Fatherhood is life-changing. Taking on the responsibility of parenting kids is also a very personal journey, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer to its challenges. Here’s some tips to help support fathers along the way.
Play to your strengths
Fathers often parent in a more active or action-oriented way than mums, so games, play time and physical activity become important parts of a man’s parenting repertoire. Your partner may not always appreciate your more active approach, particularly if you play with kids just before bedtime and then leave it to her to calm them down. Be yourself, but be smart about it!
Find something in common with your child
It would be wonderful to say that you can always connect with your kids, but family life is never that straightforward. There’ll always be a child who we struggle to connect with, or a developmental stage during which the child feels alien to you. In these times it helps if you share a common interest (such as a love of sport or music) with them, so that you always have something that will bring you together, even though you may not always see eye to eye. Take an active interest in what interests your child.
Lighten up – don’t take yourself too seriously
It’s easy to get caught up in your own headspace, taking yourself and your work too seriously. For many men a bad day at work translates into poor or, at best, distracted experiences when they’re with their families. Consider putting a strategy in place, such as exercise, to help you leave thoughts of work behind. Be present in mind as well as in body when you’re with your kids.
Go easy on your son sometimes
Many dads are tough on their boys and have expectations that go way beyond their son’s interest and abilities. Remember, it takes boys a little longer to mature. Resist the temptation to turn every game and every father-son activity into a lesson and avoid giving advice when your all your son wants is to be understood. See the boy as he is now, not the man you want him to grow up to be.
Enjoy the outdoors with your daughter
The biological nature of fatherhood causes most men to be very protective of their daughters. But that doesn’t mean you should put your daughter on a pedestal and treat her like a little princess. Expect a lot from her. Play with her, and get her outdoors as it will do wonders for her confidence and independence. Enjoy spending time outside with your daughters on a regular basis.
Be ready for kids to knock you off your pedestal
Most children in the preschool and middle to late primary school years look up to their dads. “My dad is bigger and better than your dad!” is a type of mantra that’s familiar to many men. Make the most of this admiration as the Superman Syndrome won’t last. Young children soon turn into adolescents, who generally go to great lengths to prove that you’re just Clarke Kent after all. Expect them to stop laughing at your jokes, start rolling their eyes at your well-intentioned advice and even give you the cold shoulder in public. Ouch! It can be hurtful to a man who just wants to be the best dad he can be. Regardless, give them room to be grumpy sometimes.
Give your kids a compass and a map
One day your children will become truly independent individuals. Don’t worry! You won’t be irrelevant, you’ll just be taking the backseat in a more practical and managerial sense. There are two things you can do to help your kids safely navigate the world when you’re not around. First, help them develop a set of positive values including integrity, empathy, honesty and respect that will act as their moral compass when they have difficult decisions to make. Second, reveal your personal story over time, as this narrative will become ingrained like personal map that will guide them when life gets tough. It’s good to know that they won’t be in uncharted territory when they finally strike out on their own. Take the time to tell kids your story and own it – don’t make them guess it or learn it from someone else.
Father’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how men shape the lives of their children. Take the time to reflect on your own fathering style as well as the contribution that a father (either your own dad, someone else’s dad or a role model) has made to your own life. It’s a very personal reflection as each man’s experience of fatherhood is as unique as the children they are raising.