Before I had children I thought I knew a lot about being a parent. I had been working with teens for years, read many parenting books, and observed (judged) parents for countless hours. In my arrogance I thought that I was well prepared to raise the “perfect” child.
When my first child was born I was halfway through my graduate program studying marriage and family therapy. I had so much to learn. At this point in my life I thought it important to raise a son who did not over-react when he got hurt. So, I set about under-reacting to my son’s needs. I thought that if I was calm and collected and acted like nothing was wrong he would learn to respond the same way. When he falls down he will get up and dust himself off. When we drop him at the baby sitter he won’t shed a tear. He will be strong and he will be independent.
What a mess! I was parenting from my own needs rather than my son’s. I needed a son who did not bother me, did not whine, and allowed me to stay disconnected from others. What my son needed was a father who was attuned to his needs. He needed a father that responded with compassion and grace. He needed a father that said, “Where does it hurt?”
I am so thankful for the difficult and challenging lessons that followed those first nine months of parenting. As I gained experience as a counselor and parent, the Lord was busy refining me into the father my son needed. I learned that my parenting approach was actually starving my child of compassion, nurture, and love. The more I closed my heart to his hurt the harder he cried out for me. The more I said, “suck it up, boys don’t cry” the more abandoned he felt. Paradoxically my plan to make him tough was actually making him emotionally fragile.
I was privileged to attend a professional training as a counselor that revolutionized my approach as a parent. I found in this training that compassion and nurture are vital to a child’s normal development. I discovered that children who are not touched, held, or cuddled would actually die. I learned that if a parent is attuned to their child’s needs and provides the appropriate level of nurture and compassion, their child would not have to ask for it. This child is then free to grow, play, explore, and laugh rather than having to worry about being nurtured, loved, and protected.
It was a slow process, but I found that when I asked, “where does it hurt?” my heart began to soften and my son began to relax. He finally knew, “my dad will protect me, I am safe from being harmed”
I strongly believe that our sons need fathers that will respond with compassion rather than dismissal. Ignoring a child’s hurts and saying “boys don’t cry” does not make them stronger, it makes them emotionally fragile. It is when fathers (and mothers) respond with empathy, compassion, and care that boys learn to manage their hurts and control their changing emotions. I challenge fathers to “stoop down to look upon your boys and girls, raise your poor son from the dust and lift his bloody knee from the ash heap.” Paraphrase Psalm 113:6-7
How do you show compassion to your child?
What valuable lessons have you learned as a parent?
How have you witnessed the harm of a “boys don’t cry” culture?