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I admit that when my daughter was born in 2001, I wasn’t one of the most involved dads. I feared becoming a father, mostly because I was only 21 years old but also because I was afraid of the crushing responsibility. The birth of a child is often joyous, but there is always the underlying awareness that now everything has changed.
A little over a year ago, a friend about my same age became a father for the first time. He was determined to be involved, but breastfeeding made him feel left out. Madison’s mother and I went through a similar struggle, and I remember the crippling feeling of uselessness when I could do nothing to help her feed the baby. In his case, my friend walked the floor with his wailing daughter after she’d nursed, crying along with her as she resisted sleep.
It is especially important during infancy to ensure that parents are working together. My friend and his wife alternated sleeping schedules so that one of them would always be fresh and “on call” for parent-duty. In my case, Madison’s mother and I would often begrudge each other time away from the child or criticize each other’s developing parenting styles. The key for involved dads is that they make sure that they are supportive and not challenging the mom to a game of parenting-chicken.
As children grow into toddlers and older, dads tend to be involved with their children in ways that differ from the moms. There is no hard, fast rule that clearly defines the role of a father, so instead we dads have to play to our strengths. In the above example, my friend got involved in the only way he could at that time, which was basically to give his wife a break. As children get older, instead of focusing on specific “fatherly activities,” a father can focus on the general needs of the child.
Still, it takes work. Parents must be able to collaborate on a unified approach to parenting rather than debate individual parenting styles. You have to communicate with each other and your child as he or she ages.
As your child develops into the young adult he will be, being involved can also mean reserving judgment and allowing your child to make his own mistakes. That doesn’t mean just standing back. Involved dads (and moms) will often see these mistakes unfold and are there to step in to help when their child needs them.
Do you ever feel as if you are not involved enough in your children’s lives? Tell us below!