“Some of my favorite childhood memories were the mornings when my Dad would let my Mom sleep in and he would make breakfast and get us off to school. He would pull whatever he could find out of the refrigerator (jello, cake, etc.) and serve it to us. My mother would have died, but we never told her and we loved it. I felt especially attached to my Dad on those mornings.”
The role of fathers has changed and evolved since this example from the 1960s. Today there are single dads raising children, same-sex dads, dads who are primary caregivers for children while moms work, grandfathers actively involved in grandchildren’s lives, and on and on. Fathers are playing increasingly active roles in their children’s lives. Some roles might be considered traditional (ie, coaching the soccer team) and some less traditional (taking care of a newborn when mom returns to work). All are good and important. The influence of fathers in children’s lives is critical; however often the pressures on dads to also be primary breadwinners takes precious (and necessary) time away from parenting. How does a dad balance these competing demands?
What we know …
Fathers are key in their children’s lives. Research shows that father involvement leads to positive outcomes for children. Children want close relationships with their dads and they want them involved in their daily lives. At the same time, when there isn’t a father in the family, children are resilient. Sometimes an older brother, grandfather, uncle, or friend can play a fatherly role.
Dads should be allowed and encouraged to have their own unique relationship with their child(ren). This relationship will not be the same as the mom’s relationship with the children, but it will have its own unique strengths and qualities. Regardless of how far we have come, sometimes societal messages around gender roles still make dads feel secondary in parenting or primarily responsible for discipline. This is not true. Men are just as able to nurture children as women. Fathers’ relationships with their children matter to both the child/ren and the dad.
Dads should look for chances to have one-on-one time with their child. Another name for this is “special play time.” During “special play time,” your child gets to decide the activity or activities for a set amount of time with no interruptions for phone calls or outside conversations. Your job during this time is to follow the lead of your child in what they choose to do as long as it is safe. Special play time is as sacred as any appointment on the calendar. You plan ahead for it and follow through (i.e. 10 – 11 a.m. every Saturday morning). Your child will come to count on that time with you, even if it is only once a month.
Children want to know about you and about your life. Teaching your child a skill that you know (i.e. gardening, cooking, or carpentry) is one good way to spend time together. “Hang-out” time, where you could play in the park, rough-house, or read together, for example, is also very important. It is often after “hang-out” times that children can feel connected and start to talk about what is really on their minds.
Despite societal pressures, remember that dads are key in children’s lives. Your relationship with your child matters!