Parenting is important. In fact, it’s more important than we often realize. Here’s what I mean: It was a brutal backyard basketball game. My four kids were playing two-on-two, and the game came down to a final basket that made the difference. As you might imagine, one of the kids on the losing team wasn’t exactly gracious in defeat: “I didn’t even try on that last play; that’s the only reason you scored.” That’s when I had to step in: “Come on, now. You did your best. You lost. Congratulate the other team and move on. Give your opponent the joy of beating you.” That last line was what struck me as it came out of my mouth. “Give your opponent the joy of beating you” was something that my father had told me after a basketball game in my driveway as kid. I’ve never forgotten it. I haven’t always lived up to it, but I’ve never forgotten it. And now, for the ten thousandth time as a father, I’ve heard my father’s words come out of my own mouth.
In General, Kids Become Their Parents
Generally speaking, and despite their youthful promises to avoid it, children become their parents. Better put, children become what they see from their parents. Almost every father has heard his own father’s voice in what he says to his kids and to his friends. There are exceptions, but the differences between parents and who their children turn out to be are largely matters of degree, rather than of kind. That’s the scary part for us: our kids are going to be what they see from us.
Our children learn to be healthy (or not) by watching us. If we eat junk all the time, live on fast food, and drink alcohol all the time, our kids learn that to be normal behavior for adults. If we come home from work and sit on the couch and watch TV, look at our phones/tablets/laptops, or play video games all night, our kids come to view it as normal. If our kids see us gossiping about our friends, their coaches, or the parents of their friends, they’ll see that as normal as well. If they see us treating our wives like servants (or like masters), they’ll likely develop the same mindset and display the same behaviors later on. If they see us working too much and never being present, they’ll likely end up doing the same. If you text while driving . . . you get the picture – kids typically end up becoming something similar to what they see from their parents.
Because this is true, it puts incredible pressure on us as fathers to be the people we want our children to become. As men, the true pressure of parenting is to be the man we want our sons to become and our daughters to marry. Unfortunately, we too often focus on providing our kids with the best opportunities, rather than the best example.
Good Parenting Exalts Example Over Opportunities
Here’s what I mean: I spend a lot of time around youth sports. I see all levels of teams from recreational to elite. And with that, I see a lot of parents. Often what I see are parents who go to great lengths to ensure that their kids have the best opportunity for everything. They have the best clothing, the best equipment, the best gear. The parents work every connection to make sure their kids play for the best coaches on the best teams. They put time and money into making sure their kids play the best positions on the field or are in the game during the most important moments. In short, they do whatever they can to give their children the best opportunities, whether its in sports, education, or other activities. That’s not the problem (unless it leads to the issues described here or here).
The problem is that we spend way too much attention, time, energy, and money on creating opportunities for our kids and not enough resources on being the man that we want our boys to become and our girls to marry. Our example will contribute to their success far and away more than getting to play shortstop on an elite travel team or point guard on the best AAU team, or getting them into that private school with the great reputation.
Again, to be clear, we need to create the best opportunities for our kids. But, we need to provide the best example more. That’s the mindset shift that many of us need. It’s far more important for our kids to see winners at home than to get the best opportunities. The example that we provide will have far more influence on our kids’ success than the opportunities that we provide. Having the opportunity to become a great athlete is wonderful, but it’s far from a guarantee of a successful life. See Hernandez, Aaron, if you doubt me.
As a result, we need to make sure that the primary focus of our lives is being a man we want our boys to emulate and our girls to marry. There’s no doubt that I want my boys to become better men than I am, and I want my daughter to marry a better man than I am. But, the goal of my life is make sure that if my boys grow up to be like me or my daughter marries a man like me, they’re going to thrive. That’s the true pressure of parenting.
For those of us who know we need to improve, here’s a start: (1) spend more time today figuring out how to be a better man than you spend figuring out how to improve your child’s jump shot, grades, or baseball swing; and (2) take one step to improve yourself. Start small and do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And keep doing it. Being a good man is a marathon, not a sprint, but we don’t get forever to start. If you want some suggestions on where to start, hit me up in the comments below or shoot me an e-mail. Godspeed, brothers.
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