Several years ago, while my dad and I were chatting, he asked, “Juli, do you know what the best gift I ever received was?” I listened as he explained, “Your mother gave me the gift of my children’s love.”
With tears in his eyes, my dad told how busy he had been while my five siblings and I were young children. “Your mom could have turned your hearts against me. Instead, she always spoke highly of me, painting the picture of a hero in your eyes. All six of my children love me, and I have her to thank.”
I’ll never forget that conversation. The truth my dad spoke is a constant reminder that my words and my attitudes have a lasting impression on the way my children view their father.
In my attempts to apply that lesson, I’ve found that a wife can talk about, and treat her husband, as either an incompetent dad or a wonderful father.
One evening, I had a work event to attend while Mike stayed home with the kids. There were plenty of healthy leftovers in the fridge, the boys had chores and homework to do, and I expected to find them in bed when I got home. Instead, I came home to stacked pizza boxes and Mike playing video games with the boys.
The moment I walked through the door, I realized I had a choice to make: I could focus on how my expectations were not met and complain in front of the kids about what should have been done; or I could highlight what a fun dad he is and let the kids see me thank my husband for spending time with them. My father’s words came back to me, and I chose to follow my mother’s lead.
Praising my husband doesn’t mean that I ignore my concerns or stuff my frustrations. There is a time and place for us to deal with our differences in private. Giving the gift of my children’s love to their father is the result of my having a respectful and loving attitude, even in the midst of parenting differences.
Maybe your husband doesn’t play with the kids as much as you’d like or isn’t as involved in discipline as he should be. Even so, are you willing to frame him as a “hero” to your kids? Whenever you highlight your husband’s efforts to be a great dad, you’re nurturing a love that’s as vital to your kids as it is to your husband.
Juli Slattery is the author of Finding the Hero in Your Husband.