The Importance of Fathers
As family life has changed over time and parenting has become more of an art, there has been an enormous surge in books, blogs, groups, and magazines related to the subject. Unfortunately for fathers, very little of it is aimed at the experience of being a father. Any father looking to improve his role as a father has limited resources available to him. He can look through materials marketed to mothers but many fathers find the translation to fatherhood daunting or lack a connection to the material. Parent groups for fathers are even less common and few men desire to be "that guy" at the mom's group. In addition, women are more likely to collaborate, problem solve and discuss parenting. In contrast, men seldom discuss parenting beyond surface comments or jokes.
If I asked you to describe fathers in 30 seconds or less, what would your list look like? If you're like most people, you'll come up with a list that looks something like this: hardworking, strong, patient, good provider, etc. Now, how is that description different if I asked you to describe mothers? Likely you would come up with softer words such as caring, loving, sensitive and other emotive descriptors. There is nothing wrong with these lists but they define two very different roles in a world where mothers and fathers are increasingly sharing responsibilities.
What It Takes To Be a Father
Although fathers have been relatively absent from research on child development until recent years, we have learned some important things about their influence. Involved fathers help children take healthy risks, regulate their emotions better, improve their behavior, perform better academically, and make better friends. However, there is one important word there: involved.
Many current fathers grew up with fathers that worked hard to support their families at the cost of being present either physically or emotionally. In addition, as divorce rates increased, fathers became increasingly separated from their children and didn't know how to connect with their children when they only had limited access. As recently as the late 90s, several studies showed fathers spent less than 30 waking minutes a day with their child. The good news is that fathers have been steadily increasing their role in parenting.
The tricky part now is knowing what to do! Follow these ideas and you'll be on the right track.
Spend Time Together
If you have the luxury of finding more time in your busy schedule to spend with your children, do it. However, many of us still live in a world of demanding schedules. If you lack the wiggle room in your schedule, build in routine connections with your children. These connecting times can include dinner times, nighttime or morning routines, special daddy time, car rides or even brushing your teeth together. Remember, quality is more important than quantity. P.S. – Fight the urge to spend more time with your electronics than your child. Your TV or phone won't be making the decision to take care of you or not in your old age!
Do What is Natural
Do you like building things, being immature, putting puzzles together, cooking, sports, roughhousing or reading? So does your child. Your child learns from your excitement. If you find a way for your child to join you in the things you like, your natural enthusiasm will be infectious to your child. Now you have another person with whom to share your favorite things. Awesome.
Do What is Unnatural
Many of us find our natural response to strong emotions is to try to find a fix. That is a good response! Everyone should feel there is a way to make things better. However, sometimes it is really helpful just to listen and be present. This helps children learn that they can tolerate strong emotions. In the long run if children can learn to tolerate their emotions, they will have fewer behavior problems and be able to solve problems even better.
Take Care of Yourself
Many men have received the message that they need to put aside their problems and focus on whatever other important thing needs to be addressed. However, that can lead to a lot of misdirected frustration and stress or just a feeling of being stretched beyond your limits. Taking care of yourself allows you to be more present for your child. It also teaches your child that self-care is important.
Overall, trust in yourself and make the commitment to fatherhood. By doing that, you have already taken a huge leap in the right direction.