On Mothers’ Day this year I put up a post called “Great Mothering.” The post consisted of my Ten Commandments for “Great Mothering.”

I realized when I wrote these Ten Commandments that of course they apply every bit as much to “Great Fathering.” So, I repeat them here for Fathers’ Day:

1. Believe in your ability to parent.

2. Great fathering is about great listening.

3. Relax.

4. Do not be afraid.

5. Enjoy your child.

6. Choose trust.

7. Be at peace with yourself and your child.

8. Never forget – children learn more from observing than from being told.

9. Be the person you want your child to become.

10. Live in love.

To read my expansion of these points see: https://inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com/2011/05/08/great-mothering/

I find it easier to write about mothers than fathers. I have been privileged to watch up close some of the greatest mothering you could ever hope to see. Fathering is a little bit too close to home. When I think of fathering, it is easy to be overly conscious of my own personal failures as a parent.

So, at the risk of appearing to indulge in self-flagellation on this Fathers’ Day, I want to identify those things I wish I had been better at avoiding during the most involved years of my fathering.

1. Do not enter into power struggles.

The job of a father is to help his child discover that she has power. A father is an especially powerful figure in his child’s life. He is therefore particularly able to help his child feel either empowered or disempowered. When a father is over-bearing, loud, belligerent, passive-aggressive, or demeaning towards his child, he teaches his child that she is powerless. A father can help his child claim her own power in a positive healthy way by respecting her, listening deeply to her, and trying to help her find her way to what her heart is truly saying.

2. Never never never use shame as a tool to attempt to shape your child’s behaviour.

Shame is a most deadly weapon in any human relationship. Your child needs to know that she has your respect. If you communicate anything other than deep abiding regard for your child, she will lose respect for herself and begin to act out of that destructive shadow side of her nature that will never produce healthy life choices.

3. Do not ignore your child.

Your child needs to feel noticed by you. This means listening to your child, noticing the small things he does, paying attention to his interests, acknowledging his concerns even when these concerns seem trivial to you. When a child does not get the attention he craves, he will try other ways to make an impact on his world. Most of these alternative attempts to be noticed will not be to your liking.

4. Avoid violence in relationship to your child.

This sounds obvious. But, violence is not just physical. Violence comes in the form of a tone of voice, a look on your face, an overbearing attitude. Children are particularly sensitive to perceiving the presence of violence in its most subtle forms. If you have violence in your heart, it will come out in your words and actions, even when you do not resort to hitting or yelling. Deal with your own violence so that you do not inflict it on others.

5. Do not use “No” as often as you feel tempted.

Of course there are times when “No” is the right answer, but probably far less frequently than it is used. Ask yourself: Is this “No” really in the interest of my child’s thriving, or is it for my own convenience? Most of my “No” responses came from impatience and tiredness. “Yes” enables your child to open and explore new worlds. Try to start with “Yes”; only move to “No” when absolutely necessary.

6. Do not be dishonest with yourself.

Self-awareness and honesty are two of the greatest strengths you can bring to your role as a father. My worst parenting moments all happened when I was feeling most insecure. When I felt insecure, I parented out of my need for my children to present a particular image to the world. Inevitably when my parenting came from my desire for my children to look a certain way, I resorted to abuse, manipulation and guilt. These harsh tools may appear effective in the short term. But they only change external behaviour. Internally they poison your child.

7. Do not take yourself too seriously.

Life is full of pressures, especially when you are trying to establish yourself in a career, begin a family, and provide for the needs of the people in the world for whom you feel such a great responsibility. But, parenting is supposed to be, and can be, enjoyable. Have fun with your children. Let them teach you to play.

8. Do not beat yourself up.

I have failed as a father more times than I can begin to count. And yet, in spite of all my failures, I have two adult daughters who have grown into loving, thoughtful, honest, kind, and gracious adults.

Parenting is important and we should do the best we can as parents. But, in the end there is a resilience and beauty in the human spirit that dwells in our children. The strength of goodness and light that lives in our children is able to withstand most of our failures.

Success in parenting lies most deeply in our ability to trust that depth of spirit that is present in our children. We will always parent better when we look for that which is deepest and most authentic in our children and encourage them to trust that depth within themselves.


It is heartwarming to see the father I get to observe most closely these days avoiding so many of the mistakes I made as a parent. Thanks Pieter for being such a great Dad to your beautiful daughters.