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It’s one of those absurdities of life that once you have children you hardly the time to enjoy them.
Research shows that, on top of Australians working longer than any other developed country in the world, men have to work the equivalent of almost two extra weeks a year once they have kids – the expense means he simply has to.
But Dad can still play his part in raising great kids in the precious little time that he has with them.
1. Don’t moan at home
Just under half of all fathers with young children work more than 50 hours a week, according to Clive Hamilton, executive director at the Australia Institute, so you’ve probably got reason to moan about being overworked. But pull your socks up and don’t be in a bad mood when you get home!
Why? Because a study of children’s attitudes found the biggest thing that children wished for is that their bread-winning parent would come home less stressed and tired. It also found that the parent who’s constantly grumpy runs the risk their children withdrawing themselves from them.
Also, if there’s only one benefit of your long hours, it’s that it teaches responsibility. Kids repeat what they hear, so if you moan about the daily grind they’ll moan about putting their toys away.
2. Learn to hang out
Bruce Smyth, a research fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, says its easy for fathers to become ‘Disneyland Dads’ the ones who try to cram seven days into a activity-filled weekend.
“Research indicates the thing that kids most crave is just hanging out with their dads,” says Smyth. Just hanging out leads to spontaneous chats and other interactions that bond kids to their kids in a way that planned activities can’t.
It’s really important to leave your day at the door and try not to be in a bad mood when you get home.
3. Be physical
A father’s less fearful type of parenting – climbing trees, wrestling, playing tackle instead of touch – is just as important as a mother’s nurture. In fact, neuroscientists have found that up to the age of five, physical play actually develops the parts of children’s brains that creates better co-ordination and sports ability.
Crucially too, kids of all ages are getting fatter, and fathers play a big role in that, says child obesity expert Dr Phillip Morgan from the University of Newcastle. Currently 30 percent of all kids are overweight or obese, and childhood weight issues have all sorts of implications, including self-esteem.
The simple act of playing a game of chasey around the yard will help your child become more confident and sure of themselves when they get to school.
4. Don’t pigeonhole yourself
A lot of dads are happy to take a marginal role, some even boast of being the ‘bath-time‘ or ‘drive to netball’ dad. But narrow duties like these quickly become routine and lose their meaning.
The solution isn’t finding more time, but varying the time you have with them. Work back an hour later, so you can get in later and drive them off to school once in a while, or even chuck a sickie during their holidays and go and do something.
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5. Include them in the game
You want your son or daughter to love sports, but drinking beer in front of the big match on TV isn’t going to turn them into a fan, or build your relationship. Plonking them on the sofa with you and explaining what’s going will and even if they don’t have a clue what your on about, they love being involved and it’s valuable language development for them.
And don’t spend half-time on the toilet instead, head outside with a ball and mimic what you’ve seen.
6. Phone home
Because of divorce or long-distance work more than than a million Australian children don’t live with their dads, and small children quickly forget who dadda is. That’s where Facetime and Skype come in: a goodnight call where junior can see your face and hear your voice is an excellent way of keeping in the parental loop.
It doesn’t matter if they’re to young to respond but keep up your daily connections by asking them questions about their day and it will reinforce how important their development is to you.
7. Get a babysitter
The time mum and dad spend alone together is better for your children than you may think: that’s because one of the most important ways for a dad to raise good kids is to love their mother. Children pick up on all the tensions between their parents, and some even blame it on themselves. So if you’ve got to spend a bit of money to get a babysitter so you can go out, do it – it’ll be worth every cent.