In fatherhood, concrete evidence of good parenting may seem hard to come by, but, contrary to the reality of sports, winning isn't everything. Doing the following the tips is more than half the battle, simply because children recognize the effort more than they think of whether you.re any good at it or not. If you're looking for a few fresh ideas -- or just reminders -- for success in fatherhood, try a few of these out.
1. Make the Transition from Work to Home -- Part One
You're heading home from work and all you can think about is what you didn't finish at the office, how much you have to do that night, and whether it's time to ask for that raise or not. In other words, you're not thinking about the family. Since you do want to make the transition to the family portion of your day, try making a list of everything you need to do for work that night or the next day before you leave the office. This puts a summary on the day so you can start thinking about the home hours. If you want, before you leave the office, make another list of what you want to do with the family once you get home. When you get home, you'll be better focused on your kids.
2. Make the Transition from Work to Home -- Part Two
Before you leave or on your cell phone in the car, call your wife (or at least your answering machine) to see if you have messages or mail you should know about before you get home. You can also ask to talk to your kids to start the 'home' transition in the car or before you leave the office. Once you get home, put your briefcase away, take off your shoes, and ignore the mail, the computer, and the phone. Your kids are now the priority.
3. Make the Transition from Work to Home -- Part Three
When you get home, hug and kiss each kid and ask how his or her day went. If they ignore you, make them sit down with you for one minute per kid. You can sit at the kitchen table for a cup of juice to help settle everyone down, if need be.
4. Make the Transition from Work to Home -- Part Four
If you're home before dinner, try grabbing a ball to take outside with the kids (don't bother changing clothes -- it takes time away from the activity) or just pick up a book to read with them to detox from the work day and settle in for the night with the family. No one can do this every day, but try to keep work out of the picture until the kids go to bed and you.ll feel good about your time with them.
5. Make Your Kids Feel At Home in Your Home Office
Whether you work at home full time or need to do night or weekend work while the kids are awake, make space for them in your office. Keep a few toys around that they can independently play with near you. Also, get them a desk or give them a portion of your desk so they can do their homework or play office. Be sure they understand if and when they can interrupt you for questions and take the opportunity to explain some of the tasks you are doing for your job. In this way, you demystify the 'daddy's at work' situation and enjoy the presence of your children at the same time.
6. Keep Your At-Home Work Separate from Your Family Life
If you work at home, the only way to keep your sanity (and that of your children) is to keep a separate space, specific hours, and (when possible) a separate phone line. Having an office with a door that locks is also good because out-of-sight often helps children keep you out of their minds. Consider laying down ground rules for when you can be interrupted (define what emergencies are) during work hours. You should also refrain from dallying in the house when you scheduled yourself to work, because changes in routine can confuse the kids.
7. Prevent Favoritism
If you've got more than one child, chances are the kids will take turns saying, 'You're not fair!' when you read three books to one and only two to the other. Whatever the reason, they're right. Assuring equality, and sometimes just the appearance of equality, is essential to being a good dad. If you plan to take a child to a baseball game without taking the other with, then give the other child a turn the next time. You should also explain this to the kids, 'I'm taking Jacob to the movies today because I took you to 'The Incredibles' last week. Some activities cannot be done with younger children. To balance it, do something else with the younger child that you won't do with the bigger one. If need be, keep a calendar showing what you do and when with your children.
8. Instill Your Philosophy on Good Grades -- Part One
I teach high-school English, so I understand the issue of grades as an instructor, a parent, and a former student. I realize grades are important and I have expectations for my children, but I also know that not every child is a whiz at math if they're good in everything else. Still, good grades are, in large part, a reflection of responsibility. You want your child to try his or her best by doing homework on time and completely, setting aside time to study each day, and behaving well in class. Discuss your expectations with your child and reward them for being responsible more than for acing their classes. Include in your discussion stories about how you worked hard to do well in some areas and (whether you ever got a grade lower than an A or not) you didn't earn as high grades in others, despite trying hard.
9. Instill Your Philosophy on Good Grades -- Part Two
In addition to their reflection of responsibility, good grades are a function of motivation -- kids do well at what they like. You can instill in them a deeper love for learning by playing to their interests (take them on field trips related to what they like) and praise them for their passions. In this way, you support your child's individuality and may indirectly help the passion to spill over into other subjects.
10. Prioritize Your Life
If you want to make family a high priority, try setting general work hours for your typical day, aiming to at least be home for dinner each night (with few exceptions). Keep your weekends sacred by focusing on the kids, including staying off the cell phone at your children's soccer games. Take your vacations, at least two a year (even if they're just long weekends). And be sure to make time for your partner and yourself -- you're not a good model for your kids if you ignore your partner and you can get pretty grumpy if you don't address your need to play a little golf every now and then. Keep a calendar with your scheduled family time if you need to be that concrete (and a lot of us do).
11. Commit to Kid Classes
Dads are still few and far between at parent-and-me classes (thus the reason they're usually called 'Mommy and Me'). But they are one of the best ways to connect with your young child, if only because they are so structured that you have to do minimal thinking about what to do and can focus on just being with your child. Gym classes, such as Gymboree or My Gym, are widely available and a lot of fun to do with your kids because you're involved in their development and good times. Commit to going once a week or every other week and you will feel more connected with your child.
Once your child reaches five or six, sports leagues become an option. If your child wants to try a sport, take the plunge to be the team coach or assistant coach. This forces you to commit time and energy to someone you love. It's also incredibly rewarding -- even if it can be frustrating to teach kids to run, hit, shoot, or throw -- and your kid will look up to you in a new way.
13. Watch Your Kids TV, Listen to Their Music
Family entertainment has plenty for adults to enjoy -- lots of wit and high-production values. You may think it's boring, but your child will love sharing something they love to watch or listen to with you. It also creates that extra common subject matter to discuss, much in the way we all talk about the latest episodes of 'Alias,' or the newest U2. Plus, it.s not a lot of effort to sit, watch, and listen while hanging out with one of your favorite little guys or gals.
This is a classic tip that a lot of dads do, but too many dads don't. Pick a number of days that you will drop off or pick up your children from school (even one day is worth it). The benefits are many, including another chance to talk to your kids and play music in the car with them. Pick-up may be a little better because you get the chance to hear the recap of the day. Though you'll probably have to return to work after taking the kids home, the time is valuable and it keeps you connected to your children. If it's hard to do a regular schedule, then be sure to do the carpooling on off days or days you can go to work late.
15. Do One-on-One Weekends
Once your children reach 6 or so, start taking them on weekend trips away just you and him or her. If you have a number of kids, be sure to take each one away separately within a given year to have that special bonding time. If you've got a lot of kids, try taking two kids away with you at a time. Go camping, an hour up the highway, or to an historical city. Take lots of pictures, too. Not only will you have memories for a lifetime, but your partner will enjoy private time with the kids left at home. You should also make it a point to have your partner to similar trips, perhaps alternating kids each year.