by Mark Brandenburg
I must admit to having a fear that I believe I share with many fathers. I fear that I will some day be insignificant to my children. It’s not as though they’ll completely forget who I am; it’s that what I stand for and what I believe in won’t be a significant part of their lives.
Perhaps popular culture will take over … or perhaps they just won’t care. The fear is there because it’s so important to me that my children have a moral compass to live by, and that they have a value system that honors and respects others.
So what are fathers to do? We live in an increasingly complex society and the answers to our children’s questions are neither easy nor simple. Many of these questions are difficult to answer and will show your kids that ideas about what’s right and wrong are not always very clear.
What fathers can do is to wish and hope that things turn out for your children…or you can have the courage to make passing on your values an absolute priority in your family. You can challenge yourself to pass on love, faith, courage, freedom—the eternal truths that will have meaning for your children for generations to come.
There will certainly be some bumps along the way and it won’t always be a smooth ride. After all, there is an entire culture out there that’s telling your kids that what they wear and what they buy is the most important thing in their life.
There is a way for fathers to succeed here. They can do it through the stories that they tell their kids and also through the way they are models for their kids.
You can start by taking a different and closer look at the daily events that happen in your life. Your life is filled with significant happenings that you can sometimes pass over if you’re not paying attention or if you get too busy. These events can become stories that your children will cherish.
Why is it important to tell your stories to your children?
One important reason is that it serves to connect your children to previous generations and to help them to feel a part of the “larger whole” of your family. Perhaps a more important reason is that telling your children your stories helps them to deal with the difficult challenges that they’ll be facing in their life.
The truth is that your kids will go through some real struggles. As parents, it can be painful to watch … and it is seldom useful to try to come to the rescue. What can be helpful to your kids is to know that their father, and other significant people in their lives, have gone through similar struggles and have survived.
Stories are often about struggles and failures. Your children love to hear stories about these struggles because they have them often in their own lives. They know failure and struggle extremely well; that’s a lot of what being a kid is about.
The stories you tell them will ultimately be comforting. That you have had these struggles and have come back and recovered is encouragement to them; your kids will need a truckload of encouragement to navigate their way through life.
It is truly a gift to be able to communicate to your children what is in your heart through the use of stories. Stories can not only be used as a vehicle to pass along your values, but they are likely to inspire your children to repeat the same process with their children.
Here are some suggestions to help you come up with stories for your children:
Tell stories to your kids when they are the most attentive to them—when they are in bed, or “settled down” so they can sit still for awhile.
Make sure to include stories of you failing miserably. These are particularly useful to your kids. We’ve all got a few of these, don’t we?
Have your parents tell your children some of their own stories if they are able—a great way to show the connection that exists between generations.
Use stories to answer your kids’ questions about difficult issues. They need to know that you have faced these issues yourself, and that there are many choices available.
Realize that you don’t need a history of storytelling in your family to get started, and you don’t need to be a great storyteller. Give some thought to experiences you’ve had that might relate to some of the issues your kids are facing right now or in the near future.
There is a short window of opportunity in which to tell your children the stories of your life. Many fathers fail to tell their stories because of a lack of a story-telling tradition in their family of origin. This can be a wonderful opportunity to begin your own tradition with your own stories.
It is also a great opportunity to contribute to the “moral upbringing” of your kids by telling them the stories of your life. The lessons within these stories can provide some of the moral “anchor” for your kids in a world that doesn’t often provide many moral anchors.
Teaching your kids about life through telling your stories will be more effective than lecturing your kids on any day of the week. Your kids will want to hear your stories, the lecturing they can probably do without.
May your stories live on eternally.
Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC, is a certified personal coach, father, speaker, and workshop leader who helps men to create balance in their lives and to improve their family relationships. He is the author of “25 Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent Fathers.”