Navigating parenthood can be tricky for dads today – both for biological parents and foster carers. Things are very different from when we were kids, and the role fathers play in the household and their children’s lives may look nothing like the family you had growing up. Some of us may not have had a father figure in their lives, while others may have reflected on our own childhoods and want to do things differently with our kids.
Our ParentZone specialists Michelle and Anita have shared some of their top tips for embracing modern parenting roles, so you can be the best dad you can be in 2023.
Teach them about healthy relationships
One of the best ways to teach your kids about healthy relationships and respect is to demonstrate these behaviours yourself. It’s the classic case of ‘monkey see, monkey do’. If you speak to your partner with respect, do you fair share of the household chores, and show a healthy range of emotions, these positive behaviours tend to rub off on your children. Mentally go through positive ways to manage your own unwanted emotions, such as the way you keep yourself calm in stressful situations. Share your feelings using age-appropriate language and context, to help them understand that adults feel scared, disappointed and angry too. Then, model the healthy ways you cope with these emotions so they can emulate you.
Join a group of like-minded parents or carers
You’re not the only dad out there struggling with modern parenthood. Joining a community of fellow parents can be a great way to share your successes and challenges and support one another through the ups and downs. You might just make some great new friends along the way.
Make mindful choices
Part of becoming a parent or carer is deciding which things from your own childhood you’d like to keep and what you really don’t want to experience ever again. Discipline is a great example. Perhaps your parents smacked you and your siblings when you misbehaved, but you’ve done some research and would like to approach things differently with your own children. Talk to experts such as your family doctor, and consult reputable online resources like the Raising Children website for tips and tricks. You could also listen to our fantastic ParentZone podcasts for inspiration.
Create a safe space
We all want our kids to be able to come to us for help or advice when they need it, so it’s important to cultivate a safe space for them to unload their worries. This can be particularly challenging for dads with daughters, who may feel that they can’t understand or empathise with the types of problems they are experiencing, particularly during the teenage years. If conversations around puberty, friendships or romantic relationships feel forced or awkward, try a different approach. You could grab some brochures from your GP, watch a TV program about the topic together, or even look online for age-appropriate resources.
Show you understand
When your child is upset or angry, it’s important to acknowledge their feelings and show them that you understand. For many of us our first instinct is to try to solve the problem. Others may revert to the strict discipline they experienced growing up. Anita says a better approach is to speak clearly and calmly to your child, by saying something like “I can see that you’re feeling angry because it’s time to leave the park”. Children are more likely to cooperate with adults when they feel heard and understood.
Build their confidence
Anita says that kids who feel safe and secure with their parents tend to be more comfortable expressing themselves, which frees up valuable brain space for learning and growing. This helps them build their confidence and resilience, setting them in good stead for future problem-solving.
Learn from your mistakes
There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. We all make mistakes, but what’s important is how we use these mistakes as an opportunity for growth. Being able to own your mistakes and apologise is also a great way to role model emotional regulation for your kids.
Ask for help if you need it
At AV we run several different groups and classes for parents who are struggling or need a little reassurance. Anita says there is no shame in asking for help – in fact, parents who want to upskill and learn new things should be applauded. Some of the dads at our sessions need advice because they’ve suddenly become full-time carers for their children, and they’re feeling a little overwhelmed. It could be something as simple as knowing how to brush and style their little girl’s hair for school or learning some quick and easy kid-friendly recipes they can whip up on busy evenings. Or it could be a more serious problem. At AV we have family and parenting support programs for everyone.
Don’t be too hard on yourself
Anita says this is the most important thing to remember. Parenting is the toughest gig you’ll ever have, and it doesn’t come with a training manual. You’re not going to get everything right all the time, and that’s okay. Take the pressure off yourself and recognise that you’re doing the best you can.
AV’s ParentZone podcasts explore parenting topics and offer practical advice and solutions to help dads (and mums) navigate the stormy seas. You’ll find every episode from seasons 1 and 2 here, and can find out more about ParentZone programs in your area here.