How to Grow Peace through our lives (An Open Letter to Fathers)
Do you want your children to be comfortable or at peace?”
The Distinction between Comfort & Peace
The statement by the preacher caught my attention as it caused me to ponder deeply about it. Turns out that there’s a subtle difference between the two. While we may want both for our children, I would say the most important of the two would be peace.
Let’s look at the difference between these two. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it suggests that:
- Comfort as being in a state of relief, satisfaction and enjoyment.
- Peace as being in a state of calmness; being free from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions.
The main difference as to how I see it – the presence of difficulties, challenges and trials. Comfort predominantly has to do with avoiding and removing difficulties, challenges and trials while peace is a state that one could be in even during such periods of difficulties, challenges and trials.
Difficulties & Challenges are Here to Stay
For most, if not all of us, years of living this life of ours bring one certain conclusion; difficulties, challenges and trials are a certainty of life and there is no running away from it.
I had the opportunity to catch the 2019 edition of The Lion King recently and one of the scenes spoke to me. In the film, Simba, the protagonist, was slated to be the next king, after his father Mufasa. But in a drastic turn of events, his uncle plotted for his father to die in an accident and made Simba believe he caused his father’s death. Simba’s uncle then edged Simba to run away from it all. Though Simba spent the next few years living in a carefree manner, the fact is the guilt has never left him; he was never able to experience peace.
And so, in that fateful “Remember Who You Are” scene, which spoke volumes to me, Simba came face-to-face with his father’s spirit. Mufasa’s spirit spoke from the heavens and was essentially giving Simba the peace of knowing (i) his place as Mufasa’s son, (ii) that Mufasa is proud to have Simba as his son and that (iii) he (Mufasa) has never left him and is living in him. And so, with Simba finding back his peace in his father, he then made his way to claim back the kingship from his uncle and restored order to the Pride Lands.
Nobody is exempt from the trials of life, but everyone can always find something positive in everything even in the worst of times.” ~ Roy T. Bennett
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid… I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” ~ John 14: 27, 16:33 The Bible
If difficulties, challenges and trials are a certainty, why do we as parents and fathers sometimes try all means to help out children avoid them at all costs?
The Real Job of a Father
As a father, I feel that my job is not to merely provide a comfortable life for my children (though that is somewhat important). I feel the important thing that I need to remember is to help them have peace, or what mental health professionals call being “secure”.
Too many of us may have missed out on the opportunity of being secure ourselves, let alone helping our children be secure. But the good news is that it’s never too late to start (for our children and us). When we try to raise comfortable kids, we rob them of that opportunity to experiment, learn and grow their confidence. But when we raise secure children, we equip them with the necessary life skill to navigate through life, even when we are not around them; we help them develop the confidence to experiment and try new things as they grow, learning what would and would not work.
For me, I would say that whatever little or great I have been able to achieve thus far in my career has been made possible by my parents in the foundational years and my faith in my latter years. I do still have some way to go in growing as a secure person but I cannot deny the impact these had on who I’m today.
Raising Secure Children
But more importantly, what can one do to raise secure kids? I do not profess to know it all but I have tried some ways and hope to share some ways (P.A.L.S.) I intentionally try to help my kids be secure. These “principles” are not genius inventions of mine but are just learning points I have taken away with me as I grow in my “secure-ness” as I relate with God and navigate this life of mine.
I would also love to hear from everyone on how they also try to grow secure children who are filled with peace. I believe your sharing will go on to also encourage and help many fathers (and mothers) in their journey.
- Be PRESENT – Being there when it counts My four-year-old is learning swimming now. In the first few weeks of his swimming lesson, I would try to accompany him to his lessons. I would choose to sit at the gallery in plain sight of him; this so that he knows I’m always around. But in the last couple of weeks, I started getting into the water with him but maintained a distance so as to let the swimming instructor do his work. This despite me being a “not-so-good” swimmer and having had a near-drowning incident years ago. And as the lesson got more and more challenging, I have come to realise how my presence there in the water gave him some assurance as he continued his lessons. It does remind me that as a father, being there when it counts e.g. at the doctor’s, at the dentist’s, at their school performances etc, is so important to our kids and it empowers them.
- Form an ALLIANCE – and be on your children’s side Our children need to know that we are on their side. Think about it. If you were to ask them today whether they feel you are on their side, what would their response be? As a parent, amidst all that needs to be done, it is normal that we may sometime get edgy when their behaviour taxes us on our already waning resources e.g. when a child creates a mess that we need to clean up. We may feel angry and be tempted to “punish” them by making them feel shame or guilt for behaving that way. It is useful to remember that, at this point, we are upset with their behaviour and not their being. Call out the behaviour and not condemn the person. For example, rather than using the term “bad boy/girl” (which targets the person), use “bad behaviour” (which focuses on the behaviour).As a father, we need our children to understand that we are on their side and that we have their interest in mind. For instance, is your interaction with them just filled with “no”s and “don’t”s? What about focusing on the positives you see them do and reinforcing it by calling it out? What about processing with them about why you said “no” to something; explaining it is with their interest in mind e.g. “I do not want you to fall and hurt yourself”? What about allowing them to sometimes be a kid by giving the occasional “yes”? Have fun with them.
- Affirm LOVE – Affirming your love when they may feel you don’t love them One thing I have found about being a parent is that there are good days and there are bad days. For me, raising secure kids does not mean not punishing them when they overstep their boundaries (though the situations to use physical punishment and the intensity would be a separate discussion). As parents, we need to lay hold of every “teachable moments” to help them learn the right values. When punishment (e.g. time-out, reduced privileges or other forms of sensible physical punishments) becomes necessary and when children may feel we reject them for what they have done, we need to remind them that we still love them.Observing and learning from a friend and a fellow father, I now come to recognize the power of “post-punishment co-processing time”. Ok, let’s ditch the “mumbo jumbo”. It simply means that after I punish my children, I would always make an effort to process with them why they are punished. I would then lead them to apologise (indicating the reason which necessitates the apology) and allow them the opportunity to ask for forgiveness. It is at this point in time that we can affirm how much we still love them despite their failings and that we discipline them out of love. Nothing at this point communicates that love more than a hug.
- Celebrate SUCCESS – Affirming their breakthroughs Kids (and adults) take time to learn new things. Unless they are naturally gifted in it, they will intermittently succeed, make mistakes and fail as they learn. While it is tempting to grow impatient and to desire them to learn faster, we need to instead affirm every breakthrough no matter big or small and build their confidence. It takes deliberate intention to look out for the small successes and to reflect it back to them verbally and to also show them how proud you are of them as opposed to how proud you are of their achievements.
Grounding the Security
While helping our children learn to have peace and be secure is important, we need to also help them stay humble and grounded; much like Simba in the film, The Lion King. Upon recovering his peace and the kingship, he remembers the people who helped him on his path of being secure again; his friends, his mother and even his father who spoke to him from the heavens. In the same way, I am reminded myself that we need to also help our children remember who, in their lives, have helped them be who and where they are today and be thankful for that. Give them the opportunity to express their appreciation and gratitude.
The Barrier to Raising Secure Children
It is, however, crucial that I address a barrier which could stand in our way of doing what we mentioned above; of being there when it counts, affirming their breakthroughs, building an alliance with them and affirming our love when our children may feel we don’t love them. No matter how well-meaning we are as a father or parent, stress and burnout would sabotage our very best efforts.
When we experience stress and burnout in the (just to name a few) work, academic, caregiving and volunteering spheres of our lives, we lack the bandwidth to truly be there when it counts, to look out for breakthroughs to affirm, to build that lasting alliance with them and to affirm our love when our children feel we may reject them. The fact is, when we are overwhelmed by these, we don’t have the time and the mental resources to do it. When stress and burnout get the better of us, we may swing to either extreme of being present physically but not emotionally or to the other extreme of being highly reactive, angry and violent.
I like the way Dr Robyn Koslowitz put it in a recent article on parental burnout:
… if we can’t think about it (parental burnout), we can’t do anything to address it.”
She goes on to say:
Before others can recharge from me, I need to ﬁll up my banks… Let’s not call that self-care. Let’s call that the highest form of child-care – being present… The scariest ﬁnding in the research above – burnout prevents parents from being emotionally present with their children.”
Speaking from Experience
I know this because I experienced burnout at least 3 times now and my latest 2 episodes made me swing to the extreme of being highly reactive and angry. While I feel upset with myself for being that way when it happens, the fact is that I need to manage my stress and burnout before I can grow as a secure father who can nurture a secure child.
Growing as a Father…
If you are going through stress or burnout, speak to someone about it or seek help. It does not have to stay this way. You, your children and your family will be grateful to you for the positive transformation that will take place as you learn to overcome it.
Do also help yourself to the resources we have on the Emmaus website and/or attend any of our events.
James is the Lead Thrive-Synergist & Founder of Emmaus Strategies; a social enterprise that “fuels good”. It does this through Mental Well-Being programmes for individuals and organizations, as well as Strategic Volunteer Partnerships consultancy and training for non-profits.