This Father's Day, ask your kids 'How am I doing? Am I the dad you need me to be?'
That's according to Jeff Cookston, professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, who says that just being a good parent may not be good enough.
"Kids are actively trying to make sense of the parenting they receive, and the meaning that children take from the parenting may be as important, or more important, than the behavior of the parents. I don't think a lot of parents give these ideas about meaning much thought. You may think that you're being a good parent by not being harsh on your kid, for instance, but your child may view that as 'you're not invested in me, you're not trying.'"
Cookston and Andrea Finlay report a new study in the Journal of Family Issues, examining how adolescents view their fathers' actions – specifically, whether the teens attribute these actions to a dad's overall character or to his reaction in a particular situation.
The study suggests that girls tend to believe that a father's "enduring aspects" are responsible for a dad's good deeds (for example dad took her to the baseball game because he is a good father), while boys are more likely to think that dads do good depending on the situation (dad took him because he likes to go to the game).
Based on Cookston's research, he suggests Father's Day can be a good time for dads to rethink their relationship with their children:
- Be sure to check in with your child: "Fathers should ask, 'am I more or less than you need me to be?'," Cookston said, "and children -- particularly adolescents -- should be able to say, 'I need you to change course.'"
- Show your emotional support: Cookston said it is the fathers who emphasize their emotional relationships with their children who have kids that are less likely to behave in aggressive and delinquent ways.
- Don't be afraid to switch your style: "Parents can change, and kids can accept that. Parents need to be constantly adapting their parenting to the development and individual needs of the child."
- Be a team player: Children are more likely to talk to parents about family relationships if they see that they agree on parenting decisions, he noted, and "parents play unique, additive roles in their children's lives."
- Aim high as a dad: "We need to raise the bar for fatherhood. If a man is around and is a good provider and doesn't yell at his kids and goes to soccer games, we say that's enough," Cookston said. "But we need to expect more in terms of engagement, involvement and quality interaction." (This reminds me of that Chris Rock sketch about '"I take care of my kids." You're supposed to, you dumb motherf**ker! What kind of ignorant sh1t is that? "I ain't never been to jail!" What do you want, a cookie?! You're not supposed to go to jail, you low-expectation-having motherf**ker!')
This Father's Day maybe I'll ask my boys 'Am I the Dad you need me to be?' and let you know the response. I'm not holding out much hope for an eloquent and illuminating one though, given that the other day I was asking them about 'Dad pride' and whether they are proud of me, and my 8-year-old said 'yes, because you always finish off my dinners'. Human dustbin, that I can do.