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The Father Factor

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What's Missing in the Adrian Peterson Story?

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

What in the world was Adrian Peterson thinking when he took a switch -- specifically, a tree branch -- to his 4-year-old son? He wasn't thinking, and that's part of his problem. But there's more to this horrible situation than meets the eye.

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I decided to wait nearly a week after this story broke to write this piece because I've learned that these stories are like the proverbial layers of the onion. We learn more and more as the layers peel away over the days, weeks and, sometimes, months after such a story becomes public. This story still has some legs, especially as we wait to see how the legal system will judge Peterson's action. But as is typically the case, the court of public opinion is moving at light speed to render judgment on Peterson, no doubt fueled by the Ray Rice and Greg Hardy domestic-violence incidents, and the lack of appropriate NFL policies that address domestic and family violence perpetrated by its players.

Even though this story continues to unfold, I decided to write this piece now because of what's been absent from coverage of this story -- two vital reasons Peterson acted in such a stupid, harmful manner.

First, Peterson was and still is ill prepared for being a father. Let me be clear. I'm not talking about whether he loves or genuinely cares for his son. I'm also not saying he lacks any knowledge or skill in being a father. What he clearly lacks, however, is an adequate base of knowledge and skills required of a nurturing, loving father, particularly in the area of disciplining a child.

Second, Peterson lacks even a basic understanding of the difference between discipline and punishment. I'll unpack this second reason before I return to the first one.

The evidence for this lack of understanding first appeared in a statement issued by Peterson's attorney, Rusty Hardin, who said, "Adrian is a loving father who used his judgment as a parent to discipline his son. He used the same kind of discipline with his child that he experienced as a child growing up in east Texas."

The evidence mounted several days later when Peterson spoke for the first time about the abusive act and said:

"I never imagined being in a position where the world is judging my parenting skills or calling me a child abuser because of the discipline I administered to my son... I have to live with the fact that when I disciplined my son the way I was disciplined as a child, I caused an injury that I never intended or thought would happen. I know that many people disagree with the way I disciplined my child."

(Click here for the full text of Peterson's statement.)

Count me in with the crowd who disagrees as you notice how Peterson and Hardin harp on the notion that Peterson "disciplined" his child.

He did not discipline his child. He used a violent, fear-based, abusive form of punishment that was, tragically, used on him as a child.

That Peterson never questioned how he was punished as a child is also part of his problem.

Discipline, which originates from the Latin word "discipulus," means "to teach or guide." To punish means, no pun intended, to "penalize" someone for an offense through pain, loss, confinement, or even death. Taking a switch to a 4-year-old in today's world, or in the world of the recent or distant past, is simply a form of abusive, fear-based punishment meant to inflict pain. It in no way teaches or guides. Anyone who doesn't realize this kind of punishment can injure a child is not in his or her right mind.

Too many fathers, and parents in general, confuse discipline and punishment. They use the terms interchangeably. (Peterson and Hardin clearly fall into this camp.) They default to punishment because they either lack knowledge of effective ways to discipline their children or, if they know of alternatives; they take the easier, swifter path because, quite simply, discipline requires more work than punishment. Discipline requires skill in applying proven techniques. It also requires parents to be calm, patient, and nurturing before, during and after disciplining children, a quality some parents sorely lack. It also requires comfort with failure as parents learn how to effectively apply the techniques of child discipline and which ones work best with their children.

Moreover, when these parents punish -- and there are times when it is appropriate to punish children -- they use violent forms that are unnecessary and place their children at risk for injury, not to mention the damage these forms have on parent-child relationships. These parents lack the knowledge of effective, non-violent forms of punishment.

This specific lack of knowledge and skill in the discipline of children underscores a larger problem, particularly as it concerns fathers and our culture in general. Too many men become fathers without an inkling of how to be a good father. Our culture does a pitiful job of preparing men to be good fathers, and fathers know this. Several years ago, researchers from the University of Texas and Rutgers University conducted the most significant national study to date on fathers' attitudes on fathering. Only slightly more than half of the fathers surveyed "agreed," and less than a fourth "strongly agreed," that they felt adequately prepared for fatherhood when they first became fathers.

As this story continues to unfold, we must not only examine Peterson's culpability and the appropriateness of the actions taken by the NFL and the Vikings in punishing him. We must also examine the culpability of our society for its inadequate preparation of men to be fathers and lack of training for fathers in the knowledge and skills required to be involved, responsible, committed fathers. (National Fatherhood Initiative tried for years, with no success, to work with the NFL in providing fathering training and resources for its players.) While that latter examination doesn't absolve Peterson of his individual responsibility in abusing his child, it at least acknowledges that his action didn't occur in a vacuum. Fortunately, and encouragingly, the legal authorities and the citizens in east Texas who indicted him recognized his action for what it is. Let's hope Peterson will eventually do the same.

How were you disciplined and/or punished as a child? How does how you were raised help (or harm) your style of discipline as a parent today?

For fatherhood leaders, we're here to help you serve the dads you lead. You can subscribe to our ebook service; where we share "How to Discipline Your Child" along with other helpful topics for dads.

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

That Time When Ray Liotta Punched Me in My Fathering Face

I don't know "Goodfellas" Liotta. I know "Field of Dreams" Liotta, "Corina, Corina" Liotta, and "Bee Movie" Liotta. As an actor, Liotta is known for punching people in the face. His newest work as the dad in The Identical punched me in the face. His character reminded me of how I can get so many things right as a dad; yet fall prey to the sin of being distant and detached.

Liotta made me think about the root problem of connecting with our kids; the real struggle is managing work and family. If we can learn to manage work and family; we can better connect to our child, and not be like how we see Liotta's character for most of the movie—as a doubting and detached dad.

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At NFI we talk a lot about absent fathers. Our research and mission is all about the effects of father absence. We train leaders so they in turn train dads to be better dads. In The Identical, Ray Liotta's character is a decent dad. He's not phyically absent. He's a country preacher who’s home at night, provides food on the table, a roof over his family, and stability. But, he's missing a crucial piece of the great-dad puzzle. He's cold and emotionally detached from his son. Us dads can get a lot of things right as dads, yet miss the point; that is, to really connect with our kids. Being an involved, responsible and committed father is not just about being physically present, it’s about connecting with your child. 

The Identical is about a son (played by Blake Rayne) of a preacher (Liotta), who rejects his father’s desire for him to join his line of work. Instead of preach, the son loves music and wants to do that silly stuff that people from Tennessee do—like write and sing music. We follow Ryan Wade as he struggles to live out his dream all the while his father is disappointed. There’s secrets to uncover and successes and failures all along the way; but after all is said and done, this is a father-son film. 

As a dad, I can get some things right. I can have an honorable career, provide a roof and food and come home at a decent hour each night. Yet if I'm not careful about how I value my relationship between work and family; I risk having a real relationship with my daughters. Watching the father-son relationship in this movie reminded me to be careful about how I manage work and family. Basically, Ray Liotta punched me in my face.

After watching The Identical, I had to come back to our training programs. We train leaders to teach dads how to manage work and family. Managing work and family means you are able to show you value work AND family. It’s easier to meet both responsibilities if we get these eight things right.

1) Avoid taking work home
Challenge yourself to either not take your work home or do it after the kids are in bed. Train yourself to unplug mentally and physically before you get home. Some days I do this well—some days I don't. The days I do this best are the days I make myself stop in the driveway, and detach from the day's work; so I'm not detached from my girls when I step in the house.

2) Get focused while at work
Every week there's something to attend—a practice or family game night. I have two children in school now. Trust me, I know from experience, it's busy. If you look at your kid’s schedule, there’s probably something you’re missing. Try getting to the office earlier or closing your door. Be careful about how you spend your time at work. Reminder: the point is to get your job done AND get home to be with your family.

3) Put your work and family schedule on one calendar
A wise man once said if you don’t plan to succeed you plan to fail. Prioritize your duties at work and home. Not that I’m perfect at this, but something that seems to work for me is that I use one to-do list for work and home and one calendar for work and home. Take a moment to review the upcoming week. Be intentional about adding the events to your calendar. Don't forget to mark time on your calendar for down time on a regular Thursday evening at home with your kids too. Time marked "busy" doesn't have to be the big events like recitals and dances and whatnot. 

4) Learn when to say yes and when to say no
Be strategic about being a team player and pitching in on tasks. On the other hand, be careful because if you're the guy who says yes to everything you may simply be horrible at delegating—or worse—horrible at being with your family.

5) Put your commitment to family on display 
Take a look at the pictures in your office. My guess is that if you have teenagers, your pictures aren’t of teenagers. If I walked into your office, I’d probably think you had a newborn! Update your pictures. Think about it: if your child is young, display their artwork. It will serve as a reminder to you and guess what everyone will use for small talk and connection? Exactly, you will be reminded of that great artist you have at home!

6) Learn about your office's work-family balance policies
You may have extra time you can use to re-prioritize and be with your family. From use of sick time to flex-time, there may be ways to take time off from work and be with your child when he or she has to go to the dentist.

7) Make career choices with the family in mind
This may sound funny to some, but it happens (or doesn't happen). Consider stress-level and what it takes to gain a promotion before changing roles or positions. Consider your family on all things from location of the job to benefits.

8) Try and be with your family everyday.
Unless you're in prison or deployed, there isn't many more reasons for not seeing your family daily. But, I’m constantly hearing of dads who sell out for position and money over time with his child. There may exist a time and place for this; but it should always be the exception and not the norm. Being a dad means taking time. If you aren’t physically available daily, then consider phone and email as great options. The point is to be available and connected. Know how your child is doing so when something comes up, they can talk to you.

What I saw in watching The Identical was dad who didn’t know how to connect with his child. Of course he loved his son; but for various reasons from his past on down to his own interests, he spent years not really connecting with his son. He spent years disapproving of his son's successes and being detached. Living as a connected dad requires we learn how to value our work AND family. A good dad manages both. Connecting with your child may seem difficult; but let Ray Liotta's character remind you it shouldn't take a lifetime to learn.

What’s one thing from this list where you needs the most help?

Learn more about The Identical and get started connecting with your child by downloading "The Ultimate Guide to Connecting with your Child".

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This free eBook is designed to help you and your child become closer and more connected. Use it for yourself or to help other dads. In this eBook we share:

  • The best questions to ask your school-aged child to get him or her talking
  • Great questions you can ask your teenager
  • Questions you can ask yourself to be sure you're doing all you should to be a great dad

 

 

What Great Leaders Know That Others Don't

I never played high school football. My football career took place over a short span of four years, from the age of 9 to 12. Some call this peewee football; but not me. Peewee isn't accurate for what I learned about football, leadership, and life in those short years. As I watched When the Game Stands Tall, I was reminded of three things great leaders know that others don't.

Coach Lad knew what great leaders know. After winning 151 games in a roll, the film starts at the end of this great win streak. The Coach suffers a heart attack and the team loses game one of the following season. All seems lost for the "perfect" team. Oh, but no. Coach Lad knows what great leaders know. As he motivates his team about the importance of perfection, commitment, and accountability, we are reminded that playing football is about way more than just playing football. I found his lessons on leadership a helpful reminder of what it takes to be a good husband, dad, employee, and friend. 

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This movie and Coach Lad's example of leadership reminded me of three things great leaders know—in good times and in bad times—that others don't:

1) Great Leaders Know Leadership Starts in the Home

Leadership and fatherhood are one in the same. Watching as a husband and father, I was reminded when watching Coach Lad suffer a heart attack that try as I may, I can do everything necessary to be a great leader in my job and with friends, but if I neglect my home and family, all is pointless. 

Coach Lad's wife points to the fact that over the 151-game winning streak, Coach hasn't been around much for his own kids. We watch when Coach Lad suffers a heart attack, he breaks down and refers to himself as a "lousy husband and the worst dad." From the hospital bed, Coach Lad asks his wife, "what do I do now?" His wife responds caringly, “spend as much time with your family as you do with the team." We then walk with Coach Lad through his recovery and watch as he works to build a relationship with his son; who's now in his senior year of high school. This one lesson was clear: if you want to be great at something, be great at being around your family.

2) Great Leaders Know Leadership is about Commitment

At the start of the movie, the high school football players are in street clothes holding a meeting. Back when I practiced football, I don't recall having practices in street clothes talking like we were in a small group study. But Coach Lad had his athletes holding index cards and reading the other teammates goals aloud and verifying whether they completed their goals for the week. 

When it comes to commitment, we have to teach our children the importance of sticking to our word. When I was 9 years old, there were practices I didn't want to go to. I "just wanted to play" in the games and wear the jersey on Friday's. I hated it at the time, but I have learned after two decades to respect what my dad told me when he said, "you made your commitment they day you signed up to play; that means practice and all. You don't play on Saturday without practicing on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday." Kind of sounds like Coach Lad now that I think about it!

"We’re not asking you to be perfect on every play,
what we are asking you and what you should be asking of
each other is to give a perfect effort from snap to whistle.” 

—Coach Lad


3) Great Leaders Know Leadership is about Serving Others: 

When you're a dad, you quickly realize that life isn't about you. Coach Lad makes clear to his team that, "Love means I’ll be there for you in good times and bad." Basically, Lad is saying, whether it's convenient for me or not, I'll be there for you. See the application here in marriage? fatherhood? work? life? The power of showing up is real. Great leaders understand that while they may not have all the answers, they'll show up and serve no matter what. Showing up is in the job description.

"Growing up is tough, it’s not easy, it ain’t about football or scoring touchdowns, it’s about helping you grow up so that when you so when you take your place out in the community, you can be depended on.” —Coach Lad


When I played peewee football, I didn’t realize how much I was learning about leadership and life. It takes vigilance to be a great leader. It takes being faithful with what you have. It takes showing up. It takes placing others before yourself. This film was a great reminder for me that I’m an example, for good or for ill, to my wife, daughters, co-workers and how I do on these three tests determines how good or bad of a leader I am. Look, being a dad is hard work; but it's worth it. Oh, and as Coach Lad would say, "Family isn't just blood relatives." Get your home right so you can help serve those outside of your home.

What to see the trailer for this film? Check out our When the Game Stands Tall? page for more details.

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Become a Double Duty Dad Today! 

In this film, we see Coach Lad is what we at NFI calll a "Double Duty Dad". He knows how to lead in the home and outside of it. With 24 million children growing up in America without their biological father in the home, you can make a much-needed difference in your home and outside your home in two ways:

1) to a fatherless child in your circle of influence or
2) mentoring another dad.

Your commitment to be a Double Duty Dad will change everything. Visit here to get our helpful eBook.

Never Forget, You are a Father!

Here’s something to put on your wall at work or your bathroom, where you will see it every day. A reminder of the important things in life, as a father. 

Most of us men are good people, but too many of us are not as adept at being good fathers. The difference lies in everyday life and our priorities. Some men are intentional about placing a career ahead of ‘Dadhood’. Many more of us do the same thing, but we do it subconsciously. When your children grow up, they will most likely think of you with love--but will they have your respect? We must occasionally stop, look, and listen to our children and our role as their father.

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Some Things to Ponder:

  • When you’ve been in the office for 60 hours this week, don’t forget you’re a father.
  • When your buddies want you to stop by after work for a drink, do it, maybe. But don’t forget you are a father. 
  • When you are watching the ballgame, and your child asks you a question, remember, you are a father.
  • When you are trying to catch up with maintaining your house, and your young son wants to ‘help’, don’t forget you are his father.
  • When your daughter asks you to take her to the mall, take her. But ask a lot of questions and place limitations first. Remember, you’re her father.
  • When your child needs a hug, or a smile, or a stare-down, remember, you’re their father.
  • When a dance recital is scheduled during the Master’s tournament, remember to record it. The Masters--not the dance recital! After all, you are a father.
  • When you don’t live with your children, at least live for your children. After all, you are their father and they need you.
  • Never forget to be around for the milestones. Is work really more important than the first day of school? Maybe so, around .1 percent of the time!
  • Never forget to discipline your kids when they need it. Be firm but do not yell or shake! 
  • Never forget to ask them how they are doing, at school, with friends, with their siblings, etc. Talk with them--not at them. 
  • Never forget to be respectful to their mother and to be a partner to her, especially for your kids’ needs. 
  • Never forget that neither you, nor your children are perfect. Be patient.
  • Never forget that they are not you. Let them be the person they are, but guide them as their father.

Many of these reminders are reminders your kids may want you to ignore, like disciplining or asking too many questions of them. They want you to ignore those actions for that moment, but they want you to be interested enough to be concerned for them and to mold them.

Understand that you don’t fail as a father if you don’t comply with these reminders 100 percent of the time. It’s the attitude you have as a dad, not 24/7 perfection. For instance, if it were the ninth inning of the World Series and my daughter asked me to do something with her, I would say, “Okay, but wait until this game is over.”  You can explain later why you asked her to wait, if necessary.

As long as you are aware that you are a father, never feel guilty about time to yourself! You need it! You deserve it! And you will definitely be a better father for it! Just carefully balance your children’s need with yours.

For a further look into your role as a dad, see my “Dads Self-Inspection Checklist”. It will help you to decide where and if you may need to improve your fatherly skills.

image: iStockPhoto

 

 

Off to College: An Open Letter to My Son

Son,

Today is the DAY.  The day you have looked forward to ever since you first heard the word and the day that your mom and I have eyed with apprehension. The DAY that you go off to COLLEGE!

Did you know that according to Wikipedia in ancient Rome a collegium was a club or society, a group of people living together under a common set of rules? I point that out for two reasons. 

First, because it implies that college is more than a place of higher education…it is a place of shared experience with its own set of rules and behaviors. Secondly, that you should never, ever use Wikipedia as a source for anything over the next four years.

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With the wistfulness of a man who thinks this day has arrived way too soon, I would like to give you words of wisdom that will see you through the experience. But this day not only marks another significant step in your life, it is significant for me as well. While you become a bona fide college student, I become officially middle-aged.

So, I don’t have words of wisdom as much as I have things that stick in my craw...pet-peeves if you will. You have heard these from time to time your whole life, but I think each could apply to you and the college experience:

  1. Give it 110% - this cliché that is usually spouted by athletes when talking about their level of effort is impossible to reach. While many things can exceed 100% (the national debt is a good example), effort is not one of them. A person can only give all..not all plus 10%.I don’t have to really explain that to you, since you are a Math Major, but I do want to remind you not to put too much pressure on yourself. You are about to be challenged academically in a way beyond anything you have experienced. That is a good thing. Don’t get discouraged if you struggle at first. You will eventually get it. I have complete faith in your ability. Also, don’t over-extend yourself. There will be many things competing for your time and attention. Remember that you can only give 100% of your effort. So learn to say “no” and choose wisely how you spend your time.
  2. You can’t miss it – people often end a dissertation on directions with this phrase which is senseless, because you obviously CAN miss it, which is part of why you need directions in the first place. A college campus is a great place to experience brand new things beyond the classroom. So don’t miss out on those opportunities. Go to an opera. Sign up for intramural water polo. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Eat some sushi. Look for ways (legal, sane ways that is) to expand your world and experience new things. Otherwise you might miss it.
  3. No-Brainer – this is a phrase folks add when talking about something they think is so obvious it requires no thought. I say, “who are they to tell us what we should consider?” You are about to be bombarded with many who might tempt you to disengage your brain and go with the flow. The values and morals you were raised with will be challenged in many subtle ways. You will have to make decisions on your own about a whole range of things. We trust that you will make wise ones. Ones that reflect who you are as a person. Don’t let anyone tell you not to think or what to think. Use your brain and decide for yourself. 

So, there you have it. Three pet-peeves from your middle-aged dad that you may or may not claim as your own. You are welcome to borrow them if you can use them…kinda like that electric razor we share. (which by the way I couldn’t find this morning…is that by chance packed with the rest of your stuff?)

Love,

Dad

image: iStockPhoto 

Football, Family, and Fatherhood: Learn About When The Game Stands Tall

Inspired by a true story, When The Game Stands Tall shows the real-life De La Salle High School's incredible football winning streak and exactly what created the victories. This film is about football, but make no mistake about it, this film is about fatherhood. Let it inspire you to be a better leader for your home and for those around you.

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It's in theaters now, I'll write more about the leadership lessons from this film in an upcoming post. But first, you have to see the trailer! Coaches and parents who watch will be motivated by being reminded of the real reason you put in the time and effort to lead your children—in good times and bad.

“Winning a lot of football games is doable. Teaching kids there’s more to life? That’s hard.” —Coach Bob Ladouceur in the movie
When The Game Stands Tall

About When The Game Stands Tall

Inspired by the true story, When The Game Stands Tall brings to life the incredible winning streak of the De La Salle High School football team: 151 straight victories over 12 years. All along the way, as Coach Bob Ladouceur builds his seemingly invincible national powerhouse, he has emphasized purpose and significance rather than streaks and titles.

But when real-life adversity leaves the team reeling, the Spartans must decide if the sacrifice, commitment, and teamwork they have always trusted in can rebuild what is now disintegrating around them.

Get a Sneak Peek of When The Game Stands Tall

Check out these scenes from the new family film that show the real-life world of coaching, football, and leadership.

 

Endorsements

"WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL has the best football action I have ever seen in a movie—and I have seen a lot of great football movies over the years! Coaches, players, parents, and fans are all going to stand up and cheer for this powerful film."
—Bobby Bowden, Retired Florida State head football coach

"When I saw WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL, I thought of a great outline of what high school athletics should be. It shouldn’t be about the statistics, it shouldn’t be about the touchdowns—it should be about the team and the effort that a team puts forth together."
—Amani Toomer, Super Bowl champion and former De La Salle receiver

See more endorsements here.

Follow When The Game Stands Tall!

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Become a Double Duty Dad Today! 

In this film, we see Coach Lad is what we at NFI calll a "Double Duty Dad". With 24 million children growing up in America without their biological father in the home, you can make a difference:

1) to a fatherless child in your circle of influence or
2) mentor another dad.

Your commitment to be a Double Duty Dad will change everything. Visit here to get our helpful eBook.

Peanut Butter Cheerios #HowToDad is Spot-On Portrayal of Fathers

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post. 

A little more than two months ago, I posted an article on the horrible portrayal of fathers in TV ads by Lowe's and LG. As I noted in that article, the Lowe's ad in particular was one of the worst I've seen in my nearly 15 years of work at National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI).

As fortune would have it, not soon after the release of those ads, General Mills Canada launched a web-based campaign for Peanut Butter Cheerios anchored by a series of ads that portray fathers in a completely different, positive light. Known as the #HowToDad campaign, it might be the best father-focused campaign for a consumer brand I've seen. The fact that General Mills Canada produced a series of ads within a broader web-based campaign is very important, but more on that later.

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The Lowe's ad is, unfortunately, all too common in its portrayal of a dad as an irresponsible, untrustworthy, incompetent adolescent whose children must be rescued by a responsible, trustworthy, competent mom. What makes this ad and the LG ad so insidious is couching the portrayal of the dads within humor because, these companies reason, the use of humor makes it perfectly fine to reinforce this notion of dads as poor parents, all in the name of selling products to moms. (As I pointed out in the article, this approach is disrespectful of moms as well.) Indeed, when NFI contacted Lowe's to voice our disapproval of their ad, Lowe's simply said they were sorry that we took the ad the wrong way, that their portrayal of the dad was all in fun and meant no harm, and that they had no intention of pulling the ad. Interestingly, we didn't ask them to pull the ad. Perhaps they were a bit defensive given their receipt of a petition signed by NFI and other organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada that called Lowe's out on the ad. (For details on the petition, see my previous article.)

At any rate, the #HowToDad campaign turns the tables by showing that dads are competent parents. The campaign transforms Peanut Butter Cheerios into the "Official Cereal of Dadhood." In doing so, General Mills Canada recognizes that the company doesn't have to denigrate dads to sell a product. This campaign reflects the growing influence of dads as moms' partners in raising children in all aspects of domestic life. Dads have taken on a steadily increasing share of the parenting load in recent decades. Dads spend more time than ever with their children generally, grocery and retail shopping for the family, and doing housework (e.g. cooking and cleaning). Dads are also more focused than ever on the desire to balance work and family. Indeed, they're often more conflicted than moms in this regard.

In addition to the overall portrayal of fathers, what I really appreciate is how General Mills Canada uses humor to portray fathers in a positive light -- a stark rebuke to the use of humor in ads like those of Lowe's and LG. I also appreciate that the campaign uses social media to share this positive portrayal across multiple channels used by people of all ages. The #HowToDad campaign is a comprehensive web-based campaign that, in addition to the ads, includes static images, infographics, and videos (e.g. of dads doing inspirational activities with their children) that visitors can share across multiple social media platforms.

It's this kind of campaign for a consumer brand that can make a difference in reinforcing the vital role played by dads. Because consumer brands are bellwethers of popular culture, they have a huge impact on cultural norms including those around parenting. That's why, in the coming weeks, NFI will present a National Fatherhood Initiative Fatherhood Award to General Mills Canada. It's vital that we recognize positive portrayals of dads wherever we see them and call out companies that do dads, moms and children a disservice. Join me in #HowToDad.

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

Reminder to Mom and Dad: 18 Years Go By Fast

This summer our family has been on a journey. Although it is a positive one with so much to look forward to, I've finally realized that this journey also feels a little too much like a death. For whether the person goes swiftly and easily or slowly and laboriously, in the end, they are gone and it all feels like it went by far too fast.

Thus far I think I've handled things pretty well. I held it together through the rites and passages that have defined this past year:

  • a very emotional ending to his last high school soccer season;
  • a paparazzi-like moment snapping pictures the night of prom;
  • his beautiful graduation ceremony in the very location I had graduated from thirty years prior.

All of it I've taken in stride. Until now.

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We are now on the eve of our son's departure and I'm beginning to lose it. His already early arrival at college for soccer tryouts has become even earlier by pre-tryout two -a-day workouts hosted by the captains of the team. "What?! Are you kidding me?!" was my rational response to the suggestion. Surely soccer does not trump a mother's final wish for a few more moments with her first born son. But apparently it does and the very thing that has caused so much maturity, growth and focus in my son's life, once again robs our family of a few more dinners together, a few more moments of laughter, a few more very precious memories. 

I assumed we would be making the 12-hour trek to his new school together. Instead, a Megabus will snatch my son away and my husband and I will travel with all his stuff a week later. No son to converse with, simply his new bedding and towels, his clothes and, in his words, a drug store full of medicine (ibuprofen and cold medicine to be precise). Instead of a few final conversations on the trip, we will merely act as taxi driver for his belongings.

Regardless of the unusual method of transport, however, we planned it this way. From the moment he's been born we have been in a determined effort to equip him well enough for this journey. The years of admonishing him to brush his teeth, get dressed, go to school, go to church, put his dishes in the dishwasher, eat healthy, go to bed at a decent hour; it was all very purposeful. And then there were the years of lessons: how to read, write and study; how to clean a toilet and mow a lawn; how to say thank you and converse with adults. It was all with a purpose in mind. He is ready to achieve its purpose and it is good.

But even though it is all so good, he's leaving all the same. The grief is palpable and the world in which one family resides under one roof is left behind. I grieve for the younger siblings. I grieve for my husband who has invested so much time and effort to raise a hard-working man and I grieve for me, his mother. I'm so glad he has the privilege of going away to college and of playing soccer but in the end he'll still be gone and whether it be a few months or a few days, it's time for him to leave and there is simply no easy way to say goodbye. It just went by far too fast.

Experienced parents: what's one tip you would give younger parents to help them cherish the moments they have with their children?

Not ready for school to start? Try these previous posts:

 image: iStockPhoto

Eliminate the Dark and Illuminate Fire Safety

How many times have you been called into your child's room in the middle of the night to soothe their fear of the dark? Whether it's monsters under the bed or odd sounds coming from the closed closet, kids look to their parents to rescue them and protect them from the perceived harms.

1._Dark

Although their night haunts are rarely valid, one fear that we need to consider is keeping them safe in the event of a fire. There are products out there designed to help dads in both of these areas.

One such product is the Life+Gear Safety Night Light. Operating as a regular night-light to help ward off childlike concerns induced by the dark the majority of the time, this innovative product also has a fire safety mode that is triggered by the sound of a fire alarm in the event of a fiery emergency.

When this happens, the night-light goes from lighting paths to the bathroom in the middle of the night and keeping kids calm in their beds to full-on brightness at 10x its normal power. Because fires start out with a golden flame and quickly convert into black smoky darkness, this little wall fixture could be the difference between your family finding the exits in a catastrophe and being unable to see the way to safety.

Since it works with all modern smoke alarms, there is no additional equipment to buy -- simply plug it into a standard wall outlet. The unit does require you to cover both sockets, so make sure you have a centrally-located spare that you do not need to use for other electrical equipment.

2._Light

Because it automatically comes on at dusk and goes off at dawn, you can ensure you are not wasting energy unnecessarily. Of course, the LEDs consume a low amount of power anyway so they are an inherently efficient choice for night light illumination!

This particular product functions as an effective night light even without the fire safety feature, but it works according to its true potential only with a smoke alarm. Thus, you also need to make sure you have fully functioning smoke detectors. The National Safety Council recommends that you place a smoke alarm on each floor of your home and in every bedroom. Additionally, test them once per month and change the batteries at least once a year.

In terms of advancements in the smoke alarms themselves, did you know that there are smart smoke alarms that are wireless and come equipped with voice alarms that are purported to wake children better than standard siren alarms?

3._FirstAlertThe First Alert Onelink Wireless Interconnect Smoke Detector with Voice Alarm comes with a higher price tag than some other voice alarm-capable smoke detectors, but you do enjoy the benefit of wireless connectivity.

If you don't mind or even prefer a hard-wired option, there are great voice alarm smoke detectors available from manufacturers such as KiddeFireX, and BRK. Maximize the investment by purchasing a dual smoke and carbon monoxide detector!

One additional piece of fire safety equipment dads should consider is a fire escape ladder.

4._Tools

These height-diminishing tools attach quickly and easily to most windows and are tidily stored out of the way under a bed or in a closet when not in use. They come in varying lengths to provide for second and third story windows so be sure to select the appropriate size when stocking your bedrooms.

For you and the dads you serve -- here are more tips for teaching kids about staying safe in the event of a fire:

  • Create a family safety plan: Draw a diagram of your home with your child and clearly mark the exits -- at least two for each room. Not only will this activity allow you to spend some quality time with your kids, but you can also take the opportunity to share with them the value of being prepared in the event of a fire. And the more light you can shed on something, the less likely they are to fear it: If it's no longer "unknown," there's nothing to be scared of!
  • If a fire does occur, assure your kids that they don't need to attempt to "rescue" their books, stuffed animals or toys. Things are replaceable but people are not. If they are concerned about your family pets, assuage those worries by establishing a buddy system whereby older kids and adults are responsible for safely vacating your littlest family members.
  • Make sure you go over important numbers with your kids (the fire department, the police department, your local hospital, and 911) and clearly designate external meeting points if you are separated or the parents are not home during the fire.

Open communication and preparation are both essential if you want to help your kids feel comfortable with things they can control and those they cannot. And hopefully by starting a conversation, they'll see that some things (like being scared of the dark) don't even deserve their energy!

What are some other ways you've found to keep your kids calm and collected in the midst of nighttime and emergency-based fears?

A creatively savvy do-it-yourselfer, Rheney Williams writes for The Home Depot and likes to share electrical tips on many topics including Fire Safety. To find out more about the products Rheney talks about in the article, visit Home Depot's Fire Safety page.

Why Parents Shouldn't Be Concerned About Their Children's Texting

This article was originally posted at The Huffington Post.

My 16-year-old is an outstanding writer. When she asks me to review something she's written, I'm always impressed at the excellence of her spelling, grammar, syntax, and creative word combinations. I rarely have corrections, and when I do they're typically minor.

teen_texting_dad_in_backgroundThe other day as we discussed an essay she'd written for a college-level communications course she's taking this summer, out of the blue she mentioned that her friends get mad at her for using proper grammar when she texts. She laughed as she shared an example in which a friend had a problem with her using a semicolon in a text. (Say what?) I could tell she actually gets a kick out of her friends' reactions and that those reactions don't bother her in the least.

That conversation reminded me of conversations I've had with my wife and friends about the potentially damaging effects of texting on children's literacy. My assumption had been that when children use incorrectly spelled words, poor grammar, change the way words look in print, and substitute symbols and images (e.g. emoticons) to communicate, it will have a negative effect on their spelling, grammar, and reading and writing skills. Logical, don't you think? But given everything I know about cognitive biases and the importance of using evidence to form opinions (see my recent post as an example), I wondered whether my assumption about the effects of texting might be wrong. After all, I couldn't think of any evidence to back up my assumption.

Sure enough, I was wrong. And oh, how wrong I was. A year-long British study published last month in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology examined, the effects of children's and young adults' grammatical "violations" in texting on spelling, grammar, and orthographic processing (the way words should look in print), the latter having a critical role in reading and writing fluency. The researchers used standardized test of spelling and grammar over the course of one year to measure the effects of texting.

The researchers recruited 243 participants and divided them among three groups: primary school (average age approximately 10), secondary school (average age approximately 13), and young adult (average age approximately 21). They found no negative effect of grammatical violations in texting on children's use of spelling, grammar, or orthographic processing. The only negative effect observed by the researchers was on young adults' use of poor word forms (e.g. "does you" instead of "do you"), but even for this age group, the effects of texting were not a cause for concern. This study adds to the body of evidence that has been building for the past five to seven years that texting does not harm children's literacy. Indeed, the British researchers cite no less than six such studies.

The picture that's emerging is one of texting as:

  • An insignificant factor in children's literacy. The most significant factors that influence children's literacy remain the quality of the literacy education children receive in school and at home. Parents should focus on how their children perform on tests of spelling, writing, reading, and comprehension as a true measure of their children's literacy.
  • A language with distinct rules for spelling, grammar, and syntax. Children learn this language just as they learn any other. As they gain fluency in this language, it doesn't harm their use of their native tongue. Texting is not unlike shorthand used by journalists. Like shorthand, texting allows for communication within strict constraints -- shorthand being useful within time constraints with texting being used within time and technological constraints. Ironically, some people refer to texting as "Internet shorthand."
  • Above all a social activity. As such, when children text they do so within a socially constructed world with its own norms for spelling, grammar, symbols, and images, a world that encourages individuality (e.g. children spell the same words differently than other children and even within their own sentences). Developmentally speaking, children use texting as a tool to express their emotions, feelings, and emerging sense of who they are as individuals. They test that expression with immediate feedback from one or many people (via group messaging, for example) and can make quick adjustments if necessary.

Now that I'm better informed about texting and its effect on literacy, I better understand why it hasn't had a negative effect on either of my girls' literacy. (My 19-year-old is majoring in journalism and is also an outstanding writer.) I'm even more amazed that my younger daughter insists on using proper spelling and grammar when she texts. I'm also a bit proud because I see that insistence as a form of "sticking it to the man."

At any rate, this evidence doesn't change my opinion that there is a lot not to like about texting. Children, including my own, can spend a ridiculous amount of time texting. They can also text at inappropriate times. I will always get miffed, for example, when my daughters text while we're eating dinner at a restaurant. I'll never understand why the first thing they do after waking up in the morning is, you guessed it, check their texts (and social media). I'm also bothered by the fact that texting leaves a permanent record, so I've often told my girls to be extra careful with the content and meaning of their texts. After all, I tell them, your texts can come back to haunt you. Nevertheless, I now have a better view of texting and stand, to some degree, corrected. Lol.

How often does your child text?

This article was originally posted at The Huffington Post.

Have You Looked Under the Hood Lately?

Like cars, your family’s finances need regular maintenance. Get a free 5-point financial inspection today!

Mechanic or not, you probably know the basics of a car safety inspection: Lights and signals, tires and treads, brake system, fluid levels, electrical and safety components. Similarly, you probably know the basics of a financial inspection: 

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  1. Are you spending less than you earn?
  2. Are you saving for emergencies, retirement, and things you need or want?
  3. Are you buying only what you can afford today (and even trying to buy less than you think you can afford)?
  4. Are you paying down credit card debt if you have it and limiting or eliminating your use of debt to finance your lifestyle?
  5. Are you putting a plan in place to protect your loved ones if something happened to you or your spouse?

Unfortunately, we don’t often look under the hood for a good inspection. Like we talked about in a previous post, us dads are often careful about our family's safety; but, when it comes to our family's financial safety, we may fall short. It’s understandable…life is busy and it can feel overwhelming—especially if you’re not sure what exactly to look for!

For the same reason you take your car to a mechanic, brightpeak financial is offering a free financial check-up to all National Fatherhood Initiative readers.

It involves an online questionnaire you can complete on your own terms, plus a follow-up call from a trained financial guide to help you identify opportunities for improvement and an action plan to help you move forward.

Click here to get started! It feels good to get a plan in place and your family might just think you’re a financial genius, too! 

brightpeak financial is a division of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a not-for-profit membership organization of Christians founded more than a century ago, which is based in Appleton, WI 54919-0001.

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Balance Work & Family: Be a Better Husband & Father with Less Effort

Creating Good Habits Makes It Easier to Be an Effective Parent and Partner

One of the most important aspects of being a good parent and partner is being consistent and reliable. Doing well once can be a great thing. Doing well constantly so that your wife can rely on you is a much greater success. As a parent, “saving the day” is a small accomplishment compared to avoiding the need to do so. To use an analogy–it is better to never run out of gas than to constantly run out of gas within a few blocks of a station.

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As a working father, I am often mentally immersed in my work. Doing well at work pays the bills and sets the stage for future earnings that can make my family’s life better. Like many fathers, however, my commitment to a better tomorrow can get in the way of a better today. NFI recently wrote about protecting your family's financial safety, while I'm interested in all things related to fatherhood, sometimes, it helps me to not only think of the big-picture, but it's helpful to think of the daily picture as well. 

For example, my concern about a presentation that may have lasting impact can explain why I failed to make a phone call that I had agreed to make or why I left crib sheets in the washer rather than remember to dry them. Those mistakes are temporary, but their cumulative impact changes the way that my wife runs her life out of fear that she cannot count on me.

Rather than committing significant time to worrying about all of the little things that I may have forgotten at home, I need to use a simpler tactic to do those things that must be done over and over again. I need to create the mental “ping” that my car gives me when I have 40 miles left before I am stranded. That tactic - that “ping” - is habit. Turning certain responsibilities into habit means that you are more reliable and spend less time “saving the day” (or “saving your bacon”).

As I illustrate in my book Covering Your Bases: Forty Simple Plays to Improve Life for Your Stay-At-Home Spouse habits that take just a few seconds and minimal effort can have enormous impact. During my first few years of work, I found myself forgetting something useful (money clip, phone, checkbook, ID badge) about once per week.Eventually, I created a mental checklist that I went through every morning. My list was only seven items long, but if something was missing I knew it before I left.

Committing a number of low-effort/high-impact tasks to habit or making them part of a checklist will make most fathers more effective and save them considerable stress. Fielding a phone call about the fact that there are no clean baby bottles takes more time and energy than programming yourself to be sure that the dishwasher is clean or running when you leave in the morning.

According to author Stephen R. Covey, “Habit is the intersection of knowledge (what to do), skill (how to do), and desire (want to do).” When competing priorities of work and parenthood squeeze your time, I believe that there is a fourth consideration – bandwidth (how much one can do). The ability to be both a star employee and fantastic parent can demand all of our focus for long periods of time. Occasional failures or omissions are more common than most of us realize. However, some people’s result in more harm than others.In many cases it is not about whether you fail but about what particular mistakes you make.

As noted above and throughout Covering Your Bases, the biggest cost of mistakes can be the time spent dealing with them. The aftermath of a small error can be larger than the mistake itself and result in both wasted time and a negative attitude that further suppresses your productivity. By making the small, repeatable tasks in your life part of a routine, you will find that you avoid not only the consequences of your mistakes but a prolonged drag on your productivity and attitude.

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How Safe is Your Family?

Life is full of unknowns - focus on what’s controllable.

As a dad, you worry about your family’s safety. That includes physical, spiritual, and emotional safety. But way too many dads unknowingly risk their family’s financial safety. The good news is, you can change that—and it’s simpler than you might think!

NFI-Safeguards_500x500_bpfOCHD073014.2(2)To get you started, brightpeak financial put together a free eBook, “How to Protect Your Family Financially.” Download it now.

The book contains important content, questions, and checklists to help make it easy.  

Consider four major categories of uncontrollable events. Realizing that these events happen and knowing how to plan for them can greatly reduce the hardship you and your family may experience if they were to happen. 

1) Unexpected Expenses include events like your car breaking down or a water heater needing to be replaced.  

2) Accident, illness, or injury that requires medical care or attention. One out of every 4 Americans in the workforce will experience an accident, illness or injury that leaves them unable to work for three months or more (Council for Disability Awareness, Disability Statistics, March 2013).

3) Job Loss. One out of every 2 people will experience job loss at some point during their working years, often through no fault of their own (Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Projections, 2010-2020).

4) You or your spouse dying while children still depend on you, financially. The probability of death for men between the age of 35 and 65 is 18%. That’s 1 in 6. For women in the same age range its 11%, or 1 in 10. (Milliman, The Changing Face of Mortality Risk in the United States, 2007). 

Want to learn more? Download the free eBook now!  

brightpeak financial is a division of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a membership organization of Christians, created to help young families build financial strength so they may live life with confidence and generosity. Learn more about brightpeak financial hereThrivent Financial for Lutherans is located in Appleton, WI 54919-0001.

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How Much Do You Know About the Rights of Unmarried Dads?

If you've kept up with this blog, you know that more children than ever are being born to unmarried parents. We know this fact well at National Fatherhood Initiative as we field a number of calls every month from unmarried parents (dads and moms) looking for information on the rights of unmarried dads who often don't have custody (joint or sole) of their children.

how much do you know about the rights of unmarried dadsIf you work with fathers, I'll bet that many if not most of them fall into this category. Unfortunately, most unmarried, non-custodial dads don't know their rights when it comes to their children. That's why I was so pleased to learn about The Rights of Unmarried Fathers, a comprehensive listing of these fathers' rights in all 50 states available for free download from the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

This resource describes, for each state, the:

  • Legal definition of a father
  • Paternity registry
  • Alternate means to establish paternity
  • Required information to establish paternity

It also describes:

  • How to revoke a claim to paternity
  • How to access information on the paternity registry

Because some of the unmarried, non-custodial dads you serve might be involved in the child welfare system, I encourage you to pair this resource with Finding Your Way: Guides for Dads in Child Protection Cases, a series of free, downloadable guides for fathers (and that you can give to fathers) that help dads understand their rights and responsibilities, their role in and out of court, how to work with their lawyer, and more. Together, these resources will help you educate unmarried, non-custodial dads so they can be as involved, responsible, and committed as possible in the lives of their children.

How much do you know about the rights of unmarried dads? How much do the unmarried dads you serve know about their rights?

image: iStockPhoto

 

How Messi and Ronaldo Can Make You a Better Parent

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Did the FIFA World Cup capture your imagination? Even if you're not a soccer fan, the fact that the U.S. Men's Team made it out of the "Group of Death" surprised and excited Americans everywhere. Moreover, for the first time in history, the U.S. Men's Team advanced to the knockout round in two consecutive FIFA World Cups.

As a dad who has watched two daughters play club and school soccer for more than a decade, I've developed a passion for the game. (I now play indoor soccer on a team with my oldest daughter--not very well, I might add, but it's a ton of fun.) I watch soccer now more than any other sport.

Screen_Shot_2014-07-16_at_9.56.56_AMAs a result, I've become familiar with two of the game's stars both of who were on display at the Word Cup -- Lionel Messi of Argentina and Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal. Messi and Ronaldo are considered by almost every fan and soccer pundit to be the two best players in the game and two of the best of all time. Together, they've won the past six Ballon d'Or awards as the best player in the game. Messi has won it four times to Ronaldo's two with the non-winner in each year being the runner-up in five of the six years.

So it's clear that among the soccer intelligentsia who bestow the Ballon d'Or that Messi and Ronaldo are the "it" men of the game. Even the casual soccer or sports fan -- even someone who has rarely, if ever, watched a soccer match -- when asked to name the best player in the game will undoubtedly mention one, if not both.

But who is better, really? Before I answer that question, answer the following one quickly -- as soon as you hear it -- and write down your answer.

Who do you think is the better player? We'll come back to your answer later.

The answer to who is better depends on whom you ask. It can be influenced by a host of factors that include allegiance to country or club (Messi plays for Barcelona and Rolando for Real Madrid, two of the world's elite teams), how often you've watched each play matches, knowledge of and experience playing the game and exposure to the opinions of fans and experts.

The fact is it's not easy to separate these two superstars unless you're willing to examine the evidence and not allow extraneous factors to influence your opinion. And therein lies the lesson for how you can become a better parent.

Nate Silver, creator of the website fivethirtyeight.com and author of the best-selling book The Signal and the Noise, is famous for using statistical analyses to separate the chaff from the wheat. To answer the question of which player is better, he compared Messi and other soccer stars by conducting rigorous analyses of the most important statistics focused on player performance.

His analyses included the following:

  • shooting and scoring production;
  • from where on the field they take shots (and how often they score from various distances);
  • how often they set up their own shots and what kind of kicks they use to make those shots (soft or hard);
  • ability to take on defenders;
  • the kind and accuracy of their passes;
  • how often they create scoring chances and how often those chances lead to goals;
  • and how their defensive playmaking compares to other high-volume shooters.

He also separated the players' from the effects of playing on their teams (i.e. the influence of how good their teams and teammates are on the players' performance). And this is only a sampling of the data Silver crunched.

After examining the evidence, Silver came to the crystal-clear conclusion that "Lionel Messi is Impossible." (Read about his analyses in this article on his website). The results of his analyses are so overwhelming in favor of Messi as the best player in the world that even Ronaldo can't compare. (In effect, these analyses offer an examination of the two because Ronaldo came in second -- a distant second -- in many categories.) So if someone tries to argue with you that Rolando or anyone else is better than Messi, you can use this ream of facts to show how misguided they are.

Just as these analyses provide evidence that Messi is far and away the best soccer player in the world, so too is there evidence on how to be an effective parent. Unfortunately, some parents don't care enough to examine the evidence or don't know it exists, to their own detriment and that of their children. I am convinced, however, that parents must and can do better at examining evidence about what leads to effective parenting -- if they would only make the effort. They must also teach their children to examine evidence generally so that their children grow into adults who make informed decisions and are skeptical about acting on information (e.g. opinions) in the absence of evidence or that is based on flawed or "cherry-picked" evidence.

I've read several books lately on how people tend to not rely on sound evidence to inform their beliefs and, ultimately, decisions. (In addition to Silver's book, I highly recommend Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow.) Humans have a tendency to use heuristics, or "mental shortcuts," to make decisions. Why? Because it's easier to rely on a shortcut than to do the hard work necessary to examine the evidence before making a decision. (Yes, thinking is hard work.) The problem is these shortcuts create biases in thinking that cause us to make decisions -- including those about how to parent -- that have little or no basis in fact.

When I asked you which player you thought was better, what was your initial answer? Unless you said you didn't know (perhaps because you don't follow soccer), you probably had a very confident opinion. What I didn't ask was why you had that opinion. You might be surprised to learn that you quickly -- automatically -- drew on whatever you had ever heard about these two players. You probably relied on the most recent exposure to information about them. If you watched the FIFA World Cup, you might have been influenced by a discussion among the experts about Messi's greatness, that he won the Golden Ball (the award for the outstanding player in the tournament) and that Ronaldo and his Portuguese team performed poorly. (The incredible cross Ronaldo made that led to the tying goal in the final minute of stoppage play against the U.S. not withstanding.) Regardless, the fact is you answered quickly (perhaps after a little thought) based on what was most readily available in your memory.

One of the mental shortcuts parents rely on is called the availability bias. (There are many others that affect parents' decision-making, so this one is illustrative.) Simply put, parents rely on what immediately comes to mind (what's available in their memory) when making decisions about how to parent (e.g. discipline their children). What readily come to mind are how they were parented, how the other parent in the family parents and how other family members (e.g. siblings) and friends parent. Other factors that might influence availability include stories of parenting (good and bad ones) that a parent might have seen on television or in a movie. Or perhaps they just read a parenting book chocked full of opinions about how to be a good parent but that's void of evidence.

Parents succumb to this bias because it requires little effort. It's just easier to make a decision quickly and easily without examining the evidence. Unfortunately, this and other biases can lead to poor parenting. That's why I encourage you to seek out parenting advice that is evidence-based and evidence-informed. I also encourage you to question where the advice you hear comes from and to tell your children to do likewise regardless of topic. If you do both of these things, you will increase the chance that you'll be as effective a parent as you can be and that your children will reach their goals in life as often as Messi finds the back of the net.

What informs your decision-making when it comes to parenting?

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

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