When my first daughter was born, I was determined to be the best dad that I could possibly be – to do everything in my power to make her life great - happy and fulfilling, fun and secure. And I think I did pretty well.
But somehow, the stresses of navigating my way through an increasingly busy world as two further children arrived, meant that I lost sight of the goal. I didn’t ever decide it should be moved down the list of priorities, it just sort of got consumed and crowded out by all the other things that were going on – managing work and chores and kids sports and TV and friends and DIY and homework and a million other things that just chew up my time. And then all of a sudden, my first-born daughter is nearly a teenager with two younger sisters and a Dad is just getting by rather than making the most of every very precious moment.
Then I caught myself getting angry and telling off my youngest daughter when she chose to do something fun rather than something I’d told her to do. So later when I was lying awake in bed feeling frustrated and disappointed in myself for over-reacting and making my beautiful, happy little girl all sad, I knew I could do much, much better. It was time to examine what was going on and what had happened to my drive to be the best dad to my kids. And most importantly, what was I going to do to do to get back on track.
Time to lift my game.
- Doing stuff that makes them happy. I’m not talking about buying presents or stuffing them with sweets, I’m talking about little things like having a tickle fight with my youngest daughter or shooting hoops or reading stories.
- Just spending time – going on walks, practicing sport, lying on their bed after lights out while they talk about whatever’s on their mind.
- Listening - stopping what I am doing to hear whatever it is that they are bursting to tell me when they get home from school. I mean really listening and engaging in their conversation about what is important to them.
- Praising them genuinely and being an honest (but gentle) critic when I can help them to improve.
- Considering little requests before responding. A short ride on my shoulders is a small inconvenience for the amount of pleasure it can bring.
- Being Mr Reasonable when we don’t agree – by not raising my voice to win an argument with my volume or size, not reacting to faces and mimicking and never belittling them or being mean-spirited.
But this is not just an idea. I made it real by sharing my goal with my family and I writing down what I am going to do differently. This commitment means I can easily measure myself against my ideals and hold myself to account if I don’t measure up.
It is so easy to let aspects of our lives get into cruise mode – work, sport, money, relationships – but it is only when we step back and take an honest and critical look at where we are cruising to that we can decide whether we are on the right course - or not. If not, it’s time to switch off the autopilot, clearly define where we want to be and make a real and achievable plan - how to get to the destination we choose.
For me it was the stopping, and taking stock of how a critically important aspect of my life was not living up to my expectations, that opened my eyes to how things could be better. But it was also the realisation that if I wanted things to improve, it was up to me to make the change.
So how is my Best Dad project going now? Great!
I know I’m not going to be one of those Dads that laments how quickly my kids have grown up and complain “where did the time go”. I am conscious of how it is up to me to make every precious moment I get with my kids as great as it can be, for everyone. It’s not always easy, but the support of my awesome wife and three terrific kids means I am staying on course to being the best dad I could ever possibly be.