As a father and father-in-law to three young dads it’s great to see each of them embrace the life-changing nature of fatherhood, and becoming fully involved in their children’s lives.
I see myself in these young fathers, and in doing so I’d like to guide them from making the same fathering mistakes that I did. I know young dads are loathe to take fathering advice from a member of the previous generation so I’ll give the following advice to my younger self instead:
1. Play to your strengths.
Men generally parent differently to women, based on their biology. Fathers often parent in a more active or action-oriented way than mothers so games, play and physical activity are 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 bed-time, then leave it to her to calm them down.
Practical advice: Be yourself, but be smart about it!
2. Lighten up – don’t take yourself too seriously.
It’s easy to get caught up with your own importance, 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, that will help you leave work and the moods they engender behind.
Practical advice: Be present in mind as well as in body when you’re with your kids.
3. Have something in common with each child
It would be wonderful to say that you can always connect with your kids, but family-life is not that straight-forward. There’ll always be a child whom we struggle to connect with or a developmental stage when a child seems alien to you. In these cases and times it helps if you share a common interest (such as shared love of sport or music) with a child so that you have something that will bring you together, even though you may not always see eye to eye.
Practical advice: Be prepared to take an interest, in your child’s interests.
4. Take it easy on your son
Many dads are tough on their boys and have expectations way above their son’s interest and ability levels. It helps to remember that it takes a little longer for a boy to mature. Resist the temptation to turn every game and every joint activity into a lesson and avoid giving advice when all your son wants is some understanding.
Practical advice: See the boy as he is now, not the future man when you spend time with your son.
5. Enjoy the outdoors with your daughter
The biological nature of fathering 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 outside into nature as it will do wonders for her confidence levels.
Practical advice: Enjoy spending time with your daughters on a daily basis.
Father’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the contribution that men make to the lives of their children. It’s very personal reflection as each man’s experience of fathering is as unique as the children they are raising. I invite you to reflect on your own fathering as well as the contribution that fathers – whether your own dad or someone else’s father – have made to your own life.