Championing the relationship between father and child has always been close to my heart. Throughout my many years of private practice, I’ve spoken with thousands of children and teens – and one of the things I love talking with them about is the relationship they have with their parents, and more specifically, with their father. A lot of good and bad habits that I’ve seen in kids can be linked in some way to their interactions with their dad.
Is dad fully engaged, supportive and strong? Research shows, if this is the case, the child or teen has a healthier emotional, physical and spiritual life. These kids are less likely to do poorly in school, be involved in risky behavior as adolescents and girls especially are less likely to be sexually active from a young age.
Is dad distant, cold, abrasive or just absent? These kids are more likely to grow up with an unbalanced emotional life and struggle in the areas I just listed.
Now I want to be clear and point out that this is not a dig in any way at single moms – you are amazing at raising your child, and just because a father isn’t active in your child’s life does not mean that they will definitely struggle in these areas. At the same time, that doesn’t remove the need for strong male influence in your child’s life, which I talk about often. I’m telling you this to make a very important point: children need their fathers. More importantly, children WANT their fathers. Children see you, their father, as their HERO. Let me put it another way:
Fathers need to see themselves the way their children see them. You are, whether you know it or not, the center of their world, the hub of the wheel that is your family, the hero they depend on. If you’re not there or not engaged, they suffer. – HERO, Ch. 1
That is a lot of weight and responsibility on a father. But I want you to know that you, Dad, are hard-wired to be exactly what your children need. They already see you as the strongest, bravest, most incredible man in their world. They believe that nothing is impossible for you and that you would conquer all evil to protect them and your family. Your children have already given you this role! You just have to step up to the plate and be the very best father that you believe you should be.
Do you want to know a secret about your kids? They aren’t expecting perfection. Kids are full of grace for their parents, and even if you make a mistake; if you apologize and say you were wrong – they will still hold you in that special place in their hearts. They will still see you as their ultimate hero.
So how do you uphold that title, dad? If you’re worried about messing it up, that tells me that you are already deeply invested in making a lasting, positive relationship with your child. This is GOOD news. Here are a couple tips to get you started (I elaborate on each of these in my book):
1. Be there.
That’s it. Really. Nothing makes more of an impression on children than when their father shows up and is intentional in spending time with them. Merely showing your son or daughter that you want to spend time with them will make a lasting impression. Pro-Tip: These specific times spent with your kids should not be about smoothing things over, talking through problems or arguing. These times should be fun, light and enjoyable. Show your kids that you love being with them. And don’t fall into the trap of giving your kids everything but YOU. Everyday, choose to give your children the gift of presence.
2. Lead, don’t coach.
What’s the difference, you ask? Where coaches simply teach skills and encourage their execution, leaders are meant to bring vision and moral leadership. Your instruction and example are the compass for your child as they grow up. If you show them how to love well, respect others, persevere in hard times and stick to the truth no matter what, you are setting your child up for success in life. Live each day remembering that your child is watching your choices and reactions. Be the leader they believe you to be.
Fathers, be encouraged. It is NEVER too late to start showing up for your kids. Whether you are brand new at this dad business or you’re several years in, you can always implement change and improvement in your relationships with your kids. They have adored you since day one and they believe in you a lot more than you believe in yourself.