“What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it – we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are.” (1 John 3:1, MSG)
“A Father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing.” (Psalm 68:5-6, NIV)
The Importance of a Father’s Love
As your child’s parent, you have the potential to be the primary influence for good or bad in his or her life. Our ministry work here in Medellin centers around children and adults who are at high risk. These families are in poverty and are often involved in drugs and prostitution. The majority of these precious people have suffered from a lack of their father’s love. Many also suffer from a lack of their mother’s love.
Living Based on a Lie
There was a young girl just sixteen years old whose children we cared for at the children’s center. One day this young mother walked into our psychologist’s office. She confessed that she had been working as a prostitute for several few years. “I prostitute myself because my father doesn’t love me,” she insisted through tears.
“How do you know he doesn’t love you?” asked Sandra, our psychologist.
“Because he’s never once tried to contact me. I don’t even know him! If he loved me, he would have tried to get in touch with me!” she responded defiantly.
“How do you know he hasn’t tried to contact you?” persisted Sandra. “That could be a lie that you’re believing. We’re going to declare right now that your father does indeed love you. We’re going to declare that he has actually been trying to contact you!”
Sandra then led the girl in a prayer of repentance for having believed something without knowing for sure if it was the truth or not. She asked God’s to forgive her for letting it control her and affect decisions she’d made in her life.
He Loves Me!
Less than a week later, the girl came running into Sandra’s office, beaming! “It’s true! It’s all true! You were right!” she jubilantly announced.
“What’s true?” questioned Sandra.
“You were right about my father…he DOES love me! The day after we prayed he called me and told me he loves me very much!” she excitedly explained. “He said that when I was born my mother wouldn’t let him see me. He says he’s thought about me every day of my life! He was in prison for eleven years. He just got out, and he called me right away. HE LOVES ME!!”
How tragic that this beautiful, precious girl suffered unnecessarily for so many years. She made a myriad of bad choices, based on a lie. She had believed that her father didn’t love her, when in fact he DID love her very much.
A Father’s Love Brings Confidence
Now for a very different example. Back in the 1990s, I taught a female trumpet student who was sweet but rather plain-looking. She was a strong, confident girl, and radiated a natural confidence atypical for girls her age. This made others want to be around her. Ironically, she didn’t dress to please her peers or attract boys’ attention. Although she was in high school, she didn’t wear makeup on a regular basis.
I marveled at how different she was from so many other girls her age. Then one day I watched as her father picked her up after her lesson. He hugged her tightly and tousled her hair. They shared a private joke and laughed. Then she walked out of the music studio arm-in-arm with the man who was doing so much more than retrieving his daughter from her trumpet lesson.
What was he doing? He was teaching her to expect to be treated like a princess. She was perfectly beautiful, inside and out, just as she was. There was no need for her to compete with others through dress, makeup, hairstyles, or behavior.
This young girl’s identity was well-formed. She was a daughter of her family’s king. A girl in that position will have no problem understanding her value and identity as a daughter of the Most High King. Nor is she likely to end up in an unhealthy or abusive relationship later on in life.
The Power of a Parent’s Words
“Abby’s the cook around here,” I’ve caught myself saying on more than one occasion after tasting one of her delicious creations.
“Mariana’s the nurse in the family,” I would say after our beautiful adopted Colombian daughter finished attending to the wounds of a family member.
“Alex is the creative one,” I would tell other adults when they saw his amazing drawings or an intricate lego creation that he’d invented.
“Gabe’s the brain in the family,” I would explain when people were surprised that he is four years ahead in school.
Ways to Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem
By complimenting my children, I was trying to build into what I thought were the gifts of each child. My mother had typically shied away from complimenting me or receiving compliments on my behalf in public. This had caused a deep-seated negative self-esteem in my life when I was younger.
I certainly didn’t want to make the same mistake with my own precious children. By complimenting their obvious gifts in public, I would be speaking into their identity and helping build their self-confidence.
On one level this was working. My children have had strong self-identities throughout their childhood and adolescence. However, I was also unconsciously ‘labeling’ my children.
I lauded Abby’s cooking prowess, but what about Gabe’s natural interest and skills in cooking? Alex is an amazing artist, but what about the other children’s creative efforts? They were certainly different from Alex’s accomplishments but equally notable. What if Mariana wants to cook someday? Will she always feel secondary to Abby, who I had inadvertently labeled ‘the cook in the family’?
Well-Meaning Labels Can Damage Siblings
That brought me back to a rather painful childhood memory in which I had overheard an adult saying of my older sister, “Elizabeth is the pretty child.” Someone then said, “Well, Jennifer is cute, too.” However, the damage had been done. I was not the ‘pretty child.” Rather, I’d been given secondary status as ‘cute’.
I wince inwardly as I think of the many times we as parents make these subtle mistakes without even realizing it. I would suggest that instead of labeling our kids as ‘the cook’ or ‘the artist,’ we instead stick to complimenting them for their work.
I might say, “Alex, you created a wonderful lego car! God has really gifted you with creativity!” That praise lifts Alex’s self-esteem, while also allowing the other kids to be just as creative in their own way.
Parents are the Primary Influence in a Child’s Life
As parents, we are the number one influence on our children. We have more opportunity than anyone else on earth to influence them for good or for bad. What we DO, more than what we say, can impact their little lives forever. This will also influence the lives of their children, and their children’s children, and so on down the lines for generations to come.
Children have many friends. Think about it. Everyone they meet can be defined as a friend, regardless of age. Barring the unfortunate reality of divorce and remarriage, however, they only have one mother and father.
If we don’t step into this role as parents, who will do it for us? A high school boyfriend? A gang of other children who offer protection and a sense of belonging? NO…a million times, NO! God has entrusted that ultra-important job to none other than you and me!
Fathers Are the First Man Their Daughters Love
Fathers, you are the first man your little girl loves. You have the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to teach her that she is a princess in your eyes and in God’s eyes. You are the key person to help her understand that she deserves to be treated well by her future boyfriend or husband.
When she looks at you, she needs to see a strong, safe man who will love her and protect her. And yes, when she is someday ready to look for a mate, she will probably try to find somebody who is just like you.
That is an awesome and humbling responsibility. It is also an amazing privilege that is YOURS alone. You, her father, can make or break her relationships with males for the rest of her life. We know plenty of beautiful, intelligent girls who have chosen addictive, abusive or neglectful mates. They have chosen these men they reminded the women of their addictive, abusive, or neglectful fathers.
Conversely, I know plenty of girls who know they are the apple of their father’s eye. Their fathers value and cherish them. These girls will expect and accept no less from their suitor or mate.
Fathers Are the Primary Example in their Son’s Life
Fathers, you also have the unique opportunity to teach your sons how to be men. You, even more than their mother, are the primary influence in their life! Everything you say and do will get registered somewhere in their little minds and hearts. These things will most likely come out, for better or for worse, when they are husbands and fathers.
We decided to intentionally build into our sons, as well as the sons of friends who have boys of a similar age as ours. We created a group called “Brave Men,” which in Spanish is “Hombres Valientes.” Here in Colombia, there is a tremendous absence of fathers, with an astonishing 84% of all children being born to unwed mothers. We wanted to hit this problem head-on while also building into our own sons.
“Hombres Valientes” met regularly when our boys were young. The dads would take turns presenting themes related to growing up into a responsible Christian man. The men always planned an event or activity associated with the theme to keep the boys’ attention and to help solidify the learning.
Learning About Perseverance
One activity was especially memorable for the group. The boys and dads all slept over at our house one night. The theme for that event was perseverance. They enjoyed a cookout in the evening, and the father’s shared a teaching about the importance of perseverance. The fathers included some fun games and activities to help teach the concept.
The boys went to sleep shortly before midnight. The fathers then went to work secretly filling up their son’s backpacks with heavy rocks. They were labeled with undesirable traits such as “Laziness”, “Pornography”, “Anger”, etc.
Climbing a Mountain at Dawn
Very early the next morning the dads woke the boys and announced that they were going to climb a nearby mountain to watch the sunrise. Excited, the boys ran for their backpacks. To their surprise and dismay, the boys discovered how heavy they were!
The boys were instructed not to look inside their backpacks. The group drove to the base of the mountain. In sheer darkness, they prayed and then began to climb. After about half an hour, Tom stopped the boys, who were pretty exhausted by this time.
“Are you guys feeling pretty tired?” he asked. They nodded, panting. He asked, “Why don’t you reach into your backpack and take out just one thing?” The boys opened their backpacks and were stunned to find heavy rocks inside!
Casting Sin Out of Their Lives
Each boy took one out and read the label on it. Then he threw it as far as he could, yelling, “OUT OF MY LIFE, _____________!” (naming the label on the rock).
This was a very significant symbolic act for the boys. They were physically casting sin out of their lives. The dads gave them some wise advice. “It was really hard to climb the mountain with (laziness/anger/pornography/etc…), wasn’t it?” The boys nodded in agreement. “Now you’ll see how much easier it is to move ahead without it!”
And sure enough, it WAS easier to climb without that heavy rock that had been weighing them down! About fifteen minutes further up the mountain, they did the same thing with another rock. As the boys’ backpacks became lighter from casting out the ‘sins,’ it became progressively easier to climb.
What did this do? It taught the boys many things. First, they learned the importance of perseverance. They had wanted to give up on climbing the mountain because their backpacks were heavy and it was a very steep climb. However, they pressed on and had the reward of achieving their goal. The group finally reached the top just as the sun was beginning to peek over the horizon. The boys also gained an understanding of how much easier it is to walk through life without the weight of sin holding you back and slowing you down.
It brings tears of joy to my eyes when I see the pictures of the boys and their dads standing triumphantly at the top of the mountain with their arms up in victory, the morning sun peeking over the edge of the mountain behind them. They had accomplished so many things in those few hours. Most importantly the fathers had the privilege of being able to teach their sons those vital lessons. It was a day they will always remember.
Let Your Husband Parent Differently Than You
Mothers, we encourage you to allow time for your husband to spend time alone with your children. The kids will benefit from the individual time spent with each of you.
Your husband may not do things exactly the way you want. Tom and the kids eat dinner on the couch when I’m not there! However, these healthy differences will allow your children to be more well-rounded in life. They will also see that there is more than one ‘right way’ to do things.
Tom and I are quite different in many ways. I love adventure and am passionate about education. I also love to be outdoors and ‘on the go.’ When I’m alone with the kids, we usually do things that are very stimulating, educational, and fun.
Tom, on the other hand, works full-time in a stressful ministry environment. When he’s home, he’s there to rest. They will snuggle up, play cards, have a cup of tea, or color while listening to soothing music, etc. He is also the spiritual leader in our home, so he will take advantage of their time together to share what he has been learning from God.
While I schedule our time more tightly, Tom is a bit more relaxed. Where I am a bit more relaxed in terms of discipline, Tom is more alert. Where I am very silly and a bit off-color, Tom is more ‘proper.’ Our children definitely benefit from all of these differences!
Make the Effort for Dad to Spend Time with the Kids
I’m determined that my children and husband spend time together without me being involved. A few years ago we started the tradition of Tom and the kids eating breakfast together every Monday morning. It hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes they had to get up at 5:30 am to do it. It’s well worth it every time, though, and all of us are blessed as a result.
At first, the kids asked me to join them for breakfast with Dad. I repeatedly gave the same answer. “I get to be with you all day every day, but Daddy only gets you to himself one morning a week. I don’t want to take that from him!” They would get big smiles on their faces then, knowing that they are important enough for Daddy to want them all to himself!
Children typically have more time with their mothers than their fathers. Even if it’s the opposite in your family, whoever has more time with the children needs to make time for the other parent to have special time with the kids too, and to do it THEIR WAY!
What About Single Moms?
So what do you do if you’re a single mother raising your children? We suggest finding a trustable male role model, possibly an uncle or a family friend. It doesn’t have to take too much time. Even an hour every week will give your son something to look forward to. It will pay huge dividends down the road in your son’s life.