Being a great dad is always something you wanted to be. But where’s the manual? You see a lot of support and advice for new moms, but you feel confused and somewhat left out. How should you manage your time? Should you treat your kids differently than your partner? Do you have to take on the “enforcer” role? You are undoubtedly facing all sorts of new challenges that you never anticipated, while also learning a lot about yourself - not to mention your kids. Here are some practical tips for how to be the dad you always dreamed of being.
Kids - especially when they are young - require a lot of physical affection in order to thrive. This affection must come from both parents. Unfortunately, men are often socialized to be stoic and strong, leaving some dads feeling that affection is only something given by women. By being affectionate, you are quite literally nourishing your child’s development, while also setting a good example of how men can be both strong and gentle. This modeling will help kids be more adaptable in relationships throughout their lives.
Being a parent requires an incredible amount of time and energy, and it can be easy to feel as if you don’t have enough time for yourself. However, being at your best as a parent means that you take care of yourself and your needs - and don’t just attend to your obligations to others. Some parents feel like they are being selfish when they take time for themselves. But you are actually being a better parent by recognizing that, in taking care of your needs, you are able to be more present for your kids. Additionally, you are setting an example for them that they, too, can set limits in relationships and take care of themselves.
It is unfortunate that many people - both men and women - were never told, “I love you,” by their fathers. Telling your kids these three words helps them build a healthy security in themselves that leads to more stable relationships.
Research in human behavior has shown that punishment is much less effective than reinforcement in creating behavior change. What this means for fathers is that you should give your kids more feedback about what they are doing right, instead of what they are doing wrong. When you are stressed, tired and focused on all the other activities in your life, it is easy to only focus on your kids when they are acting out. But by taking the time to reinforce them for good behavior, you are not only raising their self-esteem, but also making it easier on yourself by showing your kids they don’t need to misbehave to get your attention.
Kids want to know that they are safe and secure, and they will often test this by trying to get things from one parent that the other has restricted. It can be tempting to give in and be the “cool dad” by allowing things your partner does not. But this also leaves kids feeling less secure and drives a wedge between you and your partner. By being united on decisions that affect the kids, you and your partner can enhance your bond and also show your kids that you are a stable team.
While having children can bring partners together, it also can become an obstacle to your connection. Because parenting takes so much time and energy, partners often find that care for their relationship is the first thing to disappear after having kids. Even though you and your partner might be spending a lot of time collaborating for your kids, your relationship still needs the kind of attention and care you gave it before your kids came along. Be sure to carve out time specifically for you and your partner to connect.
When boys are told to stop crying and girls are told to not be angry, these emotions don’t go away - they just get pushed under the surface. Often, this leads to feelings of shame when the inevitable emotions that come with life begin to surface. And many people end up spending their lives thinking that they shouldn’t feel the way they do. Instead of telling kids to push their emotions away, be curious about what your kids are feeling and validate their emotions. By doing this, you are giving them the tools they need to understand and relate to their emotions in healthy ways.
According to author Simone Weil, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” As a parent, your attention and interest is the most wonderful thing you can give to your kids. We have all felt guilty for not being there for people in our lives when we’ve been too busy, and sometimes we buy things for them to try to make up for it. But new toys are not a good replacement for your presence and love. Instead of buying something, carve out time to focus on each of your children and be completely present when you are with them.
You will make many mistakes as a dad. But there is no need to worry about it. Being a good father is not about not making mistakes. It is about what you do to correct them. It is about showing your kids that you have flaws - and that it is okay for them to have flaws, too.
You and your partner will have disagreements about a variety of things as you raise your kids together. It is important that you don’t use your kids as intermediaries in these fights. All too often, kids are used as “go betweens” when their parents fight, which leaves them feeling insecure and responsible for the stability of the family.
Raising children has been described by many as the most difficult and rewarding challenge that life has thrown their way. It is vital to remember that in all the chaos and joy, you need to take care of yourself and your relationships with others, as well as your kids. In the end, you are a role model for your kids, showing them what a man can be and how they can see themselves and their relationships.
Perhaps the best motto for being a good parent is to treat your kids the way you wanted to be treated when you were in their shoes. If you follow this, your kids are likely to feel secure in you and in themselves, giving them the strength, warmth and insight to have healthy relationships and a fulfilling life.
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