Fatherhood Guide: Setting An Example

One of the most worrisome trends in our culture today is the fact that children lack male role models who they can look to as an example of how one should behave. But just as often, the father-figures that they do have end up sending them the wrong message – they say one thing, but they do entirely another. Children learn, not by being told, but by observing and emulating the behavior of others. As a result, if you yourself cannot live by the standards of behavior you set for your children, you are going to be hard pressed to get them to do so just by telling them to.

One of the most common examples of a rule that fathers and father-figures frequently break is that against raising one’s voice. It happens to everyone: your child asks the same thing five or six times and in spite of being told all these times that you do not know the answer to their question, they come back for a seventh. In your frustration, you temporarily lose ourselves and snap at your child. However, it is important, it is critical that this happen as infrequently as possible. The important thing is to be self-aware: when you feel your blood start to boil, make a conscious effort to calm yourself down, or better yet, try to laugh off your frustration. Whatever you do, though, you should remember that if you yell, you have erased any lessons you taught your child to the contrary, and that if it happens enough they will follow your example, whether with a teacher, a school friend, or eventually even with you.

A father also teaches his children what proper behavior is in the way he treats other people. This means that if you treat your wife with kindness and love, your son, for example, will grow up to be a man who treats his wife with kindness and love, because that is what you will have taught him through your actions. But if you treat your wife with disrespect and contempt, even occasionally, you will teach your son to do the same to his wife, and what is perhaps worse, you will teach your daughter that it is okay for a man to treat his wife that way.

Outside of family relationships, your example for your children will set the moral framework on which your children will base their own behavior in society. It is worth noting that, more often than not, children are much cleverer than we think, and will make connections we never thought they would. For example, if you make no qualms about the fact that you pirate DVDs and music off the internet because you think the prices are too outrageous to pay, you should not be surprised if your son or daughter is brought home in a police car one day because they thought the price of that new mp3 player was too outrageous to pay. While you may have been taught that all stealing was wrong as a child, if you do not follow suit with your own children, you have no reason to expect them not to interpret what constitutes “stealing” in a way that suits their wants and desires.

The most important thing to remember about setting examples is that you are always setting them, whether you intend to or not. While in the past, it might have been fine for you to do as you please as long as you still felt good about yourself, as a father you are no longer just a man leading your life: you are a teacher, giving your students lessons on right and wrong every time you sit down at the dinner table.