Very few of us are lucky enough to go into fatherhood thinking, “I’m going to do everything exactly like my parents did.” Looking back on our childhoods, almost all of us can find things we wish our own folks had done better.
Maybe we felt ignored. Or maybe we felt pressured too much. Maybe Mom’s insecurity was a burden. Or Dad’s sense of humor cut too deeply. Maybe our family was poor. Maybe our family was too rich or materialistic. We wished that we could just feel understood.
Plus there is just all the stuff that science and psychology has discovered–changes that have been made in how we parent as a culture.
So now that we are fathers, we have an opportunity to right those wrongs and raise our children with the insight we thought our parents lacked. It is, in a sense, a second chance. An opportunity to do things differently and heal old wounds by being for someone else what we needed ourselves.
Recently, we asked several interesting dads with different backgrounds how they were trying to improve on what their fathers taught them. While many of these men had happy childhoods, they all recognize how important it is to learn from their past so they can make their children’s lives even better than theirs was. Here’s what they’ve learned.
Marc Ecko: Founder of Ecko Unlimited and Complex Magazine. Also a board member at XQ Super School
“I don’t see my relationship with my parents as suffering from any failures. Good and bad are not so easily measured in parenting. They were not abusive. They were very loving and supportive. Was it perfect? No. Nothing is. But I wouldn’t change it for an instance.
The one notable difference my wife and I have elected to do is raise our family deeply seated in spirituality and the church. I didn’t grow up very religious. And I don’t consider my parents so either. That being said, my wife and I embrace our faith and expose our kids to the power of strong faith communities. This is a notable difference for them compared to what I had.”
Blake Masters-C.O.O. of Thiel Capital, co-author of Zero to One, and founder of Spar
“My wife and I have a different approach to discipline than my parents did.
I think my parents’ attitude was reasonable: determine what was unacceptable behavior and punish it when it occurred. This approach has the benefit of simplicity.
But our thinking is that this simplicity might primarily benefit the adults, not the kids. First of all, when a child is behaving badly, he often already knows it. He doesn’t need a shaming strategy like “time out” or a punishment to tell him that; if the punishment puts a temporary and sudden halt to the bad behavior, it’s because it hurts. What it doesn’t do is solve the problem of why the child was behaving that way. So our approach is to try to calmly explain our perspective and our rule when some limit has been crossed, to set logical consequences for that behavior that do not involve punishment, and to “ignore the junk” that inevitably just happens when little people are trying to process big emotions. This takes a lot more work and patience, and very often I’m not even sure it’s working or effective. But zooming out I think it does create a culture of broad freedom within certain firm (but gently-explained) limits, and hopefully helps kids see their parents more as trusted guides to solve problems with, rather than authority figures to listen to ‘or else’.”
Byrd Leavell: Head of Publishing at United Talent Agency
“They never talked about their past enough. I try to do that. To give my kids a sense of continuity and legacy.”
Shane Parrish: Cybersecurity expert and founder of Farnam Street. Also host of The Knowledge Project
“It’s hard to criticize my parents — and when I say parents, I mean my mother and my step-father. They were there in the trenches day in and day out trying to give me a better life. I have a lot of respect for that. My biological father struggled with being present. Maybe it was a product of the time and I’m sure he has his reasons but it’s made me a much better father.”
Steve Gera: Former NFL Coach and Co-founder Gains Group
“My father got frustrated with me quickly – especially when I was young. If I didn’t understand something from his point of view he got upset. Children don’t have the intellectual scaffolding to see the world from our point of view just yet. I try to not get frustrated quickly. I’m a sponge of frustration.”
Brian Levenson: Mental performance and executive coach. Also host of the Intentional Performers podcast
“I am so blessed to have rockstar parents. Seriously. I mean, hall of fame level parents. But what was good for me and my brothers when we were growing up may be different from what my kids need. So, I will absolutely do things differently, but I am still figuring out what that will be. My kids are 3 and 4 so we are still in the early stages but I could see intention around technology use, religion, and cultivating passions as areas that my wife and I may parent differently than the way I was parented.”
K’wan: Bestselling author of multiple best-selling books in the urban fiction genre.
“My parents struggled to keep me out of mischief. It was just me and my mom with no male structure in the house, so naturally I tested the boundaries every chance I got. This kept me in a lot of trouble. That being said I’m working to raise my kids with the structure that I didn’t have; being involved with their day to day lives, taking them on trips to different places, having dinner together…things that I missed out on growing up.”
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