The Unique Contribution of Dads

More and more dads are becoming deeply involved with a hands-on type of parenting. That’s terrific because, Dads, you make a very unique contribution to your children that their moms can’t make. Dads across America have told me how wonderful it feels to be a part of those very special moments with their kids and how satisfying it is when they share something very personal and intimate.  But if you ever question how valuable you really are to your kids; if you ever struggle with taking the extra time to be with them or wonder whether they really want or need you, read on.

Here are some of the very unique ways you give to your children:

1. The Beige Couch

One dad said that he just tries to be a beige couch. He wanted to be around in the background—just there—so they would get accustomed to him and be comfortable with him. Not intruding into his kids’ lives, but rather accepting—enjoying them and their conversations with friends. Not judgmental or critical, but positive and accepting. His kids came to trust him as supportive and helpful. When they had questions, confusions or troubles, they knew he’d be there for them. Not flashing red in intensity, not black in anger, but beige like a comfortable couchalways there and ready to fill in wherever they needed. So one thing dads can do is to be a beige couch.

2. A Rock of Stability and Security

The world is moving at breakneck speed. Everything changes. Technology changes by the minute. Friends come and go. Your kids themselves are changing and they need something that is rooted. Something grounded that they can count on. Dads, you have a very special position of being a rock of stability and security for your kids. They need your constancy more than you can ever know.

3. Firm but Respectful Discipline

Kids need discipline—but not the kind that comes from your need to have power and control over them, because you win the battle but lose the war. These tactics don’t work. When they’re young it looks like you have power. But when they get older they’ll figure it out—that you can’t follow alongside of them whispering instructions in their ear and forcing them to do things your way. You just don’t have 100% control—not ever. In the end, your kids give you permission to discipline them. They actually give you permission to have authority over them. And why do they do that? Because over the years, through the constancy of your relationship with them, you have proven to them that you’re fair, you’re not capricious or frivolous and you do have their best interests at heart. So even though they may disagree, get angry or temporarily disappointed, they give you permission to discipline them because they trust and respect you. And if you don’t think you need that permission, you’re in for a wild ride—and it’s a ride filled with disobedience, power struggles, rebellion, chaos and endless nightmares.

So you can be firm. They need an external structure to hold them up while they’re growing their own internal structure. But always discipline them from the base of sensitivity, thoughtfulness and respect.

4. The Appropriate Show of Feelings by a Man

Feelings are normal. We all feel them all the time. There are no bad feelings and no one is bad for feeling kind of emotion. Kids need to learn how to deal with and to express feelings because not being comfortable with your emotions can prevent you from good friendships, having an intimate relationship, and dealing well with problems at work. It can prevent you from being emotionally healthy and can even cause physical problems. So, Dads, your unique contribution is that you can teach your kids how men can share feelings too. Not just anger and not just happiness, but fear, anxiety, confusion, sadness and disappointment. Not in a way to frighten them that you’re out of control, but to let them know that their feelings are ok and you will accept them in your family—that your container is big enough to handle all their feelings that come up. You want them to know that both you and they can express any feeling you have but that you all do it appropriately so it doesn’t dump on anyone and it doesn’t hurt anyone.

5. Respect and Appreciation for Women

As dads you also have a unique opportunity to model for your children how healthy men treat women. There are a lot of unhealthy examples out there and it will benefit them greatly to watch you treat their mom or step-mom with dignity and respect, to show appreciation for what she does and to partner with her in household tasks, business decisions and child care. To laugh with her, to enjoy her and to be loving to her—these are all great modeling behaviors for both daughters and sons.

There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. No dad—or mom—does the “right” thing every time. Fortunately, that’s ok. The important thing is to stay connected to your kids and to create a safe haven for them so they talk with you and listen to you—even during the tough times. Dads, your contribution to your kids is invaluable, so kudos to you for stepping up to the plate, for being available and involved in their daily lives in a caring and meaningful way.

By Joanne Stern, Ph.D.

Joanne Stern, Ph.D, is a psychotherapist with a private practice emphasizing family and couples counseling. She’s a teacher, consultant, speaker, and expert guest on parenting and family topics, including communication, discipline, self-esteem, addictions, eating disorders, grief, and loss. In 2002, she also became an EEG neurofeedback practitioner to address a variety of childhood disorders, including attention deficit disorder, anxiety, and depression.