"Am I a Bad Dad?"

by Andrea M. Darcy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Worry you are a bad dad? Parenting doesn’t come with a guide book and can be a challenge for the best of us. Sometimes we judge ourselves too harshly, other times it’s a matter of troubleshooting how we approach taking care of our family and owning up to areas we need to work on.

What 'bad dads' can teach us

There are many cliches about ‘bad dads’. The one who vanishes without a trace, or works too hard and never sees the kids then tries to buy their love when he does. Then there's the one who leaves it all to the mother as he goes to the pub, or the controlling father who tries to force his kids to follow in his footsteps.

Cliches tend to hide that all of us are multifaceted and have good qualities, too. But they also hide core truths.

What is at the root of these cliches that could help illuminate where you might need to troubleshoot with your fathering skills?

1. Presents vs. presence.

Time spent together with your children, doing things and making memories, will be more valuable than any gift a parent can buy and give their child. Plenty of studies have shown the value of time together.

But it’s not about spending endless time together, if a 2015 American study is anything to go by. While it did focus on mothers and not fathers, it found that high amounts of time together mattered less than if the parent was stressed or not. So if you don't have a lot of time with your kids, try to deal with your anxieties before you show up. And if you are feeling very lost in life, consider seeking support.

Although note that time together did matter when children became adolescents, when it meant your teen is less likely to become a delinquent.

2. Time vs quality time.

When you do spend time with the kids, try to engage and not just spend it in front the TV. And don’t assume as they are very young it won’t matter.

Amy Hsin, a sociologist at Queens College, has carried out research showing that spending most your time with your young children under six watching TV or doing nothing much can have a negative effect on them.

3. Dominating versus fathering.

Children are unique individuals, not replicas, no matter how much they might look like us. If as parents we are trying too hard to dominate what our children's futures look like, this need to control often says more about us than our kids.

And even if we are happy to allow our child independence, we need to also remember to let our child learn for themselves and to make mistakes.

A 2021 study by a Stanford graduate found that kindergarten-aged children whose parents stepped in often to provide instructions, corrections, or suggestions, even when their child was managing fair enough with the task at hand? Led to the children being less able to regulate their behaviours and emotions in other situations and also affected the child’s impulse control.

4. Accepting versus expecting.

We all want the best for our kids. We want them to shine bright, and to avoid unnecessary pain in life.

But our expectations of our kids, whether of what they will accomplish or what their identity will be, such as their gender, can be limiting and damaging.

Researchers looking at data from over 20 thousand British and Canadian college students found that perceptions of parental expectations put young people at risk for perfectionism, and contributed to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and self-harm.

A good dad takes care of himself.

It’s that old airplane metaphor. We help others best when we help ourselves first. And perhaps nowhere is this more true than with parenting.

1. A good dad regulates his emotions and doesn’t put them on his kids.

We all occasionally get frustrated at our kids. But if it’s a normal occurrence for you, or in any way take your anger out on your kids, it mean your child is more likely to grow up with issues managing their emotions.

It also breaks any trust your child has in you, can mean your child is afraid of you, or leave your child with anxiety, all of which will affect their development.

Anger management is incredibly helpful and a support group or counsellor will not in any way judge you for having anger issues.

2. A good dad practices health care.

Nobody is perfect. We all sometimes drink too much and have a hangover, say yes to things we don’t have time for and end up stressed, or put off seeing that medical specialist.

But when we are parents we need to make an effort despite occasional slip ups to take care of ourselves. It’s not just that our kids need us around and healthy enough to take care of them. But every choice we make models to our children how they should treat themselves, and determines what kind of adult they will be.

3. A good dad knows who he is and is authentic.

If you do struggle to accept your child for what and who they are it's worth looking at if you accept yourself for who you are.

How well do you know yourself? Are you living out your values and your dreams, or are you still trapped in your own parents' vision for your life?

The more you can get comfortable with yourself, with your strengths and faults, and live out your values, the more your children will be inspired to do so. And the more you can show yourself compassion, the more you will also have for your kids.

Dad guilt getting you down? Talk therapy helps. Use our easy booking tool now to find the therapist that is right for you and start the journey from bad dad to good dad.

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