The research makes it clear that kids who have an effective relationship with both of their birth parents fare better. This isn’t to say that kids of single parents, or other situations, are doomed. It is to say that effective parenting, in two parent households, is an advantage for kids.
However, what I see happening often is that dad focuses on earning money, taking care of the home and vehicles, and maybe even managing the family’s finances while the mom does the yeoman’s share of the childcare and housework. In dad’s mind, he’s pitching in evenly. And, in terms of overall effort he may be correct. However, by excessively relegating feeding, bathing, supervising homework and other parenting tasks to mom, he may be losing opportunities to bond with his children, and to be as close to them as their mother as they age. The eight tips below are designed for dad’s who may be falling prey to this vulnerability:
• Have a discussion with your partner about what childcare tasks can be either exclusively or primarily yours. Your partner may tell you it’s okay as s/he recognizes that you work hard in other ways. But, lovingly insist, maybe sending her the link to this blog entry.
• Be sure to participate actively in daily (e.g., a family meal), weekly (e.g., religious services), seasonal (e.g., your kid’s soccer games) and special occasion (e.g., birthdays) family rituals. Work may call out for you to miss many of these, and you may be tempted to tell yourself that there is always tomorrow, but try to realize that our cumulative walk communicates more about how we prioritize than our cumulative talk. Ask yourself, “when I’m on my deathbed, thinking back about my life, what decision would I have wanted to made in this situation?” No one bats a 1.000 in these matters, but we can achieve a respectable average if we make our decisions with intention.
• And now for today’s broken record point (at least for those who read this blog regularly): do special time with each of your children each week.
• Video tape some of these childcare moments with your children. This is like minting money, except you’re minting a precious historical record.
• Don’t punish yourself too much if you’re grouchy or don’t do it well or otherwise screw up. That’s built in. Like a good baseball player who has struck out, spend a few moments thinking about how to improve your game, plan to do so next time and then let yourself off the hook. Being in the game, with good effort, counts a ton and makes a male a man.
• Don’t expect but offer gratitude. Your partner and your children are likely to take your efforts for granted; that’s just the way it is in family life. If you get too upset by this you may fall prey to anger and resentment. If you’re a spiritual person, tapping into your prayer life can be helpful (e.g., what would a loving God have you do?). It can also be helpful to avoid taking your family members for granted and offering them the gratitude they deserve (but be careful to not do it with the expectation of a return). If you need to vent about being taken for granted, do so with your boys (see below) or when your by yourself (I tend to chuckle when I see a man talking to himself, and apparently upset, when driving. I imagine that he is a likewise married/committed, working dad).
• Promote self and relationship care. In my parenting book, I focus on the 10 parenting practices that, IMHO, our science suggests promotes resilience in children. One of the chapters pertains to this practice. It is so important to be well, as parenting from the cross is a poor strategy. I know and live how hard this is (e.g., consistently getting some time with your friends and a date night with your partner takes tremendous commitment, creativity and persistence), but who said parenting is easy?!
• Compare notes with other dads. One of the projects I sometimes envision is forming a support group for working, married/committed dads with children living at home—it’s remarkable to me how positive and passionate the responses are when I suggest this to other dads. It’s very, very tough to pull off this role well. And, we often find ourselves in double binds. So, just leaning on your boys by comparing notes–as long as you don’t pitch your tent on the dark side–can be therapeutic.
I hope this helps my brothers. Keep up the good work!