10 steps to being a better dad

Daddy Tim

Anyone can be a father, but it takes a real man to be a daddy.


Am I a good dad?

Martyn over at Inside Martyn’s Thoughts recently asked himself that very question. I responded by pointing out that the fact that he was willing to put the question out there is a pretty good indicator for starters.

Of course, the reality is that there is no easy, quantifiable scale of ‘goodness’ when it comes to assessing our abilities as either fathers or mothers. The only thing that is certain is that there is no such thing as ‘perfect’ parenting.

It got me thinking about how we might go about defining what ‘good’ is in terms of parenting ability.

I will be the first to admit that I have days when I’m a great dad and at least as many others when I’m … not. Moments that, frankly, make me cringe at the memory of getting things pretty much 100% wrong. If we’re being honest, we can all draw up lists that are overflowing in both the credit and debit columns, right?

So that got me thinking that maybe good parenting is not so much about individual events as following a more general set of guiding principles. Here is a set of ten that I’ve come up with.

1. Be there for my children. Not just physically there but actually 100% there in spirit too. Even if that means putting down my phone and not writing that really witty tweet about how I’m spending time with my kids. Ten minutes of undivided attention beats an hour of divided attention any day. Quality over quantity.

2. Listen as much as tell. It never ceases to amaze me how much we can learn from our children, and how insightful their unfiltered, unprejudiced view of the world can be. You know that old saying about how children should be seen, not heard? Utter codswallop. Listening to our kids makes them feel valued and sometimes teaches us a thing or two too.

3. Challenge their imaginations. Read stories. Play games. Ask questions. Let them be creative without imposing the rules of the real world on them and allow them to make the worlds they want to make. There’s plenty of time for them to live in the real one when they grow up. Without imagination, there is no invention. Without invention, there is no progress.

4. It’s okay to get things wrong. Give them the confidence to try new things and make mistakes, while offering them the reassurance that I will catch them if they fall and help them learn from their errors. Perfection equals stagnation.

5. Be open-minded. Allow them to follow their own path and become their own person, rather than the person I want them to be (or the one I wish I was). If I end up with children who are nothing more than Mini-Mes, I have failed as a father.

6. Love is unconditional, not reciprocal. No matter how badly behaved they are or how angry I am with them or how much they say they don’t love me any more, I will always kiss them goodnight so they go to sleep knowing they are loved. No one is keeping score.

7. Do the right thing, not the popular thing. Accept that there are times when I have to make decisions that are right in the long-term but will make me unpopular in the short-term. Don’t let that stop me from making them anyway. Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. Nor is it The X Factor. The success of my parenting is not determined by the outcome of a popularity contest.

8. Embrace imperfection. Recognise that I’m not perfect but never use that as an excuse. Be aware of my shortcomings but don’t be constrained or ruled by them. Instead, know the things I do well and focus on doing them better and more often. And recognise that my kids will be just as imperfect as I am – and that’s okay.

9. Set an example. Not so much “do as I say, not as I do” as just “do as I do”. What better role model could I give them than one of the two people they see every single day of their lives?

10. Keep asking myself the question. Never stop asking myself, “Am I a good Dad?” The moment I take it for granted is the moment I stop being a good father.

That’s my list. Do you agree? And what else do you think makes a good parent?


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