“Dad, wanna play catch?” The morning was beautiful, the mountain air was crisp and clean, and playing catch with dad was the order of the day. We grabbed our mitts & ball from the camp trailer and off we went to throw the ball back and forth. There was not much conversation, of course, but our hearts were bound together as we played, sometimes teasing and sometimes serious. My dad was not much into sports, he was a nuclear engineer, but he stepped out of his comfort zone, did something I enjoyed, and it was fun for both of us. Playing catch with dad became a tradition during our camping trips. Those memories are precious to me. At home, there was always more work to do, but while out in nature, we could relax and enjoy each other’s company, putting all other cares aside.
In this busy world where our desire for our children to do more, be more, and accomplish more, sometimes we overlook the most important aspect of parenting-spending quality, uninterrupted, unscripted time with our children, teaching them, learning about them, and creating memories together. Those times my dad spent with me had much more meaning than just throwing a ball around. Dad was sending me the message that I was important to him, that I was a valued human being and he wouldn’t want to be spending time with anyone else but me as we played together.
Fathers are busy people. After all, they spend most of their time providing for the family, working hard so the family has what they need and want. Is the father’s involvement personally with his children even important? The answer for most of us is obvious-of course it’s important for a father to be involved with his children. We know that, but with our busy lifestyles, spending time with children can feel like one more burden on a dad’s “to do” list. Glenn Stanton, from “Focus on the Family” helps us out with this dilemma. He explains some differences that mothers and fathers bring to the family and simple ways fathers can bond with their children, in his article “The Involved Father”:
“Fathers are just as essential to healthy child development as mothers. Psychology Today explained, “Fatherhood turns out to be a complex and unique phenomenon with huge consequences for the emotional and intellectual growth of children.”1
Erik Erikson, a pioneer in the world of child psychology, asserts that a father’s love and a mother’s love are qualitatively different. Fathers “love more dangerously” because their love is more “expectant, more instrumental” than a mother’s love.2 A father brings unique contributions to the job of parenting a child that no one else can replicate. Following are some of the most compelling ways that a father’s involvement makes a positive difference in a child’s life.
Fathers parent differently.
Fathering expert Dr. Kyle Pruett explains that fathers have a distinct style of communication and interaction with children. By eight weeks of age, infants can tell the difference between their mother’s and father’s interaction with them.
This diversity, in itself, provides children with a broader, richer experience of contrasting relational interactions. Whether they realize it or not, children are learning, by sheer experience, that men and women are different and have different ways of dealing with life, other adults and children. This understanding is critical for their development.
Fathers play differently.
Fathers tickle more, they wrestle, and they throw their children in the air (while mother says . . . “Not so high!”). Fathers chase their children, sometimes as playful, scary “monsters.”
Fathering expert John Snarey explains that children who roughhouse with their fathers learn that biting, kicking and other forms of physical violence are not acceptable.3 They learn self-control by being told when “enough is enough” and when to settle down. Girls and boys both learn a healthy balance between timidity and aggression.
Fathers build confidence.
Go to any playground and listen to the parents. Who is encouraging kids to swing or climb just a little higher, ride their bike just a little faster, throw just a little harder? Who is encouraging kids to be careful? Mothers protect and dads encourage kids to push the limits.
Either of these parenting styles by themselves can be unhealthy. One can tend toward encouraging risk without consideration of consequences. The other tends to avoid risk, which can fail to build independence and confidence. Together, they help children remain safe while expanding their experiences and increasing their confidence.
Fathers communicate differently.
A major study showed that when speaking to children, mothers and fathers are different.