What Consistency Looks Like in a Dad
Our children need us to be dependable, predictable reference points in their lives. Children should know what to expect-where to find you. If you are consistent, your kids will gain in confidence and security. To keep your children from losing their way in a large and frightening world, it is crucial that you be consistent as a compass in five areas of fathering: your moods, your presence in the family, how well you keep your promises, your morality and ethics, and your schedule.
Steady in moods and emotions We all have our mood swings, but how far do we let the emotional pendulum swing in each direction? Limiting mood swings does not mean keeping all emotions under wraps. Nor does it mean limiting yourself to peaceful or positive emotions. In fact, our kids benefit from seeing that we do get angry, but we handle it responsibly by not losing control of words or actions.
Do your children know what to expect from you emotionally? Can your daughter approach you at any time, or does she have to “feel you out” first, to see what kind of mood you’re in? Does your son know what to expect the next time he accidentally breaks your favourite tool? Inconsistent fathers leave their children on edge, wondering, ‘How will Dad react when he walks in the door after work?’ If you are struggling from a Jekyll & Hyde Syndrome, you’re not alone. Understand that it probably didn’t start with you. Your dad may not have modelled how to reliably express emotion. Still, it’s up to you to learn to control your wide range of emotions.
Available and present
For too many dads, home is where they eat, sleep, and do their best to keep the noise level down. Day-to-day parenting is left to their wives. These dads believe that their presence or absence has little impact on the family. How wrong they are. Our children are very familiar with our moods, our habits, even our level of commitment to them. It doesn’t matter if we’re tinkering in the garage, reading the paper in an easy chair, or calling home from overseas. Our presence is felt deeply.
Every day there are decisions to make, crises to handle, wounded egos to soothe-and dads ought to stay in touch in each area. Obviously, you can’t care for a skinned knee when you’re on an assembly line or in a board meeting, but you can still connect with your wife every day about each child-even if it means calling home from a business trip to ask, ‘How’s Joey doing?’ Your children need to know that you know. They care that you care.
A divorced dad is even more challenged in this area. Occasional visits and long-distance calls are often tough and unfulfilling. Without a consistent effort to maintain the father-child relationship, divorce can breed insecurity in children and their non-custodial parent. As a divorced dad, your first priority is to be consistent with your scheduled custody visits and child-support payments. After that, the extra calls, notes, and remembering what’s important to your child can give you a rock-solid “presence” in their life. That’s good advice for all dads. We need to be there for the routine – building habit patterns, traditions, memories. But also the not-so-routine, the annual recital, big games, special classes, romances, break-ups, fears, hopes and dreams.
True to your word
There’s a world of difference between making a promise and keeping a promise. Politicians love to make promises. They pledge, vow, and guarantee. But then Congress gets grid locked, special interest groups get their attention, their promises get broken, and ‘we the people’ are disappointed. That’s how our kids feel when we make promises and don’t follow through. Each promise just sets them up for disappointment.
Realize that even though promises aren’t contractual or written in stone, your children view them differently. Any casual statements or suggestions about the future (‘Let’s play racquetball one day this week,’ or ‘Maybe we’ll have time for McDonald’s afterwards’) sound like promises to your kids. In any given week, you may make many such statements-too many to remember them all. Apparently, you promised Mark you’d shoot baskets and you promised Eric you’d be there for his game. Don’t worry; rely on your children to help you remember the promises you’ve made. Just ask them. But once we remember promises we’ve made, keeping them is another story. We routinely make well-intentioned promises, but then ‘something important comes up’ at the office. The result is a broken promise, or two. Not so with Congressman Mark Neumann of Janesville, Wisconsin. His promise-keeping story makes a strong case in point.
This past November, Neumann left Washington, D.C., on the eve of some ‘key’ votes over the budget bill. The reason he gave for skipping work and heading back to his home district was to keep a promise, a long-standing family tradition of going hunting with his son. In fact, he was bringing his son to the same spot where Mark’s dad had taken him some two decades prior.
The public reaction will surprise you, unless you happen to be from Southern Wisconsin. His colleagues and the media let him have it! They criticized him for reneging on duty to country, totally ignoring the integrity he demonstrated by keeping his promise to his son. In fathering, as in politics, it’s about time we return to those days long ago when our word really was our bond. We need more dads who limit their time at work because they have made promises to their children.
Clear in ethical & moral direction
We try to teach our kids right from wrong, and hope they know what we mean. But the clear picture gets clouded over when our actions completely contradict what we teach. Few things do more damage to children than fathers who spout moral absolutes but live out a double standard. Harry punishes his daughter for lying and then, when someone calls for him at home, he has her tell the caller he’s not there. Or, there’s the son who listens to endless lectures on sexual purity, until one day the son finds his dad’s adult magazine collection in the bottom of a drawer. Such inconsistent behaviours can lead our disillusioned kids to trash our entire system of beliefs as faulty or fraudulent.
Even if we’re not cheating on taxes or having an adulterous affair, our children are still watching our every move to see if we ‘walk the talk’. The message we live is the message they get. Reliable in your daily schedule Children long for consistency in a father’s schedule and daily habits. At any time of day, they take comfort in knowing where we are and what we’re doing. This is where hourly workers may have an advantage over entrepreneurs. If you punch in and out at set times five days a week, you have a routine your kids can count on. Even if you travel the state and your itinerary is never the same two days in a row, you can still make a point of calling home mid-day and being home for dinner.
In those situations, dinner becomes an important appointment for you to keep and a part of your daily habit that your family can look forward to. It may not happen on the dot of 6 o’clock, but you’re there nonetheless. This kind of regularity and reliability is not to be confused with dull or stuck-in-a-rut fathering. Those family dinners or weekend family times can be routinely scheduled, but they need not be boring or repetitious. You can be fun and spontaneous, as long as your family knows you’ll make a habit of it. It’s important that your lifestyle, however complex, provides your kids with a point of reference, a fixed compass point as they explore their ever-changing world. Is this expecting too much of today’s father? Perhaps. It would be foolish to expect every dad to be on a precise time schedule for his kids. Our increasingly complicated lifestyles disrupt our efforts to stay consistent in our daily schedule. Many of us don’t know what will happen at work tomorrow, let alone what time we’ll be home. Does that excuse you from being consistent in this key aspect of fathering? No. Your kids need to know where you are and how you can be reached, if need be. Just as you let co-workers track your comings and goings, you can do at least as much for your children. On a business trip, leave your family an updated itinerary, so they know where you are and what you’re doing. Don’t be discouraged if you see yourself in one or more of these examples. Make it your goal that your children would know what to expect from you in as many areas of your life as possible. With a consistent dad for a compass, your children will venture out into uncharted waters with confidence and security.
- Sit down and write each of your kids’ names on a piece of paper. For each child, ask yourself, “Have I made any promises that I’ve failed to keep?” Then ask your wife.
- Participate in the nitty-gritty of your child’s life by giving a bath, changing a diaper, or helping with homework.
- When you discipline your child, always be sure to explain why his or her behavior is wrong or harmful.
- The next time your kids catch you in an inconsistency, don’t be afraid to admit you are wrong.
- Ask your wife to help you identify your mood patterns and their effects on your children. Make sure you pick up your clothes and keep your room tidy.
- Sit down with your schedule and block out time to spend with your kids. Then follow through on your commitment.
- The next time you leave on a business trip, type up an itinerary so your kids know where you are at all times.
- Humans need a dozen hugs every day. Make sure you do your part to meet your child’s needs in this area.
- Develop a plan to provide consistent moral and ethical training for your children. Make sure your life reflects the values you’re teaching.
Reprinted with thanks from www.fathers.com, this article was adapted from Ken Canfield’s book, The Heart of a Father