What makes a good umpire in baseball? Is it flawless eyesight? Confidence? Decisiveness? Experience? Maybe the ability to deal with angry managers?
Yes. Yes. And yes. But if you ask the players, most likely the quality at the top of their list would be something children also need from their fathers: Consistency.
The hitter depends on a consistent strike zone. The umpire might call high or low strikes or give the pitcher a few extra inches around the plate. And if he’s consistent, the batter can adjust his thinking and step up to the plate with confidence. But if the umpire is unpredictable, the hitter will likely feel like he doesn’t have a chance.
It’s similar with the pitcher. If the umpire starts out calling strikes on sliders low and away, the pitcher can adjust his approach accordingly. But if one is a strike and the next pitch in the same location is a ball, the pitcher has to be wondering, What do I have to do to please this guy?
Many of us have seen it in sports of all kinds and at all levels: players get frustrated and confused when an umpire or referee is inconsistent.
It’s the same for children and their fathers.
Fathers play a large part in how their children view the world, and consistent dads tend to raise children who grow up confident and secure. When kids know their dad will always be there for them, when he is predictable and reliable in positive ways, they feel the freedom to attempt new things and explore the world, whether it’s trying out for the lead role in the school play, going on a trip to do relief work in Mexico, starting a career, pursuing a dream, and so on.
This has been confirmed by research in adolescent behavior: boys who have consistent parents are usually more well-adjusted, intellectually oriented, and more likely to have stable relationships with others. And girls showed more self-assurance and vitality, less anxiety, and did not conform to stereotypes. On the other side, when we surveyed incarcerated men about what they would value most in a father, they mentioned dependability more than any other quality.
Time After Time
Len is a car salesman. One day you overhear Len’s boss say, “We’re in a business where there are huge ups and downs, but Len sure has had consistent sales numbers.” What that tells us about Len, besides the fact that he’s pretty good at what he does, is that he didn’t start selling cars two months ago. He’s probably been at it for a decent amount of time.
That’s how it is with effective fathering. We set patterns that have an influence on our children, and it’s a process that takes time. Words like consistency, predictability and reliability have an element of time in their definition.
These attributes are especially important for any dad who may have blown it with his kids in the past and who wants another chance. If that’s you, and you want to prove yourself as a devoted, caring dad, that’s a great goal … but you need to realize that it takes time. Building or rebuilding trust with your kids requires a commitment to be consistent and dependable for weeks, months, or even years. (And it’s definitely worth it.)
Being consistent not only takes time; it’s all the time. There’s really no aspect of our lives that it isn’t part of it. At NCF, we often talk about being consistent in six areas:
- Our daily schedules, so our children have a good idea where we are and that they can reach us, if necessary.
- Our presence in the family. We’re around and we’re actively engaged in our kids’ daily lives.
- Our hobbies and interests, where we show that we’re reliable even in our recreation and “free time.”
- Our moods. We’re steady, positive models even when we experience strong emotions.
- Keeping promises. Our kids need to know that when we say we’ll do something, we don’t take that lightly and we follow through.
- Our morality and ethics. Are we really living out what we say we believe? Would we be ashamed if our children learned about all our habits and decisions?
Dad, your influence on your kids is affected by who you are all the time. It matters because they’re always watching you—and often when you don’t realize it. And consistency matters even when you aren’t with them. They may not be around to see everything you do, but your character and who you are will still shine through and will make a difference when you are with your kids.
This idea might be especially important if you’re a non-custodial dad or in a situation that doesn’t allow you to be with your children as much as you’d like. When you act with integrity and do what’s right when you’re apart from your kids, that can still have a positive impact on them. It all matters. It’s all part of your consistency as a dad and a person.
Are you a consistent father?
You might think being consistent and predictable is boring, and that’s not the kinds of dad you want to be. But this is more about creating general patterns and expectations, and those can still leave room for a lot of excitement and creativity. A predictable pattern can include some spontaneity. A child can know what to expect from her dad in general, but still be surprised in fun and interesting ways.
Being consistent as fathers isn’t easy. It can be a daily test of our character. But remember that our kids do notice our patterns and habits, so our goal should be to establish good patterns for them to see and emulate. They will benefit greatly from whatever progress we can make in this area. When they know in general how we’ll respond to things, that brings them a lot of security and comfort.
Take the next step! Assess your own fathering in this area and 6 others using our free online Profile and Master Class.
In what area do you need to show more consistency as a dad? Share some thoughts and encourage other dads on our Facebook page.
Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion:
- Where has your patience been tested recently by someone with a lack of consistency?
- How would you characterize the consistency of your dad or other influential role models in your childhood?
- Look at the 6 areas of consistency above and choose one you want to address as a father in the coming months.
- Think through the promises you’ve made to your kids recently—or statements they might have understood as promises. Make every effort to follow through.
- What’s one personal goal you have or a change you want or need to make? Let your kids be one more motivator for you. Work on that area for them.