by John Hoffman
Fathering can be a very humbling pursuit. We’ve all had times when we’d like to do a little better. In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions I’m offering ten ways to be a better dad in the coming year. Chances are you already do a lot of the things on this list. But maybe you can find one idea here that could help you parent more effectively in 2017.
- Maintain a good relationship with your partner (whether you live together or not). I am convinced, both from personal observations and the research I’ve read, that the parent relationship – how parenting partners get along and work together – is one of the biggest influences on the fatherhood role. So, do your part to keep that relationship strong and supportive – something that gives both of you strength, positive feelings and good energy that helps you be the kind of parent you want to be.
- Deal with your stress. Stress is a normal part of life. But too much negative stress drains our energy and makes it harder for us to be our best selves. So you can really help your kids, and yourself, by learning to recognize and deal with your own stress.
- Play more. Play – particularly outdoor play and unstructured play, without electronic devices – is so good for kids. It’s a child’s way of learning and simply being in the world. Father-child play is also a great way to build and maintain father-child relationships. And being a good parent, starts with a relationship.
- Read books to your child more often. Books are not as big a part of some young children’s lives as they once were. But there is still something that kids learn from books, and being read to, that they can’t get from computer and device screens.
- Spend less time on your devices when you’re with your kids. Cellphone, tablets and texting are part of life now. But, if you are finding it hard to have quality time for your child, think about how much time you spend checking your texts, emails and social media when you’re at home with your family. Is all of it really necessary?
- Cook with your kids. Men do more cooking than they did a couple of generations ago. That’s a good thing. Learning how to prepare nutritious food is a basic human skill, one that every child should learn. So, if you like to cook, find ways to involve your kids in the process. If you don’t know much about cooking, maybe you and your child can learn together.
- Touch your child more often. I’m talking mostly about little kids here. Nurturing touch is such an important thing for children’s development. We know that extreme lack of touch can actually damage growing brains. That’s not concern for most Canadian families. And most of the parents I’ve known seem to understand intuitively how good touch is for their kids and themselves. So think about how often you touch your kids in warm, comforting and affectionate ways. If physical contact with kids doesn’t come naturally to you, make an effort to get comfortable with it. It’s good for both of you.
- Do more housework. This is another area where today’s dads are doing much more than previous generations. But, in many families, women are still doing more; and that unequal division of labour can cause tension and conflict. Doing more of your fair share of housework (in cooperation with your partner) can contribute to household peace and having a happier, more contented partner.
- When it comes to discipline, think less about your child’s “misbehaviour” or “attitude” and think more about the stress that is behind their behaviour. A lot of what we parents think of as misbehaviour is caused by stress more than anything else. So if you can tune into, and address, your children’s stress, you can improve their behaviour, regardless of what discipline techniques you use.
- Last but not least, find the social support you need. Experts often act as if the key to improving parenting is to give parents more and more information and teach them parenting strategies. Information and strategies are useful for sure. But what parents need more than anything is support. So if fathering feels like a struggle to you, the best way to help yourself just might be to find more support – from your partner, your family, friends who have children the same age as yours. Join a fathers’ group if you can find one. Show me a well-supported dad and I’ll show you a happier, more effective dad.
What are your ideas for becoming a better father in 2017? We’d love to hear from you.