Summary: Since I wanted to write a paper on fatherhood, but I am not yet a father, I decided to write a letter to my future self. This is done in hopes that I can one, hold myself to the high standard of the principles I am presently studying on how to be a great dad; and two, share what I am finding with those who want to learn more about effective fathering.
You are a father now. If I know you like I think I do, you are probably feeling a little inadequate, and maybe even overwhelmed. Don’t fret, this is normal. In order to help you with your new adventure, I have drawn up eight tips in the form of do’s and don’ts for how to be the best dad you can possibly be. I hope this will be helpful to you as you strive to rear your family in love and righteousness.
Do: Love their mother
President David O. McKay taught “Children are more influenced by sermons you act than by the sermons you preach” (McKay, 1955, April). If you want to be an effective father, one of the best sermons you can act out through your example is to love your children’s mother.
Research has indicated that a healthy and fulfilling marriage is a fathering “force multiplier” for men, which helps fathers to be more involved with their children, more confident in their parental skills, more satisfied in their paternal efforts, and more sensitive to the needs of children (Holmes, Duncan, Bair, & White, 2007). Researchers have also found that a father’s relationship with a child’s mother is perhaps the “secret ingredient” that makes the fathering recipe work best for most men and their children (Holmes, Duncan, Bair, & White, 2007)
With this being the case, it is imperative that you do your part to nurture your relationship with your wife. One of the best ways to do this is to serve her by helping her around the house or with the kids. President Boyd K. Packer has said, “There is no task, however menial, connected with the care of babies, the nurturing of children, or with the maintenance of the home that is not [the husband’s] equal obligation” (Packer, 1989, July).
Do: Be perceptive
Every child you raise is going to have different interests, and different needs. Each will respond to different things. Brigham Young counseled parents to “study their children’s dispositions and temperament, and deal with them accordingly” (Young, Discourses of Brigham Young (John A. Widtsoe, Ed.), 1978).
Hart, Newell, and Haupt wrote similarly:
“Indeed, each individual displays different interests, personalities, and behavior, which come from biological blueprints provided by parents as well as each child’s own spiritual predispositions, talents, and desires. These spiritual traits interact with genetic individuality in ways that have not yet been revealed, but are often observed in daily interactions in the home. An individual’s characteristics are further refined by environmental factors in and out of the home (for example, parents, peers, siblings, school, and culture) and by the ways that each child responds to them. Even among children in the same family, some children may be more difficult or easy to rear due, in part, to inherent personality characteristics that stem from spiritual personality and predispositions” (Hart, Newell, & Haupt, 2012).
A cookie cutter approach does not work for child rearing. You need to recognize how the characteristics and personalities vary in your children and then adapt accordingly. A great father is a perceptive father who can pick up on things that he can adjust in his parenting style along the way depending on the needs of his kids.
All of us make mistakes in life, and your children are going to be no different. They may choose to break commandments, or develop bad habits, or get frustrated over struggling with a personal weakness. When those times inevitably come, you should never shame your kids and make them feel worse than they already for the mistake they made.
David A. Nelson writes: “Shaming . . . aims to keep the child psychologically subservient, even if that comes at the price of the child’s self-esteem and the parent–child relationship. Through these manipulative tactics, parents demean and belittle children, adolescents, and young adults, communicating distrust in the child’s ability to make proper choices. These behaviors communicate parental rejection.” He continues, noting that “Anxiety and low self-esteem plague some children of such parents, whereas others respond to rejection with anger, rebellion, and estrangement” (Nelson, 2012).
BYU family life professor James M. Harper wrote on the difference between guilt and shame. He notes that “guilt—a recognition that one’s behavior has violated an important standard or value and caused harm to self or others—is a natural, healthy response to mistakes that can motivate change.” On the other hand, he compares that to ‘shame, which, when internalized, can lead to a sense of hopelessness.” He further notes, “People who experience strong internalized shame view the world through negative, shame-tinted glasses. Every incident in their lives is seen as validation of how worthless they are.” There are also potential spiritual implications that can be dangerous. Harper writes that shaming is “an enemy to our belief that all of us are spiritual children of God . . . it leads to a loss of hope that behavior change can make a difference. Because shame-prone people doubt emotions and feelings in general, they also doubt spiritual influences” (Thomson, 2015)
Do: Be a friend
One of the important factors in a successful parent-child relationship is being their friend. President Howard W. Hunter gave counsel on how to establish this friendship, advising fathers to “earn the respect and confidence of [their] children through [their] loving relationship with them,” and suggesting fathers give children “time and presence in their social, educational, and spiritual activities and responsibilities” and provide “tender expressions of love and affection toward children” (Hunter, 1994).
Research has also indicated that “it is not [the father’s] mere presence, per se, but his connection to children that is pivotal,” and that “strong connections can have beneficial effects” while “poor connections can have adverse effects” (Brotherson, Yamamoto, & Acock, 2003)
President Ezra Taft Benson counseled parents:
“Take time to be a real friend to your children. Listen to your children, really listen. Talk with them, laugh and joke with them, sing with them, play with them, cry with them, hug them, honestly praise them. Yes, regularly spend unrushed one-on-one time with each child. Be a real friend to your children” (Benson, 1974).
Taking time to nourish and build a lasting and impactful friendship with your kids may require sacrifice and great effort on your part, but it will be worth it. Hart, Newell, and Haupt found that “Children are less likely to push limits and seek attention through misbehavior when they feel that they are a high priority in their parents’ lives” (Hart, Newell, & Haupt, 2012).
There are going to be times when your children act up, and your patience runs thin to the point that you would like to physically strike them. No matter how bad they get, or how angry you are, you have got to refrain from hitting them. Modern prophets have counseled against using physical punishment with children.
President Gordon B. Hinckley taught, “I have never accepted the principle of ‘spare the rod and spoil the child.’ . . . Children don’t need beating. They need love and encouragement” (Hinckley, 1994).
Brigham Young stated, “I will here say to parents, that kind words and loving actions toward children will subdue their uneducated nature a great deal better than the rod, or, in other words, than physical punishment” (Young, 1865).
Brother Brigham hinted that the real problem may lie in the parents themselves when he observed, “I have seen more parents who were unable to control themselves than I ever saw who were unable to control their children” (Saints, 1997).
Do: Be authoritative
There are many different styles of parenting. Hart, Newell, and Haupt have found that “Of each of the several parenting styles identified by scholarly research, the authoritative style of parenting is most consistent with the proclamation and the words of modern prophets and scripture (Hart, Newell, & Haupt, 2012).
The following bulleted list describes this type of parenting style:
- Love, warmth, and support
- Clear and reasonable expectations for competent behavior
- Limits and boundaries with some room for negotiation and compromise
- Reasoning and developmentally appropriate consequences and punishments for breaching established limits
- Opportunities to perform competently and make choices
- Absence of coercive, hostile forms of discipline, such as harsh physical punishment, love withdrawal, shaming, and inflicting guilt
- Models of appropriate behavior consistent with self-control, positive values, and positive attitudes (Hart, Newell, & Haupt, 2012).
We find in this style a healthy middle ground between being too strict, coercive, and involved, and not caring or not being involved enough. This aligns most closely with the way Heavenly Father parents.
Consistent with the previous point, you must never force or coerce your children.
Brigham Young counseled:
Parents should never drive their children, but lead them along, giving them knowledge as their minds are prepared to receive it. Chastening may be necessary betimes, but parents should govern their children by faith rather than by the rod, leading them kindly by good example into all truth and holiness (Young, Discourses of Brigham Young (John A. Widtsoe, Ed.), 1978).
It is important to recognize that behavior, especially bad behavior, is oftentimes driven by unmet needs, or simply a lack of understanding. It becomes your responsibility as a father to discover what the unmet need is, and how to better meet it; or what the misunderstanding is, and then teach accordingly. In such an approach discipline and punishment are not always necessary, and force or coercion are never requisite.
Hart, Newell, and Haupt stated:
“Although consequences are important to the learning process, punishment is not always the answer to misbehavior. Seeking to understand the underlying causes of the misbehavior can help parents treat the core problem and not just react to symptoms. For example, challenging behavior can be tied to an unfulfilled need (like being tired, hungry, or lacking necessary parental attention), a stage of growth (such as teething or natural striving for autonomy during the wonderful twos and threes and again during the teenage years), something going awry in the present environment (like friends being mean or fear of the dark), or a child simply not knowing better (for example, animals get hurt when mistreated; friends are not happy when one refuses to share). Ignoring misbehavior that is not harmful to self or others may be an appropriate strategy at times when followed up by love and acceptance (for example, calmly ignoring whining and then responding positively to the child’s normal speech)” (Hart, Newell, & Haupt, 2012).
Do: Show forth increased love
There will be times when you must discipline, it is important that when these opportunities come they are not treated lightly and you are not impulsive. Remain calm, be firm but gentle, and always follow through on your warnings. Joseph Smith taught that when you do reprove, you are to do so early on, and with sharpness, when you are moved upon by the Holy Ghost, “and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy” (D&C 121:43).
Hart, Newell, and Haupt taught that “When the child has been corrected in a calm, controlled manner, that same Spirit that prompted such correction can create a sense of compassion, charity, and forgiveness toward the child. These are moments when children have a particularly intense and immediate need to feel the strength of parental love.” They further state that parents should, “take action to assure the child of their love and genuine concern in a way that is suited to the age and individual needs of the child.” They give several examples:
For example, physical affection may assist a young child with a quivering lip to restore a sense of inner security: “Maybe you can sit here on my lap for a while until you feel like playing with your sister again.” Affirming verbal statements are important at all ages to keep relationships strong during times of reproof: “Although I am disappointed that you did not obey, I love you very much.” At times, humor can be used to break the tension: “Okay, enough of this serious stuff. Time for a group hug!” A change in activity may help, particularly when it gives children a chance to positively interact with the parent: “Will you be my helper in the kitchen? I need a junior chef to help me whip up some cornbread.” Finally, expressing confidence in the child can help alleviate his or her concerns: “I know it’s been a hard day. We all make mistakes. I know you’ll do better next time” (Hart, Newell, & Haupt, 2012).
Do: Make sacrifices
There are many sacrifices associated with parenting within the framework of the gospel. These are sacrifices you will need to make, they may include your time, your wants, your needs, your hobbies, your sleep, and especially your pride. It will be well worth your effort though, not only does sacrifice bring forth the blessings of heaven, as William W. Phelps has penned, but these sacrifices on your part connected to being a righteous father will lead you to become what Bruce C. Hafen has called a “Christ Figure.” You will be doing for them, on your own level, what the Savior is doing for you. David A. Nelson wrote:
“The truest, most noble love is the love of a superior for an inferior where the superior makes every sacrifice so that the inferior might, if willing, rise to become an equal. And that is the wonder of the Savior’s Atonement: He, a superior, suffered and died so that all who will, males and females, may become equal heirs with Him (D&C 88:107) and receive “all power” and the “fullness” of God (D&C 76:54–56, 94–95; 132:20). In this highest realm, the Savior “makes them equal in power, and in might, and in dominion” (D&C 76:95). Parental love in mortality emulates godly love. Those with healthy parental love make sacrifices so that their children may one day stand as their equals, and be not only their children, but also their friends” (Nelson, 2012).
Skyler, if you will follow these nine outlined steps of advice, I know you will become the righteous father in Israel that you desire to be. Your children will love you, and you will develop a very special relationship, even to the point of becoming very best friends.
Benson, E. T. (1974). God, family, country: Our three great loyalties. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book.
Brotherson, S. E., Yamamoto, T., & Acock, A. C. (2003). Connection and communication in father–child relationships and adolescent child well-being. Fathering: A Journal of Theory, Research, and Practice about Men as Fathers.
Hart, C. H., Newell, L. D., & Haupt, J. H. (2012). Parenting with Love, Limits, and Latitude: Proclamation Principles and Supportive Scholarship. Successful Marriages and Families: Proclamation Principles and Research Perspectives, Chapter 10.
Hinckley, G. B. (1994). Save the children. Ensign, November, 52-54.
Holmes, E. K., Duncan, T. B., Bair, S., & White, A. M. (2007). How mothers and fathers help each other count. In J. M. S. E. Brotherson, Why fathers count: The importance of fathers and their involvement with children (pp. 43–58). Harriman, TN: Men’s Studies Press.
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Nelson, D. A. (2012). Parenting in Gospel Context: Practices Do Make a Difference. Succcessful Marriages and Families: Proclamation Principles and Research Perspectives, Chapter 11.
Packer, B. K. (1989, July). A tribute to women. Ensign72-75.
Saints, T. C.-d. (1997). Teachings of presidents of the Church: Brigham Young. Salt Lake: Author.
Thomson, L. A. (2015). Arm Your Kids for the Battle. BYU Magazine, Spring Issue.
Young, B. (1865). Journal of Discourses, 10:360.
Young, B. (1978). Discourses of Brigham Young (John A. Widtsoe, Ed.). Salt Lake City: Deseret Book.