This will probably be the best ‘advice’ column I could ever write. I never expected to be a father, never could’ve imagined I’d be any good at it, and all 4 of my children were ‘surprise’ babies. Who better to write about embracing fatherhood?
Tabitha and I never sat down and planned on trying for Harrison and Mara. Travis and Chloe were both wonderful surprises as well.
I was always a pretty good father to Travis and Chloe from the jump, but these are two well behaved kids who I didn’t meet until they were 8 and 11. They could take care of themselves in so many ways by that point.
There’s a lot going on with little kids in their first few years and I didn’t believe I was up for any of it. Here are the top 5 ways to embrace fatherhood to children at any age:
5) KNOW YOUR ROLE: I believe that kids look up to their fathers more than anyone else. And if your father is your biggest role model in your life, what’s better than knowing he’s proud of you? If you’re a stay at home dad, if you work all day/week, or are splitting time because of a divorce, or maybe you’re daycare drop off/pick up driver, or just figuring out everything as you go with the wife, girlfriend, grandparents, or other relatives, etc, it’s important for you to always fill up the sound waves that enter your child’s ears when you have your time with them. Positive reinforcement, showing extreme interest, and giving compliments of anything and everything they’re doing at the time, is a great place to start. If your role is to go get them when they wake up in the morning, do it with a powerful and excited voice of enthusiasm. (OH MY GOSH! LOOK WHAT WE HAVE HERE! WHO’S THAT BEAUTIFUL GIRL IN HERE MAKING ALL THAT NOISE THIS MORNING?!) Fake it if you need. Not everyone is a morning person. If your role is to put them to bed at night, get a little bit of whisper-ish pep in your voice and read them a book before they go down. Take their hand and point out all the pictures to them as you go. Enthusiasm, enthusiasm, enthusiasm. Talk to them as much as possible. It might sound corny, and you might think you’re too cool for it, but you’ll probably find you have more of a natural knack for it than you thought. I did. The person I was before becoming a father and the person I am now, are, in some ways, not even close.
Once those kids turn around and start asking you about things you’ve already taught them, and you realize you are one of the main reasons they are learning…and you are the person they want to show that off too…the feeling in your heart will be unlike any others you’ve experienced in your life. A feeling that won’t be hard to embrace.
4) POOL YOUR RESOURCES: Ask questions. If you don’t like the answer don’t use it. If you do, embrace and practice it. You can pick, poke, mix, and match as much as you want on the suggestions you choose to go with. Just like when you’re done reading this… if you don’t like numbers 1,2,3,4, and/or 5 on this list, ignore them. Fatherhood is not an exact science.
Your parents and grandparents have all been in similar situations to yours at some point. Your siblings or friends might have kids that are older or around the same age as yours. Even some of your neighbors are probably dealing with similar things, if they have kids. Anyone you know that you think could help, ask. Your parents most likely are dying to wet their beaks all the time anyway on anything to do with the grandkids. Ask them. Ask them advice. Ask them what to do and don’t be embarrassed. If anything, it will probably bring you and whoever you ask the closer together. In college, I had a couple friends that were always just ‘jackass friends.’ We screwed around all the time, never taking life seriously. They have kids now. As a result our friendships have changed and matured for the better. Now we talk quite a bit about parenting and different techniques we use, things we do and don’t do etc, and it has brought us closer together as actual friends. We still do our jackass texting and BS-ing too, but overall our content reflects on our kids and is both interesting and useful to all of us.
Whatever resources you can find, even if its just a word or phrase from someone or something that triggers a completely different and legit idea out of your own head, use them to your advantage.
If you’re married, team up with your wife. That’s going to be your biggest resource right there. You both want what’s best for your child, so keep that in mind. In that situation it could be tempting to argue about differing opinions on how things with the kids are handled. Just remember it’s all for the same team. Embrace the ability to parent together with her, while incorporating some of the ideas you’ve learned from you other resources.
3) QUALITY TIME: Make any moment you spend with your kids useful, fun, or productive. There are obviously going to be times where you need to distract them with tablets or tv, but the vast majority of the time needs to be quality time. Simply playing with them and their toys, going to the playground, or even just walking around the block is ten times better than watching tv or playing video games. Just like reading is better for them at night than electronics. Participating in something active, both of you can do, is key. My preference is always to take them outside. It accomplishes so many things, including giving the wife a breather. It lets them see their father is both willing and able to play with them, it encourages exercise, you meet other kids to play with, and running around always puts a smile on everyones face. Seeing Harrison and Mara play together outside is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world. Easily embraceable.
Quality time with the older kids can be a little more challenging since they’re not always up in your face begging you to do it. The equalizer being that when you find something to do, or a place to hang out, you don’t ever have to worry about carrying, changing, or losing them once you start. I focus on doing something once a day with both my older kids. Even if it’s just a walk or a conversation. I always volunteer to pick them up from school or give them a ride anywhere they’re going. This way I can engage them in conversations they can’t get out of even if they wanted to. Chloe just turned 15 today, so that driving places together bridge is rapidly burning, since she’ll soon just be driving on her own, but having any conversations with the older kids, during any activity at all, seems to work well for both parties. Plus half the time they can be smarter and more articulate than I am on an adult level, so that time spent is easy to embrace.
2) FIND WAYS TO MAKE IT FUN FOR EVERYONE: Incorporate things you like into activities with your kids of all ages. This doesn’t mean shoving everything you like down their throats and forcing them to do it all the time. It just means trying a bunch of things and seeing if they become interested in any of them. If you like golf and baseball buy them some a plastic golf clubs and a tee-ball set. See if they like it. They most likely will. If you like biking, well, that’s an easy one. You get the point. Find something you both enjoy and do it. I’m guessing the payoff will be playing golf together when they get older or watching their baseball games in the stands as a proud father. All the patience and time you put in with them, embracing your fatherhood duties, showing up years later on a sunny day swinging golf clubs, biking, or watching baseball.
1) YOU CAN’T SCREW IT UP: One of the things I’ve finally figured out about fatherhood is if you screw up, nobody will ever know. Especially the kids. I’m not talking about any sort of child abuse or illegal activity. Those things are obviously major screw ups and completely separate. I’m speaking of the little things you do wrong on a weekly or even a day-to-day basis.
The first few years of being a father to my two older kids was tough. I didn’t know when to embrace them, ignore them, when to yell at or comfort them, discipline them, or even if something was a big deal or not.
Often before bed I’d tell my wife, “Ya know, I really wanted to say this…but didn’t, or I really wanted to do that…but didn’t because I was worried it would be too harsh or too lenient. etc” One of the things she instilled in me is that even if I screw up, the kids will never know. They aren’t sitting around taking notes constantly evaluating and ranking my parent skills.
My rule of thumb now is, as long as I’m acting out of love for the kids in all situations, if I screw up, oh well. Walking around literally saying “oh well” to myself. It’s refreshing. I protect my kids, I love my kids, I feed my kids, I play with my kids, virtually all my money in some way shape or form goes to the kids, and I always plan on being there for my kids. So if I make a ruling, or a comment, or if I’m too disciplinary or too laid back in a certain situations, tough. Sometimes I get it wrong. The little kids have the shortest memories in the world anyway, and if the older kids have any issues they can always talk to me about anything. I’ve never shut them out, and never will.
Just having that mentality in the backdrop, and knowing parenting is a lot of learning on the job, makes me embrace fatherhood that much more.