Don’t be fooled into thinking that dads aren’t all that important. Kids need dads to validate their self-worth. Many problems can come to a family and to future relationships for the children when a dad is absent or not as involved with his kids as they need him to be.
Not only does an absent dad make it hard on the mom – who then tries to play both roles, but it is also confusing to the children. Mom the nurturer has to become mom the authoritarian, and the kids will begin to feel a void in their life that can create relational minefields in their future.
What about when a dad is there, but he remains disengaged? This too can be a problem; maybe an even bigger problem than an absent dad. It can lead to a loss in a child’s self-worth and identity. They begin thinking that they are not important or not worthy of dad’s attention, or worse yet, they’re a burden to him. As a result, they can develop insecurities and anxieties and may never feel they measure up or are good enough – not to anyone.
Each parent has a separate role when it comes to building a child’s self-esteem.
Moms instill value in her children and dads validate it. If mom is doing her job, but dad is not right behind her doing the validating, a son may enter into inappropriate relationships to do that for him, or a daughter may go out to find a boy or even an older man who will do the same. They want someone to validate their self worth; but they can only get that from dad.
But what is validation? It’s kind of like a stamp of approval. It tells the child that they are loved and accepted for who they are, regardless. It validates that they are a valued and important part of the family and that they are a beautiful person worthy of the adoration of a father. Can’t you just tell a child that? Of course you can, and you should! But actions speak louder than words. Validation comes from showing you are interested in the child and not only willing to spend time with them, but that you cannot wait for the next time you two can spend together. It’s a very special and important part of your life.
What if the Father is Absent?
If your child does not have a father, or someone to fill that role in their life; it is important to ask your pastor or youth minister, or other family members to fill that void in a positive way for your child.
I knew a man who was slowly passing away from terminal cancer. Before he passed, he asked six different men to look after his children when he was gone. Now that is dedication. This man understood the importance of the role of the father. He wanted at least six men to be looking out for his children, to be sure they would have the support and validation they so desperately need, especially after the loss of a father they loved so much.
My Teen Doesn’t Want to Spend Time with Me
Not every dad knows how to be a good father, because they didn’t have a good example in their own life. That could be why there is a rift in your relationship. A shift in your parenting to become a validator will allow you to experience something you may never have had before in a relationship.
Perhaps you are struggling with your teen and sometimes just want to cut off the relationship and say “Enough is enough!” So maybe you’ve gotten overly involved in projects, sports or work and avoid your child. But even unruly children want their dad to offer them the same amount attention and dedication. They may not say it. They may even deny it with all their might. But no matter how nasty they’ve become, they still need their dad.
These dads may now have to work extra hard to validate their teen. And after they have broken the ice, they should continue to make sure they are doing a good job by asking, “Am I around you enough?” Or, “Do I support you like you need?” “Who do you know you can always count on…is it me? “Who is the second?” “Third?” Sometimes kids cannot explain their needs, but dad’s desire to talk to them shows that he cares, especially if he listens to them and takes them at their word.
For all the dads out there that have “blown it” or parents that feel they have lost all connection with their kids, showing how you desire time and interaction with them now will still make a difference. Be persistent, and it will pay off.
Steps Toward Validation
Dads should make an effort to get together with their son or daughter once a week, no matter what. For daughters, make it a date. Go to dinner or a coffee shop and just sit and open your ears, look at her, and ask some good questions. Show her that you will go out of your way to talk to her about what matters most to her.
For sons, you’ll do a better job or validating by doing something active together, rather than sitting face to face. Work on a project, golf, hunt, fish, or attend a game together. You may need to go out of your way to find an interest you both have in common.
Positive validation through mutual participation in an activity (especially an activity you may not personally be that fond of) gives your teenager the impression that you care. Strengthen that feeling by endeavoring to find some way to encourage and praise them, even if it is hard to find something praiseworthy.
Every child yearns for attention from the adults in their life. They might be on guard or may not trust you at first because in the past they have not felt so important to you. Make it clear to them that it is your desire now to spend time with them on a regular basis, and then be consistent. Both of you will benefit, but your teen will feel validated because they begin to feel that you really want to be with them and to nourish the relationship.
Kids need their mom’s and dad’s presence and attention to their needs. If not, they will look for value and validation somewhere else – usually from all the wrong places — but they will never truly find it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids. He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.
His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.org. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.
Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Here you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens App, a great way to listen on your schedule.