Ask Nicole: Celebrate Dads and Father-figures
By Nicole M. Young, MSW
This Mother’s Day, my kids gave me the best gift ever: their time and attention. Yes, I love the beautiful ceramic pitcher from my daughter and the cheese basket from my son (he knows me well). I thoroughly enjoyed the bagel breakfast and going out to dinner. But what filled my heart the most was sitting, eating, talking, laughing, gardening, making travel plans together – not just being next to each other, but really being with each other. The older they (and I) get, the more I appreciate the gift of time with them and the ways we love each other, flaws and all. So as we approach Father’s Day, I hope all dads and father-figures experience this same gift of being noticed, appreciated, loved, and celebrated – every day of the year.
This monthly column provides tips for anyone who is raising children, based on the world-renowned Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, available to families in Santa Cruz County. If you have questions for a future column, email me at email@example.com.
Dear Nicole, I spent a lot of time with my kids (7, 10) this past year because of the pandemic. I work from home, so I was more involved in their schoolwork, meals, bedtimes, and playtime. It also means I was more involved in battles over virtual classes (“Why do I have to get dressed if my camera isn’t on?”), picky eating, bedtimes, and screen time rules. I’ve never felt more fulfilled and exhausted in my life. With summer here, I’m relieved to get a break from the school routine, but I could use a break from the daily parenting grind! I’ve been more annoyed and impatient than usual and don’t want to be the grouchy dad. Got any advice? Rich
Dear Rich, Thanks for reaching out and sharing your experience. Parental stress and burnout is real! Here are some tips to try:
Give yourself some leeway. Parents and caregivers are often their own worst critics, expecting themselves to know and do exactly “the right” thing in every situation. That’s not only impossible, but it creates tremendous pressure and stress when parenting doesn’t go smoothly. Think about your expectations of yourself – are they realistic and necessary? When you’re stressed, give yourself the freedom to cut back on chores or other responsibilities to ease the pressure. Let your family know you need uninterrupted time alone each day, then do something that helps you feel calm and relaxed. Taking care of yourself will help you be present and available for your family.
Revisit summertime routines. Maintaining healthy and consistent routines – like morning, mealtime, and bedtime routines – helps make busy lives more manageable. Routines help children and teens know what to expect, which creates the safety they need to learn, test boundaries, develop self-control, and become independent problem-solvers. However, routines are often more flexible in the summer, depending on work, childcare, and other activity schedules. Talk as a family about your daily routines and decide which ones should remain consistent (e.g., chores, eat dinner together) and which ones can be flexible during the summer (e.g., bedtimes).
Allow screen time in moderation. Too much screen time can hurt children’s developmental, emotional, and behavioral health, but a moderate amount of age-appropriate screen time can be a lifeline for stressed parents. A little extra screen time won’t damage your kids for life, especially if it means it allows you to work (i.e. stay employed) or have uninterrupted time alone. You can even use screen time to spend quality time with your kids. Watch a movie or TV show together – let them pick it and then snuggle, talk, laugh, or cry together. The key is to be aware of what your kids are reading and viewing and set family rules or use parental controls to make sure it’s age-appropriate. Common Sense Media (https://www.commonsensemedia.org/) makes this task easier.
Reach out for support. Many dads and father-figures want to be the best caregivers they can – and yet they also feel stressed, isolated, and overwhelmed. Remember you don’t have to go through parenting struggles alone. Reach out to friends, family, other men who will listen and support you – and if needed, seek additional support from a trained professional. Seeking help is a sign of strength and sets a good example for your kids.
Final Thoughts: Dads and father-figures play a crucial role in children’s healthy development. There are many examples of dads and caregivers deepening their involvement in raising children and being positive parents. Let’s celebrate them every day of the year!
Nicole Young is the mother of two children, ages 17 and 21, who also manages Santa Cruz County’s Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, the world’s leading positive parenting program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is made available locally by First 5 Santa Cruz County, the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency (Mental Health Services Act) and the Santa Cruz County Human Services Department. To find a Triple P parenting class or practitioner, visit http://triplep.first5scc.org, http://www.facebook.com/triplepscc or contact First 5 Santa Cruz County at 465-2217 or firstname.lastname@example.org.