In February 2011, the Pew Research Center released results of a survey: “Attitudes about the Changing American Family.” The survey lists seven trends, including “more unmarried couples raising children,” “more mothers of young children working outside the home,” and “more single women having children without a male partner to help raise them.” For each of the trends, they asked people to indicate whether it’s good for society, bad for society, or doesn’t make much difference. You can respond to the questions — and see how your score compares to a national sample of 2,691 adults — here.
You might find the trends (and the survey results) encouraging, disheartening, or somewhere in between, depending on your views. But these are key questions that will reflect our culture’s expectations for fathers and families. Dads in all situations and family structures need to be inspired and equipped to do their best, but what’s the goal or target for family life? Where to we adapt to change, and where do we refuse to compromise standards?
At the National Center, we have research-based parameters for effective fathering. We believe every child needs an involved father or father figure, and our society is best served when all men live their commitment to effective fathering.
Effective fathering is good for society, and it does make a difference. Each of us should have strong convictions about fatherhood and family values, and here are two ways to follow through:
First, model those values with your children’s future in mind. Even more than debating “family values,” we need to live them out in our homes and our neighborhoods. The high value we place on our families will be challenged every day by busy schedules, the daily distractions of life, or even difficulties in gaining access to our children. It’s up to each of us to make sure we aren’t merely talking about the high priority of our families, but “walking the talk” every day as committed fathers — in whatever ways we can.
Second, coach your children on those values. What is a family, and why are families important? What are the benefits of marriage? What’s the best home situation for children? Have those discussions during the teachable moments of life. (If these really are growing trends, then there should be plenty of opportunities to talk about them in day-to-day life.) Those talks can happen at the dinner table, or while playing ball, sitting in the stands at a sports event, taking walks, or interacting with neighbors.
We must be proactive in finding ways to transfer our values to our children, who can then join us in living them out in the larger culture.
- Go over the seven trends with your children. Ask how they would answer, and make sure to talk about how you answered — and why.
- Teach your children about an important value through a memorable experience — like fasting for a day, a shopping trip with a limited budget, or helping a single mom in some way.
- Keep a list of values that are important to you. Check it regularly to assess how your children are progressing in each area, and come up with specific ways you can help each child learn those values.
- Commit to regular family events on your calendar — dinners, projects, or other regular times when you can “be a family” together. Do all you can to make those fun, rewarding times for your kids.
- Invite one of your child’s friends who doesn’t have a great home situation to join your family during some of your “family” time.