Parenting can be one of the most challenging aspects of life. Not just the responsibility of it, but the time and intensity of it. It’s not like driving where if you dent your car you can pop over to the body shop. If you mess up parenting you can seriously fuck your kin up.
So much of parenting comes down to how we were raised. In a perfect world, we would learn from the mistakes our father made and have a better relationship with our children. Unfortunately, this is often not the case.
Many of us tend to exhibit the same traits that were passed down to us. If our father was abusive, we are programmed to be abusive, if our father was distant, we can have a hard time being present. We know what we’re taught. But alas! This does not mean we are forced to replay the same patterns.
With some time and attention, we can reframe our own understanding of parenting, be a better father to our children than we had, and break the cycle.
Be Present And Engaging
Our children need us. Especially as fathers. They need us to show up, to be engaging, and most importantly to be present. What does this mean? To be present is to truly be there. Instead of half-assing it because you are thinking about work, or stressed about life, really drop in and give them your complete attention as often as you can. Children are shaped by everything we do. It is so important for them to know they are seen, heard, and cared about.
I know it’s not always easy to be present. It is something that requires effort. It is important to remember that children learn so much from their fathers. Especially sons. You are the archetype of masculinity. You are how they will learn to be a man. So think about the kind of man you want them to be. Think of your own father and the issues you had with how he was growing up. Think about how his failures and flaws affected you. You don’t want to pass the same kinds of issues onto your kids.
Spend time playing, asking them what’s going on and how they are feeling. Truly listen to them and engage. Kids grow up really fast and it is so easy to take things for granted and say you’ll be a better father tomorrow. The next thing you know they’re going to be men and you will not be able to recapture lost time.
Improve Your Relationship With The Mother
How you and the mother get along is huge. Whether you are married or co-parenting children learn about relationships from witnessing yours. This is how they learn about roles. You want them to see a healthy relationship or even just a solid friendship so they can navigate their own relationships when they get older.
It is important that both parents show respect and kindness to one another. I’m not saying you want to shield your children from normal fights and things like that. it is a normal part of relationships. It can do more harm than good for them to see repression and miss out on seeing that relationships are complex and can be hard.
You never want to consciously or unconsciously disrespect or talk shit about the mother. This can complicate not only their relationship with their mom but also affect their overall view of women.
Don’t Be Scared To Show Emotion
This can be a really hard one for the man that was raised by a tough stoic Marlboro man-type dad. This kind of upbringing can be so damaging. Men have feelings. It doesn’t make us any less of a man. In fact, the courage to be open and show emotion makes us more of a man.
Don’t shy away from showing emotions around your children. Whether the emotions are sadness or love. Show them, share them. So much damage happens through repressing emotions. And teaching your children to hide them will just disconnect them from themselves and cause them a harder life than they need. Make sure your children know anger is natural and ok, and teach them good ways to work through it. Let them know that crying is ok, and help them to preserve their connection to themselves. And one of the biggest is to encourage them to be loving and affectionate.
We don’t want to pass along our wounds to our children. We want them to have a better life than us in every way.
Teach Your Kids To Be Responsible For Their Actions And To Take Ownership Of The Choices They Make, And Show By Example.
What happens when you are raised by a father that doesn’t take ownership? You live your life not taking responsibility for your actions and end up in a victim mentality. And one day, hopefully, you will be hit with a huge wake-up call that you have created your own undoing. This is a harsh realization to have.
You can spare your child this turmoil by teaching them to take responsibility for their actions. To accept the consequences. To understand why they did what they did and take ownership of both the choice and the result. This is how we learn to make better choices in life and is a very important life lesson.
How do we teach this? First YOU need to lead by example and demonstrate on the day-to-day how you take ownership of your choices. As they get older share with them some life choices you made and the consequences you had to face.
When your child tries to blame what they did on something external, talk to them, lead them through questions to come to the conclusion themselves that they really did it because of a choice they made. Explore why they made that choice and what they thought the outcome was going to be.
And most importantly, don’t shame them. You don’t want to shame your children into making the right choice. And you do not want to shame them for the mistakes they make. Shame creates some deep-seated issues and should be avoided at all costs.
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Work On Healing Yourself.
To be a better father you need to work through your own shit. If you have a bunch of unresolved anger, are out of line with your emotions and live in shame and guilt yourself you will pass this along to your offspring. Even if you don’t mean to do it. It will inevitably come out in subconscious ways.
How to heal yourself is really dependent on what is going on. A great first step is to really take a critical look at yourself, without judgment, but to understand where you are lacking. Make a list. Then track what in life seems to be triggering reactions that stem from these issues. Journaling this process helps.
You don’t need to be completely healed to have a child. Even the process of actively working on improving yourself is something they will see and can give them the tools to know it is ok to be messed up as long as you’re doing something about it.
Set Aside One On One Time.
This is a lot easier if you have one kid, and gets tougher the more you have. Sending one of one time with your kids is seriously one of the most important things. It builds connection, it allows you both to get to know each other outside of the familial roles. This one-on-one time can be really anything. Going for a walk in the park, making art or building something, even helping them with their homework.
The key is consistency. You want to establish time together that is consistent and that they can count on and look forward to. These times are great for helping them develop and will give them trust in you that you will be there for them and that you are reliable. Make it fun. Turn them on to new things, let them share what they are into with you. This kind of bonding can last a lifetime. Letting them know they can count on you and that you are reliable will help as they get older when they know they can turn to you when they are in trouble or need advice.
Not having affectionate parents can really mess you up. It makes the child feel uncared for and not nurtured. And it makes for emotionally stunted adults that will add a challenge to any relationship they have. It’s your kid, hug them, snuggle with them, tease them. A lot of dads are great with this in the early years but then tend to get colder as the child gets older. This can really cause problems too. Because then the lack of affection is seen as a loss. Keep giving hugs and being loving.
Teach Your Children To Value Health And Good Habits.
By instilling good habits early on you’re giving them an advantage for the rest of their lives. Many parents miss this. Yes, I know, it is hard to get them to not just eat, but enjoy eating their veggies instead of just succumbing to giving them whatever they want. And it is harder to get them to exercise instead of letting them spend all day playing video games.
Instilling good habits will help them in the long run. It may cause you challenges in the present. But you want them to have a great quality of life and by instilling healthy habits they have a better chance at integrating them as they get older and move into adulthood. Because it is important to remember, the goal is to help prepare them to be the best adults they can be. It requires work and time. And any shortcuts you take bringing them up is going to cause them more challenges they’ll need to overcome as adults.
Affirm and Reward Positive Choices and Calmly Explain Why Bad Choices Are Bad.
When a kid does something great, their whole world is made by getting rewarded and praised. This is how people learn, and especially how children learn. Be excited and really feel the pride they do. It sucks for a kid to feel so proud of themselves for something only to have a parent say “good job” in the blandest most unexcited tone. Being rewarded with excitement and having a parent share the accomplishment with them wires the brain to know that doing awesome things makes them feel awesome. This means they will be more prone to work hard to get straight A’s, to do the right thing, and to really put their best foot forward in life.
On the flip side when your child makes a bad choice be easy on the yelling and the shaming. While it may sort of work, it does not lead to the most ideal outcome. Explain to them why the choice was bad. Ask then to explain to YOU why it was a bad choice. The more they can build their understanding of choices and consequences the better prepared they will be for life. My rule is this, the first time they do something wrong, no punishment, it’s a learning experience. Explain the reason why it was a bad choice. Explain the negative effect it had on others, or on them. Have a discussion about it so they walk away understanding the process and their need to take responsibility.
The second time there are consequences. But also a discussion where I try to understand why they did it. At this point, they know it was wrong. So why did they do it? Was it for negative attention? In that case, fix that, make a weekly one on one time. Never use shame or guilt. This can easily backfire and make them act out more because now you have shoved something that needs to be explored into the shadow self and are teaching them to repress emotions. Which will cause them challenges later in life.
There is no such thing as the perfect father. And no one expects you to be the literal “world’s best dad” so you can un-ironically sip your coffee from that mug. Perfection is not the goal. It’s messy and we make mistakes. What makes a great dad is the ability to learn from the mistakes and to see deeper into how to understand your child and support them where they need it. If you come from a place of love and make the time to be present you will be amazed at how great a father you can be.
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