WORDS LIM TECK CHOON
MA Coun Psy (CAN, USA)
Director and Counselling Psychologist
Just like mothers, fathers are irreplaceable. Traditionally the father is viewed more as a breadwinner, but the truth is, he has just as much significant impact on the emotional development of a child. Most children view their father as a superhero, the protector and the bedrock who fixes all problems in their lives. Perhaps paradoxically, a father also tends to fixate on his role as a breadwinner, sometimes to the point of being emotionally absent from the child’s life.
This month, we join counselling psychologist Cathie Wu as she takes a look at how a father can be a superhero to his child without having to develop literal superpowers. After all, the true strength of a father isn’t measured by whether or not he can fly or hold up a bus with one hand—it lies within his heart.
“I try to live my life like my father lives his. He always takes care of everyone else first. He won’t even start eating until he’s sure everyone else in the family has started eating. Another thing: my dad never judges me by whether I win or lose.”
~ American footballer Ben Roethlisberger
Much has been said about a father’s responsibilities. He is a breadwinner, just like Mom. He is a pillar of strength and a bedrock of support. He teaches life’s valuable lessons, but he allows his children to learn from mistakes. The list goes on and it may seem intimidating especially to first-time fathers.
However, being a father is not about following a set of rules. It’s about living out the experience, appreciating the ups and learning from the downs of fatherhood.
Cathie Wu offers a few tips on getting the hang of a father’s responsibilities.
Work as a team with your partner. Fathers and mothers often have different roles within and outside of the family.
Being responsible as a parent will always mean that the parental team must be united. For a father, this will include a commitment to communicate to his wife and children, and to have discussions on how to share parenting roles.
Resist making promises that sound good but can’t be delivered. It’s okay to proceed slowly and steadily in demonstrating responsibility and reliability.
Being a father is never about solely providing for the family. It’s also about providing enough love, attention and support to make a positive difference ina child’s life.
According to 2017 statistics from the US Census Bureau, children in the US raised in a household without a father are
- More likely to have behavioural problems (including committing crimes) and substance abuse.
- Twice more likely to drop out of school.
- Four times more likely to live in poverty.
Hence, a father’s love and affection is arguably as important as—or perhaps even more important than— his ability to provide for the family.
Cathie Wu has some advice for fathers on being the best daddy they can be to their children:
Develop an individual relationship with each child. With multiple children this may be harder but learning about each individual child will help strengthen the parental bond and make each child feel more included.
Learn to understand your child on a deeper level. When an emotionally safe relationship is built, a good father is interested to know their child better.
Understanding has to come before problem-solving. Teach children to be resilient (help them learn how to meet obstacles, address or cope with issues openly, not be demoralized by “failures” but retain a sense of motivation, etc) via good communication as well as leading by example. Children often learn more through observation of others.
Cultivate a good strong marital relationship. Parent can teach kids many valuable lessons about love, respect, loyalty, interpersonal skills, overcoming obstacles, etc through their marital relationship. On the other hand, when the marital relationship is experiencing dissatisfaction, it will invariably affect the kids. So, communicate regularly with loved ones. Show affection through words or physical touch. Make quality time (quality over quantity).
An undervalued trait of fatherhood is a sense of humour. A good sense of humour doesn’t just teaches a man to laugh, it sometimes can help one better cope with the hard knocks in life. A sense of humour also allows the father to view life through different and even unusual perspectives, which in turn helps him become more spontaneous and adaptable.
When balanced with a good sense of responsibility, a father who doesn’t take life too seriously is a steadying presence to the family during a crisis, and a brightening source of joy to all during happier times.
Furthermore, research shows people with a sense of humour tend to have a lower risk of falling into depression. There are also studies that suggest they are better equipped to manage stress, which in turn can have positive benefits to blood pressure, heart rate and possibly the immune system and digestion.
Therefore, it’s fine to be silly and have a laugh now and then. Whether it’s blowing soap bubbles to make a baby laugh or using gentle humour to reassure older kids when they experience failure, it’s all good.
Cathie Wu has some advice on this for fathers.
Look at the big picture. Let go of the concept of perfection and focus on your strengths. Admit that you can and will make mistakes, and so will the people around you— nobody is infallible, after all.
Learn to have a laugh over the trivial stuff. Find your favourite comedian and learn how and when to use a lighthearted perspective on things. HT
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