Becoming a father is the most important and hardest job you’ll ever have. Fatherhood is more than just providing food, shelter and enforcing discipline though. Fatherhood is the consistent presence of strength, wisdom and love in your child’s life. Sadly, many dads struggle to be more involved in their child’s life, as they remain confused by all the ideas of gender roles that conflict with their desire to connect and bond with their children.
As more fathers are staying at home to take care of their children, the traditional expectations of the mother and father have evolved. Contrary to old paradigms, mothers are not the only ones who can nurture: fathers can also develop a bond early on with their children – and should.
The benefit a child receives by having an active father in their life is far reaching. Research shows that children with engaged fathers grow up to have healthier relationships, are more confident, less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and do better in school than their counterparts.
With all of these benefits of an involved dad weighing so heavily on a child’s success, what can fathers do to be a more positive influence in our child’s life?
It’s important to let go of old stereotypes and expand your idea of what dad‘s “can“ do. Like mothers, fathers can also rock and hold their babies. Holding your baby to your chest and rocking with them will help them feel more secure. Skin to skin contact also creates a bond that is unlike any other.
Fathers can also talk to or sing to their babies. Even in the earliest weeks, children are able to differentiate between their mother’s and father’s voice. Additionally, your baby will learn to trust you as he hears your voice. This develops a sense of comfort and further cements the bond.
Keys To Embracing Fatherhood
Participate in your child’s daily routine such as bath time, getting dressed, preparing meals, brushing teeth, and helping with homework. It’s these types of simple but intimate daily interactions that will help you foster a closer and more dynamic and intimate relationship with your children.
Showing up in fatherhood doesn’t just mean going to baseball games or dance recitals. It means going to the doctor appointments and the parent-teacher conferences. It means being there when they get off the bus, when they don’t make the team, and when they’re feeling down.
Show up for them when they’re feeling sad. When they’re feeling glad. When they’re feeling angry. Create a space for them to comfortably communicate their feelings without judgment from you. Don’t judge or shame them for feeling sad or angry or scared (i.e., anything). Saying things like, “That’s silly, you shouldn’t feel that way“ or “Boys/girls don’t act that way” will only alienate them, create low self-esteem, and create a disconnect in your relationship.
If you aren’t sure what to say instead, I strongly recommend reading this book. “Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child” by John Gottman, PhD.
Be In The Know
Get to know your child by listening to their favorite music or watching their favorite shows together. Ask them questions like:
“What was the most fun thing you did at school today?”
“Did anything happen at school today you didn’t like”
“What makes you happy?”
“What’s a memory that makes you happy?”
“What’s your superhero name and what powers do you have?”
Do something special with your child only the two of you, such as designating one day a month when you go to lunch or do an activity together. Use this one on one time to talk about their goals and dreams and offer encouragement. Most importantly, just listen.
Taking the time to engage in your child’s life will benefit both of you, and leave your son or daughter with a loving, lifelong impression and the chance to create healthy relationships of their own as they grow up.
Life is short. Fatherhood isn’t. It’s a lifelong commitment. If you’re struggling to find ways to connect with your child, find an awesome therapist you like in trust to help you figure out ways to connect with them and uncover what’s preventing you from doing so.
James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in New Haven, CT where they specialize in helping over-thinkers, high achievers, and perfectionists reduce stress, increase fulfillment and enhance performance so they can move From Surviving To Thriving.