I was recently in a meeting with a son of a business owner, who was the identified 3rd generation successor leader to his family’s business. We were talking about some communication challenges he was having with his dad. His dad is a larger than life kind of guy, one whose shoes are hard to fill. So, I asked, “What seems to be causing the difficulties?”
He stood up, extended his arms in front of him, gesturing a “come on” movement with his hands, and said, “With dad, it’s always like when he was teaching me to swim. He would say ‘Come on, son. Keep coming. You’re almost there. Come on.’ While, at the same time, he continued to back up… and I could never reach the goal. It’s still that way today. I feel like he keeps moving the bar and I am never certain that I’m doing enough, performing at a high enough level, or meeting his expectations. I know he loves me, but I also want him to be proud of my accomplishments, especially in running the business. Not only am I not sure of where I stand with him, I’m just angry, frustrated, and hurt.”
This son clearly needed some “attaboys” from his dad. As fathers, we tend to either be too hard or too soft on our kids. Finding the balance in inspiring and motivating our kids without squelching their spirit can be a challenge. In this case, it was clear that the father’s intentions were good, but his expression of his expectations came across as too hard and demanding and at times impossible to measure up to. There is nothing wrong with having high expectations, but we need to understand how our expression of those expectations come across to our kids, and instill in them a sense that they’ve got what it takes, we’re pleased and proud of them, and that they are good enough. If you don’t feel this way, I’m not suggesting that you lie. I would suggest that you find something to be proud of and express it. Your son just may be in need of an affirmation that he’s good enough. Try it. You might be surprised at the positive impact your words of affirmation have.
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