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Most research on child rearing has focused on the mother/child relationship, relegating fathers to the proverbial backseat. Yet, the few studies that do exist on the role of fathers underscore their importance.
When fathers function as active parents, the studies show, their children tend to be more self-confident. They are more adaptable, outgoing, and independent. They possess better social skills, exhibit fewer behavior problems, and do better in school. As teens, these kids are less likely to have problems with sex, drugs, or alcohol than children whose dads sit on the sidelines.
The operative concept in these studies is fathers who are actively involved. My wife, Willie, and I had to learn that the hard way.
For a time when our children were young, I served merely as a parenting aide. Like a classroom in which there is a teacher and a teacher's aide, our home had a real, honest-to-goodness parent -- my wife -- and her parenting aide -- me.
I would come home from work in the late afternoon to find Willie (a) exhausted from taking care of children all day long, (b) at the end of her rope concerning the children's antics, (c) mad at me for being at work during the day, or (d) all of the above.
Sensing imminent homicide, I'd put down my briefcase and say, "Just tell me what to do, honey." The parenting aide can't figure things out for himself.
Even when Willie went out, I retained the role of aide. We said I was "baby-sitting" or just "sitting." But when Willie was alone with the children, we said she was home with the children.
The parenting aide just stays with the kids every now and then to give their real parent a break. When the children asked me for something, I'd say, "Go ask your mother." When there were teacher conferences, Willie attended and gave me a report.
Written by - John Rosemond Illustrator - Steve Bjorkman
When I finally realized what had been going on in our family, I saw that many, if not most, fathers were in the same state of affairs. It was the fault of neither dads nor moms, but it was -- and is -- something that only dads and moms working together can remedy:
Put your marriage first. Willie and I started spending more time with one another than we did with the children. "One big happy family" took a backseat to just the two of us doing things together. I now call this "benign neglect."
Become a husband-and-wife parenting team. Willie began saying, "Wait until your father gets home." That told our children that we made most decisions together, whether it was a matter of a child wanting to go to the movies or needing to be punished.
Agree to disagree. When a decision had to be made on the spot, the parent on the spot made the decision. If we disagreed, we discussed it privately, but the decision stood. This brought me off the sidelines onto the playing field. My relationship with the kids became more active and relaxed.
Limit after-school activities. We trimmed activities to no more than one per week and began requiring the kids to find creative ways of occupying their own time, rather than doing a lot of things for them.