Q: How do my kids’ relationships with their father or another male role model affect how they approach relationships with their parents and others now and in the future?
A: It’s almost impossible to overestimate the importance of a father’s relationship with his kids or a trusted male role model who’s spending time with them. Second only to mom, dad ideally plays a critical role in the life of his child. Children with an involved, warm father at home, who is able to also discipline in love, are fortunate. There may not be a dad in the home or there might be an involved father who still spends time with his kids even though he lives elsewhere. In either case, a father figure, such as a grandfather, uncle, friend or neighbor who is loving and safe, can really help in this area.
Here are some key aspects of fathering and tips for involved men on how to accomplish these things:
Support mom. Mothers have a lot on their plate! They are the life-support system for their child. Their job is never done, and one of the best things a man can do is simply to help her. That can include anything from volunteering to cook and clean for her to making sure she gets a girls’ night out or just being a caring and listening ear. While supporting mom is not direct, one-on-one fathering time, children will reap the benefits of a happy mother. Our book, Raising Great Kids, provides a structure for complete parenting tools.
Provide love and limits. Fathers and involved men are to bring a balance of nurturing and structure to a child. Kids need to know they are accepted and loved. At the same time, they need to know how to obey and develop self-control. Alongside mom, a safe man connects emotionally and affectionately with the child and clarifies what kind of behavior is OK and what’s not OK. When a man steps up to the plates of bonding and boundaries, the child will feel safe and will know the appropriate rules as well.
Create healthy space between mom and her child. After about the first year of life, kids go through a developmental passage in which they form a separate identity from mom by formulating their own feelings, thoughts and perceptions. And the word “No” arrives! Dads and involved men are to help the child begin God’s process of carving out this identity (Genesis 2:24), which also is beginning now. Guys should spend some one-on-one time with a child, every day if possible. Giving the child a second and different source of connection from mom will help him or her to grow.
Challenge and empower. Dads and involved men are to gently push the child to take measured risks, stretch their abilities and get in touch with their power (but not so much that he or she runs the house!). Though moms provide challenges too, dads and involved men help balance out moms’ nurturance with their coaching. When her kid is climbing on the jungle gym, mom says, “Be careful.” And a male says, “Get to the top!” It’s a good rhythm for the child.
We salute dads and involved men! May their efforts to connect and challenge bear good fruit in the life of a child.
Drs. Cloud and Townsend are psychologists, leadership coaches and the authors of many books, selling over 5 million copies, including Raising Great Kids, Boundaries, Boundaries with Kids and Mom Factor — as well as the hosts of the syndicated national radio program “New Life Live.”