Study Expects More Of Dads On Father’s Day Than Enjoying A Round Of Golf Or Coffee In Peace

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shutterstock_131729036Jeff Cookston, a professor of psychology at San Francisco State University has studied fatherhood extensively and he wants dads to know that just being a good parent is not good enough. Relying on actions alone can backfire, so Cookston encourages fathers to have a more open dialogue with their children — on Father’s Day. It makes me feel a little guilty for spending Mother’s Day alone, sleeping in, writing, and going to a yoga class.

“Kids are actively trying to make sense of the parenting they receive,” he explained, “and the meaning that children take from the parenting may be as important, or more important, than the behavior of the parents.”

“I don’t think a lot of parents give these ideas about meaning much thought,” Cookston said.

The dynamic he cautions against reminds me of a lesson that has been offered to wives for decades: don’t expect your husband to be a mind-reader.  The same holds true for fathers and their children.

“You may think that you’re being a good parent by not being harsh on your kid, for instance, but your child may view that as ‘you’re not invested in me, you’re not trying.'”

To help bridge the gap between the way a man acts as a father and how a child may interpret those actions, Cookston offers a lot of constructive tips for fathers to assess and engage with their children. So cancel golf or the spa or whatever your plans and consider this your assignment for Father’s Day.

Father’s Day can be a good time for dads to rethink their relationship with their children, with a few tips that Cookston has gleaned from these studies:

Be sure to check in with your child. Dads may be surprised by the “filters” their children use to interpret their behavior, making it important for fathers to regularly ask about the relationship. “Fathers should ask, ‘am I more or less than you need me to be?’,” Cookston said, “and children — particularly adolescents — should be able to say, ‘I need you to change course.'”

Show your emotional support. Dads provide everything from discipline to role modeling, but Cookston said it is the fathers who emphasize their emotional relationships with their children who have kids that are less likely to behave in aggressive and delinquent ways.

Don’t be afraid to switch up your style. If you weren’t always a warm and accepting father, it’s not too late to become one, according to Cookston. “Parents can change, and kids can accept that. Parents need to be constantly adapting their parenting to the development and individual needs of the child.”

Aim high as a dad. “We need to raise the bar for fatherhood. If a man is around and is a good provider and doesn’t yell at his kids and goes to soccer games, we say that’s enough,” Cookston said. “But we need to expect more in terms of engagement, involvement and quality interaction.”

According to Cookston, Father’s Day expectations are way higher than Mother’s Day. I love all of these suggestions and believe they could make an important difference in the relationship between a father and his children, however they seem like practices that should be exercised all year long, not just as Father’s Day approaches.

I also find it interesting that an expert on fatherhood demands fathers be more engaged on Father’s Day, while the rest of the country deems Mother’s Day as a day of rest and pampering — frankly the one day a year we’re “allowed” to be “selfish.” I’m going to offer my husband some of these ideas, but probably not until the day after Father’s Day. He deserves a day to be recognized without the stress of an evaluation.

(photo: Aletia/Shutterstock)