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“How can I be a good father? How should I deal with my children? What do I do in order to raise them well?” I hear these kinds of questions often. Even three years after hearing some of the best news in my life when my wife said, “I’m pregnant,” I still don’t know how to be a good father — or maybe I should say, I still want to be a better one!
Nonetheless, as the father of two spectacular little ones, I do have some thoughts I’d like to share that I think could help every father — seven ideas, to be exact. If you are reading this and you’re not a father yet, you don’t have to stop reading — a lot of this may be applicable for your future.
1. Be a good husband first
In my experience, being a great father isn’t synonymous with making sure your kids have all the material things they need or want, or using time-tested methods of raising children, or having the most creative ways of spending free time. All of that is important, but being a good father starts with being a good husband. Being a father begins at the moment you think, “I’m going to marry her.” If you want to be a father with capital F, make sure you are a husband with a capital H.
2. Live normally
Even though it seems that having a new family member will turn your life upside-down, in reality life goes on much the same in many ways. Try to live normally; don’t freak out, and don’t say that your life as you knew it has ended.
Many parents don’t go out together or travel for years after a baby is born, because “something could happen with the baby.” But, it’s a baby, not a fragile Christmas ornament. You can bring your baby and young children with you many places, or make arrangements for a babysitter.
Even if you are not sleeping as much as you used to and your parents can’t babysit because they live hundreds of miles away, you can still do most (emphasis on most) things you used to do. Really. Sometimes it does mean trying inventive solutions, but it’s worth it if it can help you feel like a couple in love and not two people chained to a baby crib.
3. Let her rest
Let’s be honest: being the mother of a newborn is much more difficult than being a daddy. We don’t get sore breasts (yes, I know kids pull beards), babies don’t cling to us when they’re upset, we sleep more … I could go on.
This is why it’s always important to take responsibility when the situation calls for it — meaning, all the time. Why? Moms, especially young moms, can be so involved in being moms that it’s often difficult for them to relax and take care of themselves. “A break? Sure, just give me another minute first … Sleep? But there is so much to be done at home; I have to take advantage of the fact that the kids are both asleep!” Moms really need opportunities to get away.
For a 24/7 mom, a simple trip to a mall or watching a silly movie can be like a vacation in Bali. Dad, you have to find the time, the money, and the circumstances for her to take a break. You simply have to. (I’m writing this as much to myself as to you!) She needs it more than she thinks she does, and a good husband will do everything and anything so that his wife doesn’t burn out.
4. Bring her the baby
Nights are important. Helping at night is one of a man’s simplest and yet most difficult missions. You can’t take your wife’s place nursing the baby, but you can be responsible for transporting the baby from his crib to your bed, and back again when the baby’s ready. You say it sounds easy? Well, I love to sleep. Really, it’s very difficult to wake me up, and when our son Adam was about to be born, and when everyone was saying that when the baby cries at night “you will simply wake up,” I was worried that it wouldn’t be so easy for me. But it works; I wake up! Not every night, and not every time, but still, I have woken up enough times to be able to help my wife by sparing her the trouble of getting out of bed.
5. Show tenderness
Children need love. Long before they comprehend words, they understand a loving touch, a tender whisper, and their daddy’s voice. When your baby daughter turns her head toward you to hear her daddy’s voice, it’s one of the moments you live for.
Hugging, cuddling and kissing make humans feel loved. A child must always feel loved. Yes, there are other ways of showing you care, but you will never regret showing your affection through these physical gestures. It’s a powerful thing.
6. Love as you want to be loved
If you yourself have a wonderful father, just pass on the good example to your children. But even if your childhood was less than ideal, this is your time to do better. No matter how dysfunctional your childhood or teenage years may have been, you still have a chance to show the world and your child what it means to be a good father, by making sure you don’t repeat the mistakes your father may have made. (And along the way, as you inevitably make mistakes, you may understand your own dad better.)
7. The one thing that matters most
Maybe you still think otherwise, but your child doesn’t care about your job, how much you make, how successful you are, who respects you or how many blog posts you wrote. Really. Because children only want one thing: to be with you. They want your attention, your gaze, your conversation, your singing, your silliness and dad jokes, your tenderness towards mom, and your complete focus on them. A child simply wants to be near his or her daddy.
I am grateful for the incredible luck I’ve had to work from home since Adam was born. I get to be with my family. I don’t know if it will always be like that, but I know that when I am gone even for a moment, they miss me, and when I return, I can count on a smiley “Hi dad!” It’s as if someone were telling my heart, “Good job!”
Psychologists and educators say that a child who gets to spend lots of time with dad will usually stay out of trouble. A child who always has to do something to attract dad’s attention, on the contrary, is an entirely different story.
Your kindness, your wisdom, your faith, your energy, your lack of sleep, your devotion, your example of life, your giving and asking for forgiveness, your love for your wife, your gestures, your self-control, and even your bad jokes, are all important. Good luck, dad!
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