When someone announces, “I’m going to be a dad!” it’s a reason to celebrate.
When one father made that announcement, his wife quickly followed with a report on his recent surge of activity at home. Apparently his joy and anticipation inspired him to rearrange their apartment to make room for the new furniture and other baby-related gear and supplies, and to be ready to accommodate parents, in-laws and friends who may come to visit.
Fatherhood often ignites joy. And joy should continue to be evident through the entire course of our fathering lives.
For dads of infants, research has noted the impact of a parent’s disposition during the early months of a baby’s development. Very early on, an infant learns to seek out eyes that are looking at him with joy. The baby somehow understands that “someone is thrilled to see me.” And it’s more than just a positive feeling; it actually helps to build brain capacity. Conversely, a baby can also sense and imitate anger, fear or distress from a parent figure.
Our facial expressions and general disposition have a powerful effect on our children at any age, although of course it isn’t easy to be genuinely joyful all the time. But it’s probably an area where each of us can grow for the sake of our kids.
Maybe a good place to start is to think about your own parents and the emotions you saw in them. It’s hard to be nurturing if the only emotion you saw in your father was anger, or if he suppressed his emotions until something caused him to boil over. So often, emotional patterns in a family are inherited and then passed on, so it’s good to take an inventory and understand that as best we can.
But also understand that, by being intentional in this area, you have an opportunity to create or start rebuilding a positive atmosphere in your home.
Be a joyful dad, and let it show!
Again, that is never as easy as it sounds, so here are just a few ways to communicate joy to your kids:
Describe for your child, in specific details, the joy you experienced when you brought her home from the hospital or adopted her. If your child is still very young, express that joy in a simple, short letter that she can read in the future. Writing a letter is a great idea for older children as well.
Be intentional about making joy a daily habit. Do fun things with your kids. Smile and make crazy faces for them to imitate. Or simply get nose-to-nose and smile with bright, shining eyes. Your baby, your toddler, even your teen, will shine right back.
View your children as a gift—not a burden.
Then, just be in the moment and enjoy your kids. Be ready to say “yes” when they ask you to do something with them. Tell jokes. Be corny and off-the-wall; just make sure you’re also sincere. Your kids may giggle and imitate you, or roll their eyes and say, “Aw, Dad…” But that’s okay. They’ll still love you for it.
Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- Reflect on your experiences and feelings when you first became a dad—and even the weeks leading up to it. How would you compare that to how you feel as a dad now?
- Also spend some time recalling the emotions your father or a father figure showed when you were young. In what ways do you want to be similar and different?
- When you’re feeling joyful as a dad, does it show? Does your face still light up when your kids enter the room? Try to be more aware of your facial expressions and make them positive as much as possible.
- Find ways to inject levity and laughter into everyday tasks with your kids, like doing dishes, taking out the trash, and so on.
- Surprise your child with an outing with you that he or she will be sure to enjoy.