Do you ever get defensive as a dad? I have, way more than I’d like to admit, and it’s a hard habit to break.
When my sons were young, I said “no” way more than “yes,” and often for good reason. They seemed to always want to do something expensive, dangerous, or both. As much as my heart wanted to stay open, I feared that a request for a BIG YES from me was waiting around every corner. My response? I made sure to stay on high alert.
As my kids barreled down the hall, I’d tell myself: “Here they come again. They want a BIG vacation, a BIG party, a BIG toy, a BIG [whatever].” Looking back, I now regret that a BIG NO was fully formed on my tongue before they even entered the room.
More often than not, what my sons really wanted was to say “hi, dad” just because, to invite me to join them for a quick lunch, or to wrestle on the floor for five or ten minutes. At bedtime they’d ask to stay up all night but reading a simple children’s book with them was enough, and they always fell asleep…eventually. Turns out, a BIG YES or BIG NO from me was rarely necessary.
Most dads can get defensive at the drop of a hat. We clench our wallets, wall up emotionally, or keep relationally distant for all kinds of reasons. This happened frequently when I first started out as a father; today I notice my heart posture much more easily and adjust accordingly.
What changed? I discovered that little yesses go a long way and I believe you can too. Here are three heart-opening responses that you can tuck away in your dad tool belt and start using with your kid(s) today.
Little Yes #1: Sounds great. Let’s go!
I know you can’t always drop everything to go play when you’re the dad, but I bet you can most of the time. “Wrestling Bears” was one of the games my rambunctious sons couldn’t get enough of when they were little. There were many times I really didn’t want to crawl around on the carpet, get kneed in delicate places, or stop doing something I thought was more important. Rather than resist my kids, I intentionally used this silly game to strengthen my capacity to say “yes.” I committed to diving into “Wrestling Bears” even when I was tired or tense. Instead of closing off my heart by saying “no,” I made the decision in advance to say, “Sounds great. Let’s go!”
What is something your son or daughter asks you frequently that you can stop saying “no” to and start responding with a little “yes” a little more often?
Little Yes #2: Of course. What’s up?
Interruptions are part of life, especially when you’re a parent. Much of the time someone or something is vying for your attention. It’s no wonder you want to hide away when you start hearing “Hey, dad!” on repeat and closing in fast. A phrase that can help in moments like these is, “Of course. What’s up?” It’s a little “yes” that lets your child know you’re listening, you care, and you want to hear what’s going on in their world. It also helps strengthen your communication with one another, and decrease pent up intensity, because you’re talking more frequently in smaller doses. In my experience, choosing this heart posture pays dividends. I’m so impressed that my sons still want to head out for late night Taco Bell with me when they’re in town so we can hang out. They enjoy jumping on our weekly family Zoom calls (most of the time!) and even call me most weeks to catch up. Yes, there are times when I don’t want to connect, but I’ve resolved to stop what I’m doing, let my sons interrupt me, and say a little “yes” in the form of, “Of course. What’s up?”
When do you have the hardest time being interrupted by your kid(s)? Make note of the activities and times of day that you prefer to protect and practice saying, “Of course. What’s up?” to your child(ren) instead.
Little Yes #3: That’s amazing. Tell me more.
The first two little yesses are responses for when your child approaches you. This third one can serve as a response, but more often it takes you paying attention to what interests your kid. Your son or daughter probably has a distinguishing hobby or talent. Maybe they like Lego or singing or gymnastics or walking dogs. The possibilities are endless, and so are your opportunities to pay attention with sincere curiosity. Take a moment to remember a time when your mom or dad, a teacher or coach, or a friendly neighbor took time to ask you about something you cared deeply about as a child. Now, contrast that with how often you kneel down to find out what your own son or daughter’s attention is focused on. You don’t need to understand why they love a particular video game, or even how to play it, to make a huge impact on their heart. You don’t have to be into pottery or painting or poetry or whatever to intentionally ask your child to invite you into their most meaningful moments. Just choose to try out a little yes like, “That’s amazing. Tell me more.” It will build a bridge between you and your child you never dreamed possible.
What is something your child is into that you’re unfamiliar with but would like to hear more about from them?
Little yesses go a long way when it comes to fatherhood and family life. At Camp Paradise, we’re committed to inviting dads to pursue the best connections—with God, your child, and other dads—both at camp and at home. We’d love for you to join us for a session this summer. While registering for five days away from home is a BIG YES, the opportunity to practice little yesses for a few days with limited distractions is totally worth it. Visit campparadise.org/dadscamp to find out more about attending Dads Camp.