Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. – Romans 12:15
When our kids come to us with emotional news, why do we often reflect the opposite emotion back to them?
I will never forget a brief conversation I had with my dad my junior year of high school after showing him my first-place trophy for a junior varsity wrestling tournament. Of course, being on a JV team as a junior is not exactly impressive, and the trophy was only about four inches tall. Still, I had beat every other wrestler in my bracket and a brief celebration of my modest achievement seemed appropriate.
My dad looked at the trophy and said, “Maybe next year you can win a varsity trophy.” Ouch.
Of course, he meant it as a challenge to keep working hard and reach for the stars. But at that moment, his words cut me like a knife. They took the joy out of the day’s victory.
In other scenarios, it’s easy to imagine a child sharing some disappointing news and a father dismissing the child’s grief or frustration. Your daughter loses the student body election, and you respond by telling her that student council is a joke and a waste of time. Or your son doesn’t make the show choir, and you say something about how he should be going out for football anyway.
Does that sound like you? When your kids are hurting, are you sometimes oblivious?
When any member of your family comes to you revealing a clear emotion, remember Romans 12:15. It’s a great teaching—especially appropriate for dads—on how to respond to almost any emotion. Simply reflect their demeanor right back to them. In the moment, celebrate with them in their joy or join them in their sorrow. Use phrases like, “That’s fantastic” or “Oh, man, I’m so sorry.”
Other examples are easy to come up with. When your college-bound kid proudly shows you a letter of acceptance from the local state college, please don’t express disappointment because you were hoping the letter was from your alma mater or an Ivy League school.
When your third grader comes to you in tears because her best friend, Zoe, is moving to another state, your first response should be, “Oh, I’m so sorry, sweetie.” Give her a hug and let her cry for a moment. Only then have you earned the right to offer a bit of wisdom and perspective. “I’ll bet it will be hard for Zoe too. Maybe we can pray that she makes some new friends at her new school.” Or, “Should we have a going away party for her?” Or maybe, “Now you have a friend in Idaho! That’s kind of cool.”
Dad, in the moment, match their emotion.
Rejoice with them. Weep with them. Don’t throw cold water on their successes. And don’t minimize their grief. Later on you can guide, offer other options, or inspire them to the next level of achievement.
By the way, men, “laugh with them, cry with them” is a pretty good strategy for interacting with your wife, too!
Jay Payleitner is a popular speaker for men’s weekend retreats and best-selling author of 52 Things Sons Need from Their Dad, What If God Wrote Your Bucket List? and 52 Things Wives Need from Their Husbands. He has been a guest multiple times on The Harvest Show, Moody Radio, and Focus on the Family. Jay and his high school sweetheart, Rita, live in St. Charles, Illinois where they raised five awesome kids, loved on ten foster babies, and are cherishing grandparenthood. Track him down at jaypayleitner.com.
Action Points & Questions for Discussion and Reflection
- Do you have a similar story about how your dad said something that took the joy out of a good moment for you?
- Do you have memories of doing that with one of your kids?
- Our kids don’t always pursue the same things that we enjoy or pursue. Be ready to affirm their great or small victories anyway!
- Think about each of your children and some recent achievements or victories that maybe you haven’t recognized like you could. Approach each one soon and say, “You know, I probably didn’t mention it, but I’m really proud of you for __________________.“
- How well do you give comfort to a child during difficulties or setbacks? Think through some positive responses, such as Jay suggested, that you could use next time.