It’s a Low Bar, But You Better Clear It

If you haven’t seen the fascinating Netflix documentary about Rachel Dolezal, a troubled woman who pretended to be black when she’s actually white, you should. It’s not worth getting into the controversial racial issues that the documentary brings up, but it’s worth watching them in the documentary, since it shows them in all their very human complexity and contradiction. What is worth noting here is a comment that one of Rachel’s adopted younger brothers (who she ended up raising herself) says about their missionary foster parents. 

He says something like: The one job of parents is to give their children a childhood they don’t have to spend years of therapy processing. 

Certainly that’s a low bar. The only lower bar is literally keeping them alive. But it’s worth bringing up because of how many parents fail to meet it, even as they succeed in other ways. Sure, you helped turn your son into a professional football player, but to do it, you cultivated an insatiable desire to win that prevents him from ever enjoying those victories. Or you got your daughter into Harvard, but you were so strict and demanding that her poor self-esteem makes her tolerate the worst kind of people in relationships. Your kids get one life. What kind of life are you raising them to have? They get one sense of self. Are you giving them a kind or a harsh one?

The world would be a better place if dads took the time to actively think about what the ramifications of their decisions are going to be. Imagine your son or your daughter on a therapist’s couch in the future. Of course they’re going to be talking about you—that’s almost all anyone talks about in therapy. But perhaps that image might stop you from having that affair, it might make you go a little easier on them, it might help you respond better in that critical situation when they come to you and say, “Mom, Dad, I have to tell you guys something. This isn’t easy but…”

Do you need to have that argument with your spouse? Can you let it go? Why not do something about your anger problem? (More on that here). Or your drinking problem? Or your weight problem? Maybe you don’t need to push your religious beliefs so hard? Maybe you can give them space to explore their own political leanings instead of belittling them? And at the same time, maybe if you were a little less busy and a little more attentive, maybe you’d stop missing all their cries for help or that problem that’s been brewing for some time?

Your job is not to make them rich. Not to make them smarter than everyone else. All those trappings are extra. What your real job is, is to give them a childhood they don’t need therapy to get over. Start there.

P.S. This was originally sent on January 8, 2020. Sign up today for the Daily Dad’s email and get our popular 11 page eBook, “20 Things Great Dads Do Everyday.”

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