by Martine Bacci Siegel
As Father’s day approaches we’re reminded that active participation by dads is good for everyone. The kids become healthier adults. The fathers come to a fuller and more complex maturity. The mothers have a reliable co-parent to share the responsibilities and challenges as well as the accomplishments of parenting. How does this idea of “involved father” translate to daily life? Current research points to the following practical guidelines for responsible fatherhood.
- Embrace your responsibility. Once you are a father, you are a father for life. The knowledge of fatherhood changes a man. It can be a source of pride and maturity or a source of shame and regret. Even if you have good reasons for not being actively involved, acknowledging your paternity is a minimal gift you can provide to your child. With it come many legal, psychological, and financial benefits. If you want to be in your child’s life, it also protects your rights to have time with your child should you and the child’s mother have a falling out.
- Be there. In study after study, kids consistently say they would like to have more time with their dads. Regardless of whether a dad shares a home with the children and their mother, the kids need dad time. Working together on a chore or simply hanging out can be as meaningful as attending events or having adventures. Kids want to know their fathers. Just as important, they want their fathers to know them.
- Be there throughout their childhoods. There is no time in a child’s life that doesn’t count. Research has shown that even infants know and respond to their fathers differently than they do to their mothers. The bond you make with a baby sets the foundation for a lifetime. As the kids get older, they’ll need you in different ways but they will always need you. Insistent toddler, curious preschooler, growing child, prickly adolescent: each age and stage will have its challenges and rewards. Kids whose parents let them know that they are worth their parents’ time and attention are kids who grow up healthy and strong. Boys and girls who grow up with attention and approval from their dads as well as their moms tend to be more successful in life.
- Balance discipline with fun. Some dads make the mistake of being only the disciplinarian. The kids grow up afraid of their dads and unable to see the man behind the rules. An equal and opposite mistake is being so focused on fun that you become one of the kids, leaving their mother always to be the heavy. Kids need to have fathers who know both how to set reasonable, firm limits and how to relax and have a good time. Give yourself and the kids the stability that comes with clear limits and the good memories that come with play.
- Be a role model of adult manhood. Both boys and girls need you as a role model for what it means to be adult and male. Make no mistake: The kids are observing you every minute. They are taking in how you treat others, how you manage stress and frustrations, how you fulfill your obligations, and whether you carry yourself with dignity. Consciously or not, the boys will become like you. The girls will look for a man very much like you. Give them an idea of manhood (and relationships) you can be proud of.
What matters most is for fathers to be committed to their children and involved with them over time. When fathers take that responsibility seriously, their children are more likely to do well and the fathers have few regrets.