3 ways to say "Happy Father's Day" to your kids' dad

I’ve got nothing against ties and golf tees. But when it comes to really giving our male co-parents a treat, it’s nice to think beyond toys and neckwear and reflect on the way we can make every day better for the guy our kids call “Dad.”

Here are three practices I’ve found that help me show my husband more respect and appreciation in his role as a father and spouse. Even if your relationship with your child’s father is just cordial or even strained, you might find that trying these three things helps you find more common parenting ground and build a stronger relationship.

1. Adjust your expectations.

I’ve written quite a lot about how the damage unmet expectations can do to a relationship. Unfortunately, having children often brings the gap between expectation and reality into much harsher focus:

“I expected a few more dollars in the savings account, maybe another fifty on the paycheck. I expected Jon to provide so I could stay home. I expected him to spend his evenings pitching in around the house so that the weight of taking care of the kids and the home wouldn’t seem so overwhelming….
… when I couldn’t afford something I really wanted, and then another evening went by and the dishes piled up in the sink without him even glancing over, and another Friday evening went by without anything to do, I felt little stings of having been let down. My unvoiced, even unformed expectation had not been met. Eventually the disappointments stacked high, moldering and mildewing into martyrdom and resentment until our marriage was crumbling under the weight of hundreds of wet towels left lying on the bathroom floor.”

Expectations can take on so many insidious forms. Maybe you expect your spouse to help clean the kitchen after dinner but never actually ask him to chip in – you just assume he’ll figure it out if you sigh and stomp around enough. Or maybe you assume that, because you want to stay home with the kids, he’ll be totally willing to take on more hours at work…even though he’s pretty sick of his job by 5 PM as it is. We all have wishes, but it’s not really fair to expect them to come true without at least some discussion and an agreement by both parties.

Let me be clear: I don’t think we should have no expectations of the important people in our lives. I believe we owe one another love, respect, and honesty, for example. But I don’t expect that either Jon or myself will always get it right. And I can’t expect him to just “give” me a happy life…I also have to be willing to put in some of the work of seeking contentment. Sometimes that means realizing that my standards and opinions aren’t the only ones that matter, and that sometimes, what seemed like a perfectly reasonable expectation was really just setting myself up for disappointment and resentment.

2. Believe in him.

When it comes to parenting, it’s only too easy to unconsciously treat your baby’s daddy like he’s a baby, too. If you’ve ever played drill sergeant over the phone about applying sunscreen, the proper way to dish out baby food, or whether or not corn counts as a vegetable – while your husband is listening on the other end – you may have some of the control-freaky tendencies that make it so hard for some of us moms to express confidence in our men.

Taking a big step back and letting my husband figure out how to manage the kids his way was one of the smartest things I ever (eventually) did as a mom. Even if he doesn’t do everything my way, he’s a good, loving dad and giving him space to figure things out equals a closer relationship between him and his children and it takes a lot off my plate, too.

Believing in Jon goes beyond just knowing he can function as a father, though. I have “crack the whip” tendencies and sometimes have a hard time butting out: too often I feel the need to comment on the way he spends his leisure time, how he runs his business, or even his food and exercise choices. But I’m working on it. Ultimately, while I know my opinion matters, I also have to believe in him enough to know he’s doing his best…just like I am.

I believe co-parents have an enormous ability to lift one another up with quiet confidence and well-timed vocal support, and it’s my personal marriage mission to find more opportunities to show my husband I believe in him.

3. Embrace the dad he is.

You know how I’m always reminding other mothers to embrace the moms they really are – instead of some made-up image of a fantasy mom that doesn’t really exist? It’s not always easy to do for ourselves, and sometimes it can be even harder to be accepting of the people our co-parents are. For example, maybe you always had an image of family life that included your husband romping with a dog in the backyard – but it turns out he prefers cats and a comfy chair.

As a not particularly tech-oriented person, the fact that my geeky husband would often rather tinker with computer parts than go out and build a treehouse is sometimes hard for me to swallow. But hey, who says he’s the only one of us who can build treehouses anyway? As long as he’s got balance in his life, I can’t expect him to turn into Backwoods Bob just because I have some children’s book image of a pioneer dad buried deep in my psyche.

Point is, it’s his job to be the best version of the kind of dad he is, instead of trying to morph into somebody he’s not. If I want us to spend more time outside as a family that’s valid, but I also have to acknowledge that video gaming together can equal quality father-child bonding, too.  As long as they don’t try to force a Wiimote into my hands, it’s all good.

How do you show your kids’ father you believe in him?

I’d love to hear from unmarried/unpartnered moms, too! Have you found ways to improve your relationship with your co-parent or demonstrate that you appreciate who he is as a dad?

Also, don’t forget to leave a comment on yesterday’s post about how a dad in your life makes you a happier mom. I’ll be sharing comments in a special  post on Sunday.

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