Dads: Are You Fulfilling Your Fathering Role?
- Ken R. Canfield, Ph.D. The National Center for Fathering
- 2005 11 Nov
I know some dads who freeze up in what many would consider to be routine childcare situations. When something unexpected happens, they say to the child, "Hold on!" and call for Mom. Or, more likely, these dads never get themselves into situations where something unexpected could happen.
Dads’ attitudes have been forced to change for the better in recent years; still many of us feel out of our comfort zone when it comes to childcare. We can stand up to an angry boss or muster the courage to land an important client, but we’re perplexed by the sight of a four-year-old in need. It isn’t that we're any less capable than our wives, we're just less practiced and we prefer to stick to the more comfortable, so-called "manly" roles. For some dads, helping with childcare means playing with the kids when we feel like it, or only when we have no other pressing responsibilities.
We can—and should—take on more of the load of everyday parenting duties. Here are three suggestions to keep in mind:
Talk with your wife about expectations. You can be fairly certain that most moms have expectations for their child’s father that he doesn’t even know about. It’s important to bring expectations out in the open—verbalize them—so you can discuss them and agree on what your fathering role should look like. Maybe you’re in charge of bath night, supervising Saturday chores, and tucking in duties. You can work out the details, but the bigger issue is accountability: If you verbally commit to certain duties, then you’re accountable to carry them out. But too many dads never says what they intend to do so they can’t get in trouble for not doing it—and anything they do contribute as fathers will seem heroic because they have committed themselves to nothing! Dads, we need to verbalize our commitment and encourage our wives and children to hold us accountable.
Just do it. The way to master childcare is to dive right in, make some mistakes, learn from experience, and gain confidence for the next time. If that doesn’t sound very appealing, recognize that getting involved in childcare is also a great way to bond with your children. You’re doing more than changing a diaper, helping with a math assignment, or supervising the nightly playroom clean up; you’re relating to your son or daughter. Try to relax and make it fun. If you’re frustrated and tense, your child will sense that and it will make things more difficult.
Draw support from others. Your wife is a readily available source for advice and encouragement. Here’s a no-brainer: approach her in humility and admit that you need help. Also, just as moms depend on each other all the time to handle new situations, it’s time we dads start depending on each other in the same way. With that kind of support, we can learn the skills, gain confidence, and do our share as fathers. It’s never too late to start, and once we do, it just gets better and better.
How We Benefit from Being Involved
As committed fathers, we’re supposed to give and expect nothing in return. But in the middle of changing a diaper or responding to an early morning tantrum, don’t we have the right to ask, "What’s in it for me?"
There are "reciprocal benefits" to fathering. They aren’t the best reasons to be a good dad; the best reasons are that our children desperately need us, and that we please God when we care for and nurture our children. But being a good dad is good for us, too. Here are some interesting findings from research:
• Good dads have more satisfying marriages. Dads who are more involved with their children are also more involved in their marriages.
• Committed dads are socially responsive. They’re empathetic to others, and more responsive to the needs of their community.
• Strong fathers have more life satisfaction and personal growth. Being a committed father influences your lifestyle, your priorities, your determination to be the man God wants you to be.
The National Center for Fathering was founded in 1990 by Dr. Ken Canfield because every child needs a dad they can count on -- someone who loves them, knows them, guides them and helps them achieve their destiny. Visit www.fathers.com for more articles and resources to assist dads in nearly every fathering situation.