Dad Time

June 1, 2019 | by anna rogers

photo courtesy of Amy Bunting

As a mom, there is something so beautiful about watching my children with their dad. I love the way their faces light up when he comes home, and the way he so diligently seeks to maximize his weeknight time with them. I love watching my daughter’s eyes get big with excitement while he explains something new and hearing the way my son laughs an altogether different laugh when dad is the one tickling him.

Sometimes I roll my eyes with annoyance that he doesn’t do things the way I do. He plays, teaches, and corrects in his own style. It isn’t contrary to my style, just different. And isn’t that what makes this whole parenting thing so wonderful? We are each uniquely suited to be our children’s parents, and those precious moments with dad are shaping each of them into their own unique selves.

Time spent with dad is vital to our children, and dads knowing their kids is enriching and life-giving. Between work schedules and weekend projects, it can be tough for dads to satisfy all the commitments of work and home while still getting consistent, quality time with their kids. With so many constraints on dad’s time, it’s important to facilitate and prioritize quality time for these father-and-child interactions that are foundational components of a happy and healthy family.

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel!

The good news is, kids just want to be with dad. There is no plan or agenda required, and often a lack of schedule and structure yields a deeper relational connection. Leave room for imagination, conversation, and good old-fashioned play.

“What’s your favorite thing to do with dad?” I asked my daughter.

“Just play outside,” she replied.

“Play, physical activity, and being outdoors creates an understanding of limits, i.e. how intense I should be during play/physical activity and what my capacity and interests are.”Dustin Lehman

Lean on traditional activities like playing in the backyard, taking a walk, or throwing a ball together. Try to get outdoors, especially if you’re a dad whose job keeps you inside. 

Cater to each child individually… but share your interests with them too!

The more time intentionally spent with kids, the more dads get to know each child’s unique interests and strengths. Be willing to adjust the plan if things aren’t going well, and don't be discouraged if something fun for your child last year is no longer of interest.

Often kids love what dad loves. Be transparent and share your interests with your kids. Let them see your passion and energy and pass on your knowledge and expertise.

Quality time can’t be rushed.

An overscheduled lifestyle – rushing from activity to activity, eating dinner on the road – limits family time. If this is the norm and not the exception in your family, it might be time to re-evaluate and try to work in some valuable time just for dad and kids.

Set aside a weekend with no plans. Simplify your weeknights. Soak in the moments and leave room for questions, emotions, and goofing off!

Moms: help facilitate, don’t dictate!

I am so guilty of this! In my attempt to be helpful, I’m hindering the experience. I go from “don’t forget to feed them dinner!” to labeling containers in the fridge with sticky notes and giving a dissertation on how to fix a meal.

Trust that dad has it covered and leave room for his own creativity and personality to shine through. Give him the space to be the one who tends to the scraped knee or answers the tough question.

One-on-one time is important.

If you have multiple children, ensure that each child is getting some one-on-one time with dad. This sets the stage for more in-depth conversations and a stronger connection. This dedicated time will create an environment that is safe for them to share what's going on in their life and get unique input from their father.

Dads are guideposts in the lives of their children. Nurturing a healthy and connected relationship between father and child will allow the child to build their life upon a solid, loving foundation.

Dustin Lehman, MS, LCPC, LMFT, of Northwest Counseling Center weighs in on the importance of dads and kids experiencing unique and intentional experiences together.

There has been quite a bit of research on the effects of father/father-figure involvement with children and the implications engaged fathers have with their children. Simply put, intentional and engaged fathers provide balance. They are also a resource for developing autonomy and individuation for children. While this dynamic is also present with engaged mothers, there are some differences. For example, babies know nothing other than being connected with their mothers when they're born. This is one reason why skin-to-skin contact is so essential after delivery. Fathers are familiar, yet separate. They offer the opportunity for expanded reality and attachment.

I remember when my wife was pregnant with our daughter; I would talk to her saying, "Addy, Addy, Adddddy." After my wife delivered her, I went over to her as they were cleaning her up. She was crying, so I leaned over and quietly said, "Addy, Addy, Adddddy" and she immediately stopped crying, turned her head to me and looked at me. It was truly an incredible and intimate moment, and while my voice was familiar, it was still separate from her mother's.

I pursued Marriage and Family Therapy because the family unit breeds balance, cohesiveness, and intimacy. I often tell parents that every child must have a unique connection with each of their parents. Some of the researched benefits of this unique connection or involvement by fathers are seen in greater cognitive functioning, better academic achievement, and more participation socially and in extracurricular activities, among many others.

 Why is it important to facilitate this within our families? 

There is also an abundance of data on the negative impact the absence of fathers has on children. Without involved fathers, mothers are left to establish and maintain balance in the family. One of my favorite analogies is, "Without both people rowing the boat, you just go in a circle." It's important to facilitate a unique connection in the family regarding father-child relationships because the absence has been shown to hinder children's emotional development and well-being, social development, and academic achievements.

What is gained from these experiences (for children and for dads)? 

One of my core tenets is, "Without pursuit, you will often find depression." Children are pursuing their own development with individuation, autonomy, and an understanding of who they are. This is undoubtedly experienced in one aspect through their engagement with dad.

Also, involved fathers pursue the development of their children through teaching, modeling, and the replication of healthy behaviors that aid in the success of life (discipline). These moments of unique connection are opportunities to model healthy conflict management, communication skills, balance in give and take, and allows for vulnerability to produce love and trustworthiness. This will largely impact the future decisions that children will make. We are creatures of habit as it were, and as fathers, our involvement will influence our children's habits. My hope/prayer is that as we pursue our children and they continue to mature, the familiar things they turn toward will be healthy.

Just as my daughter recognized my voice, we as fathers have tremendous influence in making healthy things familiar to our children.


Give the Gift of Adventure

 In lieu of, or in addition to tangible gifts for dad this Father's Day, give the gift of an intangible, adventurous experience or excursion as a way to foster and strengthen father-child relationships.

1.     America the Beautiful Pass 

Get unlimited access for a year to National Parks like Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier in addition to countless other federal recreation sites across Montana and the entire United States. Use the pass for hikes with dad, wildlife watching, and more.

2.     Ski Pass or Gift Certificate

Enjoy hitting the slopes with dad at Red Lodge or other nearby ski resorts for a perfect day of family bonding. The physical activity combined with quality chat time while riding the ski lift is the perfect combination of action and conversation.

3.     Day Trip – Outdoor Excursion

Gift a day trip for dad close to home. Billings has excellent access to horseback riding, fly fishing, hot springs, hunting, climbing, biking, and more. Pick dad's favorite activity and work out the details so he can take the kids for a fun day trip that will have them back in time for bed.

4.     Backyard Adventure

Set up a slackline, zipline, or tire swing in the yard as an easy at-home experience for dad to goof off with the kids. Enjoy being active together without having to plan or prepare to leave the house!

5.     Fitness Fun

Does the father in your home love to work out? Gift him some gear to do workouts in the yard alone and with the kids. Medicine balls, climbing rope, and a combination of light and heavy weights are versatile for the entire family, and dad can set a healthy and fit example for everyone. Create an obstacle course for added fun!

Originally printed in the June 2019 issue of Simply Family Magazine

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