By Dr. Jenn Berman
This generation of fathers is very different than previous generations. In fact, a whopping 80 percent of fathers today want to take a more active role in parenting than their own fathers did. In addition to being more involved, modern dads consider their families to be more of a priority than ever before. Studies show that three out of four fathers consider family to be the most important aspect of their lives and more than 70 percent of married men ages 21 to 39 report that they would be willing to give up a portion of their pay to be able to spend more time with their wives and children.
Why Some Dads Face Barriers
Often, men find more impediments to being an involved father than they had expected. Sometimes new moms are ambivalent about handing over their newborns, even to their own husbands. Many moms feel such a strong bond with their babies that they have a hard time sharing that crucial bonding time — even with their husbands. Other mothers worry that the new fathers won’t know what to do or will accidentally hurt the baby.
Clearly, the only way for men to learn how to be a good parent to their babies is through experience. Unfortunately, few men have good role models guiding them in what a 21st century active dad looks like. Most men don’t share their parenting struggles and joys with one another and are therefore left in the dark. Job demands are probably the most common obstacles that most men face and, whether by choice or by necessity, only one- to three-percent of men take advantage of paternity leave. It is still uncommon enough that paternity leave is frequently unpaid, employers discourage it, and there are concerns about being put on the “daddy-track.”
Despite all of these obstacles, most men today realize that there is no more significant moment in a man’s life than when he becomes a father. Frequently, the responsibility, shift in identity, and sheer power of the love involved is overwhelming. How do you make that shift? What can you do to be a better father? How can you help your child grow to be a healthy well-adjusted person?
How a Child Benefits from a Father
The greatest gift you can give as a father is to have a healthy loving relationship with your child. Because that relationship is their first relationship with a man, it becomes the template for his/her relationships with men for a long time to come. According to a report by the National Fatherhood Initiative, father love (measured by children’s perceptions of paternal acceptance/rejection and affection/indifference) was as important as mother love in predicting the social, emotional, and cognitive development and functioning of children and young adults. Having a loving and nurturing father was as important for a child’s happiness, well-being, and social and academic success as having a loving and nurturing mother. It has also been shown that children with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to perform well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and pro-social tendencies, and avoid high-risk behaviors such as: drug use, truancy and criminal activity compared to children who have uninvolved fathers.
How You Can Demonstrate a Grown-Up Relationship
Modeling a loving relationship with your spouse is another great way to be a super dad. The absence of familial hostility is the most consistent correlate of child adjustment, whereas marital conflict is the most consistently reliable correlate of child maladjustment. This is not to say every fight with your spouse is going to harm your child’s well being. Quite the contrary. Constructive marital disagreements may be a positive influence, teaching children valuable lessons about conflict expression and negotiation.
The problem occurs when there is consistent anger, hostility, and discord in the home. If this is something you are experiencing in your own home, I implore you to explore marital therapy. If you cannot do it for yourself or your spouse, do it for the sake of your child. A better relationship between the parents can foster a better relationship with the child. Research shows that fathers in close, confiding marriages have more positive attitudes toward their three-month-old infants and toward their roles as parents than did fathers in less successful marriages. The same studies showed that mothers in close confiding marriages were warmer and more sensitive.
Why You Should Respond to the Individual Child
Really listen to your child. It is easy to make assumptions or projections onto our kids or to zone out after a long day or to stop listening altogether. This is one of the most important skills you have in your arsenal. Feeling seen, heard, and understood by primary caregivers is one of the foundations of a child’s self esteem. In addition, sensitivity or the ability to evaluate a child’s signals or needs and respond appropriately is crucial to both involvement and closeness. Many of the studies dealing with paternal influences show that the closeness of the father-child relationship, which is itself a consequence of sufficiently extensive and sensitive interactions, is a crucial determinant of the father’s impact on child development and adjustment.
Why You Need to Be More Than a ‘Tall Friend’
In order for kids to feel a sense of safety and security, they need consistent rules and boundaries from their parents, especially their fathers. Too many parents today are overly concerned with being a friend to their child or being liked than they are about being good parents. Children do not need tall friends. They need a world where there are consequences to their actions and boundaries for their behaviors. They will always try to test you to see if you will bend. But deep down inside, children are comforted by parents who create a structured family life and maintain a consistent stance about discipline.
There is no job that is more difficult than being a parent. The pressure to do the right thing and be a good role model is immense but the rewards are out of this world.
Dr. Jenn is a licensed Marriage, Family and Child Therapist in private practice. She is the author of the bestselling books Superbaby: 12 Ways to Give Your Child a Head Start in the First 3 Years and The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy Confident Kids. She has been writing her monthly parenting column “Dr. Jenn” for over seven years. The column is printed in Los Angeles Family Magazine and five other parenting magazines every month. Her column the prestigious Parenting Publications of America award in Parenting and Child Development. She also writes a parenting column called “Insight” for a new national parenting magazine called PB&J. She has appeared as a psychological expert on hundreds of television shows including The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, The Tyra Banks Show, Showbiz Tonight, and FOX News. She has been heard on various radio stations and is currently hosting a series of two hour specials on Sirius-XM’s Cosmo channel. Dr. Jenn lives in Los Angeles with her husband and twin daughters. For more information on Dr. Jenn go to www.DoctorJenn.com.