By Bev and Phil Haas
Looking back on my childhood, my mom was around a lot but my dad wasn’t. He worked hard for long hours and had little energy left when he came home. I appreciate that he provided for us, but I wish he had spent more time with us. Now that I’m a dad, I want to make sure I’m involved with my kids. Do you have any advice on how I can keep from repeating my dad’s mistake?
Becoming aware of a problem is huge. The fact that you see the gap in your dad’s involvement—and appreciate what your dad did offer—when you were growing up and want to fill that gap with your kids is a big first step to being an involved dad.
Kids Need Their Dad
Decades of research has proven what should be obvious to everyone: the more involved a dad is, the more successful his children will be. The dad effect starts as early as birth. Studies by the Father Involvement Research Alliance show that babies with more involved dads are more likely to be emotionally secure and eager to explore their surroundings. As they grow, they are more sociable. Toddlers with involved dads are better problem-solvers and have higher IQs by age 3. They are more ready to start school and can deal with the stress of being away from home all day better than children with less involved dads.
At school, children of involved dads do better academically and are also less likely to have behavior problems. Girls with involved dads have higher self-esteem and teenage girls who are close to their dads are less likely to become pregnant. Boys show less aggression and more self-direction. As young adults, children of involved dads are more likely to achieve higher levels of education, find success in their careers, and experience psychological well-being.
Adults who had involved dads are more likely to be tolerant and understanding, have supportive social networks made up of close friends, and have long-term successful marriages. We hope we’ve made it obvious that when dads are involved in the lives of their children, their involvement can have a lasting and positive impact.
A Good Dads Needs Practice
Dads are just as capable as moms of loving and being involved with their children. But a lot of dads worry that they don’t know how to be a good parent or that they’ll do something wrong. The truth is, being a good dad comes with practice.
• Be engaged in everyday activities. A study by Brigham Young University researchers found that involvement in everyday activities, such as eating dinner together, tossing a ball in the yard, and playing video games, are even more important than big outings or trips. Dads and children in the study experienced more satisfaction and cohesion in their family when dads were involved in simple, everyday activities. Dads’ involvement in the routine, small activities held more weight than the large, out-of-the-ordinary types of activities. Involved dads find snippets of time every day to engage with their kids.
• Be there at every stage. In study after study, kids consistently say they would like to have more time with their dads. Kids want to know their dads and they want their dads to know them. Be there throughout their childhood. Trying toddler, probing preschooler, challenging child, awkward adolescent—each age will have its troubles and rewards. Every stage in a child’s life counts. Research has shown that even infants know and respond to their dads differently than they do to their mothers. The bond you make with a baby sets the foundation for a lifetime. As the kids get older, they’ll need you in different ways, but they will always need you.
• Be a role model. Both boys and girls need Dad as a role model for what it means to be adult and male and Christian. Your kids are observing you every minute! They are taking in how you treat others, how you manage stress and frustrations, and how you fulfill your obligations. Consciously or not, boys will tend to become like their dads and girls will look for a man very much like their dad. Give them an example of manhood (and Christianity) you can be proud of.
One last thing—as you practice being a good dad, you won’t be perfect. But don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The Bible is clear that dads are to be involved with their children (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). Your kids will remember you being there more than any blunders. So do everything you can to be involved with your kids.
Bev and Phil Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They have two children and four grandsons. Send your questions about family life to Bev and Phil Haas in care of The Lookout (firstname.lastname@example.org). We regret that personal replies are not always possible.