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Na’aman Nathan, father of four, writes about the way he tackles fatherhood.
As fathers we have a wonderful opportunity to train our children to believe that they are powerful individuals who can make their own decisions, and allow them to explore the consequences of their actions in the safety of home.
These decisions start off small and it’s my responsibility to create a safe space for my children to try them out, because someday the decisions and consequences they face as adults will be much bigger.
When our daughter, Stella, reached the age of two, she suddenly mastered the art of the terrifying tantrum and we used it as an opportunity to teach her that she had two choices, each with their own consequences. She could either quiet herself and remain with the family, or she could make as much noise as she liked on her bed where she couldn’t interrupt our peace.
The rule was that when she was happy again, she could come out and join us. We would pop our head in every now and then to reassure her that she had a choice and was she perhaps ready to change her mind ? The first few times were rather lengthy, but as time went on she grasped the concept very well. Kids are smarter than you think!
Now, at the age of four, she will often put herself in time out to calm down before we even ask her to, because she knows she is in control of her own emotions and actions. She even puts me in “time out” from time to time!
As a father I have been tempted to control and micro-manage. It seems easier, but it’s a lot more stressful for you in the long run.
I have always wanted to raise my children with good habits and morals, but it’s not always that easy because your behaviour is as contagious as a virus (for good or for bad) and your children will get what you’ve got, not what you say you’ve got. Your kids are constantly imprinting off your behaviour.
The likelihood is that if you want your children’s behaviour to change, your behaviour needs to change first. I remember a time when I was training one of my kids to use ‘yes’ as a response instead of the good old South African ‘ja’. After correcting this little grammar issue many times with no success, it suddenly dawned on me that I use it ALL the time ! Needless to say we abandoned our English aspirations and went back to the good old ‘ja’!
You may laugh at this trivial example, but the same thing applies to the bigger issues of life. For example, if you want your kids to respect their mom, you need to treat her with respect and honour. Kids get what you’ve got, not what you say you’ve got! Training kids in the little habits of life takes more effort on our behalf than we realise.
Finally, as a dad, I really want to instil the value of love for others and gratitude in my children. To be thankful for what they have helps to prevent them from growing up as entitled adults who feel the world owes them something. We live in a country where there is so much hardship all around us and I think we do a disservice to our kids when we don’t help them realise how much they truly have to be grateful for. Gratitude displaces complaining and shifts your focus from your needs to the needs of others.
We have a security guard who works in our street and for years I would make him a cup of coffee when we arrived home in the evenings. Recently my teenage son volunteered to take over the job and that has been one of my proudest moments as a father ‒ not a straight A report, fantastic sports result or piano concerto. Just the act of kindness and showing love to another human being.
As a father I have come to this simple conclusion: this journey is not just about raising my kids. It has been an amazing gift and opportunity for me to become a better person ‒ and if you mess it up, it’s okay. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your kids forgive you when you apologise. These are just some of my thoughts on how to become more than the average dad.