Relationship strategists Mo and Phindi write a weekly column for Weekend Post. This week they urge parents to give equal attention to both their marriage and children.
“The only thing better than having you as my husband, is our children having you as their daddy.” These are the words Phindi’s mom said to Phindi’s dad on his birthday during our first year of marriage. He sadly passed away soon after. A couple of years later, after his remembrance service, Mom got all of us together as a family. She gave one of the moving speeches that will remain in our memories.
She told us how Dad as a husband and father had made time for both his children and his marriage, and contributed more than just finances to the family. To raise balanced children, Dad was determined to put his marriage first.
He was against leading a life that was too focused on parenting to the point where they, as a couple, identified themselves as parents above being husband and wife.
These days, many parents seem to be married to their children instead of their spouses. This creates stressed out parents who feel disconnected from each other and children who act out.
Part of being a good husband and father, Phindi’s mom said, was making both your marriage and parental responsibilities a priority, and not allowing one to inappropriately overshadow the other.
“He was present,” Mom said of Dad. “And I felt it.”
Being present is a demonstration of understanding what it means to be there for better or worse. He demonstrated to his children that he cared for them by making them a priority regardless of circumstances.
Cultivating relationships with each child required time, discipline and intentionality. When so much time is spent trying to create a balancing act between raising the children, work, marriage and other social commitments, it’s easy to focus on one responsibility at the expense of others.
Dad had a very firm grasp of the concept of time and, importantly, how to balance it out across his priorities. And Mom loved him more for that.
The more time you spend with your children as their father, the more attuned you will be to their emerging abilities.
When you spend little time with your children, you risk either underestimating or overestimating their developmental progress.
Dedicating time to the children isn’t automatic and requires a lot of vigilance not to compromise.
You have to want to go on exclusive regular dates with them like to restaurants, local events and festivals, the zoo, walks, jogs, movies, sports and other fun things.
Phindi remembers that her dates with Dad were also opportunities to talk intimately and ask life questions. And Mom said, she just enjoyed eavesdropping sometimes, just to listen to them talk.
Furthermore, your willingness to give your time to your children sends a message that they are important. If you, the person your children respect most in the world, believe they are worthy of your undivided attention, your children will bask in the sense of their own importance.
In addition, the older your children become, the more likely they are to adopt the outside world’s frame of reference. But the closer the relationship you have with them, the more likely they will continue to identify with you regardless.
You will, therefore, be in an advantageous position to instil your positive values and increase the likelihood that they will be accepted. The more love and respect, as opposed to fear and anger your children have for you, the more likely it is that they will incorporate their sense of you in them.
They are likely to act more like you, because you would have earned it.
If you approach fathering as one more task, one more job, you almost guarantee that it will not be an enjoyable one.
If you appreciate the benefits that you and your children can derive from your interactions, you will act with enthusiasm and expectation. Your eagerness will infect them. As a father, you can lay a foundation that will enable them to make the right choices.
You can ensure that they feel loved, so they do not reach out for recognition in destructive ways.
When they are conflicted, you would have created a relationship that invites discussion and is open to guidance.
The active involvement of a father in his children’s lives brings with it numerous benefits.
There will be fewer behavioural problems and they will develop better language skills than children with absent, uninvolved fathers.
As a father, you are in the blessed position of seeing to it that your children have the father they are entitled to have.
You have a chance to do it differently, to do it better, to do it right.
Do that and see how your relationship with their mom blossoms.