Being a father is full of responsibilities, many of which cannot be passed on to someone else. Most men want to be the best father they can, but never had anyone directly explain to them how to do that. What we learned about fatherhood mostly came from watching our own parents. Unfortunately, it’s likely that many of us never stopped to think about what we learned. We move through life, taking care of business, with little time left over for reflection. But in reading this article, you’ll see a few different ways you can improve as a father.
#1: Put away your phone when you’re with your kids.
Be present when you’re with them, and put away anything that has to do with work or play, like your cell phone. It’s very easy to get sucked into emails and social media, but our kids need our attention more than all that other stuff, most of which could easily wait. You’ll be amazed how incredible it is to simply be present with your children, and marvel at the fact that they exist. Take a moment to watch them, and hold on to the memory…because they really do grow up fast. Don’t look back on your time raising kids and wish you had spent more time with them, or been more present in their lives: be with them now.
Men have a natural tendency to get wrapped up in work. It can be easy to leave home in the morning, and stay out as long as possible, working or hanging out with the guys. We assume that our kids are in good hands at school or with the other parent at home—and they are. But fathers need to remember that their kids need them, too. Make sure to spend some time every day with your children, whether that’s dinner time, bath time, or putting them to bed.
#2: Set a good example for your kids.
It’s easy to slip into the status quo of talking the talk but not walking the walk…but just remember that kids do what we do, and not what we say. If you want your kids to grow up into well-adjusted, responsible, and moral adults, be a good person on all fronts and a father they can look up to.
Each person has to assess themselves and find out where they need to improve—because every man is different in that regard. Avoid using swear words or throwing things if you get upset. Be polite to everyone you interact with. Give to charitable causes. Let your kids catch you reading a book instead of zoning out in front of the television. Step up around the house; make dinner, clean the dishes, or take out the trash.
Being a father your kids can look up to will teach them volumes about how to be a man, without you needing to sit down and tell them what you think. Even if you did exactly that, kids tend to learn the most about our character when we’re least expecting it—so just expect that they’re always watching you, and give them a father to look up.
#3: Commit to one date a week—your kids will thank you.
Make a commitment to go on a date once a week. It will take time away from your kids, but the trade-off is worth it when your kids know that their parents are a unit. Learn how to respect your partner and be a giving man. Do whatever you can do to make life easier for your spouse, whether that’s going to the grocery store after work or giving the kids baths so your partner can rest after a long day.
Nothing provides kids with a sense of security like having a connected set of parents. Money, kids, health, and various life stressors can easily strain even the most romantic of relationships. With everything going on, it can become easy to grow distant from your partner. Don’t let that happen.
If you need to jump-start your affection for your significant other, try out gratitude: make a list of 10 things you’re thankful for about them. You can even turn the list into a special note to leave as a surprise on the fridge or their pillow.
#4: Address the wounds in your past. Don’t let your children suffer for them.
Many of us unconsciously rehash the past by interacting with our kids in the same way our parents dealt with us. Some of these interactions are positive. Maybe your dad read a particular book to you, and that special memory is something you relive every time you read your child the same book.
But other things are not so positive. Many times, in an attempt to heal our own inner wounds, we will relive these moments with our children. Take stock of how you react to your kids when they misbehave. Are you using any phrases or doing any actions that remind you of something that happened when you were a child? You’ll be amazed to find some of the parental mistakes we carry unwillingly into the next generation.
You might also have internal expectations for your kids, such as good grades, or athletic prowess, or artistic abilities. Are these the same things your parents expected of you? Do some soul-searching to think about your own childhood. Keep the good things and pass them on to your children. Acknowledge the bad things, and find ways to heal them through therapy or spiritual pursuits, but don’t take them out on your kids.
#5: Don’t overshare things with your kids.
It’s just not appropriate to share our adult problems with our children, and it’s even more inappropriate to expect them to help us through them. Realistically, every man is going to have problems in life. He may be having difficulties at work, with his spouse, with his own parents, or making ends meet. Find a healthy outlet for that stress, and talk about it with the right people. If you and your spouse need to have an argument, don’t argue in front of your kids. Put it off until later. Who knows? You may even lose the need to argue.
If you’re having trouble at work with coworkers, customers, or your boss, leave it at work—don’t bring it home. It can be really difficult to segment our lives into little boxes, but let yourself be motivated by the fact that arguing and fighting and verbal despair can be really damaging to kids and create lots of anxiety. Part of being a man and a father is being a solid, dependable person your family can rely on and feel safe with. It’s okay to have problems; just learn how to share them with the right people at the right time.
#6: Get to know your kids.
Do you know your kid’s favorite flavor of ice cream? Do you know their favorite book or movie? Do you know what kind of music they like?
Most of us don’t really pay attention to the things our kids care about. We see them out of the corner of our eyes, but we rarely engage with them to get a deeper sense of who they are. Don’t miss out on their little world when they’re small, or the way they view things when they’re older. A big part of the reason kids misbehave is because they want attention from their parents, or because they feel their parents don’t understand them.
You’ll be amazed how spending time with your kids doing the things they love will build rapport and eliminate a lot of negative behaviors. Do your kids like basketball? Take them to a basketball game. Do they like playing tea party? Get down on the floor and pretended to drink Earl Grey and munch on biscuits. Years down the road, you won’t regret missing a football game. You will regret not getting to know your kids.
Parents who make time for their kids watch their kids grow up in a positive path and maintain healthy relationships for life. Parents who are checked out often see their kids move away and not bother to look back.
#7: Don’t have unfair expectations for your kids.
It’s fair to expect your kids to be responsible, do their chores, try their best at school, and have respect for other kids and adults. After all, you want your kids to grow up into well-adjusted adults, not just because it will make you happy, but because it will help them succeed in life.
But it’s not fair to expect your kids to be something that you want them to be, or in order to fulfill your unfulfilled dreams of being a rockstar, an athlete, or world-class chess player. When your kids are young, let them try out different activities—karate, soccer, art class, ballet, whatever. Whatever they show an interest in, let them pursue that and celebrate it, and don’t force them to do the rest.
When your kids are older, you definitely won’t be able to force them to do anything. Just show an interest in whatever they like, no matter how zany it may seem to you. Hold them to reasonable standards such as doing their homework, their chores, and being respectful. But don’t harbor inner resentment that they’re not living your dreams.
#8: Be patient with your kids.
It’s challenging to be patient with kids, no matter their age. When kids are little, they throw tantrums over the most ridiculous things. When they’re older, they’ll test the limits and push the envelope in ways that will have you growing more grey hairs.
Just remember that kids are kids. They’re in the process of growing up and learning how to be a rational, functional adult…and until that happens, you can just expect the unexpected. A father who yells at their child or frequently threatens them with punishment will often ironically find that their kids continue to misbehave.
Many times kids appreciate the passion and energy we put into reacting to their antics. After all, it’s attention. Just know that kids are going to color on the wall. They’re going to throw applesauce on your shirt. They’re going to stay out later than you’d like. They’re going to come home from the mall with clothes you don’t like. Whatever the case may be for your child, just know all this ahead of time and save yourself some stress. You’ll be happier and healthier, and your kids will have a good example of how to handle life’s challenges.
#9: Make time for yourself.
It’s hard to be your best self for anyone when you don’t have any time for yourself. If you’re stretched thin, you’re not going to be able to implement any of the tips we’ve outlined above. To that end, make sure you’re taking care of yourself. When we have kids, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the business of life and miss the little details that can actually make a difference.
Be sure to save some time to do things for yourself. Take a hot shower and put on clean clothes in the morning. Eat a healthy breakfast. If you can’t walk in the door right after work and be available to help out, stop at a park on the way home and take a ten-minute walk. Every once in awhile, perhaps weekly or monthly, make sure you spend time with friends doing something enjoyable. And remember to balance out this self-care with your spouse, so they can get the things they need to too.
Many parents can lose their identity in the process of raising kids. Keep in touch with the things you like to do and care about, whether that’s sports of music. As your kids grow older, you may even find that they want to join you in these hobbies or pursuits.
A final word
Being a father is a lifetime journey, and it’s one we pass on to our kids as they in turn become parents. Though being good father requires some self-discipline and personal growth, you won’t regret the rich reward of building a better relationship with your kids and becoming the father they deserve. Don’t be hard on yourself when you mess up; everyone makes mistakes. As long as you’re making an honest attempt to be a good father, you’re doing the right thing.