Dear Mr. Dad: People are always talking about being an “involved dad,” but everyone seems to have a different definition of what that means. What do you say, and how does one go about getting “involved”?
A: Well, in my view, being involved means taking an interest in your child, being supportive, and making him or her a priority in your life. Easier said than done, of course. Here are some specific ways to go about it.
- Get in the car. Drive the carpool, take the kids to music lessons, sports practice, shopping, the bank, and everywhere else you go.
- Go to school (theirs, that is). Volunteer to talk to students about what you do, help out in the classroom, and go on field trips. In most schools, men are in short supply, so your being there will be an inspiration to other kids as well as yours, showing them – and the school administration – that men care. Try to never miss parent-teacher conferences, plays, concerts, sporting events, and science fairs. Being there shows your child that you’re interested in him all the time.
- Talk, eat, and talk more. Have regular meals together and include some serious conversations about drugs, alcohol, sex, peer pressure, and all the other things you dread discussing. You may have had some of these talks before, and you’ll have them again, so get used to it.
- Listen. Kids have plenty to say, and a lot of it’s pretty interesting, too. So set aside some time every day to turn off the cell phone, the television, and the computer and focus 100% on your child.
- Play. Kids of all ages need plenty of exercise, some they’ll get at school, some they’ll have to get at home. Encourage team sports, but don’t push too hard. She may be good enough to compete in the next Olympics, but is that what she wants, or is it what you want?
- Encourage responsibility. This can mean getting a job watering the neighbor’s garden, doing some meal planning (or even cooking), and even scheduling a weekend’s worth of family activities.
- Help him develop his own skills and interests. Support his interest in art, music, and anything else (from raising roses to breeding iguanas) he’s interested in exploring. Consider developing a shared activity.
- Get out your calendar. Get to know his friends by scheduling play dates and sleepovers and by inviting a friend or two along on some family outings.
- Teach. It won’t be long before your child decides she knows everything better than you do. Until then, take advantage of her relatively open mind to take her to interesting places, show her interesting things, and teach her as much about the world as you can.
- Book ‘em. Kids love being read to and even if he’s reading on his own, there’s no reason to stop. In the unlikely event that your child doesn’t want you to read to him, have him spend 15-20 minutes per night reading to you.
- Get a grip. Then loosen it. As your child gets more and more independent, you don’t have to let go of her completely. You do need to step back a little, though, and think about what she really needs and what she wants, as opposed to what you want her to be. That means you’ll need to gradually shift from being involved in everything to being a mentor. It’s a hard, but the sooner you get used to it, the better off you – and your child – will be.