It is never too early to begin to think about Father’s Day — at least for me! Within the next month or so, I’ll celebrate both the birthdays and Father’s Days for my husband and my dad. But perhaps more importantly, I’ll begin the annual countdown of reminding my children that it is a good idea to celebrate their father and grandfather on these days. And they have lots to celebrate.
Fathers play an extremely important role in the lives of their children. Research indicates that fathers who are actively and positively engaged in the lives of their sons and daughters can have an impact on everything from their children’s social interactions with others to their physical health. Fathers who are actively and positively engaged with their children have children who are better prepared to start school and are more successful academically. Their sons are less likely to get into trouble and their daughters are more likely to have a positive self-image and be more ambitious in their careers.
So what does it mean to be “actively and positively engaged” with your children if you are a father? It is about what you do, what you say, and what you model for them. When fathers are actively and positively engaged with their children, they spend time with their kids. That means they read to them, play with them and interact with them in developmentally appropriate ways. Some fathers may volunteer to be coaches of sports teams, Sunday school teachers or volunteer in their children’s classrooms. Other fathers may not be able to do those things but still find ways to be with their children in positive ways — talking on the phone, reviewing the day’s activities, having a meal together, playing a board game — there are many ways to actively and positively engage with your children, even if your time with them is limited by custody arrangements or work commitments.
Being actively and positively engaged with your children is also about what you say — what you say to them, about them and in their hearing. Children need to hear their parents say “I love you” and “I’m proud of you.” They need to hear their parents talk with other adults in ways that clearly reflect and respect their children’s worth and dignity as human beings. Children need honesty from their parents, but honesty that is given with compassion and love. And parents need to say “I’m sorry” to their children when they make mistakes.
Finally, being actively and positively engaged with your children means that you must model for them the behavior you expect of them — or that you expect them to grow into. Children need to see their parents interact with others in ways that are respectful and civil. That means parents must behave respectfully and civilly to fast-food workers, shop-keepers, youth sport coaches, neighbors and yes, to their children’s other parent. And when your children see you behaving in ways that are less than admirable — and they certainly will — you need to acknowledge your mistakes, talk with your kids about what might help make the situation right, and then work to make it right and talk with them about that.
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Our kids don’t need us, mothers or fathers, to be perfect. They need us to be present. They need us to be actively and positively engaged in their lives as they grow to be adults — hopefully, adults who will remember to send their dad a card on Father’s Day.