Growing up, I always knew I wanted a family of my own—the wife, the kids, the whole bit. In college, I remember having “deep” conversations with friends about how I was going to do family right. I remember thinking, I’m going to be a great husband and dad.
Then I became a husband. I instantly found out that I wasn’t all that I had dreamed I would be. While I had my good moments, too often I had bad moments. I was much more selfish than I knew. I was confused on a regular basis. What did I say wrong? What did I do wrong?
Before we had kids I thought, Well, I may not be a perfect husband, but I’m going to knock this dad thing out of the park. Three nights in and I was pretending not to hear the baby crying in the middle of the night.
Now that I have been married for 22 years and have three teenagers, I’m not really sure about anything. Add to that all the pressure of really wanting to be a good husband and dad and I can quickly feel overwhelmed. But I have realized that a lot of the pressure I feel to be a good husband and dad doesn’t have anything to do with my wife and kids.
Let me see if I can explain, then tell me if you have ever been there. Often, I don’t want things for my wife and kids as much as I want things from my wife and kids. And there is a huge difference.
Let’s start with how we want things from our family. If our goal is to be a good spouse, then the only one who can give us The Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval is our spouse. So, if we do chores around the house in order to get a “that a boy/girl” from our spouse, we are probably going to be disappointed and frustrated with our spouse. Likewise, if we parent teenagers expecting respect and appreciation from them, then we are . . . what’s the word . . . idiots?
Now, let’s flip it. If we do chores around the house because we want something for our spouse, that’s different. We’re not doing it because we want to feel validated; we’re doing it because we want something FOR them. We want them to feel love through an act of service, to be less stressed during a busy week, to feel like they are not alone in all there is to do.
Do we want our kids to be respectful and our spouse to be grateful? Absolutely. But what if the better way to get those things is by switching from to for? I think our home and family may be a much more peaceful place for us all to live. Why? I think it has something to do with humility, selflessness, and peace. So, let’s give this a test.
Run your latest family conflict through the grid of this question: During this conflict, was I frustrated because I wanted something from them or for them? Then tell me what happens. I’m still figuring this whole thing out. I don’t have this one mastered for sure. But as I’ve played around it for the last few months, and it works. Try it, and please let us know how it works for you.