By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT
One of the issues I frequently see with fathers and their children is the difference between knowing and showing. My kids know I love them, fathers often tell me, I don’t need to tell them or show them all the time. What these fathers fail to understand is it doesn’t matter whether fathers know they love their children, it matters immensely however, if their children perceive feeling loved by their father.
In a study reported in 1995 (Young, Miller, Norton, and Hill), both sons and daughters sense of perceived paternal love and caring were significantly correlated to level of life satisfaction and sense of well-being. In other words, the more they perceived being loved and cared for by their fathers, the more satisfied they were with their lives and the better sense of well-being they had. It is not enough to love your children, Dads, it is vital our children know we love them, feel we love them, internalize our love and caring for them, so there remains not even a shadow of a doubt as to whether you love them or not.
But even with this knowledge, many fathers still struggle. If I show too much love or affection, what kind of man are they going to really be? Won’t they get picked on at school? Though often they are really saying, I don’t want my son to be wimpy or too feminine because then I’ll be embarrassed, it will reflect poorly on me. But even this myth, pervasive among fathers in the United States, does not hold up in the research. One study even determined that young boys develop a firm sense of male identity more easily when they have a warm, nurturing, involved father. What I think this shows is the difference between a macho façade and being a man, being masculine. The macho façade often develops with a lack of a strong sense of masculine identity, but when boys develop a relationship with a man, their father, who is loving, caring, but also strong and intelligent, the boy develops a stronger sense of self, a stronger sense of, and confidence in, being a man.
Several studies that have examined the impact of father’s love and caring on their children, used the child’s perception of feeling loved and cared for by their father as the measurement. The most important element to pull from this research is never too assume you have loved your children enough. First of all, we all know what happens when we assume, Dads, right? Secondly, what if we guess wrong?
What if we thought we had loved them enough, but it wasn’t enough for them because they needed to feel loved, feel cared for more than we estimated? We can’t start over from the beginning. Our most important role as parents is to never let our children have to guess whether we love them or not. They shouldn’t just know we love them, they should experience it in many different ways – verbal and non- verbal, implicit and explicit. Here are some ways to show your love and caring for your children.
- Say it to them. Use the words, “I love you” so it is crystal clear.
- Use terms of endearment (love, sweetie girl/boy, pumpkin, nugget, macaroon, etc.)
- Read to your children, huddled close together on the couch, floor or bed.
- Ask your children about their day and listen to their answers. Ask them follow-up questions to make sure they have told you everything they want you to know.
- Play games and sports with your children inside and outside
- Share the things you love with your children. Do you love animals? Music? Cars? Building things? Show them what you love and tell them about it. They won’t get all of it, but they’ll love being with you while you are enjoying something and they will begin to enjoy it, too.
- Tell them about your work (in age-appropriate ways), so they know the things you do when you are not with them.
- Bring them to your workplace if you work outside the home so they can picture what you do when you are away from them
- Take time to visit their school, let them give you a tour, show you where they spend their day.
- Put them to bed at night or at naptime on the weekends if you work during the day
- Wake up with them in the mornings
- Set up Special Daddy Time – time for you and your child only. Make sure everyone in your families know this is your time and not to be disturbed.
Our children’s future health and happiness depends upon how we treat them, how we love them. Make a vow to each of your children. Vow to love them fully, unconditionally and as much as you can. Dads, if you love your children, let them know. If you love your children, show them. If you love your children, stop reading this article and start reading to them.
Every day ask yourself, did I love them enough today? How can I love them more tomorrow?