Demanding jobs and time away can make it harder to build successful father-child relationships, but these tips will help!
But before they grow up and leave for college, you need to appreciate the importance of making time for your children and creating life-long bonds with them. Sometimes we have to step back and look at the big picture so we can realize what’s lacking in our lives and see how we can make positive changes.
A UNICEF study of child education in 74 different countries, in particular developing countries, showed that more than half of children between the ages of 3 and 4 don’t get the opportunity to spend any time with their fathers. No night-time fairytales, no shared daily household activities, and no time to have fun together. At the top of this list of countries were Mali and Swaziland, in which a staggering 86 percent of youngsters never had any dedicated father-child time; at the other end of the list came Montenegro and Qatar, whose young population spent the most time with their dads. But generally, the state of father-child relationships is heartbreaking. What about in our own homes?
If you’re a father, perhaps you already appreciate this problem, and maybe you experienced it yourself when you were younger. Maybe reading about this problem is like looking in a mirror: you get back late from work feeling tired, and you grab a few moments with your children just before they go to bed. Perhaps you feel less capable than your wife where the kids are concerned.
But rest assured: not being able to put a gourmet dinner on the table or tell the difference between a dress and a skirt doesn’t mean you’re incapable of looking after your beloved children. In fact, I’d advise you to do all you can from the get-go to spend as much time as possible with them, because if you wait until they’re old enough to go paint-balling, it will be more difficult to establish a deep and meaningful relationship with them.
So, what can a dad do to share meaningful time with his kids? (Hint: it doesn’t have to be anything extraordinary!) Here are 7 keys to helping you develop a better parent-child relationship:
1. Focus on everyday tasks
Getting dressed, washing, playing … Some dads fall into the trap of thinking that they have to find, at whatever cost, some “quality time,” or extra special times together with their kids. If you spend less time with your kids than their mom does, it doesn’t mean you should feel obliged to take them to some exotic island or go bungee jumping. Don’t get me wrong, a special vacation is fantastic, but what really counts is what’s happening right under your nose, in your home. You’ll soon see that in lots of areas you are the expert — the very best! For example, my husband builds magnificent structures (that I would never even dream of) with wooden blocks. He’s also the one who picks out the best films and books to read.
2. Share the jobs that tend to be reserved for dads
Even the youngest of children can join in washing the car (there’s nothing more fun than soaking each other on a hot day!), they can help bang a nail into the wall, and they can be a crucial helper when fixing the plumbing. What adults might consider a bore, kids can find entertaining. It’s also the perfect opportunity for dads and their kids to get together and share some bonding while being busy fixing up the home.
3. Prioritize bedtime stories
Most children I know love when it’s dad who reads them a story at night. Perhaps it’s reassuring to have dad in such close proximity – banishing those bedtime monsters! In the case of children who spend more time with their mothers during the day, they often love having their father totally focused on reading to them for a few minutes. It’s not just fun for them; it does them good. Harvard researchers actually published findings that showed children whose fathers read to them at night had better grades, better concentration skills, and fewer behavioral issues. This seems to be due in part to the fact that fathers and mothers ask children different kinds of questions about the story, stimulating different kinds of thought.
4. Get outside and focus on physical activities
Fathers often challenge kids to push their own limits. My husband allows the kids to do things I couldn’t even imagine. For example, climbing perilously-tall trees, using a Swiss Army knife, and making fires. You won’t find him repeating a million times over: “Be careful, take care, don’t go too far, and don’t get dirty.” It’s important for kids to build their courage, confidence and skills and dads are often so great at helping children do this through physical activities and challenges.
5. How about board games?
There are so many benefits to playing games. While entertaining the young and the old, you’re helping teach your kids many skills and virtues such as logic, strategizing, construction, patience, and honesty. What’s more, when your children become adolescents, you’ll realize that this is one of the rare things they’ll still appreciate doing with you.
6. Help with school-related things
I don’t know why but it seems that everything to do with school and extracurricular activities falls under mom’s domain. Really, there’s room for both parents to share their passions here, when there’s time. My husband is far more interested in problem-solving than I am, so he’s in charge of math homework. And when it comes to history, lots of men are fascinated with battle plans and troop formation, so why not share this passion with your kids?
And it’s not just a question of individual subjects: with more and more bullying taking place at school, both parents need to be extra-vigilant and ready to intervene if necessary. And while it’s frustrating, my friends and I have noticed that a lot of the time our husbands make more of an impression on the teachers than we do during school meetings.
7. Pray together
Talk to your child about God. Children build their image of God through your actions and their relationship with you. A real man is one who is capable of getting down on his knees.
This article was originally published in the Polish edition of Aleteia, and has been translated and/or adapted for English readers.