A Dad for Daughters

By May 1, 2017 No Comments

Interesting week…In a positive way.

I have wrestled more than is normal with my feelings of failure (or fear of failure) for the past 11 years. <!–more–>

My parenting is the concern, and I have two daughters.

I did not grow up with girls.  I do not understand “girl” things.  I respect women and appreciate their perspective, but, as a child, I really didn’t have many girlfriends or female perspectives.

As a result, (and you can verify this with my wife) I really didn’t learn about girls and their needs.  This lack of expertise/understanding manifests in me as fear.  I’m scared that I am going to be too much of a guy or too much of a dad or too much of a man.

The bottom line is that I am afraid I am going to screw up and screw them up.

Now, I’ve always tried to do what is in my kids’ best interest (from my perspective).  I feel good about my intentions.

Yet, I have made tremendous mistakes in trying to adapt my own behavior to one suitable for a dad and father to two girls.

This back and forth of “I’m a good Dad…I’m a bad Dad” is the mental ping pong I play in my mind…Not very constructive.

So, this week I was listening to a Tim Ferriss podcast with a woman who is a dog trainer.   Her name is Susan Garrett.

She’s a champion dog trainer.  I’m not too interested in dog training (I don’t have any dogs today), but I was driving, not really thinking, and kept on listening.  Then, the quote (and I’m paraphrasing) “If you can’t train two chickens, you should never be allowed to have kids.”

I never trained chickens.

I owned four dogs before kids, and I worked hard to get their training right.  Discipline and consistent work drove the dogs to behave.

However, my current experience suggests that raising kids is an entirely different proposition from training dogs.  My personal intensity and anxiety associated with the responsibility drives concern and sometimes removes the fun.

The nonstop “on switch” of child rearing.  As much as there are times in parenting where this feels like a great idea, I can’t just put the kids in a cage. Enter the term, “Positive Training”.

The champion dog trainer offered a significantly interesting and different approach around this new idea (for me) “positive training”, and I was interested to understand more.  My takeaway from what she said is that you never reprimand the dog.  You’re never served a positive interaction by hitting a dog or disciplining them or showing dominance in a classical sense.  The traditional dog training methodologies appear to have it all wrong.

Opposite of punishment training, the most important training mechanism is trying to motivate the dog to want to behave.  This mindset shift, and it its distinct set of motivations, move the dog to act in his/her best interest rather than moving because they are afraid of the consequence.

Rather than the dog being fearful of misbehaving you’re motivating them to behave, and I know that it sounds strange but I thought that just maybe, this same tactic would work with my two daughters.

Instead of creating an environment where my children would be fearful of misbehavior, and the consequences or the punishment that might come from negative behavior, perhaps, I could take a fresh approach and completely change my behavior.

I started only to react to things that were positive and only react in an extremely positive way to those positive behaviors.  Giving my daughters the feedback and positive encouragement to promote healthy and positive behavior was an original approach for me.

Launch:  The great positivity experiment:

Here are the bullet points:

  • I will not react negatively to negative behavior
  • I will not punish “bad” behavior
  • I will reward only “good” behavior
  • My daughters are not entitled to anything other than food, exercise, education, and shelter…all else is earned through positive behavior

My announcement to them was met with anger…I did not react.  I told them that we would not be going on our ritualistic Saturday after-surf lunch, because they had not earned it.  Quickly, they got on their best behavior.

I’m only one weekend into the land of positivity, and it hasn’t been all roses and laughter, but a more positive approach appears to be positive.

Now, I will admit to a bit of creative license and maybe my skepticism drove me to the minimalist (maybe a bit harsh) establishment of this positive regime.

In a moment of pure frustration (at that moment where genius, resolve, and the incessant desire to quit crash into each other), I told my kids that they were only entitled to four things:  food, shelter, health and fitness, and education.  That is it!

Everything else they wanted they could earn.  Better still, I would support hard-work, ingenuity, and drive, and I would personally help them get whatever they wanted if they took the right positive steps.

Positivity is not universally positive.  It’s an entirely different approach, and I have not been perfect.  Still, within 24 hours my youngest daughter, who loves to bake, wanted to bake a cake.

I said, “Well, if you would like to bake a cake, I will take you to the store, and I will get you the cake mix.  But first, what you have to do is earn it by weeding the vegetable garden.”

Initially, my positive position was not met with a lot of happiness.

“No,” she plowed, “That’s not fair.  I’m not doing that, and you can’t make me.”

That attitude drives me crazy and would normally have moved me to punishment…but not the new positive Matt.

“That’s fine.”  I said, “You do not have to weed the garden today.  You can sit on the couch.  You can’t watch TV.  Of course, you could earn the ability to watch TV.  You can’t play on the phone or the computer, but you can sit there.  If you want to earn the ability to bake a cake today, then you need to go weed.”

She did not reply, but glared at me and sulked out of the room (another pet peeve of mine).  15 minutes later, on her own, she got a pale, went out to the garden, and dug all the weeds out of that garden.  Truth be told, she probably did a better job than ever before.

After about 30 minutes, she came back in the house and said, “Okay Daddy, I did it.  Let’s go to the store and buy my cake mix.”

Happily, I took her to the store and it was amazing how much joy she had.  She earned her success and she had a blast baking on her own cake.  She was excited to share her cake with the rest of the family and show off what a great little chef she is.  Positively a success.


Leave a Reply