How Mums Can Help Dads Be Really Engaged Parents

The Fatherhood Institute report that dads are more involved with children than ever before – in childcare and in housework, spending about the same amount of time at weekends as mothers on reading, playing and talking with their children. This is great news, as many studies have shown that when a dad is involved in his children’s lives they have better educational, developmental, health and social outcomes. However, at The Parent Practice we hear from mothers regularly about how difficult it can be to engage fathers with parenting matters or to have a consistent approach toward parenting, and this can be a huge source of frustration.

My husband’s business is his priority; the children take a back seat”

 “My husband is often very negative to the kids saying “don’t do that” “stop that now”, “no shouting”, whilst he’s shouting himself at the kids!

 “I try so hard to get my parenting right and be positive, and he undoes all my efforts.”

 If mums are doing more of the child-caring there is a risk that they can take over the parenting and assume (or have thrust upon them) an ‘expert’ role with which dads can go along. If dads feel disempowered or less expert they may withdraw altogether so it’s important that mums appreciate their efforts even if they are doing things differently from how she would do it.

Mums and dads often take on different roles with kids. Sometimes mums do a lot of the caring for children but don’t actually play with them while dads can be a great playmate. This can mean that dad is seen as the fun guy and mum the disciplinarian which she might resent. When mums play with babies and young children their games are more visual and verbal, while dads are more physical. There’s much that is good about both styles and children benefit from both.  Consider what would each do/say when watching a little boy climb up a climbing frame or tree?

Dads typically say “Go on, you can do it. Well done, reach for it.”

Some Mums might say “Be careful, watch where you put your feet, take your time.”

Fathers tend to foster independence and encourage adventure. Mothers are generally caretakers and teachers and are often more cautious. Men do bring a different ‘expertise’ to parenting and mums need to acknowledge this and also consider how they can ensure dad feels fulfilled in his role.

Here are a few ideas to help dads be more involved

  • Dads are more likely to be involved when they feel they’re doing a good job -acknowledge them for all their positive parenting input but especially for spending time with the children e.g. Thanks for coming home early and minding the children while I went out. It was great to see you had fed everyone and read stories (even if the house is a tip when you get back).
  • Get dads to do more of what they are good at as dads have unique qualities that they need to be appreciated for. What is your children’s father good at or interested in? It could be their passion for rugby or patience in teaching children how to ride a bike. Get them to do more of these things to inspire them and the children.
  • Schedule time for dads to play with the kids. It is a strength for them. Get dads to encourage a healthy attitude to competition – have rules around rough play. When playing board games, model a good attitude to losing.
  • Encourage dads to do practical things around the house such as cooking or hanging out the washing. It’s good modelling for the children, stimulates their interest in those activities, includes dad as part of the team and leaves more time for fun.
  • Use descriptive praise to reward his efforts e.g. “I really appreciate it when you remember to put the rubbish out/empty the dishwasher,” rather than pointing out the soggy bath mat on the floor. “Can’t you ever wipe down a surface?” Doesn’t motivate anyone!
  • Don’t expect perfection in parenting skills either for dads or yourself. Increase his awareness of the skills by giving small chapters of our book Real Parenting for Real Kids to read; it’s less likely to feel like nagging or be overwhelming. Praise his willingness to read/listen. When we are criticised while parenting ‘in the moment’ we can feel undermined and de-motivated.
  • Take the children to visit dad at work; get dads to talk about their world and what they do when they go away from the family. Encourage dads to phone at a regular time when away from the home to make them feel included and to let children know their dad is thinking of them.
  • Achieve a united front on matters of discipline by scheduling regular time together to discuss child-related issues e.g. strategies for training children to dress themselves or what to do when they have a tantrum. Focus on solutions more than the problem and keep track of progress by writing it down. Find a workable compromise for areas where you don’t have the same values e.g. How much screen time should children have? Always validate your partner’s point of view, especially if it is different from your own. Remember that he also wants the best for the children.
  • Show by your example how the skills/approach you’re using are working. Concede that you used to do it differently but that hadn’t worked and point out how the new approach is more successful.
  • Use “I feel” statements rather than “You never, you always” when you have a difference of opinion.
  • Remember less is more when communicating with dads. Sometimes emails or notes work better than direct speech.

Elaine Halligan is London Director of The Parent Practice, an organisation that enables parents to bring out the best in their children

www.theparentpractice.com

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