We need to let dads be dads. If we want the fathers of our kids to act like the fathers of our kids, then we need to get out of their ways. We need to give them the space that they need to build a relationship with their children.
Let Dads be Dads: Getting Out of the Father’s Way
Each work day, I spend a few minutes chatting with my Husband before grudgingly going to wash dishes so that we have a clean space for dinner prep. And that’s when the giggles and laughter start as my daughter begins to play. Other times I hear a miniature tornado siren as my daughter throws a small temper tantrum over something.
And with each loud noise – whether happy or upset – I find myself at the entrance to the living room saying, “What’s going on?”
It doesn’t matter that I’ve spent all day with our daughter or that I just wanted him home so that I could take a break from training up a child in the way that she should go; I’m still right there getting involved in their games and power struggles for no other reason than I’m nosy.
If I’m honest, there’s a little bit of worry there: “But he’s not with her all the time so he won’t know what the trigger of her behavior is!”
But how is he supposed to learn to interact with his daughter if I’m always intervening?
Getting Out of the Way
The best parenting advice I’ve ever read in a book didn’t come from a baby-rearing book. It came from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. In the second part of the book, Meg complains about how her husband has started staying out more with friends since she gave birth to their twins.
Marmee gives her two pieces of advice:
- Make things pleasant for him at home
- Let him help her with the twins, rather than her keeping them in the nursery out of his way
Fortunately, there are some practical steps beyond Marmee’s advice that we can take to get out of the father’s way.
Step #1 – Communication
I talked about this in blah blah, but this is the very first step to getting out of Dad’s relationship with your kids. Be open with your communication. Since you want discipline to be consistent between both of you, make sure to share any behavioral issues that popped up while you were interacting with your child. Talk about how you responded and the immediate results you got.
One of my husband’s early observations into parenting was, “You know, I realized that we both have things we can learn from each other.”
He was right. I can normally redirect our daughter’s inappropriate behavior into something that is appropriate. For example, if my daughter wants to get down and walk in the store, then I’ll let her as long as she’s holding onto the cart. When she helps push the cart (and she’s strong enough she really does help), her desire to move suddenly has an appropriate outlet in normal shopping behavior.
He’s much better at drawing line-in-the-sands for completely cutting off inappropriate behavior, such as when our daughter tries to climb onto his desk. By learning techniques and skills from each other, we make a pretty good parenting team.
Step #2 – Resist the Urge to Intervene in Discipline
When you step in constantly on discipline matters, you’re at risk of usurping the Dad’s position as an authority figure. If you want your child to take Dad at his word, then you need to set the standard by letting him fight the early battles.
There’s no need to chime in with, “Listen to your father,” or to repeat the command that Dad just gave in your own voice; if your child chooses not to listen to Dad, then let Dad sort it out. You shouldn’t have to add your own authority to Dad’s for the children to listen to him, and vice versa.
I’ll admit, this is something I’m still working on. There are times that I would redirect her behavior while Hubby prefers to flat-out say, “No.” So I’m working on trying to parrot a command or intervene when:
- Hailey has run out of Hubby’s sight to hide her disobedience (such as not brushing her teeth when he was the one who handed it to her)
- She’s running away after being told to do something (like being asked to put up her books) and I happen to be closest to her
- There’s an underlying factor at work that I forgot to tell him (like an injury or sickness that might be keeping her in drama llama mode
If your husband is struggling, then let him. You’re all going to be under the same roof (hopefully) for many years to come, so he needs to learn how to establish his own authority. And if he truly cannot seem to figure it out, then go back to Step #1. Work together to see what’s missing.
Step #3 – Let Dad Have His Fun
Can we stop with the envy over Dad Fun?
Seriously, as a stay-at-home Mom I get so many of our daughter’s best moments. I get to see her face light up with wonder as she learns something new about creation, I get to hear most of her “firsts” at saying new words, and I get to see her pride when she learns a new skill.
Why on earth would I be envious of the shrill giggles and laughter that come when my daughter gets to play with Daddy in the evenings?
Of course she gets giggly when she gets to see him. She’s happy that the second of her two-favorite people has returned to her. He could do almost anything and get a big smile as long as he’s paying attention to her.
If you stop and think about it (even you, working moms!), you have your rituals with your children. These are the moments where it’s just you. Maybe it’s a special treat on Fridays, or a unique game to you two, or eating an afternoon snack together.
If you have your rituals, don’t you think Dad should be allowed to develop his own special times with his children? Give him space. Let him have his fun.
Step #4 – Let Him Nurture
Dads are, or should be, a safe spot. Because of this reason, I know that when my daughter gets hurt that she doesn’t have to come to me. He is capable of comforting her, just like most men are able to comfort and nurture when allowed.
I’m not saying to let your child cry until Dad steps up to calm your baby down; I am saying not to rush to the their rescue when it’s not necessary.
Step #5 – Let Him Teach
The father is also a teacher, just like the mother. Give him space to teach. Does your man want to teach your daughter how to handle a gun or how to change a tire? Let him. Does he want to teach your baby how to make silly faces? Let him.
Even if he’s not teaching something that you see the value in (like how to graze food while walking through woods), give him the space to teach anyways. These are valuable memories that your children will have of time spent with their Dad, so get out of the way and let him take up the role as teacher.
Step #6 – Let Him Make Memories
Sometimes the memories come in the small things, like the silly pre-dinner giggles. Sometimes it comes in the bigger moments where he passed on some invaluable knowledge or skill. Whatever it is, give him the space to make memories. After all, it’s his child, too.