Years of experience tell us that good fathers are really no different than good mothers. Regardless of their sex, parents of well-adjusted children have similar characteristics--they are loving, warm, involved, and supportive. Most fathers have these characteristics. Men, however, often have problems finding ways to express these characteristics and being involved in the lives of their children. Involvement for many men means asking Mom how the kids are doing (instead of asking the kids directly) or making sure a roof is over their heads and food is in their stomachs (instead of spending time with them and sharing how he earns money).
What can a man do to further nurture and develop his love, warmth, involvement, and support of his children? The first thing he needs to do is understand himself. What kind of father did he know? What attributes did he admire in his own dad or grandfather? Which did he not like? Is he repeating some of those behaviors? Does he want to? Once a man thinks about his own experience as a child, he can then think about the experience he's giving his own children. He may ask himself, "Am I the dad I really want to be remembered as? What do I need to do differently? What things am I already doing well?" Based on the answers to these questions, a man may have a better understanding of his own fathering philosophy.
The second thing a man could greatly benefit from is learning more about the developmental course his children take. Knowing what to expect from children at certain ages helps understand what types of activities and topics of conversation are appropriate. Understanding that around 21 months of age, for example, most children become very attached to their mothers and may prefer them over dad is reassuring. Realizing that most 10-year-olds haven't yet developed the ability to think abstractly will help steer conversations away from theoretical discussions. It will also help a man realize that the relationship with his child is dynamic. As both a father and child grow, change, and mature, their interests change. There will be times when the father-child relationship is more close than at others. This is especially true during adolescence when many teenagers are trying to sort through all the components of their identity. A successful relationship with a teen requires much effort, tolerance, patience, and open, honest communication on the part of a parent.
The third thing a dad should do is accept that all children are unique and have special abilities and talents. A father needs to accept his unathletic as well as his athletic children, his not-so-bright as well as his very bright children. A man should also understand that he may relate to one age child better than another. Some dads are best with babies, many prefer those of school age, while others do best with teens. However, just because a man may relate better to one age group doesn't excuse him from involvement with them before or after the child moves through it. A father needs to relate, at least to some extent, right from birth.
The following 10 ideas may help many men in their efforts to become better fathers.
Ames, L. (1988). Questions Parents Ask. NY, NY: Delta.
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