Almost as important as the words “I love you,” there’s another phrase that our children desperately need to hear.
Joe wrote to us with a very interesting question. He’s a new dad, and as many men do during their early years of fatherhood, Joe is taking stock of his relationship with his own father. His dad was a hard worker and a good provider, but he wasn’t highly involved in Joe’s life. Joe still enjoys being with his dad, but something is missing.
As Joe wrote:
“[My father] has never told me that he’s proud of me—ever. It tears me up to think about, and I don’t know how to deal with it. I keep it to myself most of the time, but now and then it comes to the surface, and it really hurts.”
His message touches on two important aspects of being a dad:
First, we need to have the right perspective on our own dads, and improve that relationship, if possible.
For many of us, that might start with a more realistic perspective as we think about him. A good question to consider is: What was his relationship with his father like? If his dad was distant or uninvolved, that would have had a huge impact on his ideas about what fathers do and his ability to be a good dad for you. Also, men of previous generations often weren’t expected to spend time with their children or verbally affirm them.
So you might be holding him to a standard that he isn’t equipped to meet—and maybe holding onto some bitterness toward him because of it. Some more understanding might lead to more grace toward him and more openness to a better relationship going forward. It won’t be easy, but working through this will likely make you an even better dad to your kids.
And second, your kids need to hear it from you.
Joe’s message is also a great reminder that all children—at any age—need to be blessed verbally by their dads. They long to hear that they are respected and appreciated. Something isn’t quite complete without it.
Like Joe, many men have never heard those words from their fathers, and it affects them their entire lives, like a piece of the puzzle that’s missing.
So then, as fathers ourselves, let’s make sure our kids don’t miss out on that. Even if you already tell them you love them, it’s valuable to express your commitment in other ways.
Look your son or daughter squarely in the eye and say, “I am proud of you.” Or, “It’s a privilege to be your dad.” Find reasons to praise your kids often. When you see some extra effort or the glimpse of progress in something new they’re attempting, go a little overboard with positive encouragement. And be specific. You might say, “I saw how you helped that other boy, and I’m proud of you.” Or “You’re accomplishing things far beyond anything I ever even attempted. I’m really impressed.”
Words like that breathe life into our children.
Through our encouragement and affirmations, we can remove that nagging need that could otherwise haunt them for their entire lives.
Just think, dad: your words can help set them up to achieve greatness in whatever they pursue. Make sure the words “I’m proud of you” echo in their hearts and minds even long after you’re gone.
Is it easy for you to say, “I’m proud of you” and similar things to your kids? Join the discussion and encourage other dads on our Facebook page.
Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion:
- Did your dad (or another father figure) tell you, “I’m proud of you” when you were growing up? How did hearing it—or not hearing it—affect you?
- Spend a few minutes thinking about your own dad as a child—what his father was like and how his upbringing prepared him to be a dad.
- What significant moments stand out in your mind when you were praised or affirmed—by anyone, at any point in your life. What could those memories teach you about verbally affirming your kids?
- What are the biggest challenges that each of your children is facing right now? Find meaningful ways to encourage them in the coming weeks and months.
- Saying “I’m proud of you” is important and a great start. Come up with five or ten other affirming statements that you could easily hear yourself say to your kids. Be prepared to use a few of them soon.