Emotional safety means feeling accepted and believing that you are free from emotional attack or harm. Trust and respect are key components of emotional safety for families. Distrust and disrespect can thrive in a family -- if dads are unaware of their special “dadly” gifts.
Wives and kids crave a consistent, predictable energy from dads, which can create feelings of acceptance, appreciation and approval. A father’s uncertainty or unwillingness to provide this energy frequently results in arguments, resentment and disrespectful behavior in many forms. By embracing a new awareness of your special gifts, dads can build the foundation of emotional safety that the entire family deserves.
Sometimes, dads forget the tremendous influence they have over the energy under their own roof. Try to recall at least one person you admired and respected as a child. This person supported you and gave you confidence in yourself; saw you as valuable and capable; and treated everyone in this way. You wished you could be like this person. Now it is your chance to be your family’s hero. This will change your perspective on your role, as well as your impact on your family. Your confidence in being the source of positive feelings for your family will encourage them to join you in a new, safe space.
Dads can quickly and unknowingly shut down open communication and trust. A father can easily set a family tone of, “I love you exactly as you are” or “You are never quite good enough.” Celebrate your family’s unique strengths with loving acceptance.This allows family communication and trust to grow. By actively showing acceptance of words and feelings, family members will feel safe in sharing even more with you. The long-term results will be stronger feelings of appreciation, trust and connection, which cannot survive in an environment of judgment and disapproval.
It is impossible to create safety without clear boundaries. And you can’t earn respect for your boundaries without emotional safety. Identify your key parenting and spousal governing principles. For example, if one of these is, “I will always speak from a place of love and respect, and I expect the same from my family,” make that perfectly clear every single day with your loving actions and words. Do not compromise that value. You will gain more respect and trust than you can imagine by simply living what you stand for. Only then can you hold others to the same standard. Family members may not always like your expectations, but they will respect you for the clarity and strength of your conviction.
The fastest way to lose trust and respect is to be an unpredictable source of comfort to your family. Being quick to display anger, criticism and confrontation today will dissolve any positive feelings you may have created yesterday. Emotional distance is the result. Consistency in showing your unqualified approval and steady commitment to your values is what they need. If you can accomplish this, even in the face of stress and emotional flare-ups, you will create immediate feelings of trust and respect.
Co-leading this new energy with your wife is a powerful force. But do not be a man who waits for others to give him a reason to be the man his family needs. Instead, inform your wife of your new intentions and expectations of yourself. Ask her to join you in creating a better atmosphere for your relationship, as well as for the family. Then shut up about it. Just live it. She may appreciate your new outlook and be thrilled to be part of the transformation. However, she may be one of the family members most in need of seeing you make these changes first and consistently. You can choose to give yourself--and her--that gift.
A common thread among men struggling for trust and respect is the habit of asking why? Why did you do that? Why can’t you be more like Joe? Why do you feel that way? Why did you say that?
Instead, simply state your thoughts or feelings in a calm manner. Questions of why will never get you the answer you are looking for. Rather, questions of why do little more than generate feelings of judgment, defensiveness and disapproval. If you stop the questions and start making value-based statements, you will avoid unproductive arguments and gain respect. For example, to a child who has made a poor decision, say, “I know you can do better than that. I am confident that next time, you will.”
Do not treat your principles as negotiable. As Wayne Levine writes in Hold On To Your N.U.T.S., your values should be “non-negotiable, unalterable terms.” There is nothing to be gained by debating your values. Arguing about what you value only serves to make you appear uncertain and untrustworthy. Once you begin to address conflicts with measured statements of where you stand, you take away the negative, competitive urge to counter attack. The biggest benefit of this is that it allows you to clear your emotions to make way for actually listening to the other person, which will further build trust and respect.
The problem with wishy-washy dads is that they don’t inspire confidence in their family. Decisiveness comes from gaining clarity on your plan and values. Whether it is an evening out or a family financial plan, knowing what you want and going for it creates feelings of trust and confidence within your relationship and your family. It is okay to change your mind, but it is not okay to consistently waver with uncertainty on important decisions affecting your family. Be clear and unapologetic about your goals and expectations. Emotional safety can grow more easily when dad knows where they are going and how they plan to get there.
The dad who is always defending himself tends to take a lot of things personally. Whether it is his kids or wife who questions or criticizes him, his go-to mode of operation is an irritated reaction. Reactions never gain respect or trust, but responses do. By listening to the “attack” with a calm ear, you can decide if the issue is valid or not. If the complaint is valid, explain how you plan to address it. If the complaint is not valid, just say so and don’t argue. A man’s confidence can be challenged in many ways every day. You can give the gift of emotional safety when you confidently demonstrate that you will not overreact to these challenges.
Even in the face of frustration and self-doubt, you must know one thing. You have the gifts of masculine strength, words and energy--and others want it. Don’t ever doubt the value of yourself as a creator and protector of emotional safety in your family. Many men believe that poor treatment from their family is a reflection of their personal value. But the truth is that when you stop doubting your power to give them the gift of emotional safety, their trust and respect will be reflected back to you.
Dads have a very special gift they can give to their families. They can build trust when they choose to consistently shower their family with approval, acceptance and unconditional love. A dad can build respect when he firmly and lovingly sets boundaries around his values for loving and respectful behavior. By living these values without conditions, he will help generate the emotionally safe environment that his family deserves. It is in this environment where words and feelings can be shared freely without fear of judgment or emotional attack. And only then, can he expect communication, connection and love to thrive.
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