It doesn’t take long in the fathering journey for any dad to recognize that each of his children is unique, with specific gifts, interests and challenges. And many of the things they get involved in don’t line up with our hobbies or interests. So it’s almost a guarantee that we’ll have to stretch a bit—or maybe even take some risks—to connect with our kids and become better dads.
Some old-school dads traded in their flip phones and learned to text. There are some dads who attend ballet classes with their daughters, and actually practice with them and participate in the performance. Maybe you’ve learned a video game that your child likes so you can play together. (Maybe that one isn’t so much of a stretch.) Or you watch tennis instruction videos to help your child master a backhand slice.
This is about more than finding activities to enjoy together. Those moments are opportunities to learn more about your children and what makes them tick. And your effort to get involved in your child’s world is an important way to communicate your love. How far would you go to express love to your child?
Often, it involves stepping out of your comfort zone, trying to view the world from your child’s perspective, and finding that point of connection. For many dads, daughters provide the most opportunities to “stretch” because of such different interests and life experiences. But you can do it, dad.
Try getting involved in activities with your children that might help them grow in areas of weakness or vulnerability. It could become a regular thing that you enjoy together, and if they develop confidence or learn a new skill, that’s a bonus.
Another great idea is to talk with your children’s mother about how you can help prepare each of your kids for issues or challenges they’ll face in the next six or twelve months. Or ask your child what part of your world she’d like to learn more about and arrange to let her join you in that.
Then, think about the stage of life your child is in right now—another great way to find connection points. In general terms, those are listed below, with some ideas for each one. Keep in mind that these build on each other. The actions suggested for younger kids can usually be applied with older ones, with a few adjustments.
If you have an infant, dive in and become an expert at feeding, changing, burping, cleaning up, and all that. Be easy on yourself if you aren’t a natural right from the start. It’s one of the best ways to bond.
With preschoolers, get down on their level and follow their lead. Participate in whatever they’re doing, even if you think it might look silly to be huddling around a tiny table for a tea party or dancing and singing in public. Also, be willing to play the same game, read the same book, or do the same puzzle over and over again.
School-age kids are involved in a hundred different things. Keeping up with your kids may require a real stretch—like the dads who attend ballet classes with their daughters and then perform at the recital. Be especially aware of the latest games, apps, toys and gimmicks.
For teens, you may have to work your schedule around theirs. Keep up with the sports and hobbies they enjoy, music they listen to, technology they use, and so on. Maintaining routines such as meals together, school pursuits, and church attendance is especially important.
When your children are young adults, they truly do have their own lives. So, more than ever, connecting with them means going to where they are and being part of what they’re doing. Try spending a few nights at the college dorm and sitting in on a class or two, or getting involved in a project at their workplace or in their community.
Finally, as a grandfather, many of the other suggestions can still apply. It’s also a great step to start giving your children a break from the kids sometimes—for an evening, a few days, or a week—so they can get away, refresh and recharge, and strengthen their marriage.
Connecting with our kids on their terms is really important, and it’s a challenge. Sure, it requires some stretching, but you can look forward to great rewards in every season of life.
How have you stretched in surprising ways for your kids? Share your ideas and see what else we’re up to at our Facebook page.