The ‘Father Effect’
He’d Be an Amazing Father!
My husband and I discussed having kids after dating for about two months. I knew enough even at that point to see he would be a great father. He was the kindest man I had ever met. Disciplined. Funny. Smart. Which meant I was dumbfounded when he said he didn’t think he wanted kids at all.
A total deal breaker for me, we went ahead with some enormous conversations (especially that early in a relationship) about what we each wanted out of life and if what we wanted could be reconciled.
We finally agreed that what we had in each other was worth pursuing. So, instead of my assumption that I would have two and his assumption that he would have none, we decided that if we made it to that point in a shared future, we would have one. Five years later we got married, and five years after that we had our daughter.
I Don’t Want to be “Bad Cop”
In the lead up to her birth, my husband and I were forced into a great number more conversations—only instead of being 10 years premature—it felt in many ways we were already behind in having them. He was (and still is) so fun, so nice, so cool … and I was desperate to not have to play the role of disciplinarian, spoil sport, or shrew. That’s not me, but that’s a role I had seen friends play out in their young families. And it was making them desperately sad.
Neither my female friends nor their husbands got to be themselves completely in front of their children because somehow they had each come to posture opposite ends of the parenting spectrum—fun/crazy/no rules dad vs. bed time/no fun/all the rules mom. That sucks for everyone involved, including the kids!
What I hadn’t anticipated was that he would so seamlessly carry the discipline of his professional focus into his parenting style. He had extremely high expectations of our daughter from the very, very beginning. There were conversations and activities he engaged with that bowled me over. He had a discipline, focus, and patience with her that floored me. She did and still does worship him and give him credit for a great number of her young achievements.
The Research on Dad
The subject of mothers and motherhood is deeply researched—understandably. We give of our bodies, our sleep, and our hearts from day one and we are physically and mentally stretched to our greatest reaches from thereon out. But there has been less discussion about fathers since, for the longest time, their role in the process was considered not particularly valuable after their initial “contribution.” So the role for fathers is more of an opt-in role. It’s determined by how much they choose to be part.
This recently updated piece on Fatherly.com, “The Science of Dad and the Father Effect,” puts together some of the recent science discussing the metrics that prove a dad’s contribution throughout childhood is valuable. And it’s a great step in the discussion of bringing balance to parenting—both in time and behavior with the kids.
I would say, though, based on my experience, the value of a father’s influence goes beyond the metrics of the child. It changes the experience of the mother and the child(ren) to be more honest and open in their everyday relationships together.
I don’t want my husband to be more like me. I didn’t marry him because I wanted him to become my “yes man.” I chose him as a partner because he prefers lemon and orange Starburst while I will only eat strawberry and cherry. (HA!) I chose him because he complements what I have to offer in life. He is different than I am and our daughter is better for it.
I don’t want him to be me or react like me. I need him to listen to me. Our daughter and I need him to bring the full spectrum of who he is to both of our relationships.
Keep the Conversation Going
He and I continue to have massive, evaluative conversations—All. The. Time. We are practiced at it now and thank goodness we have our plan for leading our child to success. (Yes! We’ve done our own course a few times actually!)
When we are aligned about what we want for our family—what success looks like for us—then the chaos of the world doesn’t sink our boat. We certainly get tossed around, but we go back to our plan and discuss our actions, motivations, and behaviors until things settle out.
I don’t want him to be me or react like me. I need him to listen to me. Our daughter and I need him to bring the full spectrum of who he is to both of our relationships. He is disarmingly charming, talented, and still kind. He is also a chronic night owl, talker, list maker, and non-chef. He is a remarkable father. And it’s exciting to see science backing up that value.
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