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Fathers becoming mothers

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. …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
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 

Comments (13)

  • Hello Seth. Thank you for this timely missive and you already know how much I love and respect you and Karen. Your children have always given me joy in the recent seasons where cleaning a kitchen or killing a varmint was the obvious assignment. As it relates to your blog tonight I have too many perhaps aggressively insightful comments to make… most of which don’t appropriately honor women. That has been my journey through the decades so I’ll just say thanks and good night. You and Karen are a dying breed. Shalom….

  • Re: “the luxury of feeling pain”
    This is too amazing to comprehend, like the way of a man with a maid, or the way of a snake upon a rock.

  • Seth, timely message to us dads who parent late teens and early 20s. Television and the media have also distorted our views on a dad’s role in the lives of his children…

  • I wonder if lonely dads are looking for
    their children’s acceptance- for someone in the world to think dad is ‘cool’?

    Maybe older dads- I think if I had started my family at 23 instead of 33 I might be stricter? As I get older there are less battles worth fighting?

    Fathers growing in mercy and grace- the generation of fathers hearts being turned to their children?

    Church leaders who don’t model for men in any way- especially discipline-? Political correctness in the church?

  • I am the father of 5. I am known as Mr. No in our house. I find it unbelievable the number of folks w/ really screwed up kids who think I am too strict, too tough, too whatever…

    I have been working w/ jr./sr. high students since 1991 and I have seen all kinds of parenting styles and the kind of people that are produced.

    I have seen people expect more obedience out of their dogs than they do their own children.

    Our kids need to see:
    1. Unconditional love
    2. Clearly defined boundaries
    3. Consistent discipline (hardest thing)
    4. Clear expectations.

    Far too many dads are just passing on most of these either out of ignorance or laziness.

    Come on dad, GROW UP!

  • Really good and needed word. I see too many of my friends afraid to say “no” to their kids and far too many of my friends who never heard “no”. It messes kids up not to have boundaries and consequences. Moms and dads, but especially dads need more “no” in their vocabulary.

  • 1) yeah, gender roles are messed up in the land of nod. nature abhors a vacuum. men vacated. women filled. or women invaded and men fled. not sure which. either way, it’s no time for women to stand back; rather, it’s high time for men to step forward.

    2) the problem isn’t only that men won’t DO NO. it’s that too many men won’t DO SQUAT. perhaps too strong…? it’s not my intention to sideline the many men who are doing a tremendous job (such as Mr. Barnes) but the ratio is distressing.

    3) this is no detached assesment: i ache greatly at the paucity of male motivation i see. motivation towards Godly vision I mean – motivation is oft boundless when at stake are hot rods, Halo, shooting deer, or pursuing girls.

    4) i want to be part of the solution, not just sounding gongs of news dire. in my own demographic, i know 20-something guys who have incredible potential for the Lord, potential that is being drained into plasma tv screens. makes me upset. “Wake Up!” i want to scream.

    5) us guys need a challenge. something to live for greater than ourselves, like Jesus Christ and his call to die. like fighting evil, oppression, and working in concert with The Great I Am ushering His Kingdom on earth. we need to be broken, stirred by His love, exposed to a cause worth fighting for.

    6) the church isn’t inspring us – the bar is too low. yes, the bar is too low.

  • “Who can tell me anymore what a father is supposed to do?”
    You just did, Seth, and you hit the nail on the head.
    I didn’t allow my husband to be the father he would and could have been, especially during the teen years.
    Long story.
    I now look back with grief and regret.
    Truth is, he is probably more free now to be himself, as a real father, than he ever was when we were together.
    Ouch…that hurts.
    I ran the show in the parenting arena. I didn’t trust him or respect his parenting.
    It’s a miracle, and the utter grace of God, that my children are as put-together as they are today.
    Love to all…

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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