Kids need dads. Through you, your sons learn how to be men and your daughters learn how to have relationships with great men when they grow up. Your example of fair, consistent and loving parenting will enable your children to adopt appropriate standards of behaviour for themselves and to expect it in those they choose to be with. Your attitude to life, your responses to setbacks and your interactions with others will be important to your child’s emotional development. Children are extremely sensitive to the social and emotional world around them, they pick up cues about how they should be from observing and interacting with the two people most important to them, Mum and Dad.
Every father wants to be the best parent he can, but it may not always feel easy. You may not have had the best experience of fathering from your own dad. Maybe he was a rather remote figure, possibly due to work commitments, or divorce. Perhaps he seemed somewhat rigid, authoritarian or even violent. Even if it feels hard to relate to your dad, chances are he has had a deep and lasting influence over you, which will be especially significant when you become a father yourself. Some men feel very strongly that, (though they love them) they don’t want to be like their own father. Even so there will probably be elements of him within your parenting style. Conflicted or mixed up feelings are common for parents, especially at times of stress and can get in the way of good parenting.
It can be useful to think about your father’s attitudes and the role modelling he provided for you. Ask yourself “what did I learn from my father about…”:
– having and communicating feelings?
– how to manage disagreements/ conflict?
– work/ family?
– how to play?
– how to love?
To express your feelings without hurting others and to offer children your love without making demands in return will teach children about secure, loving relationships. Balancing a meaningful career with family, shows children that contributing to society through work is enriching and rewarding but does not take priority over family. However badly they behave never show aggression or contempt for your child’s other parent, you are hurting your child when you attack those who they love. In addition you are showing your daughter that it’s ok for men to behave like that towards her, when she grows up. You’re teaching your son nothing about how men can manage relationships in a healthy way.
It can be quite confusing and sometimes upsetting to reflect on the parenting we experienced within our own families and so often we tend to bury such memories when we grow up. When we become parents ourselves such thoughts and feelings can resurface, perhaps in a way which is hard to recognise or make sense of. When people find themselves having overwhelming emotions or behaving in ways that seem out of proportion to a situation, it can be a strong indication that deeper feelings have been triggered, from earlier life and that these feelings are being somehow transferred onto a current situation.
When you ‘lose it’ with your infuriating toddler/ teen, do you find yourself shutting down, getting into a tit-for-tat confrontation, shouting ‘because I say so!’ at them, even using threats, swear words or fear and yet at the same time demanding ‘respect’? All parents do it at times – going down a road they totally disapprove of and were determined not to choose, even though they know it is damaging to their children. This is often, though not always due to the earlier experiences they had as children with their own parents. It could be very important to try and work the complicated tangle of feelings and memories through, especially if you are getting stuck in a pattern of responding to your children in a negative way. It may help to talk to your siblings to share memories of your experiences growing up, or if possible your parents and grandparents about the family and their ideas around parenting.
Most parents at some time feel stretched to breaking point by their parental responsibility, mainly when your child’s behaviour is at its most challenging. For some it is the early days after the birth that seem the most difficult, for others it can be the toddler stage, very often it is the teenage years that provoke the strongest feelings in parents. Men and women are equally susceptible to periods of doubt or despair when it comes to raising children, but often it is fathers who lack the network of other parents to turn to for peer support. Of course ideally your partner or ex will be the main source of support as you co-parent through the difficult times. However this might not always feel right for you, especially in the case of a difficult separation. There are some good books and websites out there and local Children’s Centres can offer advice or specific father’s groups and activities. Alternatively counselling can give you an opportunity to explore your fathering and current difficulties in the light of past experiences, so that you can be freed up psychologically to be the best dad possible.
First published 17th June, 2012