Let’s face it, sometimes fathers feel a bit left out. They may feel a little unsure of their abilities in the parenting department, and women, like many other species, can smell fear. Not only do we moms want to save a father from feeling bad, we also want to prevent as much fussing as possible, by both the father and the child. So we step in. The problem is, sometimes we don’t step out again. Having a mom is great, but children need the special perspective that a dad can offer. As a dad, here are the things that us moms want you to know to feel confident about your parenting abilities:
1. Don’t be afraid to be alone with your child. If your child is in the baby stage, the most important thing to remember is this: babies cry sometimes. You cannot always prevent it. So, rather than being intimidated by it, go through a mental checklist: Is the baby hungry, tired, hot, cold, or in need of a diaper change? If you’ve tried to fix the above issues and the crying continues, try a change of scenery (and bring the baby with you). If possible, walk outside, several laps around the house, or up and down the street. If you’re not sure how to work the stroller, don’t use it. You will eventually succeed in calming your baby. And, in doing so, you will feel an incredible sense of pride in yourself and your “dad instinct.”
2. Children love to cuddle with their dads. You guys have some kind of kid-calming mechanism implanted in you somehow, I am convinced. You’re warm, you’re calm, you talk in a low-pitched voice, and you can sit for hours, snuggling and watching baseball. Revel in the fact that you have a talent that mom may not have – the snuggling factor. Kids often seek mom out for emergencies (no matter how trivial), but if you are open to it, they will seek you out for snuggling, for comfort, for security. You lucky dog, you.
3. Though mom may have it all under control, you need to be “in the loop.” Find out what disciplinary actions have been taken while you were away. What’s the back story? It is imperative that you and mom work together to raise your child. You need to know what has happened in the day, good and bad, so that any transfer of responsibility is seamless. Children know when we are uninformed and they use it to their advantage. You can count on that. So, if you are not told what has happened, please ask. Your competence depends on it.
4. Your words mean more than you will ever know. Dads tend not to understand how important they are. You may not have had quite as much experience with children as mom has, but your words of comfort, support, love, and pride will stay with your child forever. Choose your words carefully, for they carry with them the self-esteem that your child will draw upon as she grows. Don’t underestimate the power of your words. What you say does matter.
5. Play. You work a lot, so when you are with your kids, play. Stay vigilant, be safe, choose age appropriate activities, but gosh darn it, play. It is the best way to bond with children, because it equalizes you, at least for the time that you are playing. Children “let their guard down” a little when they play, and you may learn how your child is feeling about things as you play. Dads tend to be pretty good listeners, so as you play, if you notice your child beginning to open up, just listen. You don’t have to give advice. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t. Every now and then, say, “Do you feel like you need any help with that situation?” and take it from there. Playing opens the doors to having fun, but it also shows your child that you are willing to be there for him.
6. Turn off the box. No matter what the box is, turn it off for a while. If it’s your cell phone, your iPad, your Blackberry, your laptop, your TV, your gaming system, or anything else technological, turn it off. Spend some time with your child doing something that you’ve never tried before. If you get the old eye roll, ignore it. Some children never want to try new things, so it’s up to you to encourage them. Children love to build things, and be honest, so do you. Get some blocks, some Legos, or even just some rocks and sticks. Build something with your child and show him or her that the world is more than just high-tech. Slow the world down sometimes and show your child another way to live. You might even find that you enjoy it.
7. Carve out a niche. Dads usually don’t get a chance to spend as much time with their kids as moms do. So, their time is precious. What you can do to become a great dad is to do something a bit differently than everyone else. One of the best ways to do this is to create a tradition. Don’t spend much money, don’t stuff him full of junk food, but think of a way that you can give meaning to the precious time that you have with your child. You have something to offer that is different from what anyone else has to offer. Your child has only one dad, and that’s you. You have the opportunity to be special to your child, so by all means, step up and give it a try.
8. Be something more than just “the bank.” Dads are often portrayed as the ones who hand out the money and then slip into oblivion. As a dad, you will be asked for money. It starts with, “Can I have a quarter, Dad?” and will continue for many years after that. If you can give, please feel free. But simply being the money distributor does nothing to teach your child. If your child asks for money, ask a few questions. Don’t say, “no,” but don’t say, “yes” right away, either. Inquire as to the nature of the intended use for the money. Take a moment to talk over the consequences of choices being made. Please, whatever you do, don’t hand out money just to stop the “Please Dad, please Dad, can I, Dad, oh c’mon dad”. You are more than the bank, you are responsible for helping to teach your child the value of money. At home, talk about how money can be earned by doing particular chores. Pay promptly when the chores are completed satisfactorily (be sure to check), and whatever you do, don’t “round down” when it’s time to pay.
9. When it comes time to set boundaries of any type, don’t let mom go it alone. She needs your support. Create a system together and stick by it, no matter what. Your child needs you to be firm, calm, and unwavering. Your child wants to respect you. Show him a man who is worthy of respect.
10. If you make a mistake, admit it. Don’t pretend to be a superhero. All parents make mistakes, and it doesn’t discredit you at all if you admit it. Explain briefly to your child the mistake you made in your parenting, and then explain how the situation will be corrected. Say, “Everyone makes mistakes, and I made one. I’m sorry. I have learned from it, and I’ll do my very best to not make that mistake again.” Your child isn’t keeping a tally of your mistakes. If anything, she is keeping track of the times you were there for her, to give her a hug, a pep talk, or a tissue to dry her tears.
Dads sell themselves short when they shy away from parenting. All parents need practice to parent well. Give yourself a chance to practice, and if you do it wrong, your child will let you know, regardless of their age. To learn to work as a team, you and your child have to suit up and give it a try. You have talent, I promise you. Now, go get ‘em, Dad.
Jennifer M. Koontz is author of When Your Centerpiece is Made of Play-Doh and the Dog Has Eaten Your Crayons: A Mother’s Perspective on Parenting. www.facebook.com/jmkoontzforparents.