One of the greatest things we can give our children is time. I read somewhere that, on average, fathers have around 60 seconds of quality time with each child per day, where there are no interruptions. And it is nothing. We have always made sure that we eat dinner together with no TV, no cellphones, no stereo – just us around the table eating and talking. I also used to take the girls on dates when they were little. We’d go to the movies or to a café to get a fluffy. Now, the two younger ones and I still walk to a café every Saturday morning for coffee and hot chocolate.
This is about deciding what is worth getting tough over, and what isn’t. My eldest daughter wanted her tummy button pierced. I’m not big on that stuff, but I thought, “It’s just a taste thing, she will probably get bored with it and take it out.” But when it comes to things like drug taking, then you have to stand firm and say “no”. That’s a matter of principle.
Parents are often afraid to lay down rules because they think if they are too strict, the kids will rebel. But, actually, it’s when you give them rules without reason that they rebel. If you give them a reason why they shouldn’t do something, it will make sense to them and they’ll accept it. In our house, one rule is there’s no Facebook until they are 17, because some of the hate that happens on Facebook is really horrible. We thought that by 17, they would be better equipped to block any haters and handle it much better than they would do at 13 or 14. We also have a rule that they can’t date one-on-one until they are 18. They can go out with a boy as part of a group, or double or triple date, but the one-on-one dates have to wait until they are better able to make informed decisions about things like sex and their future. It might sound like something out of The Waltons, but it has worked out okay for our family.
I’ve been guilty of this, but you have to remember that your job first and foremost is to parent them. It is up to us to provide rules and boundaries – kids feel safe with them. That’s why the girls have to be home by 11pm. If you say, ‘Come home whenever you want, I’ll be asleep anyway’, kids interpret that as a lack of love. And the good thing is that when they get older, as well as being their father, you can also develop a friendship with them.
To start with, I tried really hard to be a perfect father, and I constantly failed. Then I read about setting your priorities when it came to parenting. Jodi and I discussed what our top five priorities were for our kids – things like teaching them to love each other and to be kind – and we focused on those things. It took a lot of the pressure off.
They want to know that, not only do you love them, but you believe in them, and you know they are capable people. That gives them such a boost.
I have always said to my girls, “Remember that you can tell me anything.” Sometimes it is hard if they tell you something you don’t want to hear, but it is better than putting your head in the sand and ignoring it.