7 Steps to Effective Fathering
The role of father became marginalized as men moved their work from the farm to the factory. An availability and presence faded from the fields and the rap-around porches, as fathers picked up lunch pails in place of shovels and plows. As a man’s emotional involvement in the home diminished, more and more parental responsibilities went to his partner, making her the primary parent and him the secondary one. The secondary parent typically is relegated to providing the financial support. Because of job restraints, fathers may not be able to devote as much time and energy as they would like to, to parenting. This is also true of mothers who take on full time jobs. However, what they can do is become clear about what it means to mindfully carry their authority which will enrich their ability to father.
1) Step one is to remain corrective as we see ourselves abdicating authority or abusing it. We can think of holding authority as in some way being the author of a portion of our children’s experience. We help create their childhoods. When we abdicate we are authoring too little in the way of guidelines, consequences, limits, encouragement and time for activities and conversation. When we abuse authority we are authoring too much in the way being demanding, and utilizing shame, blame and physical punishment.
2) Step two is allowing children to learn from the logical consequences of their choices (logical consequences are the emotional and behavioral reactions of others) and from natural consequences such as getting cold or wet because of being inappropriately dressed. I learned a great deal about logical consequences years ago when my 15-year-old daughter came home from school, announcing that she planned to shave her head. Her mother and I responded in shock as we imagined her losing the beautiful, thick chestnut hair that hung halfway down her back. I asked her to give us 24 hours to respond to her plan, to which she agreed. I feverishly made calls to friends and colleagues detailing my dilemma, as her mother implored me to put a stop to the scalping. By the next morning I was clear that shaving her head was not dangerous and that her mother and I were more attached to her hair than she was. At exactly 24 hours from her original announcement, she returned to hear us announce, “Jenny, your mother and I love your hair and it is your hair. Feel free to do what you think is best.” Jenny returned 30 minutes later, sporting a cue ball for a hairdo. By the end of the week she reported receiving unfavorable feedback (Logical consequences)from her friends regarding her new look.
3)Step three is remaining aware of deferring to the primary parent.Very often the mother is the primary parent who is responsible for visits to the pediatrician, dentist, school meetings, as well as being in charge of diet and wardrobe. It is critical for children to view parents as a team, making divisiveness a less attractive strategy employed by the children.
4) The fourth step is the employment of effective boundaries. There are four expressions of effective boundaries: 1) Letting children know what behavior is unacceptable and the consequences of enacting such behavior, 2) Saying “no” to requests that you believe will either interfere with family life or be detrimental to the welfare of the child. 3) Time and space for individual family members to have their own separate experience. Doors on bathrooms and bedrooms send this message. 4) Emotional boundaries that send the message, “We are here to be mutually supportive and we are not responsible for one another’s happiness.”
5) The fifth step is to let go of your child’s choices as a reflection of who you are. A child’s life achievements or lack of are not statements about our parental competency. The father’s goal is to let go of who he believes his child should be and deepen a curiosity about who the child actually is.
6)The sixth step is to actively live your heart’s desire. It’s too easy to get custodial when we father, allowing the practical matters of fathering to be prioritized. Fathers have the power to model what it means to be actively living what they love. This may be the greatest of all paternal offerings. When this model is absent, children are shown how to ignore where their hearts may be calling them, and slip into the mediocrity of a social role.
7)The seventh step is to ask for help. Holding authority mindfully is a significant challenge, calling of constant modifications in response to the changing developmental needs and unique learning styles of our children. Fathers need to be willing to grow with their children, remaining curious about what will best serve their families.
In the past several years I have encountered numerous young fathers who are devotionally committed to their children. These men are willing to make mistakes, learn from their stumblings, remaining resolved to hold authority in a way that encourages children to be responsible, value themselves and contribute to the life of the family.