As a kid, I dreaded daddy’s coming home from work every day. He usually arrived tired and irritable, and my siblings and I learned the hard way to steer clear. However, even on days when he wasn’t worn out or in a bad mood, he wasn’t present in the sense of engaging with his children. He would be working on something or working us, making sure we weren’t slacking. So, as much as possible, we played outside or hung out with friends in the neighborhood, away from the human volcano that could erupt at any moment.
My wife’s father was similar in that when his body was home, his mind and heart were elsewhere. Like my dad, he was preoccupied with other things and never seemed to have time for his seven children unless it was on his terms. That is, it had to be something he wanted them to do for him or something he thought they needed to do. For him, family dinner was his offering to family, after which, he would head back to the office and stay there until late.
Looking back, my wife and I wish our dads would have spent more personal time with us. Thinking back on my childhood, I honestly cannot remember having a conversation with my father. I played organized sports for eight years and can count on one hand the number of games he attended. I’m not trying to be critical of my father, but I simply regret that we never really shared much quality time together.
My challenge to you dads with young children is to make a point to be present when you’re home. It’s easy to mistake physical presence with relational presence. You can be in proximity without any meaningful connection. So, here are three goals you should have to establish your emotional presence with your children.
First, make your arrival at home a positive experience and something your little ones eagerly await. Even if you’ve had a rotten day, don’t wear it on your sleeve. Strive to make coming home like finding an oasis in a desert land. Sometimes, being excited to be back home is a choice you need to make despite how you physically or emotionally feel. The joyful exclamation, “daddy’s home!” greeting you as you come through the door should be your aim.
Second, however many children you’ve been blessed with, set a goal to spend personal time with each one. To do this effectively, I would recommend, at least, the following three rules:
1) Make eye contact as you converse. Little kids instinctively watch for this when they’re speaking to you. It makes the connection that says you’re really interested.
2) Listen attentively and seek to understand. Dads are notorious for lack of attention, and children know when you’re faking it.
3) Make sure your phone and all devices are off, especially the television. Give them your full undivided attention.
And when you engage them in conversation, learn to ask open-ended questions that require description or explanation. You can even ask their opinion about family matters which serves only to enhance their sense of worth. For example, “what do you think we should do as a family this weekend?”
Finally, before grabbing the remote and heading to that easy chair, include a personal display of affection, not just for them but for their mother. Greet her with an attitude that communicates how special she is to you. Children notice this and romance tends to build security in them. It makes them feel safe when mom and dad love each other. Hopefully, those little tykes will never have to worry or wonder if mom and dad are happy in the marriage.
One more thing: to make your relational presence felt at home, make bedtime prayers a priority. Let them hear you pray for them, thanking God for the privilege of being their dad. Know their concerns and pray for them accordingly. Being present like this at home will not only build security in your children, it will also be something they’ll want to emulate in their own future families.