Tips on How Fathers Can More Actively Engage in Family Life

Tips on How Fathers Can More Actively Engage in Family Life

I walk by a grammar school on my way to work. The first day tends to be a big deal, moms parading to the school with kids in tow, cameras flashing to capture the moment. I noticed the first day this year was a bit more celebratory than years past, no doubt a result of missing the annual milestone due to the pandemic in 2020.  I also noted the presence of dads, far more than I had ever seen before. They were on the fringes of the crowd, a bit unsure of their role in the event, awkwardly talking to each other. But there they were, trying to be a part of the first-day celebrations.

I’m noticing the men in my therapy practice also trying to awkwardly fit into their children’s lives more than they have before. One client, a father of four kids ranging in age from 16 to 6, has been the “heavy” in the family, enforcer of the household rules. Otherwise, he has spent the majority of his time working at his demanding, labor-intensive job. Parenting has been almost exclusively the domain of his wife.

The pandemic changed that dynamic quickly. Working from home was a revelation to him, and he quickly became aware of all that had been missing for him in terms of being an active part of family life, playing and connecting with his kids. He wants to find ways to engage with his children, which he is finding rather difficult.

Shifting parenting roles for fathers

It’s a big change for dads to be more active in family life, and requires some adjustments in thinking. Many children of the male clients I see are not used to their fathers in a “fun dad” role at all. Parenting roles have shifted over the past 30 years or so, with women participating far more in the workforce over that time, yet the majority of parenting is still done by mothers, even those working full- or part-time outside the home. This work includes listening, playing together and helping with homework. Fathers don’t share the roles and tasks of parenting equally, but they also still miss out on the joy of being with their kids frequently.

Some dads also feel a degree of insecurity and, as one dad admitted to me recently, shame around being a more involved dad. Brought up to be a breadwinner rather than an active parent, he feels his involvement suggests a lack of masculinity. He knows objectively this is ridiculous, but without a role model in his own father, it’s a bias he carries, nonetheless.


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