I knew I didn't want to have children. I could see why other people wanted children; I could understand how enjoyable they could be. But there were too many things I wanted to do with my life and there was no time for children in my life. I had been married twice and hadn't had any children. When I married Shelly 32 years ago I still didn't want children.
And then just a few months after Shelly and I were married, we kept running into a friend of ours, Patricia Albere, who had just had a son, Alexander. He was so cute. I just loved holding him every time I saw him. And my heart melted. So I told Shelly: "Let's have a baby. I don't really have the time, but we'll make it work somehow." Shelly, who had always wanted children, was thrilled.
I studied parenting like physicians study medicine.
After Blake was born, I figured that if I was going to be a father, I ought to learn how to do it right. I ultimately read about 75 books on parenting and education. I also took everything I learned from working with clients, specifically, how parental interactions with children were the primary source of the beliefs that underlie most behavioral and emotional problems. I spent hours thinking about what type of interactions caused negative beliefs and what type of interactions would lead children to form positive beliefs? I read everything I could find on education.
I won't pretend it was easy. I think running a multi-billion corporation would be a lot easier. How do you protect a child from harm (like not running into the street), make sure they do what needs to be done (like brushing their teeth), learn what they need to learn (like how to get along with others) -- while at the same time making sure they don't conclude I'm powerless or I'm not good enough?
And every time I thought I had figured out a few principles and strategies, my two girls reached another stage of development; they went from infant to toddler and from adolescent to teenager -- and what used to work no longer did. I pretty much had to start all over again figuring out what to do.
Being a dad was really fun. But the difficulties paled beside the fun of playing with them on the floor (I'll never forget the hours playing "Lion" with Brittany, chasing her from room to room), reading to them for hours and hours (Chicka Chicka Boom Boom was my all-time favorite), pushing them on the swing, taking photos, taking them to fun places (like Disney World and Sesame Place) and most of all, just talking to them and listening to them talk to me.
I'll never forget one evening when Blake was about four or five and we had gotten a baby sitter so Shelly and I could go out to dinner. Blake started crying and insisting that she didn't want us to go out. I clearly remember sitting down with her on the stairs and saying: "Sweetheart, mommy and I are going out to dinner for a few hours. You can cry until we come back if you'd like. That's really okay. Or you can play some fun games with Sandy, your sitter. The choice is yours."
Blake seemed to think about it for a moment, then she reached over, kissed me, got up and took Sandy's hand, and then walked off to her room to play some games.
You want a second child?
After a couple of years of being Blake's dad, I had concluded that as much fun as being a dad was, one was enough. But Shelly wanted another child. I told her that I was just too busy with the rest of my life to have time for a second child. As time went on and my enjoyment with Blake grew and grew, I made another of the most important decisions of my life: I told Shelly I was ready for a second child.
Brittany was born six years after Blake, both June births. Not only did each of them change significantly as they grew through stages of development, but what worked with Blake didn't work with Brittany, and vice versa. They were very different in so many ways.
I had so identified with being a dad that Shelly made a tee shirt for me saying, "Blake and Brittany's dad."
My biggest parenting mistake
Brittany was determined to do everything her way: She wanted what she wanted, when she wanted it, and the way she wanted it. It was often difficult to get her to do what we thought needed to be done. And that led to one of the biggest mistakes I've made in my life: I tried to work with her on beliefs starting when she was six or seven. I thought she must have formed some negative beliefs to be so "difficult."
I now realize that most of what seemed to be "difficult" behavior was just a stage of development she was going though. I also now realize that six or seven is much too young for children to try to eliminate beliefs. In fact, telling her that she needed to eliminate beliefs so she could change aspects of her behavior led her to form several negative conclusions about herself.
Do your best to keep your children from forming negative beliefs. But if they do, wait until they are at least 12 or so before you start helping them eliminate beliefs. If you do it earlier, the very act of telling them to eliminate beliefs has them conclude there is something wrong with them. They are likely to think: What's wrong with me that I have to work on changing myself?
The importance of not giving meaning
As good as my relationships were with Blake and Britt, when I learned how to dissolve meaning they got even better. When I no longer gave meaning to anything they did, I stopped getting annoyed or angry at anything they did, which enabled me to express the unconditional love I felt inside.
No matter how much you love your children, they cannot experience your love when you are angry with them. And when you give meaning to what they do and say, it is virtually impossible not to get angry. Stop giving meaning to their behavior and comments and you will no longer be angry with your children. At which point your unconditional love will shine through.
My favorite word in the English language
Becoming a dad twice and marrying their mom Shelly were the three best decisions I've made in my life. Being a dad has been one of the most important, most satisfying, most gratifying, most exciting, and most meaningful experiences of my life. As I've told people many times, the word "daddy," especially when uttered by one of my two daughters, is my favorite word in the English language. I "light up" whenever I see either one of them or even hear their voice on the phone.
With Father's Day around the corner I thought I would share with you some of my thoughts about being a "daddy." Thank you Blake and Brittany for choosing me as your dad. It was the best gift I have ever had. I love you both very much.
Morty Lefkoe is the creator of The Lefkoe Method, a system for permanently eliminating limiting beliefs. For more information, click here.
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