As Father’s Day approaches, our thoughts can turn to sunny images of barbecues, and finding the perfect summer read or hi-tech gadget for Dad. But, for many, the relationship between father and child can tinge the day with feelings of anxiety or sadness.
“We know how important our family bonds are,” says Carole Hallundbaek, counselor and author on growth in relationships. “We recognize that our relationships are a barometer of sorts of how we are doing, emotionally and spiritually. We know when we are at peace with a relationship — and we are keenly aware of the sense of loss or regret we feel when we know we have not stepped up to a conflict or challenge.”
“Holidays like Father’s Day give us an opportunity to reflect on ourselves as parents, and see how we’ve prioritized,” says Malcolm Gauld, president of Hyde Schools. “Often, one way or another, we may discover we’ve come up short as dads. Perhaps we have not given our child enough time or attention. Or perhaps we have not guided them consistently with principles.”
“Also, dads may be seeking friendship with their children,” adds Laura Gauld, wife of Malcolm and co-author of their parenting book The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have and founders of the parenting seminars that sprung from it. “If that doesn’t happen, they may blame themselves and retreat into work. Years go by, nothing changes, and people lament in silence.”
Happily, the scenario is far from bereft of hope. There are many parenting programs, books and Internet sites loaded with articles on better parenting. The President too has his Fatherhood Initiative rooted in the philosophy of personal responsibility.
In the Gauld’s three decades of experience in education and parenting, they have found that all good parents need help and often express a few regrets and longings for a second chance to do better by their children.
“Exceptional parenting is hard, doable, and never too late,” says Malcolm. “Most parents we work with don’t ask for help unless situations with their children spiral out of control, and few parents are willing to admit they have moments when they feel clueless. Amazing things can happen when parents let go of what isn’t going well or what they didn’t do right and take hold of parenting instincts grounded in principles.”
Brian Mulligan is the father of Ben, a graduate of Hyde School.
“Ben was what I had considered a ‘problem’ child, our difficult one,” says Mulligan, “and I sort of quit on him. I was thrilled that he was accepted into this school that was all about character development and thought, ‘that’ll solve things.’ But when I had to adhere to the principles myself, and go through the same soul-searching learning process he went through, I suddenly realized the issues we faced were not just about Ben; I had to own up to some difficult things. It hurt like hell, but it was the best thing that could have happened. It gave me a second chance to be the father I wanted to be.”
“The fact is, as adults we don’t have all of the answers,” says Laura. “And many of us think if we could just fix the problem – our kids’ acting out—bad behavior – we could go along in life just fine. When parents stop focusing solely on their kids and start focusing on their own attitudes, members of the family begin to shift and opportunities for family growth present themselves. It can give families a fresh start at sharing and making meaning — about themselves, their values, their journey, and their future.”
“We believe strongly in allowing obstacles to become opportunities,” says Malcolm. “Admitting to our limitations and errors as parents allows us to liberate ourselves from a societal pressure of perfection and achievement. We free ourselves up and, in the process, inspire our children through example.”
In the end, what children need from their parents is inspiration. And that is not to be found in achievements or material success or the image of perfection. The Gaulds suggest that dads not try to hide their challenges from their kids.
“We will not inspire our children with our achievements,” says Laura. “We best inspire them when we share our struggles and reach for our best.”
“Life does give us second chances if we take them,” says Mulligan. “Growth and change are not the easy fix, but they are the genuine one.”
For more information on Malcolm and Laura Gauld, contact Rose Mulligan at (207) 837-9441, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.