My sons Trent and Troy have given me some great gifts over the years. When they were very young, there were the construction paper cards and the watercolor handprints, then the polo shirts, golf balls, and even a beautiful watch.
But of all the presents I’ve received from them, the most meaningful has been a report card.
Not their report card – a “Dad’s Report Card” providing me with honest feedback on how I’m doing as their father.
In the corporate world, it’s known as “360-degree feedback” or a “multi-source assessment” — basically, a thorough review of one’s professional performance from a wide range of people, including subordinates, colleagues, and one’s supervisor.
As a father, I’m keenly interested in how I’m doing as a parent. It’s not that I’m hungry for affirmation or even acceptance from my sons. Instead, I want to make sure that I’m being as effective and as impactful as possible in certain key areas of their lives.
But let’s be honest – sometimes the truth can hurt.
Some time ago, it occurred to me that I was regularly looking at their report cards. Why not turn the tables in a way and let them “grade” my parenting? Admittedly, I was a little apprehensive at first. After all, nobody’s perfect, and we all have blind spots.
Each time the boys came home with a report card, I asked them to evaluate me across seven categories. Here’s how I broke it down. If you’re a dad, how would you fare?
1. Spending Time Together
In my role at Focus on the Family, I travel quite a bit, but what about the weeks I’m home? How are we spending our evenings and weekends?
2. Spiritual Training
Are we reading Scripture and praying together as a family? Am I stepping up to lead our boys towards a personal relationship with Jesus? You don’t have to be a seminary graduate to read and talk about the Bible.
3. Having Fun
When was the last time you laughed with your kids? It can be as simple as setting up a slip-n-slide in the backyard or going to the park around the corner from your house. What about some good, clean practical jokes? There’s a reason the Bible says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). Lighten up.
4. Feel Supported by Me
Am I my child’s worst critic or best cheerleader? Do they feel like I’m rooting for them or running them down? Support comes in many forms. It might be a short text or an encouraging note left on their bathroom mirror. Be generous with affirmations.
5. Teaching/Mentoring Life
I recently heard a father say he wasn’t interested in raising great kids — he wanted to raise kids who became great adults. Does your son know how to change the oil? Greet someone at a party or engage in conversation with a guest at the dinner table? Be diligent and deliberate in making sure your kids are equipped for life.
6. Recreation/Physical Activity
Our health is vital to our overall well-being. Watching movies together can be fun — but don’t be a couch potato family. Take a hike and ride your bikes. We’re an outdoor family and have explored numerous national parks. There is something majestic and wondrous about exploring God’s creation together with your children.
7. Listening Well
It’s tempting to do a lot of talking when you’re a parent, but actually hearing your children — their hopes, dreams, and even fears — is critical to making a strong personal connection. You say they don’t talk much? It may take some time. Go out to breakfast together. Don’t turn it into an inquisition but ask questions, and listen carefully to their answers — or even what they may leave out.
After my first report card (I received a “C” for “Spending Time Together”), I learned our boys didn’t like all the traveling I was doing. I re-examined my schedule and decided I could afford to block off the summer months and take my speaking and broadcasting trips throughout the other nine months of the year. The impact was immediate. Over the last decade, we’ve made tremendous memories and my sons now know I prioritize time with them.
Fatherhood is a tremendous privilege and responsibility, so it only makes sense to want to be the very best dad you can be – even if it involves some constructive criticism along the way.
Jim Daly is the president and CEO of Focus on the Family, and host of its daily radio broadcast. He is the author of When Parenting Isn’t Perfect and is passionate about encouraging parents to be their best, despite the messiness in life. Daly has been married to his wife, Jean, since 1986 and resides in Colorado Springs with their two sons. Follow Jim Daly on Twitter @Dalyfocus Follow Jim Daly on Facebook Follow Jim Daly’s blog at DalyFocus