“Fatherhood is pretending the present you love the most is soap-on-a-rope.” – Bill Cosby
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.” – Bible
After school Johnny walks into the room where his dad is reading the paper. Dad doesn't acknowledge Johnny's presence so Johnny says “Hi Dad,” and starts to tell him about something that happened to him that day. His dad interrupts with a grumble and says “Can't you see I'm busy reading the paper?”
Johnny turns away and walks out of the room. The only acknowledgment Johnny received of his existence was rejection.
Tim Sanford, in his book “Losing Control & Liking It,” contends that a dad's primary, underlying job is to validate his children. To validate means to let your child know over and over and over, through words and actions, that the following are true:
“Hey, you exist and you matter to me.”
“You're good enough.”
“You're an OK kid.”
A key component of validation is encouragement, but validation goes beyond encouragement. By definition validation gives legal force to, confirms, and substantiates. We not only praise them for what they've done (encouragement), but we confirm their existence as an individual with value. If done properly, the child believes in himself not only for what he's done but who he is.
Sanford notes that children get their earliest, most lasting impressions of who they are from what's reflected back to them by their parents. These impressions become permanent imprints on the brain and strongly affect the child's behavior and feelings of self-worth as he or she grows older.
Mothers normally provide the nurturing component of parenting. They focus on compassion and gentleness and relational characteristics. Fathers on the other hand are more geared toward giving the child a sense of purpose and value, a feeling that there are things worth living – and dying – for.
It's that valuable combination of mercy and justice that enables us to be victorious in life. Justice simply refers to the structure that all children need in their lives. Put simply, justice is the application of laws, or in a child's mind the idea that there are rules and boundaries, which gives them a sense of security.
Validation is not control. Fathers may attempt to substitute control for validation by forcing the child to behave, with severe punishment if the rules are violated.
Dr. Gary Chapman, in his book “Five Signs of a Loving Family,” gives the following illustration.
We walk into little Mary's room and see twelve toys on the floor. We ask Mary to put them in the toy box. Ten minutes later we walk in and see seven toys in the box and five left on the floor. We have a choice.
We can exercise control and use condemning words, such as “I told you, Mary, pick these toys up. Am I going to have to spank you?” Or we can use encouraging words: “Yeah! Seven in the box! I bet the other five are going to jump right in along with them.”
Sanford illustrates what happens when we fail to validate. Angie, sixteen years old, was brought into his office because she was angry, hurting herself, and depressed.
Angie told him the daily routine in her home. Dad was always busy with work, even when he was in the house, and rarely spoke a word to any family members. Mom wasn't present much either.
There were no harsh words, no abuse, no molestation. Angie learned to fend for herself around the house; she took care of herself because she knew no one else would.
Yes, she was angry; she was all alone. There was no validation, or nurturing. She was taking her anger out on the person she thought was at fault. She told Sanford it was her fault for being born – she felt no value to her life, her existence.
I end with this quote from Jim Valvano: “My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.”
Roger Rollins is the executive director of The Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken, Inc. Contact him at 803-640-4689, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.aikenfamco.com.
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