Dad skills made simple
What makes a father a good dad? It’s important to outline the distinction between just being a father and truly winning at being a dad. A good dad is supportive, nurturing, and strong. But is that all?
Being a Dad can be stressful, especially when you’re trying to balance financial, marital, societal, and parenting responsibilities. Mothers have a difficult time, too. However, the purpose of this discussion is to find ways that fathers can reduce stress and be happier in their role as parents.
Surprisingly, a recent study conducted through Penn State in 2019 found that dads were actually less stressed and less tired than moms. According to the author of the study, that’s because most of the activities between fathers and their children were recreational in nature and not based solely on the day-to-day needs of the child.
The results of the study were rather controversial and might leave many fathers scratching their heads. Even Cadhla McDonnell, a key author the Penn State study, admitted that their findings were inconclusive. McDonnell “it’s impossible to say from our data whether this is the result of personal choices or whether it’s a reaction to outside forces like job demands.”
Fatherhood isn’t easy and being the best dad ever takes more than just a few trips to the local park with junior. Most men simply hide their emotional and mental stress from their partners. To be the strong, stable provider they often neglect to provide themselves with an outlet to vent their own frustrations.
Is the key better activities? Better work/life balance? or something different all together?
We reached out to Dr. Mark Schillinger, who is an expert on successful parenting practices for fathers, in order to gain greater clarity on how fathers relate to stress. His initial response was “In my 20+ years of mentoring fathers to become heartful and cooperative caregivers, I have learned that nothing will help a father better than learning how to control his stress levels quickly and consistently.”
“This is achieved by teaching fathers how to do simple, effective mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques the moment they feel overwhelmed, even if it means doing a technique right in front of their coworker, spouse or child.”
If you’re new to the concept of mindfulness you’re not alone. Many men have heard the term tossed around on social media feeds, but never learned how it can benefit them directly. Simply put, mindfulness is being aware of how you relate to the present moment. It’s the art of tuning out apprehensions about the future, regrets from the past, and dialing into what’s happening in the here and now.
Dr. Schillinger goes on to say, “within 10 or 15 seconds, a father can lower his adrenaline and cortisol levels and replace those hormones with endorphins, which quickly relaxes his mind and body. Once calm, the father is then able to carefully choose what he wants to say or do, based on the values that he knows are the most important to communicate.”
What Are Other Ways You Can Win at Being Dad?
Leave Work at Work
One of the best ways you can win at being a dad is to place a higher value on your family time than work time. It goes without saying that you’ll be expected to provide your family, but you should never get so bogged down in working that you neglect your children.
Try to avoid unnecessary overtime. Sometimes, men try to impress their boss and co-workers by signing up for extra duties on the job. The dividends that you might receive for going the extra mile pale in comparison to what you’d gain by arriving home at a decent hour with the energy to pour love into your family.
Spend time with your children and ask them questions about their day. How was school? What did you have for lunch? Did you learn anything cool today?
It’s also important to follow up on issues that might have already occurred in your child’s life. Asking them a follow-up question about a difficult situation they’re facing shows them that you truly care and you’re with them, supporting them through the whole process.
Are things getting better with your girlfriend, son? Have you had any luck with learning those new plays from football practice? How did your teacher like the science project we worked on together?
Reach Out to Other Fathers
You don’t have to parent alone. There are other men, other fathers out there who might have more experience dealing with stressful issues that you’re currently facing. Use them as a resource. You can also get together and have organized special events where your kids play with their kids.
Becky Stuempfig is a licensed marriage & family therapist and she gave us some additional tips on how to tap into your community of likeminded fathers. She said, “my recommendation is that fathers spend more time on self-care and try to open up to other fathers about how they are feeling.”
“It may be easier to start with one trusted friend or family member. Someone that they feel safe with or suspect has gone through similar feelings. Sometimes all it takes is one person saying something to the effect of Do you ever just feel like you can’t keep up? and they may be surprised how many fathers feel the exact same pressures that they’ve been internalizing for so long. It can bring a great deal of relief knowing that you’re not alone.”
Moms often get together for book clubs, spa days, and shopping. Believe me fellas, they’re sharing parenting knowledge and helping each other through difficult problems. Men can do the same thing. We don’t have to do it at the shopping mall either. You could get a group of dads together and hit some balls at the baseball park. You’d be surprised at how therapeutic that could be for all of you.
Stuempfig goes on to say “I also recommend that fathers search for support groups for Dads. Thankfully, these groups have been growing lately and it’s possible there’s one in your area. These groups are great because if fathers do not feel comfortable opening up to friends and family, these groups can feel like a safe option and everything is kept confidential.”
Communicate with Your Child
Communication is important to any relationship, doubly important in your role as a dad. When you regularly talk and listen to your child, you strengthen the family bonds. When problems do arise, there’s already an established link between you and your child.
You don’t have to wait for your child to grow up either. You can sing and read to them at a very early age. In fact, this study published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics earlier this year found that when you read to your toddler they grow up to be less hyperactive and destructive. You also don’t need to result to harsh parenting tactics to enforce discipline when you read to your child regularly.
Awesome dads teach their children good values. You will never run out of opportunities to communicate these lessons to them. You can tell them a quick story while you’re having breakfast or make bedtime story time a nightly routine in your household. Your child will love the attention and time you’re giving them.
Communication will get more difficult as they grow older. Most dads find it difficult to get their teen to want to be in the same room as them, let alone have a conversation. In these cases, rely on routine. If you have dinner together every Sunday, then this can give you an opportunity for some much-needed face time.
Summing Things Up
Forget the research and the scientific studies for a moment. It’s difficult to be an awesome dad. Period. You might see a photo of your buddy on social media with a big smile on his face, hugging his wife and children and think that they’ve got it all figured out. The truth is – you could take that same photo. Do you have everything figured out?
It’s time to get real with each other. If you want to win at being a dad, then you must admit that sometimes you’re stressed out of your mind. Take the time to take good care of yourself, for yourself and for the sake of your family. Being a great dad at home is a big job. So, leave work at the office and clock in when you get home. Be present and mindful of their needs.
Communicate with your children and reach out to other fathers. Tell your children how you feel and lead by example. They’re always listening even when they’re rolling their eyes and have headphones jammed up their ears. They’re still watching and listening. They want you to be an awesome dad. Now, hit one out of the park for them.