On Saturday I hiked to the top of Mt. Timpanogos for the fourth time in my life. As always, it was a thrilling experience to reach the second highest peak in Utah and look out over the valleys below. It’s about a 16-mile round trip, so my brother Aaron and I had lots of time to talk as we hiked. We talked about our life experiences that had led us to where we are today. We also talked about the importance of fatherhood. We both have learned some very important lessons from our own late father’s example (both positive and negative), and many things from our own experiences as fathers of young children. Here’s a summary of my thoughts on “principles for effective fatherhood.”
Quality and Quantity Time
Develop a strong personal relationship with each individual child. This sounds extremely basic, but I think it’s crucial to spend good quality time with my kids as a group and individually. When I spend time with my children, undistracted by work, hobbies or other concerns, I know I’m communicating that they are the most important part of my lives. When I don’t, I’m sending the opposite message.
I try to find time for recreational experiences on a regular basis. I like to take my kids on some fun activity once a week and we love the time we spend together. Throw a football. Watch a TV show together. Go swimming or go on a hike. Play hide and seek. Go to a museum. Create memories together for “time flies of wings of lightning and you cannot call it back.”
When I was a young boy, my dad took me and my siblings on a handful dates – time that he would spend one-on-one with us doing something fun. We loved these moments together and I still remember those experiences from three decades ago. Over the past five years, I’ve tried to take a different child on a date each week so that each child gets one date per month. (It certainly doesn’t always happen that way because, well, life happens.) When I ask my kids what they like the most about our relationship, they always talk about the fun dates we’ve done. It doesn’t have to cost much or any money. But the one-on-one time has been crucial to developing a strong relationship.
We try to eat dinner together each night and I often lead the conversation so that each person gets a chance to share and feel valued. Each night, we take a few minutes to allow everyone to share one good thing and one bad thing that happened during the day. We usually don’t get through everyone, but it’s nice to be able to hear about each other’s successes and struggles.
This is one of the areas that I think is most crucial in parenting. I want to develop a relationship with my children which is so open and honest that they can come to me with any challenge or concern. Now I realize I haven’t quite gotten to the teenage years yet, so this will only get more difficult, but I’m hopeful that by setting a pattern in the early years, the children will be willing to talk with me and allow me to help them. Here are a few items I think are extremely important.
Listen intently to what they have to say and resist the urge to give advice and solve problems. A parent who immediately judges and criticizes a child’s choices and experiences as he/she shares them will find that the child is much more reluctant to share his/her thoughts and feelings.
Have regular talks with children. For me most often this means pulling them aside to sit on the porch swing or taking them on an errand with me and talking with them about their lives. Regular one-on-one visits are so important. About once per quarter, I do formal interviews with my kids in my home office on a Sunday afternoon. I sit across from them and we talk about their joys and struggles, their hopes and dreams, and the development of their testimonies of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We start and end these “interviews” with a prayer. It’s a great time to share my feelings about the gospel and let them know how much they are loved.
A mentor friend of mine once taught me three questions he would often ask his children in conversations to elicit feedback that would help him be a better father. They were simple and straightforward, but helped the kids think of specific things. He would ask:
“What am I currently doing that you’d like me to continue doing?”
“What am I currently doing that you’d like me to stop doing?”
“What am I not currently doing that you’d like me start doing?”
Now, my kids are fairly young and so usually they don’t have many answers to these questions, except for something like “Buy me that video game I want!” But the very fact that I try to ask these questions shows them that I really desire their input on how I can be a better father. Of course, if you ask for and receive feedback, you’d better be prepared to act on the input you get!
Daily scripture study. Morning and evening family prayer. Weekly church services. Weekly family home evening. All of these activities, when done consistently and in the right spirit, should strengthen the family and increase harmony and peace in the home. I am hopeful that this is true, although a spirit of contention often creeps in as we try to do these things. I remember my dad dragging us all out of bed at 5:45 each weekday morning to gather in the family room to read scriptures. It made a strong impression on me, even though at the time I often resisted.
- Teach my children how to work and set high expectations for them. When those expectations aren’t met, instead of criticizing, take the time to teach.
- Resist the urge to shout and snarl.
- Get to know my children’s friends and make them feel welcome in our home.
- Be patient.
- Praise good behavior regularly.
- Express love and show it.
Obviously these principles are not comprehensive. What do you have to add? I’d love to read your thoughts on how to be a successful parent.