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Being a dad of two 'nearly men' teenagers has given me lots of opportunities to feel pure happiness and joy, but equally battles and tantrums. It is the most stressful, fantastic, lonely, happy, miserable, exciting role any man can play in another human being's life.
I just wanted to take this opportunity to provide some feedback on my journey as a dad as well as some observations that I have made over the years.
I coach men on issues around relationships with their children (as well as other life situations), I contribute to posts on closed Facebook groups and I observe firsthand the kinds of struggles that men deal with on a daily basis.
As a dad, we are role models for our children - we are one of the primary providers of learning for our children along with mum, step-mum, partner or guardian. I was lucky enough to become a father for the first time aged 24 and as a relatively young dad it is hard to understand what you have to do and what responsibility you have towards your child.
Around the masculinity agenda, I often observe men taking somewhat of a back seat when it comes to caring for their child, leaving the lion's share of the care and bringing up their child to the partner. I feel that this is down to men feeling that perhaps skipping down the road with their daughter somehow detracts from their idea of what masculinity should be? (Just an observation).
I've spoken with many guys who struggle to deal with being a dad - they feel the need to be the strong one and this causes some problems when a 4 year old wants to act in a particular way. I see dads going down this sort of road with a young child, imagine the scene in a restaurant – the child starts to behave in a way which the dad feels is inappropriate, the dad tries to 'sort out' the behaviour, the child doesn't like it and their behaviour escalates.
It is at this point where men sometimes fall fowl. It stops then becoming about the behaviour of the child and more about the perception of others that the dad can't control their child and therefore the dad's behaviour becomes equally unbearable for the wife or partner who now just wants to pay the bill and leave!!
Is there a better way? Having the luxury of hindsight, I do wish that in many ways I had allowed my children a bit more freedom of expression - now it must be balanced, of course, but being a bit older and wiser, the behaviour of others children doesn't particularly bother me and I sometimes feel for the parents when trying to control their child.
Parents are trying to control the behaviour of a young child in line with an adult's parameters of acceptable behaviour - and this is where the friction can start to unravel. It is tough being the dad to a young child, we all have to go through it and here's the news guys - it doesn’t get much easier! The challenges just get different!
As my two lads have developed into young men, my role is still of dad, but less of director and more of mentor. The language I use has changed to reflect the growing maturity of my boys - but the challenges are still there, they still want to behave the way they want to behave, which sometimes I don't agree with yet I have to let them find out for themselves that actions have consequences - so long as they are not endangering themselves or others, causing criminal damage or generally being anti-social in their behaviour in which case we would need to talk.
You simply can't parent a 17 year old in the same way you can a 3 year old - as a dad, you have to have mechanisms that allow you to rapidly change as your child develops their maturity.
Now I'm sure there are dads reading this that maybe cannot connect with this at all, and that is great - this article was primarily written for the thousands of dads out there that do struggle a little bit. However, be warned gents - just because you have a fantastic relationship with your child now - it can very quickly change!
Many of the relationship problems I deal with start from the differences in the ways that males and females interact and deal with their children. These tensions are often long term in the making but can have their roots in that dad that is always shouting, stressing, angry which puts stress onto the mother. This in turn activates an overly super-maternal behaviour in the mother which then irritates the dad - and so the circle continues.
Guys - learning to relax, bite your tongue and be able to say sorry to both your child and partner goes a very long way. Be aware of your behaviour, and while in the heat of the moment you may not recognise your behaviour, if you then reflect and realise you may have been out of line - apologise.
It's tough, but hopefully it can lead to a positive discussion and it's better than being in a stress response state for the next two days. I think they call it humility these days - whatever it's called I would urge all you guys out there to practice this with your partner. While it may be difficult to start, persist and your relationship will only get better, stronger and closer.
So what would I tell my younger self:-
Relax more around your children when they are younger.
Really value them, spend time with them and play with them as often as you can (even when you can’t be bothered).
Don't feel that you are being judged by others (I probably wasn't - but it felt like I was).
Support your wife or partner - really show them that you are there for them.
Take an interest in your wife or partner - simple compliments can go a long way in a relationship.
Change your state of thinking so that you care little about what others think of you.
I want to encourage dads across the UK and the world to spend quality time with their children when they are young as you're never going to get that time back and you'll most likely end up regretting it when you're older.
If you are struggling, find someone you feel comfortable talking with about your emotions and the difficulties you are facing. Sometimes talking with a professional coach can help you recognise your behaviours, the triggers and help work with you to improve that particular part of your life.