Becoming a Father
I am a 42 year-old father of two children, ages 4 and 2. As an “older” dad I feel as though I should know more about parenting than I do. I want to be involved in my daughters’ lives but I feel more competent as the wage earner than I do as a parent. My wife, on the other hand, just seems to know what to do. Why is it harder for me to be a good parent?
Often times, women have an early advantage in some of the basics of parenting because they learned a fundamental set of skills as teens while babysitting, volunteering, or caring for younger siblings. Many of us acquired skills like changing a diaper, negotiating with a toddler, or finger painting without destroying the house through practice without the pressure of full-time parenting. Beginning parenting with this foundation, women often assume the primary care for newborns, which furthers their sense of confidence and inadvertently widens the experience gaps between new mothers and fathers.
Becoming a father for the first time in your 30s and 40s creates an interesting dichotomy: at a time when you’ve firmly established successes in your career, lifestyle, and relationships you find yourself a novice in the role of parent. Being an older parent has its advantages: you understand your own preferences, learning style, and interests much better than you did when you were in your 20’s and 30’s. The challenge now is to use your experience with other novel situations to inform how you build confidence as a father. For example, are you someone who reads all of the instructions before starting or do you start first and learn from hands-on experience?
- Cut yourself some slack: we live in a culture that encourages girls—not boys—to develop care-giving skills.
- Acknowledge the unexpected—and, perhaps, uncomfortable—feelings related to being a beginner.
- Engage in learning in a way that works for you, and communicate your learning preferences with your parenting partner.
- Create and share with your wife your vision for your current relationship with your daughters and family. As a father, what activities and values do you want to share with your daughters? Consistent, reliable and sensitive parenting will help your daughters develop to their fullest capacities.
- Develop your own parenting style. Research shows that the differences in the relationships children have with their moms and dads actively enhance their development. Children who have engaged fathers are better problem solvers, manage social relationships with greater success, have longer attention spans, and can more easily tolerate frustrations. Going to a baseball game might be too much for your 4-year-old right now, but playing catch with her in the backyard builds her confidence and develops essential trust in your relationship.