If you look back on your life, there is a very good chance you will be able to name a mentor or two that took you under their wings and guided you through different parts of life. Your mentor might have coached you through what type of career to choose, or how to purchase a car or home wisely; they may have counseled you in relationships or helped you make sure you were asking the right woman to marry you. All of these important life decisions and more are made easier with a mentor.
For many of you, that mentor was your father. On the other hand, others were supported by different people for one reason or another. For instance, I was raised in a family of eleven and my father would have rather been anywhere except at home. I believe the longest conversation we have ever had was about a minute long (cue the song Cat’s in the Cradle). Fortunately, I came across a couple of older men I met in the weight room when I was in my early twenties. They literally changed my whole life around. I thank God every day for the influence they had on me and inspired me to do better in every facet of my life.
If You Don’t Mentor Your Children, Someone Else Will
All fathers need to play an active role in their child’s life whether they are ten years old or thirty. If you are not acting as their mentor, someone else will fill the void who may not be steering your kids to make the wise decisions they should, in order to become a responsible adult. Our children are our legacy, so we should take this calling seriously and make an effort to be the strongest and most positive influence in their lives.
Of course, all of us want to be the best fathers we possibly can, so here are seven tips you should consider to effectively mentor your children.
Set a Good Example
Your children are always watching you. They are taking mental notes on how you conduct yourself and they will probably emulate the characteristics you display as they grow older. If you never finish a project that you start, they will learn this behavior. If you are combative and shout and yell when things don’t go your way, your children will notice and act out the same way. The very first step of being a good mentor and father is to be the person your child can proudly follow in life. Be the kind of person you want your children to be. This is a tall order, but it is fundamental to mentoring them well.
Sit Down and Set Goals with Your Children
It is never too early to set goals with your kids. This includes both short-term and long-term goals. Be sure to write these goals down as just the act of committing them to paper make them more real. Make sure that the goals are not merely your goals for them, but that they have input and take ownership of their goals as well. Discuss with your children how they can accomplish their goals and support them continually along the way. Hold them accountable during the good times and the bad and be there to give them advice when needed.
Mentoring Can Require Tough Love
It would be easy to mentor if all it required was telling your children they were doing a great job at everything. In our current society, it seems like the “everyone gets a trophy” formula is raising our kids to think that everything they do is perfect even when it is not. If your child is messing up, giving up, or just being lazy, you need to let them know in no uncertain terms that this is unacceptable. It is one thing if they fall short or fail at something while giving their best, but it is quite another if they are putting forth half the effort because of a bad attitude, or far worse, pride. Dads need to step in and lovingly correct their kids when they get off course. Kids need boundaries and higher expectations if they are going to mature and succeed in life.
Be Present and Accounted For
It is tough to be a good mentor when you are always missing in action. You must be visible in your child’s life if you have any hope of guiding them. After all, it is difficult to know what their strengths and weaknesses are if you are never around them. Make a point to “meet” with your kids on a regular basis. Whether over a lunch or dinner date, or just in the backyard playing catch. Ask them about their day and don’t settle for simple answers like “fine.” Dig a little deeper and show that you really want to know what is going on inside of their heart and mind. This can lead to some pretty amazing moments together.
Don’t Be Too Harsh
All of us have made mistakes. If your child knows they made one, there is no reason to keep on revisiting it over and over again. We have all witnessed those overbearing parents screaming from the stands during a basketball game. Besides being an embarrassment to their kid, they are setting a bad example for everyone that can see them. If your child is making mistakes, pull them aside and let them know what they are doing wrong. Don’t make it a public spectacle for all to witness. That can be truly demeaning and damage your relationship, and it will not have the effect you intended. In the end, your child should always know you love and value them no matter what they do or how they perform.
Show Them Not to Blame Others
In the film Rocky Balboa, Rocky tells his son not to blame others when things are not going his way. He instructs him not to point his finger at people or blame them for his failures. Mentor your child to accept the blame when it is right to do so. One of my favorite scenes from The Andy Griffith Show is when Andy is teaching his son Opie that it is easy to be a good winner. All you have to do is grin and grin. But to be a good loser is where a person’s character is built, and they learn the most about life. You can set the example as well when you accept responsibility for your own failures, and then go and make it right. Those kinds of actions stick with kids for a long time.
Find a Mentor for the Child If It Is Outside Your Expertise
I’ve dealt with this issue firsthand. One of the teenagers I used to mentor wanted to learn more about cars. He was interested in becoming a mechanic later in life. The problem was, all I know about cars are how to change a flat tire and put gas in it every now and then. So, we started reaching out to others who were more mechanically inclined. Eventually, we found a garage in town that agreed to educate him on repairing vehicles and in exchange he became their unpaid apprentice in the shop. This went on for about five months before they actually gave him a part-time job there as an assistant.
While he never became a professional mechanic, it did allow him to learn more about cars and fed his love for them as an adult. We can’t be experts at everything. Handing off a kid to another more qualified adult is often tough to do, but if we have their best interest at heart, it can serve them well.
Don’t Just Participate, Lead
As dads, we need to take our calling seriously. There are no participation trophies in fatherhood. We need to mentor our kids and help them to grow into mature, kind, respectful, contributing adults. It is a long road from the slobbery, self-centered toddler years to mature adulthood. But it’s our job to get them there, and to do it with love and wisdom, leading them by example. Take the challenge, put in the time and effort, and lead them well.
They will be your legacy.