First, a disclaimer: Some moms or birth parents choose to be single parents and others don’t get much choice in the matter. This post is absolutely not intended to discredit, cast judgment, or make any single mother or birth parent feel bad about their circumstances or decisions. I strongly believe that we as parents are the best qualified people to make the right choices for us and our families and sometimes that means doing it without a partner. Single parents, whether by choice or chance, truly are superheroes. This post is written purely with the intent to encourage the fathers or birth partners who are involved (or have the opportunity and the will to be involved) to understand their significance and to celebrate their roles.
Last week, in anticipation of Father’s Day, I talked on the blog about ways that dads can get involved during those first few weeks after baby comes home.
This week, I want to continue the conversation about dads by looking at the bigger picture: Why dads matter so much and why the experience of fatherhood is so profound.
By now, we’ve all probably heard some statistic or another about how kids are likely to perform better in school, live more healthfully, be better behaved, and grow up to be more successful in life. You also may or may not know that the relationship the father has with the mother of his child can have significant impacts on her chances of postpartum depression after baby arrives. (If you’re curious about the data for these claims, check this out. And also these.)
So, we all know that dads matter. But sometimes it can be hard to know what exactly dad’s role should be, when it seems like all a baby or child needs is a mom.
A big piece of this is how you and your partner want your roles to be divided, and that is something that is totally up to you. Maybe you and your partner agree that dad should be the stay-at-home parent. Or, maybe mom stays home and dad works full-time. Or, any other arrangement in-between. You have to take into consideration your financial, lifestyle, and emotional needs and figure out what works best for your family.
But, if you’re feeling like mom is the one that provides all the basic needs and baby’s sense of security, then you might be wondering what’s left for you.
It might be helpful to know that in many traditions, it is believed that the mom provides the sense of security and sense of self, and the dad shows the child how to move about the world. What does this mean? This is huge, really. This means that dads (or co-parents) have the opportunity to show their kids how the world works, how they can interact with the world (with others, with nature, etc.), how they can use their ambition and their empathy, how justice works, how they can keep themselves safe, what is expected of them, and so on. (Again, these mom/dad roles can be flip-flopped, blurred, tag-teamed or any other kind of combination you can come up with. None of this is inherently gendered or set in stone.)
This is why it’s so important for parents to find ways to integrate their children into the activities that they already love, rather than just completely changing their lifestyles for their kids. Yes, some things have to change--maybe fewer happy hours after work. But, if you love hiking or or camping, why not strap the baby to your back and go for it? If you love basketball, why not bring your kid along? You might have to go a little slower or make the activity a bit shorter than you’d like, but this will not just do you some good to continue doing the things you love--it will also do some good for your kids.
Another way dads can teach kids about the world is through play. Just take this classic dad activity as an example:
But also, I think another piece that can sometimes get left out of the discussion is: What will parenthood do for YOU? Yes, dad is an important figure in a child’s life. But, dad, have you thought about what fatherhood will do for you? How profound it will be for you? This is just as important.
Maybe you’ve already daydreamed about this stuff or maybe fatherhood is never something you thought would happen to you in a million years. Either way, it’s bound to leave an impression on you. Parenthood can change your outlook on life, shift your priorities, chip away at your ego, and so much more. (But I'll let you be the expert on that part.)
In the last week, I spoke to some real dads who are rocking at this parenting thing. I asked them what the best part of parenthood was....
Just check out all the funny and sweet things they had to say:
Not sure there is a better feeling than your child on your hip, an arm around your neck, and a head on your shoulder. - Jon Mayer
Bathroom using is cool. I like it when they yell to announce that they have to go while also naming the specific function. It's even more fun when they get amazed by the size of what they dropped off. "Thas'a BIG BOO-BOO!" - Dewan Gibson
Either the smile on his face when I come into his room in the morning to get him out of bed or the proud look on his face when he learns something new and succeeds doing it himself. - Andy Kalies
My favorite thing is just hanging out with them. A simple trip to the park to watch them laugh, smile and play. I don't have an endless supply of money. But, I do have time. That's something I'll give to them, always. - Josh Hodapp
Being able to be there for my kids for anything they need. I love that Lilly [my oldest] knows that I'm always there for her if she needs someone to rely on. With Violet [my youngest] specifically, she can feel safe in my arms and protected no matter how scared or upset she may be. Providing calm for them. - Jim Stephens
The best part of being a dad is when my kid brings out the best in other people. People light up around her. Strangers have given the coat off their backs and had opened up some pretty deep stories of losing their own children when I’m out with her in public--on the bus or train especially. - David Melendez
Watching all their accomplishments and them growing into the awesome human beings they are. They make me so proud to be their dad. If there's anything I've done right in this world is my two kids. I don't know what I'd do without them. - Justin Stevens
Dads, I want to hear from you. What’s the best part of being a parent for you? If you’re a dad-to-be, what are you most looking forward to? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
And if you want to share more of your story, consider participating in my Dads Interviews Project, where you can share your best tips and impressions to help other dads (and moms!) everywhere understand what they can expect and how they can feel connected.