Ways for Fathers to be Present, Engaged, and Supportive in Their Parenting Role, Fostering Healthy and Nurturing Relationships with Their Children
Historically, sitcoms have often cast fathers as inept, uninterested, or incapable of providing for their family’s needs, known as the “bumbling dad.” However, over time, there have also been more positive images of fathers and father figures depicted on television, showing fathers who are emotionally available and physically present, (though not perfect). Some of these shows might include “This is Us,” “Full House,” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” among others.
While there have been some improvements in how fathers show up on television, in real life, fathers may still need additional support. Families need fathers who are present, engaged, and supportive in their parenting role. When they fill that role effectively, fathers foster healthy and nurturing relationships with their children, empowering them to grow into confident and self-assured adults.
Fathers who want to make sure they are serving their families well should focus on the following important facets of fatherhood.
Being an ‘all around’ provider
Fathers typically see themselves as the family’s provider, yet this is often limited to providing for their families financially. To truly foster healthy relationships with their children, fathers must also provide love, care, guidance, and support.
Showing love to children begins with being actively involved. This actually begins during pregnancy, when fathers engage with the mother and child before birth. This could include attending prenatal medical appointments with the mother, going to Lamaze classes, speaking to the child while in utero, and supporting the mother in other ways to help prepare for delivery and birth.
This support may include discussing plans for delivery, considering who should be involved (doula, pregnancy coach, midwife, medical doctor, others), and thinking about ways to support the mother in breastfeeding, if planned. This also means being physically present for the birth — if possible — and the early days after birth.
Once the child is born, fathers must be involved in holding, hugging, changing diapers, and attending to the needs of the child and mother. This also includes attending postpartum medical appointments for mother and child and taking time to bond with the child.
Being an involved father and establishing safety
As the child develops, fathers must participate in daily routines, be present at school activities, and engage in one-on-one time with their child. They must teach healthy communication skills, express unconditional love, and provide praise for children’s efforts and achievements.
By being reliably and consistently involved, fathers establish an environment in which children feel safe expressing their thoughts, feelings, and concerns, allowing the father to provide encouragement during difficult times and guidance when children are confused or concerned. Children who experience this type of environment will be more likely to develop the self-esteem and confidence that leads to maturity.
Developing healthy boundaries
As children continue to develop over time, setting limits and boundaries becomes very important. Setting and enforcing boundaries contribute to the identity of the family as it assists with teaching respect, creating harmony, and ultimately protects the family from harmful behavior.
Clearly communicating expectations, responsibilities, and consequences is a critical step in the process of setting boundaries. Through setting limits and boundaries, children learn what acceptable and unacceptable behavior is. Children also learn responsibility and accountability in a setting where boundaries are clearly defined.
It is important for fathers to model respect for the boundaries that have been established. If they expect their children to speak kindly, they should do the same. “Actions speak louder than words” is a parenting proverb that holds true when it comes to teaching children to respect boundaries.
When boundaries are broken, fathers must play a role in applying consequences. If fathers are not consistent in this area, children will not only struggle to understand and appreciate responsibility and accountability but will also be more inclined to test boundaries, which often leads to further misbehavior.
In today’s world, it is easy for fathers to feel they do not have what it takes to provide the supportive parenting their children need. The truth, however, is that every father can develop the skills they need to raise happy and healthy kids. It all starts with accepting and prioritizing one’s role as a father, providing love, being involved, and developing healthy boundaries.
— Darren D. Moore, Ph.D., MAED, LMFT, is a Father, Husband, Clinical Professor, and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He owns I AM MOORE, LLC, a counseling and consulting practice in Georgia, providing individual, couple, family, and group therapy services in GA, AL, NY, NC, IL, and FL, as well as consulting across the United States. Dr. Moore currently serves as the Associate Director for Clinical Training and Supervision in the master’s program in Marriage and Family Therapy at the Family Institute, Northwestern University. His areas of expertise include fatherhood and fatherlessness, higher education administration, workplace and mental health, men’s health, mental health, couple and family relationships, obesity, weight loss, eating disorders, and mental health. Dr. Moore obtained his Ph.D. in Human Development: Marriage and Family Therapy from Virginia Tech, his MS. in Marriage and Family Therapy from Valdosta State University, his BA. in African American Studies from the University of Minnesota, and holds an MAED in Higher and Postsecondary Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Dr. Moore has been featured on various television stations as well as Newsweek and Men's Health.
Photo by Photo by Josh Willink