Interaction With Other People
According to psychologist Erik Erikson, childhood development is primarily a process whereby kids gain a sense of personal identity through interaction with other people. It all begins the moment Baby comes home from the hospital, and Dad is one of the earliest and most important players in the drama. Fathers encourage identity development and teach values when they help to shape the hearts and minds of their children. This happens by simply engaging with them and being themselves in their presence.
That could lead to a variety of outcomes, of course. It all depends on who Dad is and how he conducts himself. But one thing’s certain: Dads teach values by being present, caring, and involved who consciously and intentionally strive to live out their commitments, beliefs, and values in front of their kids. If a father does his job well, his children will be drawing upon the strength and goodness of his example for the rest of their lives. This is yet another aspect of a father’s legacy to his children.
The Joshua Code
How does it work? The first and most important step in the process is to make a conscious choice. From the very beginning, a father has to decide to live by the Joshua Code.
At the end of the Book of Joshua, when the land has been conquered and the people of Israel are on the point of deciding who they are and what they want to do, Joshua presents the nation with this stirring challenge:
Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. If serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:14-15)
Knowing and Serving the Lord
Choose for yourselves. That was the central challenge. Fathers encourage identity development and a positive self concept in their children when they follow this principle. Before doing anything else, Dad has to figure out who he is and what his life is all about. He has to ask himself what’s most important. What’s the One Thing that gets him up in the morning, the thing he most earnestly desires to pass along to his kids?
Above all else, this One Thing has to be something that Dad has laid hold of and internalized for himself. Something rooted in his life experience, identity, purpose, passion, gifts, core values, and responsibilities. If he simply looks to an expert, a guru, a popular celebrity, or public opinion to tell him what’s valuable and true, he’s shirking his responsibility as a father and a man. The goal is to identify his own personal beliefs and desires. That’s where the true power of a father’s legacy comes from.
Scripture makes one point perfectly clear: for Joshua, the Most Important Thing in life was knowing and serving the Lord. It was his commitment to this core value that shaped his identity and made him a great leader. His unflagging dedication to that One Thing left an indelible stamp not only upon his family, but on an entire nation. The same can be true for any father who chooses to build his life upon that Rock.
Fathers Encourage Identity Through Living Consistently
Once the choice is made, the work begins. At this point Dad faces the challenge of living consistently with the determinations and decisions he’s made. It’s one thing to say that you believe something. However, it’s another to express that belief in actions that touch the lives of others. Dads teach values to their children when they practice discipline, resilience, focus, perseverance, and a determination to give legs to their spiritual convictions. When dads do that, they won’t end up in the unenviable position of telling their kids, “Do what I say, not what I do.” The goal is to keep the saying and doing on the same page.
Living consistently means looking for opportunities to put these life principles into practice. It’s about asking yourself as you walk through the world, “How does this experience fit the pattern?”
Jesus is our greatest example in this regard. He knew who He was and where He was going (John 13:3). His face was set like flint to go up to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51) in order to suffer and die for our sins. But Jesus also kept an eye out for the “divine appointments” that popped up along the way. He lived in the moment and stayed aware of other people – people like Zacchaeus, the widow of Nain, and the Samaritan woman at the well. Our heavenly father saw these people for who they were and reached out to meet their needs. He looked for opportunities to teach, heal, and give. That’s what living consistently is all about.
The Importance of Seizing Opportunities
Dads teach values when they are present and involved with their children. If you’re a dad, practice seizing small opportunities to show your kids what it is that your consider The Most Important Thing in your life.
Remember the words of Moses: “You shall teach [these precepts] diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:7).
As that passage demonstrates, we’re not talking here about formal teaching sessions. Don’t think in terms of a Sunday school class or family devotions around the table. Instead, follow the example of Jesus. As you’re going through life, look for the little things that happen along the way. Stay alert when you and your kids are riding in the car together, driving to soccer practice, shopping at the supermarket, or going through the nightly bedtime routine.
Fathers Encourage Identity Development Through Conversations
Dads teach values by throwing out “thinking questions.” For example, if a child asks, “Dad what do you think heaven will be like?” the father might answer by saying, “What do you think it will be like?” Instead of dispensing data and handing out pat answers, fathers encourage identity development in their children when they participate in conversations, and tell stories. Keeping the lines of communication open will help fathers encourage identity development in their children and teach important values.
If you do that successfully, the conversation may last a lifetime.
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