I posed the question to dads across the country: “If you could go back in time and advise your younger self about dad-hood, what would you say to him?”
I received very thoughtful answers, however, one reply was consistently mentioned.
Love and respect one’s parenting partner.
Be a co-equal partner.
Neil C. is a Brooklyn, N.Y. father of two children, ages 12 and 9. He is one of the most interesting dads I’ve had the honor of sharing a phone call with. His progressive, open, and honest perspective about raising kids in this world of abundant social media is refreshing. When discussing the parenting role of dads, he had this to say:
“My advice for new dads is to commit yourself to being a co-equal parent. That’s harder than you think, and I know a lot of dudes who set out to do this, but bailed when the going got rough. And when I say bailed, I don’t mean that they took off and left their families in the lurch. It’s almost always more subtle (and I know because I’ve done all of these myself at one time or another). You find an excuse to arrive home from work after the hard work of feeding, bathing, and bedding down is done. You find an excuse to run an errand instead of changing diapers. You pass your crying infant off to your wife a little sooner than you need to because, comforting a wailing baby sucks.
But if you bail on the scut work, you also miss out on the small moments of joy and connection that make it all worthwhile: Watching your daughter smile and play with her toes while you change her diaper. Finally getting your crying infant son to go to sleep after endless rocking and shushing.
Being a 50/50 partner will also make your relationship better with your wife/partner during one of the most stressful times of your lives together. You don’t have to split everything down the middle (I do all the cooking and grocery shopping, but I couldn’t even tell you where the vacuum cleaner is), but you do need to make an effort to balance it out in the end.
If both you and your wife feel like you’re doing 60% of the work, you’re probably on the right path.”
Well said, Neil. Well said.
Put your wife first.
Andy T. from Texas commented,
“As great as it is being a dad, resist the urge to put your kids first. Always put your wife first. Having a strong marriage is the best thing you can do for your children. Being a good husband is harder than being a good dad, but it’s the most important part of being a good dad. Make it your top priority.”
Show your wife respect and love.
Kent V. from Ohio echoed the sentiment, but with a different take.
“Your boys will watch how you treat their mom. Show her respect and love. Make them a part of random acts of kindness for her. They will grow into kind, respectful men.”
Teach by example.
“Respect is best earned by teaching and example, not berating and commands. While the latter may produce the appearance of fostering “respect”, that type is born of fear, not admiration. It may some day be replaced by contempt,” according to Peter S. of Illinois, father of two grown children.
Take care of your family.
From a spiritual perspective, Chris P. of Illinois reminisced about his grandfather’s wise words.
“Being a great spouse reminds me of what my Grandfather’s saying was. In Greek it’s a bit better sounding but here’s the gist of it: GOD•HEALTH•FAMILY. He said you can’t take care of your family without your health, and you can’t have your health without God in your life.“
Dads have a unique parenting opportunity.
Young children learn how to regard women by observing how the men in their lives model that behavior. Children also learn how to be a parenting partner by these same observations. Iconic leaders who make headlines disrespecting women’s intellect, making lewd and disrespectful sexual comments and the minimal repercussions of men who are convicted of raping women set a very poor example for boys and men. Reports of campus rape are alarming.
Dads have a unique parenting role when addressing consequential issues. Society often views men as the “tough, silent type” who must hide their emotions. That narrative must change – and it must change now. Contemporary Fatherhood must reflect contemporary expectations of raising children with tolerance and respect for all people. Children learn behavior from birth, and their first teachers and role models are their parents.
It may not always be easy to find the right words when talking to kids, but it is always the right opportunity to model loving, kind, respectful behavior towards others.
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Happy Father’s Day!