongoing dialogue to co-parent. This required dialogue is critical in resolving conflicts in parenting decisions. Even if there is acrimony in that relationship, it should never evolve as an ongoing excuse to co-parent because it will harm your child’s growth.
5. Laugh. Maintain a sense of humor, which is a great stress-reducer for both the parent and child. Humor is a fabulous learning tool for your child to accept and recognize that there are moments in life that simply should not be taken so seriously. In other words, when these moments occur it is important to teach your child that some things are out of your control and when that happens having a sense of humor is a great tool to utilize when an unexpected or difficult circumstance takes place.
In closing, these five thoughts are just a “tip of the (proverbial) iceberg” in trying to become a good father. Simply put, the lessons of parenting are an evolving process, and remain the greatest and most humbling responsibility one can ever have the honor and joy of undertaking.
Scott A. Wales, of Fox Point, is an attorney in private practice in Milwaukee and is the municipal judge for the Village of Fox Point. He and his wife Michelle are the parents of two girls, Blair and Ava, soon to be 15 and 13 respectively.