Post written by Leo Babauta.
I’m often asked about raising six kids, and being productive and achieving goals and changing habits in the midst of raising so many kids. But here’s the thing: I do all the other stuff, the productivity stuff, because of my kids.
They, and my wife, are my reason for being.
It is my lifelong goal to be the best dad possible, and while there are many ways I can still improve, I think I’m a pretty great dad already, when I sit back and think about it. I know there are some readers who are just starting out in their careers as dads, and this post is for you.
How can you be a great dad? As always, my list of tips:
- Put their interests first, always. Do you enjoy drinking or smoking? Guess what — it’s not good for them, and you’re setting an example with everything you do. I quit smoking about 18 months ago not for my sake, but for my kids. Now, it is still important to take care of yourself (otherwise you can’t take care of them), but you should still have them in mind.
- Protect them. As a dad, one of your main roles is protector. There are many ways you need to do this. Safety is one: child-proof your home, teach them good safety habits, set a good example by using your seatbelt, make sure they use a car seat if below a certain age & weight, etc. But financial protection is also important: have life insurance, car insurance, an emergency fund, a will.
- Spend your spare time with them. When we get home from work, often we’re tired and just want to relax. But this is the only time we have with them during the weekdays, often, and you shouldn’t waste it. Take this time to find out about their day, lay on the couch with them. On weekends, devote as much time as possible to them. While work may be your passion, it won’t be long before they’re grown and no longer want to spend time with you. Take advantage of these years. The thing kids want most from their dads is their time.
- Give them hugs. Dads shouldn’t be afraid to show affection. Kids need physical contact, and not just from their moms. Snuggle with them, hug them, love them.
- Play with them. Go outside and play sports. Do a treasure hunt. Have a pillow fight. Play Transformers or Pokemon with them. Don’t just watch TV. Show them how to have fun. See 100 Ways to Have Fun with Your Kids for Free or Cheap.
- Do the “mom” stuff. Things that are traditionally considered “mom” duties are not just for moms anymore — changing diapers, feeding, bathing, rocking them to sleep in the middle of the night. Dads should help out as much as they can, sharing these types of duties equally if possible. And in fact, if you’re a dad of a baby, this is the perfect time to bond with your child. You should leap at the chance to do these things, because that’s how you start a life-long close relationship with your child.
- Read to them. This is one of the most important things you can do for your child. First of all, it’s so much fun. Kids books are really cool, and it’s great when you can share something this wonderful with your child. Second, you are teaching them one of the most fundamentally important skills (reading) that will pay off dividends for life. And third, you are spending time with them, you’re sitting or lying close together, and you are enjoying each other’s company. See the Best All-Time Children’s Books.
- Stand by mom. Don’t contradict their mother in front of them, don’t fight with her in front of them, and most definitely don’t ever abuse her. How you treat their mother affects their self-esteem, and the way they will treat themselves and women when they grow up. Be kind and respectful and loving of their mother. And always work as a team — never contradicting statements of the other.
- Teach them self-esteem. Maybe this should be No. 1. Well, these aren’t in any order, but this is one of the most important points. There is nothing you can do that is better than giving them high self-esteem. How do you do this? A million ways, but mainly by showing them (not telling them) that you value them, by spending time with them, by talking and listening to them, by praising things they do, by teaching them (not telling them) how to be competent. Praise and encourage, don’t reprimand and discourage.
- Teach them about finances. This is a point often missed in articles about dadhood. You might not need to teach your 1-year-old about index funds or portfolio diversity, but from an early age, you can teach them the value of money, how to save money to reach a goal, and later, how earn money and how to manage money properly. You don’t want your child to go into the world knowing as little as you did, do you?
- Be good to yourself. You shouldn’t give up your entire life when you become a dad. You need to take care of yourself, give yourself some alone time, and some time with your buddies, in order to be a great dad when you’re with your kids. Also take care of your health — eat healthy, exercise — because 1) you can’t take care of your kids if you’re sickly, 2) you are teaching your kids how to be healthy for life, and 3) you want to enjoy those grandkids someday.
- Be good to the mom. This isn’t the same as No. 8 — you should be good to their mom even when they’re not looking. Take her to dinner, give her a massage, do chores around the house for her, give her some time alone and babysit while she goes out, show affection to her, give her little surprises. Because when mom’s happy, the kids are happy. And dad will be happy too!