I don’t remember the first divorce. I was three-years-old. All I knew was that my dad left and I missed him.
The second divorce is burned into my memory. Well maybe not the entire thing, as a ten year old I missed all the behind the scenes stuff. But I remember the night they told me. I remember them coming into my room as I was going to bed, their long shadows in the hallway light.
I remember that I didn’t understand any of it. All I knew was that I was losing something special. I was losing another dad.
Over the last decade, I’ve paid attention as friends and acquaintances started divorcing, and I’ve found a pattern. In just about every case, the husbands weren’t leaders in their family.
This article isn’t for women.
This article isn’t for men who already have it all figured out. It’s for men who are dropping the ball in their marriage. For guys who, through their lack of awareness or inaction, have forced their wives to step up and lead the family.
Now, when I encourage someone to take the lead, I don’t mean take it away from someone else. I mean step up and take the lead in your own life. So when I say to a man “you are the leader in your family”, I’m not saying that women aren’t leaders. I am challenging men. Don’t force your wife to be the leader because you lack initiative or discipline.
In many ways, women are stronger than men. So, when their husbands check out on the marriage and the family, she picks up the mantle of leadership … because somebody has to.
As a guy who was raised by a single mom, I’ve seen the power and love demonstrated by a strong woman leading our family. This article isn’t a call to action to women because they’ve already done it. The primary problem in marriages isn’t a lack of leadership on the part of women.
It’s their men.
Now, this isn’t a popular message among men. In fact, I rarely hear this as a reason for why their wives left them. I do, however, hear this message loud and clear from the women who left. They couldn’t fix it by themselves … They desperately wished their husbands would have taken responsibility and lead.
Your wife wants YOU to take the lead.
Now, let me be clear about what that means. She’s not looking to be dominated and bossed around. She’s not looking for a hardass. She’s not looking for a micro-manager. She’s not looking for someone who’s constantly hurt, resentful, angry or disappointed.
She’s looking for a man who is strong enough to be vulnerable and communicate about the most important things. She’s looking for a man who is confident enough to set a direction for the family and keep everybody moving forward. She’s looking for a man who is brave enough to do the right thing even when it’s really tough. She’s looking for a man who has thick enough skin to not take things personally.
As a leadership coach, I have lots of conversations about marriage. Being a better leader in their family is a regular topic of conversation whether my client is a man or woman. And because I work with men and women, I hear both sides. I’ve heard what she wants and I’ve heard what he wants to be, enough times that I have strong opinions about what husbands have to do.
Here are three specific steps you can put into action today in order to step up and be a strong leader in your family:
1. Set family and individual goals. As a family, make written goals about what you want to accomplish this month/quarter/year. Some goals can be for the family, like taking weekend trips, family activities, being healthier, etc … as well as individual goals for each family member. Even young kids should have goals.
2. Hold family meetings. Meet once a week to discuss what’s working, what’s not working, the family calendar for the coming week, and any other important recurring topics. Make weekly commitments to your family about quality time together, chores, etc… and ask to be held accountable. Then, once a month review the family goals and check in on how everybody is progressing, what they are struggling with and what support they need.
3. Lead by example. You are a role model for the family. If you take care of your fitness, if you keep your commitments, if you take time to sacrifice for your wife and your kids, they will do the same.
Remember, EVERYTHING is a leadership issue. If your family has drama, isn’t healthy, and is always running from thing to thing, stressed out and frazzled, look in the mirror. It’s on you.
There is no greater responsibility and honor than your role as husband and father.
Step up and take the lead.