Guest post by Dr. David Palmiter, clinical psychologist in Clarks Summit, Pa.
We fathers have tremendous power to benefit our kids and partner. For instance, and according to the National Fatherhood Initiative, kids who are raised with fathers are less likely to abuse substances, to underachieve academically, to be defiant, to break laws, to be obese, to become pregnant and to experience a wide array of toxic stresses.
We working dads and husbands have a lot on our plates. If you’re like me, you feel responsible for doing a good job at work, for keeping your partner content, for being a good provider and for keeping your kids happy and well. But, where do we find the time for all of this? We very much want to create one-on-one time with each of our kids and partner but most weeks leave us with no leftover time after life’s obligations have been met (these obligations often include time to taxi kids around but do not include time for us to relax with our friends).
No wonder research has suggested that the average American father spends only nine minutes each week one-on-one with his teenage child and the odds of first marriages not ending in a divorce are about the same as a flip of the coin. After all, we can’t fit nine days into seven and so much of our week is spent in service to others.
However, the more experience I get as a dad, husband and psychologist, the more I look at all of this differently. I offer three insights and close with a link to a weekly exercise for you to do with your children.
1. Kids don’t want or need things or experiences as much as they want (especially at younger ages) and need (at all ages) one-on-one time with us. In the past I know I’ve created lots of unnecessary pressure on myself by either not realizing or forgetting this (i.e., to pay for electronics, camps, etc.).
2. Our partner often –maybe even usually— doesn’t want us to fix things or solve problems. She wants us to listen and to indicate that we understand what she’s thinking and feeling. As much as I know and try to practice this, it still feels very odd to me. (I feel like a pilot in a tailspin who needs to trust his indicators more than his gut.) Try making at least one hour a week to listen to your partner, telling yourself that all you’re going to do is pay attention and let your partner know that you understand what she’s feeling and thinking. Restate what was said back to her and voice any positive thoughts and feelings that you experience. Unless you’re asked, bite your tongue every time you’re inclined to suggest solutions or constructive feedback.
3. What will matter more to us on our death beds will be how often we made—not found—the time to spend one-on-one with our kids and partner, not how often we completed our to-do lists.
To build closeness or stay close, try out this Special Time exercise (PDF). It’s a weekly opportunity for you and your child to really build that bond together. I’m betting your deathbed self would be happy with you should you consistenly do this exercise.
Photo by katiecampbell via flickr
Dr. David Palmiter is a clinical psychologist practicing in Clarks Summit, Pa. Among his interests and specialties are working with children and relationships. He is also a professor of psychology and Marywood University in Scranton and director of the university’s psychological services center.