As a father, you want what is best for your child. You know you cannot always be perfect. But you want the decisions you make, the actions you take, and the ways you treat your children to make them feel loved and supported. How can you absolutely rock as a father in the 21st century?
Make Family Time a Priority
The number one way to be an amazing father is to simply be there. You are thinking of your children while earning money to support them and shopping to put food on the table. But they also need your physical presence and attention. If you are busy, like most people are these days, try scheduling “family time” a few times per week. Treat it as a priority, the same way you would treat a job interview or a doctor’s appointment.
Having dinner together as a family is a great way to enjoy family time. You can let your children recount their day’s events. You can do the same. Eating dinner together also gives you the chance to talk about healthy food and balanced eating habits, which will serve your children well as they grow up. Other activities might be Friday board game night or a family walk around the block each Saturday morning.
Trade Harsh Discipline for Guidance
It is your job as a parent to teach your child right from wrong. That does not mean you must employ harsh disciplinary measures. Lead by example: Show and tell your children the right way to behave and reward them for good behavior. Explain why following the rules is important. If your children break the rules, talk about their reasons for doing so.
Make sure your children are aware of the rules and consequences of breaking rules. Punishments should not be a surprise. For example, you could tell your children they need to clean their rooms every Friday night or they will not be allowed to watch television on Saturday morning. If Saturday comes and they cannot watch TV, they only have themselves to blame. You will come off as consistent, not unpredictable.
Read with Your Child
Reading is a great way to connect with your child one-on-one. It allows you both to take a break from technology and simply enjoy quiet time together. Choose books appropriate to your child’s level of development and discuss the plots and themes. This gives your children the opportunity to learn how you view the world, and it gives you the opportunity to see their perspectives.
As your children grow older, let them choose the books you read together. As they approach their high school years, your arrangement can become more like a book club. Pick a book to read separately and then come together to discuss. Enjoy exploring other worlds together through literature. Nothing bonds a father with their child like a grand adventure, and that grand adventure can happen through reading.
Model a Healthy, Respectful Relationship with the Other Parent
Remember your children are continually looking to you as an example. If you want them to have healthy relationships as they grow older — and of course you do — then model those relationships well. If you are no longer in a romantic partnership with your children’s other parent, make sure you treat that person with respect. Let your child witness you having honest, thoughtful conversations.
Do not correct or argue with your children’s other parent in front of them — save those discussions for private times. You are human, your child will see the two of you disagree. Make sure they also see you reconcile. This will teach them that arguments do happen in relationships, but reconciliation can follow.
Listen to Their Concerns and Take Them Seriously
There are times during fatherhood when you find your children’s concerns not only unfounded but even hilarious. Maybe they are terrified of the monster under their bed. It is important to take your children’s fears seriously. Listen as they describe their worries. Calmly explain to them that it will be OK, and why it will be OK.
This approach teaches your children they can come to you with their concerns and you will respect them. As they grow older and their concerns become more complex, they can count on you as a rock during troubled times. Your relationship will only grow closer.
Share Traditional “Mom” Duties
Every household divides labor differently, and that is OK. If your partner does the majority of the housework while you spend more time working outside the home, it is important for your child to see you pitching in around the house.
Wash the dishes, vacuum the carpets, do the laundry, and have your children help. This will teach them that household tasks are everyone’s responsibility. It will ensure they know how to care for themselves and their living space when they go off to college.
Make Your Own Emotional Health a Priority
Fatherhood can be hard at times. When things get tough, we all have a tendency to let our emotions get the best of us. There is nothing wrong with emotions, they are part of what makes us human. It is important to manage your emotions in a healthy way so they do not negatively affect others.
Make your own emotional health a priority every day by spending a little time focusing on yourself and your thoughts. Maybe you can meditate for 15 minutes or perhaps you can go for a 20-minute jog when you get home from work. Taking a little time away from your child to deal with your emotions can ensure you are more present, aware and feeling good during your time with them.
If you ever have challenging mental health issues, seek treatment from a therapist or other mental health professionals. Taking care of yourself will make you better able to take good care of your child. You will also be setting a good example by taking your mental health seriously.
No father is perfect every day or every hour. You will make mistakes along the way, and that is to be expected. If you can follow these tips, you will be an excellent father. Your children will see you as warm, loving and trustworthy. And that rocks.
Anthony Cupo is a trained mindfulness facilitator (TMF) from the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. He is a co-owner of Stepping Forward Counseling Center, LLC and has been meditating for over 30 years. Our article is also published in ParentingOC’s Magizine!