In case you need a refresher, I previously wrote about Removing Doubt: why our expectations are wrong and how to fix them and Manhood Journey created several Field Guides to help you with other topics you may struggle with.
Now, if you ever watched Home Improvement, you know there’s a right way to fix things and there’s Tim Taylor’s way to fix things. If you’ve ever tried to fix something with nothing more than duct tape, you know that sometimes you can make matters worse. Recovering from our mistakes and regrets certainly takes more than WD-40 and duct tape.
Let me point to two “fixes” we need to avoid.
1. The comparison test.
To wake up one morning and say, “I’m going to start being more like________” will end with you going to bed at night feeling like a failure. We’ve already seen the fallacy of placing unrealistic expectations on ourselves, and the comparison test is simply creating another expectation with someone else’s face on it.
It’s good to have a role model. It’s even better to have a role model who will walk alongside you, challenge you, pray with you, encourage you and occasionally give you a spiritual kick in the pants when you need it. But don’t look at someone from a distance and hold them up as the poster boy for Perfect Parenting.
You’ve created another false standard you can’t meet.
Social media fuels the comparison test. Multiple studies in Forbes and Psychology Today have pointed to a link between social media and depression and low self-esteem. These feelings are triggered by “social comparison.”
This can happen as we follow the lives of those with more friends or followers and those who appear more attractive. But the key factor is people tend to only post the best about their lives.
- We post photos of us on our best days, not when our complexion looks like the dark side of the moon or we’re wearing that ratty T-shirt we bought in 1998.
- We post pictures of that exquisite dinner at a nice restaurant, not the bowl of Fruit Loops we ate while binge-watching Netflix.
- We post about the happy events; we rarely post about the mundane routine of our lives.
You do it. And, your friends do it. So, depression kicks in for many of us because all we’re seeing is the “highlight reels” of others’ lives. When we’re struggling with regrets over our own parenting skills, the “highlight reels” on Facebook of fathers and sons having an absolutely great time together only fuels our struggles—who am I compared to that? I can’t measure up.
The only way to succeed at the comparison game is to compare yourself to the right fathers—more accurately, the wrong fathers. Compare yourself to the dads who are never at home or are abusive! I may not the best dad I should be, but at least I’m not like that! I’m being facetious, of course, because even a statement like that belies a sense of failure and regret.
2. The effort unicorn.
Another approach that will not fix failures is simply trying harder and expecting things to magically improve.
- The abusive dad who tries to compensate for his anger by buying gifts. Lots of gifts.
- The absentee dad who wasn’t there to help his son struggling with school decides to start helping. He is so determined to help his son get good grades that he does too much of the work. His son still struggles because there is no need to put in the work; his dad is doing it.
- The father, who has lost connection with his son, tries to relate by wearing skinny jeans, blasting music by Drake in the minivan, inviting all his son’s friends over to hang out, and attempting to fit in by telling jokes. Dad jokes.
More effort doesn’t change things. Doing is not the same as doing something productive. Being productive when it comes to our relationship with our kids doesn’t come from the external things we do with them or for them. It begins with addressing the internal things.
These external actions are not bad; in fact, they can be quite good. But if you’re looking to heal or strengthen a relationship with a child, external things are not the answer. If you’re looking for a salve to the regret and disappointment you experience over your parenting, you’ll be left hurting. Effort is no unicorn that magically fixes everything.
"Effort is no unicorn that magically fixes everything."
This type of effort is more akin to turning to alcohol, drugs or pornography; it’s an outward stimulus that might make us feel good for the moment, but the regret lingers. Dads, there is a way forward from our past regrets and mistakes. It’s the easiest thing we’ll ever do—and it’s also the hardest.
Questions: What are some ways you have tried to buy or earn the favor of your child? What are some ways you’ve tried to make up for a mistake with your child? How did that approach work for you? Tell us in the comments section below, tweet us @manhoodjourney or you can always email me.
About the author > Lynn H. Pryor, D. Min.
Lynn spends most days writing adult Bible study resources for LifeWay Christian Resources. He serves a Nashville church as pastor and earned his doctorate from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He enjoys woodworking, and his favorite projects are when his sons help. He has been married to Mary for 36 years. Learn more about Lynn at LynnHPryor.com and grab his Field Guide Removing Doubt.
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