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Great Fathers Trait #2: Allows for Mistakes

September 12, 2011

Objects ARE closer than they seem.

Have you ever had this conversation, “Uh Dad, can I talk to you for a second about the car?”  Or how about this one, “Dad, this “thing” happened at school today.” You know what is coming next, a description of a fender bender or a description of how your sweet child spit on another kid at recess.  Sometimes the stakes are higher like an unplanned pregnancy, cheating or theft.  The bottom line is that kids makes mistakes that are sometimes quite messy.

Fathers, here is the $64,000 question:  How do we react when our kids make a mess?  Do we go nuts and shame them, just to make sure they feel good and sorry?  Do we pretend the situation does not really concern us and let their mother or someone else deal with it?  Do we rush in and defend our kids no matter what the circumstances?

I have to tell you, I have seen all three and done all three responses and they do not work very well.  Blowing up and shaming your kid can be quite cathartic, but the message that gets translated to him/her is not “you made a mistake” it becomes “you are an idiot”.  When those messages are repeated over time, it is no wonder why anxiety and depression are rampant in our society today.  Ignoring the problem, creates a host of other issues.  First, the person who deals with the issue becomes resentful that you are not involved.  Secondly, avoidance creates a persona of weakness for us as men that is not very appealing.  Finally, a larger pattern of avoidance allows small issues to fester and become gigantic chasms.  Rushing in and defending our kids is natural in some ways.  Raise your hand if you like to see your kid in pain?  I thought so.  Here’s the problem, when we rescue our kids they start to see that as normal and come to expect it.  Kids are smart, they only repeat behaviors with parents that work.  If crying works, then I will cry.  If withholding affection works, then I will do that.  If threatening to kill myself works, then I will go that route.  I am not suggesting that we ignore legitimate warning signs and real pain, but we should be alert to manipulation aimed at our soft spots.

So, how should we react to our kids mistakes?  Three simple steps:

1.Acknowledge the mistake.  Talk about all the circumstances involved.

2.Talk about the “life lesson” to be learned from the mistake.

3.Let you child clean up his/her own mess (with you in a supporting role).

Mistakes are a part of life and our reactions as fathers can truly build credibility and strength in our relationships with our kids.

Patrick Donohue is a Life Coach in Oak Park, IL.  Contact him at

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