As parents, we are best positioned to be the role models, disciplinarians, chauffeurs, and life coaches our children need. Sometimes, though, we fail to be truly present and available for our kids, to their detriment and to the detriment of our relationships with them.
This is true of all parents at times—moms and dads alike. However, as both a mother and a counselor, I have a keen appreciation for the power and responsibility fathers have in raising well-adjusted children. I also know the unintended consequences that can result when fathers are not fully engaged, knowingly or otherwise.
The importance of engaged fathering cannot be overstated. According to Allen and Daly (2007), children of involved fathers are more likely to have higher levels of economic and educational achievement, career success, occupational competency, better educational outcomes, higher educational expectations, higher educational attainment, and better psychological well-being (p. 2).
- Your behavior impacts their behavior. Your children are sponges; they watch how you interact with your partner and other members of the family. Eventually, they may have a relationship and a family like yours. If you’d like them to be polite, model politeness. If you’d like them to show appreciation, show appreciation.
- Say what you need to say. What you say (or don’t say) can affect your children’s sense of self-esteem, their confidence, and their future. Consistently tell them how much they mean to you. Tell them your feelings and worries. Tell them about your childhood. Tell them.
- Don’t expect perfection. Your children’s grades, clothing preferences, and choices in friends are not a reflection of you. Asking why they didn’t win the game or get an “A” on a school project can invoke feelings of shame, perhaps setting the stage for perfectionism and low self-worth. Try to find a positive about each life moment and event—regardless of whether it fits the ideal you have in mind.
- But do have standards. Never setting standards or expectations with your children sets them up for failure as well. Life has boundaries, and they need to know from you what some of those boundaries are and what happens if they are crossed.
- Turn off work/technology when you are home. Kids spell love t-i-m-e. If you take work home with you, it sends a message that they are not as important as your job. If you turn on the television first thing instead of asking about their day, it expresses disinterest. When you are home, be present and available.
- Show them how a man should treat a woman. We all want our kids to grow up and have great relationships. We sometimes forget that it’s best left to us to show them what a great relationship looks like. Date nights, sweet gestures, hugs and kisses, friendly communication—let them see and learn about these things from you and your partner. For your sons, modeling such behavior may give them a template to work from; for your daughters, it lets them know what they should be able to expect from future relationships.
- Be emotional and loving. Despite prevailing stereotypes, being a man does not mean burying and hiding your feelings. Having emotions does not make you weak; it makes you human. Cuddle, comfort, talk lovingly, smooch, and empathize—these things have an immeasurable effect on your children.
- Stay connected. Ask your children about their lives. Know their friends. Offer to carpool for or coach a team. Attend their events and functions. Your kids have one childhood; to what extent you involve yourself in it will determine whether they feel neglected or connected to you as they age. Consider connection an investment in your child’s future.
Many of these tips are also applicable to mothers as well, of course, and it’s important to acknowledge that there are many exceptional dads out there helping to raise exceptional kids—sometimes without any help at all. Even the “best” parents can use a reminder from time to time of how important they are in the emotional development of their children. The hope here is that this article generates more such awareness.
Allen, S., & Daly, K. (2007). The Effects of Father Involvement: An Updated Research Summary of the Evidence. Father Involvement Research Alliance, p. 2. Retrieved from http://www.fira.ca/cms/documents/29/Effects_of_Father_Involvement.pdf
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