Most of us can agree that it’s important for fathers to have strong relationships with their sons (as well as all of their children, regardless of gender, of course). But in a world consumed by toxic masculinity, it can be difficult to actually foster that bond. Society expects "men to be men," meaning they're generally expected to be "tough," emotionless, and to avoid physical affection. Culturally speaking, men are often forced into these roles of stoicism whether they like it or not, which is why it’s so important to encourage father and son relationships.
As moms, we're often expected to spend more time with our children than our male partners. Even in the most enlightened of relationships, where two hetero, cisgender parents are working to equally divide parenting responsibilities, moms are often the default parent responsible for taking care of the child's immediate and basic needs. She's the one going on field trips, showing up at PTA meetings, taking time off work when her child is sick, and attending pediatrician appointments. Her plate is not only full, but heavily stacked with family responsibilities, which can hinder bonding opportunities for fathers, who are often considered to be secondary parents.
It's important that everyone, not just moms, support men who do what they can to have honest and open conversations with their sons, and who are willing to do the emotional labor that so often only burdens mothers. But more often than not that support does start at home. So how can we help the fathers and sons in our lives move past a toxic culture and truly bond? Here’s some ideas:
You Dad Is Equally Involved In Morning & Evening Routines
I know how easy it can be to take over all morning and bedtime routines, if only so you know they're done right and accomplished in a timely manner. But I think it's important that us moms aren't stuck with these kinds of responsibilities for the sake of time. Instead, make a schedule and encourage (read: demand) your significant other participate. Having dad there in the morning and at night can help foster a bond... and give you a break.
You Encourage Solo Playtime
All parents need time to bond with their kids. And while you may want to join in on the fun between your little ones and their dad, sometimes you have to step back a bit and let them do their own thing. Be OK with them having inside jokes or daddy and son activities you don’t participate in. Allow them their space and it will help them grow closer.
You Let Dad Take Care Of Your Son When He's Sick
My son clings to me when he’s sick, and I get it because I don’t want to leave his side when he's not feeling well, either. But dad should be able to manage sick days with his kid, too. Volunteer to be the parent that takes care of groceries or other out-of-home errands when your littles are sick and, over time, your child will equally depend on dad for sick day comfort — a memory that he’ll have for the rest of his life.
You're Not Afraid To Travel Solo
I travel alone for work a number of times a year. My son isn’t a big fan of it, but I know that he’s just fine in the care of his father. Moreover, I know that this solo time is crucial when it comes to fostering a strong father/son relationship. We don’t make a huge fuss when dad has to leave us a day or two, so why would we do that when I leave?
You Don’t Override Dad’s Decisions
Parents don’t always agree on the best way to handle situations involving their children. But when one parent is set on something and their kid tries to “divide and conquer," so to speak, it’s best to stay firm with your partner’s decision. If you disagree wholeheartedly with the decision, tell your child you’ll be speaking with dad to see what the situation is and if there can be some compromise, but don’t tell your kid not to listen to their dad. That’s setting all parties up for failure.
You're Not Afraid To Intervene
If dad is truly doing something you think will be damaging to his relationship with your child, it’s time to speak up. If they are not finding a good way to communicate, it’s OK to step in just a bit and help them out. Toxic masculinity has made it much more challenging for men (especially fathers and sons) to know how to communicate openly and honestly. But again, try to save this only for rare occasions if possible, so they can develop their own problem-solving skills with one another.
You Don’t Criticize Your Partner In Front Of Your Son
It’s so easy to want to criticize your child’s dad to your children if he’s being a less-than-stellar father. That doesn’t mean it’s your right to do so, though. Your children will always look up to their parents by default, so if you say negative things about their father you’re tarnishing their reputation (and it may not even be warranted). Save your complaints for when you go chat with your girlfriends or a therapist.
You Ask Your Son About His Dad Often
Ask your kids about their relationship with their dad. Ask them what they think of daddy and what they love most about him. What does he do that makes them laugh? What is dad great at? What do they love doing most with dad? When you highlight all the good in dad and what he does best, you remind your children that time with dad is precious and they should have more of it.
You Remind Dad He’s Doing A Great Job
Moms and dads both need to hear positive words about their parenting skills, especially from their partners. Parenting is hard work for all of us, so tell dad he’s appreciated. Help make him feel loved and supported.