Nobody likes role confusion – yet who can tell me anymore what a father is supposed to do?
It’s a problem; a father’s role used to be clear – to protect, to provide and transition. Hebrews 12 says fathers discipline their children. We dads used to know what we were doing. But these days, we seem to wind up stuck in ambiguity.
Mothers are hard-wired to nurture children. Creating a nest, a safe place for them to grow up, comes naturally. They love unconditionally much better than do fathers. Their default position is “yes.”
We fathers, in contrast, have to be able to offer the sacred “no.” No, we’re not going to hover over or coddle you anymore. No, if you fail a class, we’re not going to defend you. No, you may not live in our basement any longer. No, we will not subsidize your job search anymore.
Moms need to be able to keep loving unconditionally so their children have a safe place to go to in life’s storms. The problem is, many dads want that role too – we have lost the ability to offer the sacred no. We don’t even really understand its importance, or that if we don’t offer it, we will perpetuate the dysfunction of dependency.
In short, many of us fathers look more like mothers in the way we parent.
Of course in a society full of single parents, working parents and mixed families, overlap in roles necessary. And some of the overlap has produced good fruit. Many dads are more involved in the nurturing process; they’re more engaged in their children’s lives.
But the pendulum has swung too far the other direction – discipline and character formation need the sacred no. One of the reasons 20-somethings struggle to commit is that they’ve been rescued too many times. You can’t form character without hardship (see Romans 5:3-4). The discomfort caused by getting a “no” often motivates young people to change their way of thinking. They need the luxury of feeling pain in order to decide to change their behavior.
If you’re a father who too often feels disrespected, or stuck in the no-man’s-land of role ambiguity, my invitation is to reconsider how you parent. What your children often need is not your soft side.
“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character.” Romans 5:3-4