PARENTING TIP: A Father’s Crucial Role

“My father boosted my career by giving me the freedom to choose my own path and by proudly devouring every word I ever wrote”, writes Hal Lancaster, a journalist for the Wall Street Journal. As a therapist who works with many adults and their families, I regularly hear of the profound impact a person’s father had on them. I am often touched when I hear people say things like, “My father believed in me” and “My father’s positive influence is why I have succeeded”. Research bears out that women who have encouraging fathers are more likely to venture into traditionally male fields like business, law and medicine. Research also reveals that boys raised in homes with involved fathers generally do not commit crime. Rather, they tend to be better adjusted and perform well at school and in the community. A father’s active role in parenting is key to a child’s success!

As human beings we all have two basic psychological needs that need to be met in order to grow into healthy adults. In most cases each parent will primarily impact one of these needs. Good parenting makes sure these two happen. The first need is to know that one is connected to a person who ultimately loves and values them. The mother most often provides this experience. Frequently, from the time the mother knows she is pregnant, she becomes preoccupied with the life that is growing within her. She is making room for the child in her body and in her heart. As adults, most of us know if no one else loves us, our mothers do. We all need to have someone who we can feel connected to and feel loved by.

The second basic need that we all have is to experience a sense of influence and competency. We need to feel that we can impact the world around us and be affirmed for our ability to do this. Fathers are the ones that typically provide this experience to their child(ren). This makes sense given that fathers are the first significant “other” outside the orbit of the mother. Father represents the world and what the child can expect from the world. If the child’s father is able to reflect his child’s unique abilities, the child will begin to experience the world as an affirming place. A father who says things like, “Boy, you’re smart!”, “Wow, you sure run fast!”, or “You know, I really like you!”, communicates that his child is competent and able to impact others in a positive way. A child may think, “If my father thinks these things about me, I must be pretty valuable!”

The best way a father can go about gifting his child(ren) with a sense of competence and influence is by spending regular time together. I suggest that fathers make their motto, “Everyday a little play.” Play is key to parenting! It does not have to be a long period of time. You can set the limit at as little as 15-20 minutes a day. Let your child choose what they would like to do. They might pick playing catch, a game, or Barbies. Show your child that they can influence you by doing what they want during the playtime. Then use this time to focus on their unique abilities. Use affirming statements like, “You’re really good at…” or “I really enjoy seeing you…” Make sure you do not get competitive or negative. This is your opportunity to shine on your child’s talents and to show how special they are. Parenting is about reinforcing a child’s talents and gifts.

The famous quote by Hodding Carte says, “There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children: one of these is roots, the other is wings”. Our mothers gift us with roots of belonging and love. Our fathers gift us with the inner confidence that we can spread our wings and accomplish anything we desire.