The way we say things can matter as much as what we are saying. Adjust your heart and your face to communicate effectively with your loved ones.
Picture this: It’s Christmas morning and a young boy wakes up at the crack of dawn. His eyes are big with delight and his smile even bigger as he rushes from his bedroom to the Christmas tree. His parents can see it all over their son’s little face—he is excited!
It’s amazing how feelings show unmistakably on the faces of young children. They don’t mask what’s on their minds. Their facial expressions clearly reflect what’s going on in their hearts.
That’s not the case for most men. Life has taught us to guard our thoughts and feelings. We abide by the macho motto, “Never let them see you sweat.” Having a killer “poker face” is admired among the culture of men. Our life experiences have taught us to keep the game face on due to the hurt others have caused us, and because the “mythical American man” culture reinforces this message. But the glorified “strong, silent type” doesn’t fly with our kids.
BEHIND THE MASK
Masking emotions doesn’t help build healthy relationships—especially with our children. And when our facial expressions keep people out of our lives, we’ve got a problem.
When you approach another man in the yard, at work, or in your blockhouse, does his face invite you to say “hello,” or to say anything at all? Probably not! Mythical manhood in America has taught us to use facial expressions to “ward off.” We believe that looking tough keeps others from using us. While this might sometimes be necessary in the “prison world,” all too often we follow those same rules during visits and in phone calls to the people closest to us.
Does your expression tell your child that you are “approachable,” or does she have to wait until you’re in the right mood to talk to you? If I asked your family who would they say look like most often? Clint “Do you feel lucky, punk?” Eastwood—or Jesus Christ, who said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them”?
Our facial expressions reflect either a genuine heart or a mask that hides our true feelings. If we’ve truly given our lives to Jesus shouldn’t our faces reflect that change? Especially with our children and loved ones?
When a military officer yells “About face!” his soldiers turn their faces 180 degrees to face the opposite direction. In terms of how we express our emotions, it’s time for us to do an about face, as well.
Ditching bad tough guy habits is difficult, but very possible! Our heavenly Father gives us the virtues we need to replace the old with the new. In the Bible, Galatians 5:22 talks about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It sounds unrealistic in prison, but God did not say these virtues work for everyone except prisoners. And of our kids deserve the effort. Here are three things you can do to cultivate these virtues:
- On a sheet of paper, list each virtue above. Rank yourself on a scale of 1-10 on how well your daily life exhibits each virtue.
- Identify your lowest ranking virtue and begin making that a focus of your prayer times and scriptural studies within a small fellowship of fathers.
- Discuss within your fellowship of fathers how you can model and mentor these virtues into your children and grandchildren through letters, phone calls, and during visits.
Practicing these virtues will be reflected on our faces. And this Christmas is the perfect opportunity for you to show your family the change that’s happening inside you. You won’t have to tell them. It’s a change that can be heard in your voice during phone calls, shared in your letters and emails, and revealed on your face during visits.
With change reflected in your face, you can expect your children to react differently. Over time, they’ll grow more comfortable around you, and will be more and more excited to see you.
Pray for these virtues, and then put them into action. Throw out your old mask and unwrap a brand new way to connect with your kids!
Randell D. Turner, PhD is the senior associate with ICF International. He also developed the Helping Offenders Parent Effectively program for the Pennsylvania DOC.