William Shakespeare once said, “It is a wise father that knows his own child.” And while there are many circumstances that may make it difficult for fathers to fully engage with their children, including divorce or deployment, fathers are invaluable and irreplaceable.
In fact, research indicates that a father’s presence and involvement in a child’s life contribute to higher grades, better self-esteem, lower drug and alcohol use, and higher social and academic success.
There are seven dimensions of effective fathering that result in good parenting. Fathers don’t need to exhibit all seven traits to be effective, but it is a case of “more is better.” While some of them are challenging to perform in cases of separation, all offer benefits to children.
1. Fostering a positive relationship with the children’s mother. Fathers set the tone for the children’s interaction with their mother. Displaying acts of respect, consideration, and affection (when appropriate) helps children learn by example. Fathers who demonstrate positive conflict resolution through compromise and forgiveness also have a strong impact on children.
2. Spending time with children. Children equate time with love. A father who spends time with his children is actually demonstrating interest and enthusiasm in the child’s life.
3. Nurturing children. A father’s style of nurturing is different than a mother’s style. Regardless, fathers should be responsive to their children’s needs and act accordingly.
4. Serving as a guide to the world. The world can be a scary place to a child. A father who helps a child navigate the world properly with a set of core beliefs and life experiences helps prepare the child for adulthood.
5. Using appropriate discipline. The basis of the word “discipline” is “to teach with love.” Fathers who maintain self-control as well as control of emotions and hands are more effective at discipline than those who do not. The goal of discipline is to teach the child, not to punish or humiliate. Good fathers know this and act accordingly.
6. Protecting and providing. Modern forms of protection can include childproofing a home, monitoring online media, or knowing their children’s friends. Research shows that disadvantaged environments suffer when few fathers are available to supervise children, which includes their own children as well as neighborhood children.
7. Serving as a positive role model. A father’s actions and beliefs strongly influence his children. The amount of influence is directly related to the amount of time a father spends with his children. Fathers should exhibit behaviors they want their children to imitate and display.
Parenthood is not easy, and sometimes less than ideal circumstances interfere with even the best intentions. Recognizing the unique role fathers play in a child’s life can help refocus those good intentions for the child’s sake.