Fathering School-Age Children
"The most important...work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes."-Harold B. LeeContent
OverviewDespite the frustrating years of dragging children out of bed and persuading them to go to school, young children have an internal drive to learn about their world, and become industrious and productive individuals.
Their educational eagerness and curiosity can either be stifled or encouraged by parents, teachers, and other adults. Aware fathers can encourage their children's development of important life skills. Besides teaching them to read and write, school and home environments teach children cooperation and interdependence.
Children also engage in important play rituals (like playing with dolls or cops and robbers) which prepare them for adolescence and adulthood. Supportive fathers can exemplify adult life and promote crucial learning of life skills.
Above all, school-age children struggle with feelings of inferiority and incompetence when they compare themselves with their peers. If they don't fit in, they might feel insignificant. Loving and accepting parents help these children develop the confidence to create a future where they can thrive and feel good about themselves.
When fathers understand the developmental needs of their school-age children, they can create an environment and family relationships which are conducive to healthy and happy children. The importance of this aspect of "FatherWork" is shown in the narratives below.
StoriesChildren with involved and available fathers generally experience much more success in school and increased academic performance than those children who do not have constructive realtionships with both parents (Biller, 1993, p. 115, 130).
This first story illustrates the need for fathers' participation and encouragement in their children's scholastic experiences. The next two stories illustrate ethical work, the work that fathers do in meeting the needs of their children.
"I think that I was kind of like Matt [his son] when I was younger--I was always in trouble. That's what my mother said. I remember that I got expelled from school in the sixth grade. The teacher and I didn't get along, and she didn't like me much. I got good grades all through school, but once school work was done in grade school if there wasn't anything to do, then I usually got in trouble.
"Anyway, I got expelled and I thought, "Oooh, Dad is going to kill me!" I thought it was neat getting expelled until I had to go home. Anyway, we had to go back and talk to the principal and I was expelled for four days. I had to clean every rabbit pen and pig pen. He put me to work. But I remember that we had to go back and talk to the principal and teacher.
"I thought that they were just going to rake me over the coals, and so would my parents, but he didn't do that. He went in and I guess understood what I was like, and I remember that he said to the teacher, "Respect begets respect." I'll never forget that. I was only in sixth grade, but maybe if she didn't respect my feelings then I wouldn't respect hers.
"It shocked me. He stood up for me, even though what I did was wrong. He made sure I knew that, but he also didn't abandon me and go to the other side."
The next narrative is about a father who learned the importance of being there for his children:
"I can only remember the situation and I can't remember the specifics of it. [Steven] had something like a book and asked me to sit down with him. I didn't have the time. I don't know if it was something he was doing or something he said, but something let me know that was the moment he needed to practice his verbal skills or his interaction skills....
"It's very hard to say what it was about that moment. Maybe his face looked unhappy when I didn't have time to go with him, but I knew that he had to have me at that moment. I don't know what drew me away but I didn't have the time for it. ...It has kind of been my stimulus to never let it happen again.
"The father's sensitivity to the individuality and needs of other family members greatly contributes to his impact in fostering a sense of inner direction and purposefulness in his child (Biller, 1993, p. 150). A father's sensitivity to his child's emotional needs and development allowed him to better understand his son."
This is a great example of spiritual work, as a father listened to the promptings he received and was able to help his son.
"One day I misunderstood my son. It wasn't something that was necessarily his fault, but I thought it was his fault. I was very upset with him, and my words were not very kind. He cried and cried. It was only when he began to cry that his tears began to tell me, and I think something inside me was telling me I was doing something that was not right.
"I tried to calm myself down and then I realized that it wasn't really his fault. I think that time I misunderstood him. For him, if he remembered this experience, I think that he would probably be able to forgive me later on, but this experience will probably be in his heart for a long time--just like when I was misunderstood, it was in my heart for a long time too.
"When you are misunderstood you feel very frustrated. It just reminds me to be more calm and to be wise in making judgments. If it's necessary, I should even pray before I make such a decision."
Biller found that paternal nurturance could be demonstrated in many different ways and enhance the father's effectiveness as a limit setter and role model (1993, p. 92). Although disciplining children may not often be thought of as being particularily nurturant, it can be a time for fathers to show an increase in love for one's children. Many fathers feel the need to discipline, but doing so can be very difficult, as the following story illustrates:
"[In] a recent experience, he and our other child were in a BYU play. One night my wife and I took them there and then I went to the BYU Library while my wife was with them. I was afraid that while I was there they might be very wild and my wife would not be able to control them, since kids never fear the mother but usually the father. The show was in progress and I wanted to make sure that they were quiet, so I told them, "You need to behave yourselves this time," because previously they had broken their promise to me several times.
"I said, "You need to behave this time and keep your promise. Otherwise, I am going to be very mean tonight." I wanted to make them remember. I left and came back and my wife told me that they forgot everything that they said or that I said to them and were just very wild. People tried to stop them and they would not even listen. I just felt very, very bad, since before that I had told them that I didn't like disciplining them. However, I could not tolerate this any more and told them that I had to teach them a lesson.
"Before that I made them listen to me and said, "I didn't want to do this, because it probably hurts me more than it hurts you, but I have to do this because this is what I promised you and what you chose to get. Now I have to do this to you." So I spanked them both, then later on I gathered them in my arms and asked, "Do you know why I had to do this?" They said, "Yes," and I told them, "You know that this hurts me more than it hurts you. It hurts you momentarily from the slap; it hurts me because I didn't want to slap you.
"You are not only my sons, you are Heavenly Father's children. It makes me feel like I am doing a very bad thing." It was a painful experience, but I felt that because I promised them that I had to make sure that they understood that when I say something I mean it....[L]ater on I said, "Come over here," and got one in my left arm and one in my right arm, and said, "Do you know why Daddy had to do this to you?" They said, "Yes, because we didn't listen to you. We broke our promise, etc."...
"There is an important teaching from the scriptures which says that after disciplining children you want to increase your love. You want to do this after a hard experience with them so that the children do not take you for an enemy, and so that they know that you love them.
Fathers can increase their influence on their child's functioning when they demonstrate their emotional commitment and make themselves accessible to the child on a regular basis (Biller, 1993, p. 92) The father in the next story helps and supports his young child at the expense of their own time and comfort, also a great example of recreation work.
"One of the kids was out trying to ride a bicycle when I came home. She asked me to come out and help her learn to ride or watch her, and I went out there in pain. I thought, "I don't know why I'm doing this," but something forced me to go out and suffer some more. But she learned to ride the bike that day. I just held her up for a second and ran along by her and next thing I knew she was riding the bike...
"You do learn things almost instantaneously when they happen, and if you miss that moment then you've missed the moment. There is nothing else you can say . . . You have to do them or you miss them forever, and I mean forever . . . I don't want those moments to pass with me and my children."
Biller (1993, p.76) suggest that children with nurturant fathers are more likely to be generous, altruistic, tolerant, and understanding with others. This story illustrates how a father's selfless acts of service increased his son's desire to care for others the way he was cared for, a great example of mentoring work.
In an earlier semester, I had to walk to the school every morning very early. . . It was usually about a forty-five minute walk. . . . In the wintertime [in China], my father would always walk me to school and make sure that I was okay on the road . . . Usually we tried to get to school by the time it was light, which means that we had to wake up before it was light. We had to carry a lot of our rice and other things to the school so that we had something to eat.
"My father would never let me carry those things, he would always carry them for me. It was very cold and there was a lot of strong wind. We didn't have money to buy me a new hat and so he would put his hat, which he had from years ago, on me. It was too big for my head, but it kept my head warm. He himself would use a cold towel--the towel he had washed his face with the previous night. There was no heat in the house, of course, unlike America, and so in the morning that towel was frozen solid.
"But he would wrap that towel around his ears because of the wind in the winter. I will never forget that. . . . When you are nurtured and cared for then you are the one to transform that love to the next generation."
The father below tells about his relationship with his father and how, through ethical work, his father was there when he needed him.
"When I was a little younger than twelve I was with my sister at a cousin's and we were babysitting. I don't know why I left, but I was just unhappy or wanted to get out of the situation. I started walking home and it was less than a mile's walk. It's probably about six to eight blocks. I must have been quite small because before I had walked three blocks [my father] was there and picked me up.
"Apparently my sister had called him. He had said something like, "We'll come whenever you need us. Just call." . . . It's interesting because his father died when he was very young. His earliest recollection of his father was somehow being ordered out of the car because he was eating ice cream messily.
"He watched his Dad in the mirror but his Dad went very slowly so that he could get on the bumper of the car and made sure that he was okay. Maybe little things like that are generational."
In this situation, the father demonstrates his love and concern for his young, injured child.
"There was an actual specific moment when I had a physical need when I was eight and got hit by a car. I was just a block away from the house crossing a street. . . . A car came through the intersection rather fast and hit me; I did a backwards somersault, stood right up, and staggered over to the side of the road. I was okay but he didn't know that.
"Someone ran home and said, "Gary got hit by a car," and he came running out without even taking the time to put on his clothes. He came running out in his underwear, picked me up and carried me back to the house, then drove me to the hospital. . . . I didn't feel like I needed to be carried but he did. By the time we got to the hospital he was a little more relaxed about it."
When a father goes beyond stating facts, to what it means and its ideas and symbol system, he becomes culturally generative (Kotre, 1984, p. 14). The father in this story did not explain the reasons the family had to move and his son tells of the pain and confusion this brought.
I was seven years old. I had lived at the same place for all of my life, but we were moving. We were moving from the farm with all of its animals, with its memories of searching for chicken eggs, and with the black and white cows that had to be milked each day. We were going from the place of scrub pines, of pastures, of irrigation ditches to an unknown, unknowable place, far, far away. Dad had told us that we were moving. We had worked hard to get ready.
"Finally, it was all done. Dad piled all of us into the car. As we began to drive away, I looked out of the rear window of the car. As I looked back, I saw my dog, and my cats. I could not see my horse. I asked my father what would happen to these pets. All that dad could tell me was that they had to remain there, that they could not come with us. There was no explanation--merely the declaration that we must go.
"I was bitterly disappointed, so disappointed that this memory is still seared into me, forty-three years later. Why could my father not change this? I could not understand then, but I do now. But I still do not understand why there was no explanation. The failure to explain to little ones leaves lasting impressions on them and feelings that do not fade with time."
ConclusionFatherWork with school-age children requires an attentive heart that is willing to meet the many challenges young children face. Some of these challenges are similar to school playgrounds that are full of difficult stretches, slippery slides, exciting whirls, and many ups and downs.
Just as children stretch their large motor capabilities as they strive to climb higher or swing harder on various playground equipment, fathers must stretch to meet the changing capabilities and needs of their child as they choose to respond attentively and appropriately to them. School-age children are caught up in a whirlwind of rapid developmental changes physically, socially, cognitively, and emotionally. Fathers who choose to provide gentle guidance, warm appreciation, and a patient heart will become a friend forever in the child's playground of life.