Becoming a better father isn’t as simple as just reading a book about it or trying to emulate your own dad (or another father you look up to).
Learning how to be a better father is more of a process – a series of good habits that you develop over time.
Great dads weren’t born that way. They grew into it by a series of small actions, repeated daily.
Here are 6 different habits which I believe can up your fatherhood game:
6 Healthy Habits to Develop to be a Better Father
1. Personal Fitness: Being a father adds to the demands on your life, not only in the mental and emotional areas, but the physical as well. In order for us to be able to keep up with our kids (who have exceedingly high levels of energy) as they grow, it’s important to get and stay physically fit. And let’s face it, there never will be any kind of instant fitness, so the only way for us to improve our physical health is to get started with some daily or weekly habits and to then keep those going.
It doesn’t have to mean joining a gym (but it might if that’s what would motivate you), or joining a local cycling or running club (but it might if that’s your type of thing), or even playing organized sports (but it might if you also need some time with the guys). In fact, some of the most effective fitness regimens are those which are quite simple, because the simpler it is, the more likely you are to follow through with them every day. Even something as basic as bodyweight exercises at home (pushups, situps, pullups, squats, speed rope workouts etc.) can give you the core fitness you need to be an active dad.
2. Personal Diet: Whether you like it or not, you already have a diet – it’s what you eat regularly. But is it optimum for you? The truth is, there is no correct diet. There are lots of diets which are unhealthy for most people, but the diet which is best for you is the one which makes you both feel better and is not difficult for you to stick to.
Some people feel better when they go vegetarian (I sure did), and some when they adopt a ‘paleo’ diet. For many people, just cutting out the soda or donut addiction is a huge step up in health for them, and if they stick to it, can lead to making other dietary changes, such as cutting out other junk or fast foods (or those foods high in fats, sugar, or sodium – the ones we think we ‘can’t live without’ because we’re addicted to them). And considering that our kids learn what to eat by watching us (and eating the foods that we eat), then developing healthy eating habits goes a long way toward their health as well.
3. Downtime: Whether or not you have a job outside the home, or you’re a stay at home dad, or a work at home dad, you still really need some downtime – some ‘me time’. If all of your efforts and energy are being poured into work, family, community service, etc., and you’re not serving yourself up some of that energy, you’re going to burn out. It’s really important to take time for yourself – to just sit and read, to go running through the woods, to take up a new hobby, whatever – so that you can come back to your wife and family refreshed and fulfilled on a personal level.
Yes, marriage and fatherhood are also fulfilling, but we’re not just husbands and fathers. We’re men with interests and needs and talents which might fall outside the realm of family and relationship, and it’s good to acknowledge that, so we don’t get caught up in the guilt of taking time for ourselves. (The flip side of this is making sure that your partner is also getting their needs for ‘me time’ met.)
4. Date Nights: One thing that is almost sure to happen soon after the baby enters your life is that your relationship with your wife will probably sink to the lowest priority for both of you. After all, now that you’ve got a tiny human you’re caring for, there really aren’t enough hours in the day to keep that strong romantic connection with your partner, right? Wrong. It’s easy to fall into that trap, and it’s a pretty deadly trap at that.
Neglect spawns neglect, and it may be that you’re now more like housemates who share a child than a couple in love. And one of the answers to that is making a regular time for the two of you to have a date – to spend time together without the baby or the job or the chore list at the center of your conversations. Date night doesn’t have to mean spending any money going out to eat or to a show, either. It can be as simple as capitalizing on nap time for an impromptu picnic or ‘adult time‘, or dropping baby off at grandma’s so you can go for a short hike. Make connecting with your partner regularly one of your habits, and your relationship will be much better off for it.
5. Suit Up and Show Up: In fatherhood, just as in the rest of our life, showing up ready and willing to do the work is a huge piece of being better at what you do. And that goes just as strongly for your love relationship with your wife or partner. Too many times, we expect to reap all of the benefits of strong, healthy family relationships without putting in our time and working at them.
As important as showing up for your wife and family (especially when you don’t want to) is also being willing to make compromises and shift our priorities and obligations outside the house in order to fulfill our children’s needs and those of the family as a whole. It’s a hard lesson for some men to learn – that work/friends/hobbies are actually now secondary to the family’s needs – and one that has the potential to create some serious friction in your marriage. So making the effort and taking the time to drop your mental baggage at the door in order to be present and fully engaged with your kids and partner, no matter what the activity, is an important part of developing healthy relationships with them.
6. Reverence: I almost put ‘spirituality’ here, but knowing that some people are averse to using that word (or faith, or religion for that matter), I thought that reverence is more applicable. We all have a sense of reverence and beauty – we see or hear things which put us in a state of awe, from music to art to nature to yes, even science or engineering – and acknowledging those things and making time for them can add immeasurably to our personal character.
And I don’t believe that this habit and #3, getting some downtime, are one and the same. Things which spark your imagination and lift your spirits are also things which can be shared with your wife and children, whereas downtime is almost exclusively a solo act. Consider meditating or practicing yoga as a couple, or taking the family out to revel in the beauty of the natural world, or engaging in art projects (or appreciation – visiting galleries and museums are great ways to begin adding some reverence into your life).
If someone asked you how to be a better father, what would you add to this list?
Image: Shahram Sharif at Flickr