I know I focus a lot on moms on this site, because I am a mom myself and I can speak to the experience, but the important role of dads should never be overlooked!
My partner was a stay at home dad with River, our toddler, until she was 3.5 years old, so I am well aware how important it is to have a dad's influence with your kids. Having him at home was a life-saver for me since I had an office job when she was born, that provided our health benefits.
Insights from a Stay At Home Dad
I asked my partner, Gary about his experience as a stay-at-home dad and this is what he had to say.
What was your favorite thing about being a stay-at-home dad?
Learning and realizing that our daughter was an individual and not a copy of us.
What did you like doing with River during the day?
Mostly, hanging out. It was always something different.
What was your biggest challenge being a stay-at-home dad?
When she was very small, not knowing what she needed. Later on, matching her energy levels.
Do you feel like you have a special relationship with her since you got to stay home?
That one is harder to answer. I think it is equally with both of us.
Do you have any tips or advice for other stay-at-home dads?
One of the first things that comes to mind is shared responsibilities, and find time away to unwind. That was one of the hardest things.
Mostly, don't take a single minute for granted no matter how tired or stressed out you are.
It has been one of the biggest challenges, and one of the most rewarding.
The Importance of Dads.
There are many reasons why dads are important to children's lives, because they parent differently than moms do, and teach different types of skills throughout a child's lifetime. This can help kids to look at the world using different perspectives taught by each of their parents.
As children learn and grow, they can experience many benefits in having a dad, or other male role model (Grandpa, Uncle, Big Brother, family friend, teacher, etc.) involved in their life, even from a very young age.
That being said, it is important for dad's to be engaged dads. So, what does it mean to be engaged? It means, being involved with the day to day child rearing, and taking an active interest in what kids are doing. It is showing even small children that dad is excited and happy to see them.
According to Fatherly, "A lot goes into being a good dad. Making healthy decisions before conceiving so that your kid has the best shot in life, genetically speaking. Coaching of your partner through pregnancy and birth so that your bond to your child starts early. Learning to play with your infant even though they will never remember. Counseling your teenage daughter about making smart choices. But those are the mechanical parts of fatherhood. In a more general sense, these studies all emphasize the importance of not just parenting, but parenting well — not just being present and doing what the studies suggest, but legitimately caring for your children and modeling good behavior."
As stated above, modeling good behavior is important for anyone that is involved with a child's life (like dads!). I have said in other articles that little kids are like sponges, and they soak up everything around them. When they are learning from role models in their lives, it is important for kids to see positive behaviors, and positive interactions between their caregivers.
Dads Play Differently.
When I watch Gary playing with River, I notice that he explains games in different ways than I would. One day we were playing Candy Land, and she was jumping up and down and wanting to change the rules of the game. When I am on my own, I let River take the lead and play whatever new little game that she creates.
On the other hand, Gary explained that when you are playing a game with other people, it is important to follow the rules so that the game will be fair for everyone. He pointed out that if she isn't staying still or paying attention to the game, then we may want to put the game away since she isn't focusing.
According to the Head Start Program, "While mothers and fathers are both physical with their children, fathers are typically physical in different ways. Fathers tend to play with their children, and mothers tend to care for them. Generally speaking, fathers tickle more, they wrestle, and they throw their children in the air (while mothers warn "Not so high!"). Fathers chase their children, sometimes as playful, scary "monsters." Fathers are louder at play, while mothers are quieter. Mothers cuddle babies, and fathers bounce them. Fathers roughhouse, while mothers are gentle. Fathers encourage competition; mothers encourage equity. Fathers encourage independence while mothers encourage security.
Fathering expert John Snarey notes that children who roughhouse with their fathers learn that biting, kicking, and other forms of physical violence are not acceptable. They learn self-control by being told when "enough is enough" and when to "settle down." Fathers help girls and boys learn a healthy balance between timidity and aggression. Children need mom's softness, as well as dad's roughhousing. Both provide security and confidence in their own ways by communicating love and physical intimacy."
Dads also are more apt to let kids push boundaries with their outdoor play, and will let them do things that moms might think are just a little too dangerous. Since Gary has been home with River so much, I think she has been able to learn to be more fearless. As a mom, the idea of my child getting hurt makes me want to stop her, but Gary advocates that if she does get hurt, the injury will be a lesson too.
That is how she ended up climbing to the top of a giant rock in the park when she was a year old, and the rock had a sign saying that it was for age 5 and up.
According to the Head Start Program, allowing kids to play in a more wild and fearless manner can help to create confidence. They say ,"Go to any playground and listen to the parents there. Who is often encouraging kids to swing or climb just a little higher, ride their bike just a little faster, or throw just a little harder? Who is encouraging kids to be careful? Mothers tend toward caution while fathers often encourage kids to push the limits."
Dads understand that having a fall or scraped knee sometimes isn't going to damage a child in the long term. Of course, if something is TOO dangerous, Gary does stop River from doing it. But he does let her go on with things a little bit longer than I would on my own. When we are together, I have started taking his lead and letting River play a little more wildly than I would have if left to my own devices.
When kids play with dads, they also may end up playing different types of games than they would with moms. Since Gary is a plumber and knows how to fix things, River likes to emulate that. When she was really small, they started building together with blocks to make huge structures. She also learned the importance of having a stable foundation for anything that she wants to make really big.
For Christmas last year, she also asked for a tool kit so that she could build things like dad. She loves her little took kit and tool belt, and she will pretend she is screwing things together, or she builds houses out of chairs and blankets for herself and her stuffed animals.
Dads Use More Precise Language.
Since River spent the first 3.5 years of her life home with Gary, I have noticed that she will talk about things using words that often surprise me. This shines through when she is building something, and tells me that she is making the foundation stable. He makes sure to explain things to her the same way that he would explain to you or me.
Moms have a tendency to use more "baby talk" or to speak to very young children using simpler words. Dad's don't really do that. And according to research that can actually be a good thing, as it speeds up children's language development. This can lead to good outcomes in children's language usage and precision as they get ready to attend school or a daycare program.
Kids Are Better Prepared for School.
There have been several studies that have shown that both boys and girls are more ready to start school when they have a father figure involved in their lives.
According to studies performed by the Head Start Program, "Children who have an involved father in their lives in the early years show up for school with more of the qualities needed for learning. They are more patient, curious, and confident. They are better able to remain in their seats, wait patiently for their teacher, and maintain interest in their own work.
Educational psychologist Paul Amato explains that this higher level of self-control in school children with involved fathers was also associated with many other healthy qualities, such as improved general life skills, self-esteem, and higher social skills.
Kyle Pruett, in Fatherneed, reports on another major scientific study that linked positive fatherhood involvement with:
Lowered levels of disruptive behavior, acting out, depression, and telling lies;
Obeying parents, being kind to others, and being responsible;
Fewer behavioral problems in young boys; and
Girls being happier, more confident, and willing to try new things.
Pruett concludes, "Positive father care is associated with more pro-social and positive moral behavior overall in boys and girls.""
All of these important skills are learned more easily by young children when they have a father figure involved in their lives. This has to do with the way that fathers approach parenting differently than mothers do.
Benefits Later in Adolescence
In addition to having a positive impact in early childhood, dads continue to have a positive influence throughout childhood and into adolescence.
According to the Head Start Program, "Research from the University of Pennsylvania found that children who feel a closeness and warmth with their father are twice as likely to enter college, 75 percent less likely to have a child in their teen years, 80 percent less likely to be incarcerated, and half as likely to show various signs of depression."
Also, according to Fatherly, "teenage daughters, who take fewer sexual risks if they have strong relationships with their dads." This can be due to a dad modeling relationships that are caring and supportive, and help them to have expectations of good relationships with men later in life. On the other hand, if a dad is cold or uncaring with a teen daughter, it could lead to lower expectations of men and relationships.
For example, girls are more likely to have casual sex as teens or adults when they have low expectations of men and relationships. Dads can help to set the bar higher in terms of the type of man that their daughters will seek out in a relationship.
Community Support Is Available.
Some early childhood programs, like Head Start, make it a point to be supportive of the important role of fathers (and other male caregivers), "The quality of fathers' interactions with practitioners makes a difference. When fathers feel valued, are included in the program, and receive services to enhance parenting skills tailored to their needs and goals, they are more engaged in the program and with their young children (Anderson, Aller, Piercy, and Roggman, 2015)."
Dads can be actively involved with their child's education from the beginning. When dads are engaged with school it can really help kids too.
If your school or early childhood program is ignoring the role of dads (as some still unfortunately seem to do), it can be important for us as moms to be sure they are involved, or to let your partner know that they are valued, and have them advocate for themselves to be involved with the school.
Our daycare program only emails me about things, though Gary has perpetually asked for emails to go to him too, ever since we first enrolled. It is unfortunate that he has had to push so hard for his own involvement. If the same is the case for you with daycare or school, dads can still advocate for themselves so that they will be involved.
When I was a kid, my dad was the Chess Club leader at my elementary school, and took this role on for himself in a school that was primarily run by women. So it is possible for dads to involve themselves, even if the environment is not always geared toward their involvement.
Both moms and dads teach kids useful skills, because they tend to look at the world in slightly different ways. My daughter has really benefitted from having her dad staying home with her. It has made her braver and more outgoing.
As moms, we tend to focus a lot on safety, sometimes at the expense of other fun experiences. Dads can mitigate our caution by teaching kids the importance of risk-taking and other important skills that will last a lifetime.
It may seem that our partners have a very different parenting style, but I have come to realize that is a good thing, not something for us to argue over. We are both watching out for our daughter and want the best for her both short-term and long-term. Different parenting styles can benefit her by teaching her to look at the world in different ways.
Let me know what you think in the comments, what skills you learned from your dad, or what skills your kids learn from your partner.