A common challenge I hear from many of the men who come see me is that, as fathers, they feel unappreciated within their own families, or “odd man out” if you will. Unsure how to develop a closer relationship with their children, many men fear they are valued only for their traditional paycheck, and thereby undervalued as a person. While there are exceptions, and plenty of cases where the reverse is true, fathers can often feel they take an inferior ranking in comparison to the children’s connection with their mother.
We can find plenty of explanations for the mom bias in many families, yet regardless of why, the truth is that we all benefit greatly by being connected to both parents. Mothers and fathers are our root, our source. Some fathers are not healthy to be close to, and too many have already passed on. Regardless, strengthening our connection with our fathers--directly or indirectly, physically or metaphysically--opens important channels of success and happiness in our lives.
From all sides of the family dynamic, here are some suggestions to consider to help fathers and their children create a stronger connection.
Grasp Your Value as a Father
No matter what life stage your children have reached, you are their father for a reason and there is no one else in the world who can fill your shoes to help your child reach his or her full potential. I remember when our daughter, at a very young age, intuitively knew that she needed a closer connection to her father. She would lament over his absence, not just physically but emotionally at times. My husband and I took her feelings seriously and they worked together to be more connected. Whether from scientific research or spiritual wisdom, we know that fathers channel confidence, healthy risk-taking and all kinds of personal and relational success to their children.
Carve Out One-On-One Time
Whether your kids are young or grown adults, the special time together allows greater intimacy — even if your way of connecting is by doing or going somewhere together. I remember when my own father started asking me to lunch when I was in my forties. The talks we had at Whole Foods took our relationship to a whole new level.
Listen and Ask Open-Ended Questions
Allowing your kids to share their true thoughts and feelings will more likely make them want to come to you. Unconditional love is the key and this means keeping your expectations and agenda at bay. Kids, no matter how old they are, want their fathers to believe in them, to trust them to make good choices and live the life they are meant to live.
Let yourself be real and vulnerable. Maybe you can tell a story from a time in your life when you learned something through a struggle. Or share a funny story about yourself that reminds them that you are also the same as they are inside.
Join in Their Interests
When kids feel that you value what they value, this removes barriers and helps them feel connected. Entering their world, sharing more together, then they are more inclined to see you as a go-to when they have news, struggles, and experiences to share.
Admit When You’re Wrong
We feel safer and closer to those who can humble themselves, admit their human fallibility, especially if there has been conflict in the relationship. Sometimes men struggle with their pride, in part from messages from family and society that it’s weak to make mistakes or show vulnerability. Quite the contrary! The strongest men I know are comfortable enough with themselves that they can own their shortcomings and let go of the ego's need to be right.
Invest in Your Relationship with Your Children’s Mother
As father-child researcher Michael E. Lamb, Professor of Psychology at the University of Cambridge, UK concludes, “A father who wants to influence the future of his children for the good should invest in the relationships with both the children and their mothers.”
Actively Support the Father-Child Relationship
“A key influence on the father-child relationship is how supportive the mother is of this relationship and how good the quality of the mother-father relationship is,” Professor Micheal E. Lamb continues. As the mother, it’s essential to encourage your children to connect with their father and to facilitate opportunities for making this happen. When our kids would come to me (instead of their father), there were many times I wanted to answer their question or make the decision. And many times I did. But when I sensed an imbalance forming, I would gently (or slyly) suggest they go directly to him. Only now, many years later, when I brought up the topic of this blog, did my husband let on about how much he depended on my support to help him connect with our kids. I could feel his vulnerability; I don’t think I ever realized what a sensitive subject this is.
Show and Tell Appreciation
We can teach our children respect for their father by how we speak about him and how we bring him into the conversation — whether he is present or not. This doesn’t mean he’s perfect, but look for the good and be open about that. Refrain from creating a triangulation where you side with your kids over their father, especially with serious matters. A little playing around doesn’t do much harm and keeps it real. Never talk badly about your children’s father, and especially if divorced.
Speak Privately and Proactively
When you as the mother see barriers forming between your children and their father, be careful about how you broach the subject with him. It’s better to raise issues when things are calm — between the two of you and also between him and the children. If an incident occurs between your children and their father, and you see where he is in the wrong, consider how he receives feedback best before you start in. Most people want to feel validated and supported first, and from that foundation, they can trust better the feedback you might give. Do your best to come from love and sincere desire to help the bond, not fear or judgment.
Put Effort in Spending Time
Research by Mark Morman and Elizabeth Barrett of Baylor University showed that shared activities — a more masculine style of relating — turned many father relationships around. Dads, especially from older generations, don’t often grasp the importance they play in our life. You might actually need (in a subtle way) to teach your father how to spend time together and that this is important to do. Try not to take it personally if you need to initiate; do your best to be simple about it.
Heal and Forgive
It can be hard to forgive either or both of our parents when we have felt wronged or hurt. Investing in our own healing and forgiving —this we do for ourself. Forgiving past mistakes and hurts removes blockages and reconnects us to our root - since our parents brought us into this world. Many concepts I've learned from the wisdom of Kabbalah have created in me a strong motivation to let go and forgive anyone who I have felt hurt by. Take the concept of 'The universe is our mirror.' This means that when we have a separation with someone and maintain this block, then some kind of blockage reflects back to us, in other relationships. Even within our self. This is why it behooves us greatly to close the spaces we have between us and others in our lives, especially our root. Spiritual wisdom, like Kabbalah, whose teachings shift one's frame of mind + a good counselor who can help us address and release pain. These form one empowering, healing cocktail.
See Tips 1-7 Above
Many of the tips for fathers actually apply nicely two-ways - for both father and child. Peruse the tips above and see, with some slight adjustments, how you might find suggestions that work for you.