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The Role of Daddy

by Dr. Frances P. Walfish, Guest Blogger

www.drfranwalfish.com

There are many different ways to be a wonderful father, but for some, it can be a challenge.  For others, it comes easily and naturally.  There are two things that need to be present and in balanced for a man to feel like a successful father: being loving and nurturing and being comfortable setting boundaries and sticking to them.

I find that many fathers are at ease with the first step or the second, but find it a challenge to balance both at the same time.  A great deal of what determines which is more comfortable has to do with the model set by our own fathers and mothers.  For example, a dad in my practice who lacks patience with his children shared that his own father flew off the handle with him.  It was only through gentle exploration that this father was able to take a painful, honest look at his own behavior.  This awareness is the key to breaking the cycle of repetition.

For most dads, loving their child comes easily.  They want to create fun in the relationship so they find ways to engage through play, sports, talking, and wrestling.  But also important to fathering is to setting boundaries, placing limits, saying no, setting up targets.  Many dads are not comfortable with this because it stirs anger, tears, and a little bit of rebellion in the child.  This is where knowing your own history is so vital.  For example, if a father had a harsh disciplinarian father of his own, he may feel that setting limits implies a need to scream at or beat the child.  He may fear repeating the hurt and humiliation he felt with the implementation of rules and boundaries so he instead chooses a loose set of rules.

Let me share an example of a father who, with hard work, changed his own parenting style from that of his parents and grandparents.  This man married late in life and had children at an older age for fear of repeating the mistakes his own parents made with him and his siblings.  His father mishandled the children; he was rough and tough and quick to use the belt.  His mother, who knew no better in raising children, did not intervene and protect her children.  She was busy with her charity and fundraising activities and not very available.  This father decided in his 30’s to invest whatever time, energy, courage, and money it took to turn things around.  He immersed himself in a long term psychotherapy experience.  By the time he married,  had children  and consulted me he knew a great deal about himself.  He came to me when his first child was 9 months old to “prevent” problems.  Because he was open, he took my suggestions, put them into action, and became an exemplary father.  His two school-age children are thriving and doing well.  He has learned how to talk with his children about feelings and behavior rather than responding impulsively.  He is empathic, not reactive.

Tips for dads who have trouble setting.  Remember that each time you set a limit you are giving your child an opportunity to grow.  Meeting the child’s resistance and allowing your child to wrestle with not always getting what she wants builds your child’s strength and character.  Also, when you are able to set a boundary and stick to it without getting angry, you are teaching your child to inhibit aggressive impulses that she would alternatively learn if you screamed and yelled at her.   You are not being mean if you say no.   Your job is to protect your child and to socialize him.

Fun is great!  Disciplining can be a drag.  Fathers must find a way to do both.

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