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Don’t outsource your ‘dad’ duties

SINGAPORE — There is a quote from Charles R. Swindoll that goes: “Each day of our lives, we make deposits in the memory banks of our children”.

Don’t outsource your ‘dad’ duties

Centre for Fathering CEO Bryan Tan and two of his children on a recent play date. Tan has faced up to the fact that he would "outsource" his fathering duties, to grave consequences. Photo: Bryan Tan

SINGAPORE — There is a quote from Charles R. Swindoll that goes: “Each day of our lives, we make deposits in the memory banks of our children”.

Everybody knows the importance of being involved in the lives of our children. But what does “involved” really mean, especially when you are a working parent?

When I first became a father, I found myself not having enough time each day to do all the things I had to do, or wanted to do.

I was juggling earning an honest day’s wages, being a loving husband, remaining present in my children’s lives, and — here is the catch — getting some time to myself.

To cope, there was a period of time when I placed my eldest child, Michael, in enrichment classes — for his own good, but also to create space for myself on the weekends.

Then there was one weekend that I wanted to spend with Michael, but he chose to go for his enrichment class instead.

That rejection stung, and stuck with me. And it had me admitting that I was “outsourcing” my parenting duties on those weekends.

Since then, I have made it a point to resist the urge to “outsource”. This means putting up with life’s inconveniences in order to remain truly present and invested in my children’s lives.

What that means to me is spending as much time as I can with them, for that is how they perceive love from their parents. That is more important than my perceived need for “alone time”.

 

SETTING THE TONE

Following the episode with Michael, I had to ask myself where else I was “outsourcing”.

One big revelation I have had, as the parent who comes home to dinner, is that the consistency of my behaviour towards my family affects their sense of security and stability.

I used to carry negative emotions into my home after a bad day, and it always affected the tone of our evenings as a family.

Sadly, I was often responsible for the tense and volatile atmosphere at home. In order to “recharge” after a day’s work, I wanted to zone out and watch television.

And the TV became a way of outsourcing as well, since I would get the kids to join me in watching cartoons.

Needless to say, my wife and I would often disagree on the use of the television, especially in the short span of time between dinner and the children’s bedtime.

Ultimately, it was not quality time. And it actually stemmed from me being unhappy at how the day went.

Today, I consciously prepare myself before even stepping through the front door. I pause and take a moment to compose myself. It is not necessarily about putting on a happy face, but simply to have a moment of calm.

I try my best to refrain from giving in to mood swings, and to provide my family with a consistent sense of calm, peace and unconditional love.

I mentally cast aside my burdens, say a quick prayer and yes, I do make an effort to put on a smile before greeting my family.

I must admit that it is not necessarily easy, each and every day, to do this. So, I plan for those really bad days.

My personal solution is simple — for psychological motivation, I grab a good cup of teh tarik on the way home.

It might seem like an insignificant thing, but if something so simple can make a difference, I tell myself to go for it.

It begins with the self, after all, and I am responsible for the mood I bring into the home.

 

BEING PRESENT

One thing I do to alleviate the workload on my wife is trying my best to get in daily face time with my children.

Despite an erratic schedule, I make it a point to be home for dinner, even if for a short while. We do not believe in "outsourcing" mealtimes or feeding duties to a domestic helper, and prefer to do it ourselves.

I recall that I used to struggle with Michael, who would take a really long time to finish his meals. In my worst moments of frustration, I would resort to using verbal threats and the threat of a cane to speed up his eating. I had construed that his slow eating was due to defiance.

But because there was no one but myself and my wife to manage mealtimes, I was forced to deal with, and pay attention to, this problem.

One evening, I observed Michael’s eating style — how he savours every morsel of food instead of wolfing it down, like I do.

That changed the way I view him, and although I still lose my patience sometimes, I remind myself to look into his eyes, and appreciate how he enjoys the eating experience.

Interestingly, Joshua, my second son, had recently started to “savour every morsel of food” too, instead of wolfing it down like he used to.

Looking at the world through my children’s eyes has helped me to better appreciate who they are, and to understand their needs. It has definitely set a better atmosphere for everyone around the dinner table.

I doubt this would have been possible if I had outsourced this part of his life to someone else. I would not see these things if I was still locked into my phone or a tablet, or (still my personal favourite) the television.

Numerous studies, by the way, have pointed towards the benefits of family mealtimes. Children may be 35 per cent less likely to engage in disordered eating, 24 per cent more likely to eat healthier foods, and 12 per cent less likely to be overweight if parents eat together with their kids at least three times a week.

 

TEAM EFFORT

Beyond mealtimes, I help my children with their schoolwork, bathe them, read stories to them and put them to bed, as often as I can.

I would otherwise hardly get to speak and listen to them during the day, and sometimes not at all for a stretch of days if I have to work at night.

Not outsourcing this has meant that the time I do spend with them has helped form intimate bonds. I aim to comfort, encourage, and listen to my children as they go through their routines.

I try to only leave their bedside after they have fallen asleep, and not let them see the back of my head if I walk out when they are still awake. I have realised that when parents create a nurturing atmosphere before children sleep, it creates closure to the day, and children are eased smoothly into sleep.

Being involved (I), consistent (C), aware (A) and nurturing (N) are traits that I have learnt to appreciate from the ICAN fathering programme at the Centre for Fathering.

I have gained a better understanding of how these traits enhance my fathering competencies, and also found a network of fathers to coach and walk alongside me on my fathering journey.

In going through such programmes, I have learnt to appreciate my children’s talents, and gained the wisdom to release them to pursue their interests, and not to impose my ambitions for them upon them.

My biggest takeaway from the Dads for Life movement was the conviction to continue setting aside time to be with my family, so as to be a good influencer in my children’s lives — for life.

 

Bryan Tan is the CEO of Dads for Life and the Centre for Fathering. Formerly a senior officer with the Singapore Armed Forces, he made a mid-career switch to the social service sector to serve fathers and the “fatherless” in our nation. He is happily married to Adriana, and they have three children, Michael, Joshua and Deborah — five months to seven years old.

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