In today’s world, fathers are increasingly expected to play equal roles with mothers in terms of hands-on care. However, many of us grew up in an age where fathers played more traditional roles, leaving childcare mostly to the mothers. Lacking in role models from their own lives, some fathers may find it intimidating to bond with or care for their little ones, or even struggle to juggle both traditional and modern expectations of fathers.
As a father to two young children, I too have felt inadequate. I often compared myself with mummy, who seems to tackle modern motherhood effortlessly, whether it was bringing home the bacon, cooking, cleaning, or caring for the children. Her list seems infinitely longer than mine!
Though self-doubt continues to be a struggle, I have come a long way in building my confidence as a father. A time of personal reflection, as well as regular affirmation from my wife, has led me to realise that as a father, I play a unique and irreplaceable role in the family.
Here are some ways I have learnt to step up in my role as a father.
“Parents each have unique interests and personalities that can contributed to enriching our children’s development.“
While it is good for parents to recognise our weaknesses and build on them, it should not blind us to our existing strengths. My wife and I have unique interests and personalities that have contributed to enriching our children’s development.
In terms of interests, my wife exposes the children to arts and crafts, cooking, and applies her experiences as an educator to help them learn subjects such as English. As for myself, I bring my sense of humour and creativity to playtime and storytelling, expose my children to mechanical and open-ended styles of play through toys such as Lego and Transformers, and introduce them to other interests like coffee-making.
Personality-wise, my wife brings more energy and spontaneity, and a sense of adventure to our outings together while I bring a tender love and warmth to our relationships, which creates an atmosphere of safety and acceptance in the home.
“Avoid unhealthy comparisons with other parents, and zero in on each other’s strengths and contributions to the family.“
It is human nature to compare ourselves to others, especially in terms of performance and ability. While this can sometimes serve as a benchmark for growth, such comparisons can become toxic when we cling too tightly to unrealistic standards.
Rather than compete on who is the “better” parent at home, it has been helpful for my wife and I to take time to reflect and affirm each other – and ourselves! – on the different ways we contribute to the family.
For instance, my wife is better able to juggle the many tasks at home, spanning from household chores to caring for the kids. She is more natural at keeping the house looking fresh and homely, in part by keeping a lookout for good deals on household items. As an educator by profession, she keeps a better pulse on our children’s learning needs and school schedules. Finally, as the more adventurous parent, she keeps abreast of events and activities that the family can enjoy.
On the other hand, I am better at managing conflicts and meltdowns at home, whether it was between my wife and I or with the children. I am also good at giving the children undivided attention and tuning in to their interests and thoughts, which helps boost their confidence and self-esteem. Finally, I feel better able at guiding the family on making bigger decisions, such as career choices, choosing where to stay, which school our children should go, managing finances and big-ticket expenditures.
Nobody wakes up as a competent parent from day one. Many skills that experienced parents demonstrate today are hard-won from experience or passed down from other parents. Similarly, I had to educate myself in the areas where I lacked. One key way was to leverage modern technologies to accommodate my busy lifestyle. For example, I follow parenting accounts on social media for bite-sized tips and tools which I can absorb on-the-go.
It is also important to get connected to gain support and learn from others. For example, we got connected with fellow parents of younger children and have regular get-togethers. This exposes us to various styles of parenting, while simultaneously helping us and our children to build lasting friendships. We are also members of online parenting groups where we regularly get advice from on a wide variety of parenting issues.
Every day when I come home, my children shout for joy and run towards me for a giant bear hug.
This image of my children welcoming me home is seared in my mind and heart. It keeps me going as a father. I once thought that my role as a father was easily replaceable, but this could not be further from the truth; there is no replacement for the role that we play in our family.
To my fellow fathers, if you are struggling with self-doubt over your ability as a father, take heart: At the end of the day, our children do not want a different father, or a “better” father to be at the door. All they want is for their very own Papa to return home to them.
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