I could see that, for this season of my life, every morning was going to start out the same. I would get up, say my prayers, read my Bible and head to the kitchen to cook my little girls breakfast. A bit different from heading to football practice or morning workouts, I must say.
My wife had just given birth to our fourth child — my first son — and I was excited. "I love this li'l man of God!" I declared. So with three little girls (ages 2, 3 and 5) all smiles and ready to roll every morning, I embraced the routine. It became a joy and honor to fix breakfast, have talks, and plan the first part of the day — the one called, "Eat, pray and play until Mommy gets up."
One morning I was making one of our family breakfast specialties — Fruit Explosion Oatmeal. (In our house, oatmeal runs neck and neck with pancakes.) Seeing my three princesses chowing down on their breakfast was always a delight.
As I watched them eat, with their heads practically in the bowl, I noticed that my 2-year-old had oatmeal on the side of her face. Without making a big deal of it, I said, "Hey, Beautiful, you have oatmeal on your cheek."
To my surprise, in unison and without hesitation, all three of the girls looked up. Then all three grabbed their napkins and wiped their faces!
I laugh with joy every time I think about this story. Do I have three vain daughters? Of course not. The simple fact is that since the time they were born, I gave them a name — even more, an identity.
From birth my princesses have been told they are beautiful, loved and valuable.
Names you call your child will leave a mark. Choose them carefully. Your kids will hold on to whatever names you give them.
And remember: If you don't give them names, somebody else will.
That takes a little time and effort, though, more than many fathers spend with their children. If your time is limited, make sure you're using some of it to give your child an identity. Even if you have to spend some of the time correcting or disciplining, try to start and end it identifying your child in a positive way. A child who knows you think he or she is great will stand much taller and stronger when hard times come.
Give your kids an identity and they'll grab it. That identity will become their stance, their way to approach life. It will become the fuel for their confidence. With confidence your child will have a greater ability to make his or her own decisions.
That leads to setting healthy boundaries. Children with strong, positive identities decide for themselves what they will and won't do, what they like and don't like. That helps cultivate self-respect, which kills most forms of peer pressure and creates focus, direction and clarity.
The result: a child of substance. A child of substance usually finds success — and even more importantly, significance.
Want children of substance? Start by naming them thoughtfully and giving them the identities they need. Then nourish those identities by maintaining a loving relationship.
So how do you do that in the middle of everyday life's busyness?
At our house we try to remember that great relationships aren't built of laws or rigid rules, but of vulnerable communication, honesty, healthy conflicts, order and direction. We have some things we try to do daily, weekly and monthly to nurture those qualities. The activities themselves aren't the goal. The goal is to love on our kids, teach them, mold them, and release them to be whatever God has called them to be.
Here's an example — the end of a typical day at our house. After the kids take baths, brush teeth and put on pajamas, we sit in a room together and ask two questions:
The answers let us know what's on our children's hearts and minds.
Then there's a typical week at our house. I have a one-on-one conversation with each child, each week. The child's needs and my schedule determine the when, where and how long of this "convo." During these conversations I make sure to tell my kids I love them; you can never say "I love you" enough, but make sure you say it on that day. I also affirm them; I love telling them about the good I see in them.
Finally, there's our typical month. Once a month, one-on-one, the girls and I go out and hang. Sometimes it's eating, sometimes it's shopping—even if we don't buy anything. Sometimes it's going to a park, sometimes it's going to a bookstore. I call it Daddy Dates. Their purpose: To let my children know that I'll stop my world to be with them.
We do these things so that I can mark my kids with love. I want them to know who they are in Christ and that they're fearfully and wonderfully made.
Not long after my firstborn son turned two, he was running down the hallway when he tripped and fell—hard.
"You all right, Man of God?" I called.
"Yes," he said without hesitation.
I smiled. He knows his name! I thought. I'm giving him his identity.
Have we missed some opportunities to build our kids' identities? Of course — but we've made some imprints, too.
I hope you'll go and do the same today.