Lesson #4:  Dad’s Follow-through is Crucial

Apart from provider and caretaker, the largest fatherhood job is role-model; demonstrating how a man should act and behave.  One of the keystones to being a good role-model is credibility and the groundwork for that arises out of keeping your word.  And while it flows through all aspects of fatherhood, this reputation for follow-through will be especially important when it comes to maintaining discipline.

This reputation starts with the simplest things from your kid’s youngest age.  Following through on a simple request.  Can we go to the park?  Will you read to me?  Can we play a game?  Will you help me build a fort?  The request’s timing is frequently poor, balanced against the press of the daily "to-do" list and the demands/requests of others.  But you must gain this reputation.

I have to fight saying "in a little while" since there’s a disconnect between what a child and an adult consider "a little while".  A child has a short attention span and when you come to her a bit later to fulfill your promise, you’re liable to find that she’s gone on to the next thing; and while it’s unfair, in her mind, you haven’t followed through.  Enough instances of this and a pattern is set, even if they’re too young to remember individual events.  Yet if you do what they ask when they ask, you’ll have problems finishing those things that really have to be done.

While the sheer frequency of requests diminishes as they age, the requests grow more intricate and time-intensive.  Will you take me around to sell for a fundraiser?  Can you help me build a Pinewood Derby car?  Can you help me learn how to drive?  Will you look over this essay that I wrote?  You want these requests to come your way  but they won’t if there’s no reliance on you keeping your word.

So what can you do to help yourself follow-through, and still get things done?

  • Avoid indefinite phrases like "in a bit" or "in a while".  Since small children don’t tell time, tie it to something definite and definable like "when I’m done raking" or "after we’ve cleaned up after dinner".
  • Learn to build kid-time into what you’re doing.  Expect interruptions and allow time for them or even better, allow time to include them in what you’re doing right then if possible.  If time is short, make arrangements to have the kids kept busy; I’ve hired a sitter for the occasions that I have to do something without interruption.
  • Keep a "wish" list and for longer term projects, schedule them on the daily calendar.  I once built a cigar-box banjo for one of m children and explicitly set aside time for gathering the materials and then assembling it.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no if you have to.  If there’s no way to get to something, say no to that request and put it on the schedule.  If he request is simply beyond your capability or time, it’s better to say no instead of starting something that engenders more heartache than it’s worth.

Be patient with yourself; this is a long-term balancing act and even the best gymnast falls. 

Oh, and the banjo?  He still has it in his closet eight years later.

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