Being a dad is a delicate balance. In concert with my wife, we strive to find the perfect equilibrium of authority, encouragement, and “letting go” as we raise our three children in an ever-changing world. This is likely preaching to the choir, as I am sure most of you parents out there feel the same thing, to one degree or another.
As my children grow, and learn more about themselves and the world around them, it is important to me that they are strong, self-confident, respectful, and kind. Still, there is one quality that is often overlooked, and even dismissed (or even marginalized as useless): be sensitive.
This means different things to different people, arguably. But on the whole it is safe to say that being sensitive involves a deep and complete understanding that all of us are part of one big human family, with all the customs, traditions, cultures, and languages that come with a population fast approaching 8 billion people.
Within that, a sensitive heart acknowledges that words are powerful tools for building, and equally powerful weapons of destruction. I want my children to know what they say means something – not only because of how it empowers each of them, but also how it can impact – positively or negatively – those around them. And for my oldest daughter, Izzy, who is non-verbal, I want her and others to understand that she has other ways of communicating and she has something to saw. Be sensitive to verbal and non-verbal communication, and learn to not just hear, but listen.
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Being sensitive is too often at the receiving end of ridicule or backhanded remarks of being “weak”. If you are sensitive, then you must be too emotional, and things must bother you too much. Sensitive is also closely linked to vulnerability, and being vulnerable means you are open to attack from those stronger than you. Or so we hear this often. On the contrary, our vulnerability, rooted in being sensitive, is a place of great power. Brené Brown, research scholar and author, shared that: “Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous. Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” From vulnerability, from sensitivity burst forth the ideas that shape the world, and advance society. Sensitivity and vulnerability are not limitations; rather, they are the gateways to a deeper knowledge about the universe.
In my quest to be a good dad, to try to impart my experiences and my life stories to my children, being sensitive is an important piece of the puzzle that I want to share with my children. Here are some ways we can engage sensitivity (I would love to hear from all parents, too, about ways in which you are encountering sensitivity in the raising of your children):
- Do not be afraid to show your emotions to your children. The last thing that I want to be is a stoic father. Don’t get me wrong, stoicism is an asset, too – it is an element of strength and fortitude against challenges. But, I want my kids to know my emotions – my joy, my fear, my elation, and my sadness. It’s ok to laugh and cry, and to share it together as a family when those emotions come out.
- Consider introducing your child to journaling or art therapy. These are both creative ways emotions, and, if you have a child more reticent to sharing, then these also are more private ways to acknowledge and process sensitivity.
- Be sure that your child feels safe expressing emotions. There is no place for ignoring or dismissing or marginalizing your child’s emotions when he/she needs to be heard, and needs your comfort as a parent.
- Just listen. Quite often, we don’t even need to do anything except listen. Lend an ear, and just listen. That’s it.
Of course, I want my children to be strong, but I also hope to help them navigate life in a way that teaches them about that big human family of which we are all a part.
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