Dads Do Matter!
Dr. Tim is spending a few months in Washington, D.C. doing research at the Marriage & Religion Research Institute. Watch his latest video to hear about what he’s been doing and learn why dads really do matter!
Dr. Tim is spending a few months in Washington, D.C. doing research at the Marriage & Religion Research Institute. Watch his latest video to hear about what he’s been doing and learn why dads really do matter!
I check my watch again: 3:45 am, and I’m wide awake. Exhausted, but awake.
Part of it is because I’m 8 months pregnant and my body hurts all over. (I think my body is practicing the no sleep thing for when the baby comes. 😛 )
But part of it is because I can’t stop thinking about my Facebook feed yesterday.
At first, I was confused by the two word status updates popping up everywhere: “Me too.” But then one friend wrote a little explanation along with it. She said, “If all the people who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too.” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Please copy and paste if you feel so inclined.”
As more and more of my friends joined in with their “Me too,” my heart ached. I didn’t know whether to click like, love, or sad. I was so proud of these brave women for speaking out, but so sad that we live in a world full of so much sexual harassment.
While sexual violence has fallen significantly since 1993, it’s still a huge problem today. In fact, statistics show that every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And if you’re a woman, you have about a 1 in 5 chance of being raped at some point in your life.
Everyone is affected by sexual harassment or assault a little bit differently. But often there are both physical and mental consequences. In addition to the risk of STIs and pregnancy, victims of sexual assault often struggle with PTSD, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. It can also cause more general emotional challenges, like difficulty trusting others or feelings of fear and helplessness.
One month from today, our baby girl is due to come into this world. I can’t help but worrying, will she have to post “me too” one day? Will she end up being part of the almost 20% of women who get raped in their lifetime? Will she have to struggle with the fear and pain that comes from being a victim of sexual harassment or assault?
I sincerely hope not.
While I’m grateful for the many women and men who are fighting against this plague of sexual violence, there are some aspects of our society today that seem to contribute in a negative way.
Many people are pushing back against sexual violence, but some of these same people are also advocating strongly for sexual exploration and freedom. This March while visiting the UN Commission on the Status of women, I heard many voices advocating for sexual rights of all kinds.
And to some extent, I’m grateful for the work that’s been done so far. I’m grateful that I can decide when I want to marry and have children, that I have control over my sex life.
On the other hand, it seems that the push for sexual freedom has had some unforeseen consequences. Dr. Leslie C. Bell explains it well:
“Today’s 20-something women have more freedom than their grandmothers could have imagined – educational, professional, and personal. But while this freedom has engendered a great deal of opportunity, it hasn’t necessarily resulted in women having good sex and satisfying relationships in their twenties.”
Much of the push for sexual freedom has placed an emphasis on our own personal fulfillment. Do whatever you want, whatever makes you feel good physically. Sex is about you, not about anyone else, today’s media seems to say.
Unfortunately, that emphasis on personal fulfillment may have had the opposite effect.
With all this sexual freedom, pursuing whatever you want physically, you may think it would lead to better sex. But according to research from Dr. John Gottman, perhaps the biggest key to sexual fulfillment is your friendship. While casual sex can be fun and exciting, one survey found that the happiest couples are those who communicate and build up the intimacy that is foundational for fulfilling sex. When sex is about your relationship, not just about you, it becomes a whole lot better.
So in actuality, it turns out that sexual fulfillment isn’t just about the physical. And it certainly isn’t just about you.
If we aren’t careful, the way we promote sexual freedom can also promote sexual selfishness. This selfishness will not only lead to less fulfilling sex, but it also can be dangerous. This line of thinking that says “Sex is all about me” is one that ignores the other person involved.
I’m sure those who rape or sexually assault others are, in a twisted way, seeking their own sexual pleasure. They have decided to use their sexual freedom selfishly. And unfortunately, they do this at a great cost to those around them.
In teaching our kids about their sexuality, we must help them realize that sexuality isn’t just about them. Other people are involved, people who deserve to be loved and respected.
As we push not just for sexual freedom but for mutual love and respect, we can achieve sexual freedom without promoting sexual selfishness. We can help our kids see that sexual freedom isn’t really free, because with these rights come great responsibilities.
Getting ready to welcome our baby girl into the world has put this all in a new light for me. I hope the numbers of sexual harassment and assault can continue to decline. I hope sincerely that she doesn’t become a part of the statistics. And I hope that one day, nobody has to say “Me too.”
You’ve probably already figured this out, but parenting is hard work!
Before I go any further, I want to get one thing straight. I love being a parent. My wonderful wife and I have been blessed with 6 talented, beautiful, and sweet children. No, they are not perfect. But, I genuinely believe that they are much better children than I was at their age. It’s really a privilege to be their dad. And more than that, it’s a lot of fun!
That said, not every day is just fun and games. While being a parent brings many joys, it also brings its fair share of challenges.
While I do love being a dad, sometimes I get down on myself because I long to be a better parent. And the harsh reality is that I really have no excuses! I have two degrees in Family Studies (including my PhD), and I have taught family classes at the university level for the past decade (including parenting classes).
I really do know what I’m supposed to be doing. So why do I mess up so much?!
Unfortunately, wallowing in my weaknesses will never help me be a better parent. Sometimes we simply need to get up one more time when we’re knocked down and recognize that our children will generally forgive us of our “humanness” – especially when they know we’re trying our hardest.
As you honestly assess your own parenting deficiencies, please also remember the many, many good things you are already doing for your children. The fact that you would read a blog article like this speaks volumes to you as a mother (or father). Yet for many of you, especially women, it can be hard to notice the good things that you’re doing; it’s so easy to be blinded by our feelings of inadequacy!
As a scholar, a teacher, and a father, I assure you that there is no greater cause than helping our families successfully navigate life. And in my opinion, there is no other job, duty, or task as important as being a parent.
So the next time you’re having one of those not-so-fun parenting days, hang in there. You’re doing better than you think!
We’ve all heard the jokes about how short a child’s attention span can be, but is an adult’s really that much better?
Have you ever thought about how many times per day you use your phone? On average, that number is somewhere around 2,617 times a day.
I can’t even tell you how often I have reached for my phone while doing homework, or looked up from my beloved screen to notice that everyone around me is also staring at theirs. When was the last time you went out to dinner with a group of friends and no one touched their phone? Or the last time you played a game with your kids without also mindlessly scrolling through Facebook?
It’s like we think we deserve a break from life, or a reward for our 5 minutes of effort. But the question we really need to ask ourselves is, are we rewarding ourselves because we think we deserve it, or because we literally can’t help it?
You bet it is. Addiction was once only considered relative to substances, but now it includes things like internet and smart phone usage, too. In a survey of 200 college students at Stanford University, 10% reported being fully addicted to their phone, and 34% considered themselves almost addicted.
In the same survey, 75% reported that they slept next to their phone, and 69% felt that they would forget their wallet before their phone. Almost half said they would consider losing their phone to be a “tragedy.”
If we take a look into the homes of Americans, we will see that 90% of households have at least one smartphone, desktop/laptop, tablet, or other media-streaming device. While this may not come as a surprise, nearly 20% of households have at least 10 of those devices. In some cases, that means there are probably more devices than people. Let that sink in for a moment…
Dating in today’s world is a little different than it was 20 years ago. Sadly, too many of us have had those awkward conversations where we had to repeat ourselves because our date was distracted by his or her phone. It often feels like we can’t even carry on a regular conversation.
If you can relate to this, you’re not alone. There’s even a term to describe it! “Phubbing” is when a person ignores or snubs someone in a social setting by paying more attention to their smart phone than the person they’re with.
Unfortunately, this kind of behavior has become the norm. When we walk into a restaurant, it’s not uncommon to see couples physically sitting together but mentally existing in completely different worlds. We seem to be losing the very human connection that makes our relationships meaningful.
In a poll of 1,240 U.S. parents and children, about 60% of kids ages 12-18 reported that they could not give up their smartphones, and 1/3 of parents reported that they argue about screen time with their children on a daily basis.
Spending 6-9 hours per day using digital media, kids and adolescents feel pressure to stay connected, incessantly check for notifications, and respond quickly to texts for fear of missing out (FOMO).
What kind of effect does all this screen time have on families? Sadly, not a positive one. Family relationships are weakening. Teens are isolating themselves even more than they were in the past. Children and parents alike need instant gratification and are becoming more concerned with self than with family.
Speaking of parents, if mom and dad are constantly on their devices, why shouldn’t their kids follow suit? The old saying “Do as I say, and not as I do” isn’t nearly as effective as we sometimes wish it was. We have to be careful and think about the example we’re setting for our little ones.
At this point you might be thinking, “Yeah, yeah I get it. Technology addiction is bad for me. But is it really affecting society?”
Actually… yes. Addiction to smart phones and other devices are causing us to have shortened attention spans. Kids are having a harder time focusing in school, and adults are experiencing the same problem at work.
A more obvious issue is texting and driving. In a survey given in 2012, 75% of teenagers said that they text and drive, and 56% of parents also admitted that they check their phone while driving.
Lastly, we cannot ignore the effect that technology addiction has on mental health. Those who struggle with a technology addiction experience a high increase in anxiety and depression symptoms. Naturally, this affects their educational, professional, and family life.
Before you get too worried that I’m going to ask you to burn all of your smart phones and other devices, I want to be clear: I’m not saying technology is inherently evil. Technology is amazing and can serve many useful and wonderful purposes. The important thing to be aware of here is the danger of addiction that comes from using it too much.
So knowing what you now know, here are 3 simple things you can do to make a change:
Technology addiction is real and very much alive in the U.S. today. If we can pay attention long enough, we might just be able to improve relationships, strengthen families, and better society as a whole without ever touching a smart phone.
If you’re like me, some of your most difficult moments have come from raising children. No matter how much blood, sweat, and tears you invest, you may always feel inadequate and imperfect. Because you’re reading this, I’m sure you want to improve as a parent (as do I).
Yet even with our pure motives and diligent efforts to improve, I have noticed a disturbing trend among us parents. Too many of us say we want to improve and change — but only if it fits into our assumptions and experiences. However, the number one thing you can do for your children is to seek truth and then parent accordingly. Yes this is simple, but not at all easy. It will be the hardest thing you will ever do.
Let me share a few of the many ways in which this occurs.
Every semester I hear the same thing from several students who challenge a parenting idea that they personally disagree with. They may take issue with the fact that traditional time-outs or bribes are counterproductive to character building. Or that you don’t have to punish to discipline a child. The rebuttal comes in many shapes and sizes, but it usually comes down to one idea:
“But my parents did ____________ with me growing up (fill in the blank), and I turned out okay!”
Even if we don’t say it or think it, we’ve probably fallen victim to this philosophy more than once. Research and common sense have made it pretty clear that—for better or for worse—the way we were raised will be the primary source for how we will raise our children. Too often these built-in biases go undetected.
I get the “I turned out okay” challenge so often from students and parents that I preemptively address it by inviting them to seriously reflect on four questions:
Before I go further, I need to offer two important disclaimers. First, I believe that the majority of parents love their children completely and second, they are doing their very best with what they know. I believe that’s true for both you and your parents.
In her book For Your Own Good, the psychoanalyst, Dr. Alice Miller observed: “Many people continue to pass on [false ideas, unhealthy attitudes and parenting practices] to which they were subjects as children, so that they can continue to idealize their parents.”
She goes on to say that we have a powerful, unconscious need to believe that everything our parents did to us was based in love, informed, and in our best interest. We often use the same parenting strategies with our kids to ensure the truth of our assumptions.
However, there are traditions and are based in truth and their are false traditions based in habit.
Case in point:
Another barrier to accepting truth is the almighty power of the anecdote or personal experience. In the documentary Minds of Our Own, recent electrical engineering graduates of an Ivy League school could not solve a basic electrical problem in trying to light a light bulb. The reason is simple: their personal experiences and assumptions had overridden 4 years of training. They were ultimately unwilling—consciously or not—to let go of those assumptions.
Frankly, I get a little tired of debating with students who reject research simply because it doesn’t fit into their personal experiences. Even more frankly, although this seems to be part of human nature it can be somewhat egotistical.
When the opinions others conflict with our own, we often assume that the other person is misinformed, crazy, or even purposefully trying to deceive. We fail to consider the possibility that their ideas could actually be useful! Unfortunately, this tendency can spread to all areas of our lives—anywhere from sports to family relationships.
Now you may be asking, “Dr. Tim, aren’t you egotistical because you think that you have the truth and most parents don’t?” Although I’m passionate about learning and living truth, I am also flawed and human. I have to constantly work through my own misconceptions!
If we really want to improve as parents, we have to be willing to throw out tradition or personal experiences that aren’t evidence-based. That is the challenge!
Truly we can resist the change that we need most without even being aware of it. So I have to ask a question. Are we causing unnecessary problems and pain because we fail to see our parenting biases clearly?
I hope that none of us wait until our children are grown to be humbled by our false beliefs about parenting. Just like our food choices, let us go after healthy sources for our parenting nourishment.
May each of us have the heart and the courage to change what is necessary. Let our traditions, upbringing, and experiences be held to the candle of what is best and proven rather than what is automatic and comfortable. I know this is within the reach of every parent because this is the most important work you will ever do.
While it may be uncomfortable, carefully examining your parenting practices can make all the difference. After all, your kids deserve to turn out better than just “okay.”
In my driveway, we have an adjustable basketball standard or hoop. When my son Carter was 10, he liked to lower the basket to 8 feet when we shot hoops. That way he could easily make a basket. After about 5 minutes, I’d raise it a couple of feet and he would usually protest. But I knew he’d never improve his game or himself with a low standard (pun intended).
Many of you have probably seen the following 2009 Hanes socks commercial:
Personally, I’ve never seen an advertisement in the media that depicts women as the buffoons in a relationship and men as competent. Dr. Leonard Sax, author of the insightful book Boys Adrift: What’s Really Behind the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys, elaborated on this mindset:
Permissive social mores have ‘let men off the hook’ as it were, so that many think it acceptable to father children out of wedlock and to cohabit rather than marry. Dodging commitments is considered smart, but sacrificing for the good of others, naive.
Unfortunately, many of those who lower the standard for dads—claiming that fathers are useless buffoons—are likely individuals whose fathers were mostly dead-beats.
While camping near a lake, my son tried to skip a rock across the water. As it plunged into the lake, it was remarkable to watch how one little rock could cause ripples to spread for quite some distance.
When men father children and then check out of their fatherly duties, it doesn’t just impact that child. The “ripple effect” goes through both society and generations. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America, or one out of three children, now live in a biological father-absent home. Here is just a small sample of the ripple effect of absentee dads:
There are many today who—in the name of equality—are attempting to erase any differences between men and women. However, a whole raft of research has shown the biological and psychological differences between boys and girls that are evident from birth. Boys and girls see, hear, think, feel, and learn differently. Of course both genders have much in common, but many individual and societal problems have come from trying to make men and women the same. Professor David Popenoe summarizes what this gender research means for parents:
Because of their distinct gifts and abilities, men and women each bring a unique perspective to family life. Dads think and act differently than moms. Some of these distinct differences are in the areas of regulating aggression and general activity, cognitive skills, sensory sensitivity, and sexual behavior to name just a few.
For example, think of raising children like a person’s stability in standing, walking, and running. An individual with only their left foot (due to birth defect, amputation, or accident) can probably stand upright, especially with assistance. A person with 2 left feet (not likely, I know) may have more support. But a left and a right foot both compliment and stabilize each other.
A mother and a father is the most ideal scenario for raising children. Yet, with our current culture and laws we send the message over and over again that dads are optional.
Mounting evidence demonstrates that girls whose fathers are absent and uninvolved are much more likely to become sexually active, sexually exploited through pornography and prostitution, struggle with their male/romantic relationships, and become mothers as teens—perpetuating the cycle of children without fathers.
This is largely because Dads lay the foundation for how girls understand and interact with the opposite gender. If a father is physically—and especially emotionally—involved in his daughter’s life, she is likely to forge healthy relationships with men through her teen and adult years.
A popular song by John Mayer speaks volumes:
Daddy-daughter dates are a terrific way to build and teach healthy relationships. I try to take each of my 3 daughters on a date every other month, and I consider it a great honor. I want them experience the kind of treatment they deserve from boys so they won’t settle for anything less. Here is a beautiful example of a dad who gets it:
Let’s help raise the standard for men. If you’re a dad like me, regularly evaluate the time (quality and quantity) you’re investing in your most important work—your family. Have consistent one-on-one chats with each of your children where they can talk to you about anything and everything. Get into your child’s world and truly understand them! William Shakespeare has said, “It is a wise father that knows his own child.”
Additionally, if you’ve fathered a child and are living with your child’s mother, please consider marriage! Professor Robert P. George wisely wrote:
“Marriage increases the odds that a man will be committed to both the children that he helps create and to the woman with whom he does so.”
If you’re a divorced father, make an effort to heal the relationship with your children’s mother. That doesn’t mean you need to remarry her. But it does mean you should try to make peace with her. The best predictor of divorced dads being involved in his children’s lives is the quality of relationship he has with their mother.
Thanks to all you fathers who hold themselves to a high standard of commitment. We can all feel their positive ripple-effect. Be one of those dads, and your children — as well as generations to come — will thank you!