Father’s Day

Father’s roles and pitfalls.

Father’s Day video

Introduction:

As we get ready to celebrate Father’s Day, we thought it worthwhile to point out some of the powerful roles fathers play in providing a healing home. In historically rigid, traditional gender roles, fathers were often relegated to breadwinners and enforcers. Mothers worked to keep the home controlled and calm for when dad came home. Sometimes, she sifted the discipline to dad with, “Your father will deal with this when he gets home.” These roles will not suffice when creating a healing home. Fathers cannot allow themselves to be detached from more positive interactions with their wives and children. They require more. We’ll start with a few examples. We’ll finish this writing with the pitfalls we have seen fathers fall into over the years.

Roles:

Supporter of your wife:

Creating a healing home is not natural for most parents. It requires heavy investments in time and effort to gain new knowledge, allow that knowledge to change our interpretation of our experiences, and eventually, develop new interactive parenting skills. Because the first step of this process is changing ourselves, it’s almost impossible to do alone. A husband will need to be equally engaged in this self-changing process.

It is the only way we can provide:

1. A sounding board for our wife’s thinking.

2. A partner in the brainstorming process.

3. Accountability to the change efforts.

4. Validation of her efforts.

5. Support of her sense of self worth in the face of the relentless “you suck messages” she will receive.

6. Be her emotional container and primary processing partner.

The Model of:

Healthy emotional regulation:

As fathers of traumatized children, time and energy may be in short supply. Additionally, our lives are constantly changing. Our children need us to be the model of healthy emotional regulation. The main skill required, that seems to be missing in all traumatized brains is the ability, even the desire, to verbalize their fear to a “trusted adult.” Most of the fathers we have worked with have verbalized that this is not their strong suit. Men may have a friend or two that we can talk to, but it doesn’t seem to be our go to strategy. The perfect person in our lives for this activity is our wives, but most men report shying away from discussing fears with their wives because they are afraid of scaring her more. This seems to get worse as wives struggle with the stress of parenting a traumatized child. Our “pulling back” emotionally is in direct conflict with what our wives report, “We wish they would open up and share more with us.” Children, especially sons, need to see fathers model this skill in order to see how it is done. Daughters need to see what to look for in a life partner. So, wives want it, children need it, and we are scared to do it. We suggest men, “Man up” and do what needs to be done, even if it’s scary.

How to:

There is no need to immediately dive into our deepest fears or immediate crisis. Start with verbalizing small fears and how you dealt with it. For instance: “I was afraid of getting stuck in traffic on the way to the job. So, I made sure I had a cup of coffee and a good recorded book.” Statements such as this can be spoken directly to the children or directed toward a third party in the children’s hearing.

To develop the skill more fully with your wife, set aside a time of day and intentionally verbalize some of the fears that day contained. For instance: “Today, I was afraid that I won’t get the work load finished before quitting time. Today, I was afraid the boss was going to embarrass me in front of the group for a mistake I made yesterday. Today, I was afraid the yard would not be mowed when I got home.” After sharing, feel free to share what you did about that fear. Invite your wife to share her thoughts about each. Many daily fears are repeated. Don’t be surprised when new responses arise from this technique. Verbalizing fears gives your front brain permission to think about them. Incorporating your wife, adds another brain to the mix.

Self-care:

Many parents felt guilty even considering taking time for themselves. Fathers may struggle even more because they tend to be away from the family during work hours. If they travel for work, they may be gone for long periods of time. Self-care can feel like more time away. This does not invalidate the need for it. Self-care strategies are intentional efforts to calm our brains. This “calmness” will allow us to connect with and co-regulate the children’s fear (talk about their fear). Fathers who don’t take time to calm their own brains will be unable to help their children calm theirs. The strategies (activities) we use for ourselves act as examples for our children. Our implementation of self-care strategies teaches our children the importance of the effort. Remember we are one of the pillars of a two-parent home. Male strategies are often different from female strategies. Our children need to see both.

How to:

Hobbies: Woodworking, mechanical projects, gardening, playing sports, boating, play music, etc.

Interests: History, astronomy, engineering, watching sports, etc.  

Intentional self-calming: Coffee break, hammock time, walk in nature, read a book, listen to music or audiobook, etc.

Values/ethics/religion:

Like it or not, parents will model for their family “the” correct relationship to values, ethics, and religion. Too often, fathers may belief they are successfully hiding ethical dilemmas or shortcomings. This is not true. While infants and toddlers may pay an insane level of attention to mothers, older children pay that same level of attention to fathers. We are creating their internal standards and those standards will be used as a baseline for the rest of their lives. Fathers need to be careful to model and narrate how we make decisions and how those decisions contribute to our lives. Our modeling and our narration need to consistently match.

How to:

Narration:

  1. “I was tempted to lie today when asked about a piece of work I forgot to do. I figured I might as well tell the truth so I wouldn’t have to worry about getting caught later.”
  2. “I was ten minutes late getting back from lunch, so I worked through the afternoon break.”
  3. “It’s important to me to have my prayer time each morning. I will be in the study for about 15 minutes.”
  4. “Taxes are due this week. I don’t like doing them, but it’s important to have them mailed on time.”
  5. “Attending church helps me center my life. I don’t think I could successfully deal with the world without it.”

Modeling:

  1. Be what you want them to become. Honest, trustworthy, hardworking, etc.
  2. Demonstrate the spiritual disciplines of your religion. Attendance, celebrations, daily practices, etc.

Tag team partner:

Wives (mothers) are usually the primary target of the “caregivers are untrustworthy” core belief. Because of this, they also become the focal point for healing that belief. Any feelings a husband may have that sound like “the house and kids are here responsibility” or “she should be able to handle the mothering” is totally invalid. Because therapeutic parenting with a traumatized child is such an intense activity, even, if a family was inclined to believe such statements before, it will not work, now. Mothers will need “time out” which means fathers will need to provide “time in.” This is not an option. As fathers, we are uniquely suited to this role and it cannot be abdicated.

Definer the child:

As children age, fathers introduce and define the world outside the family. However, our true power lies in this fact, as we define their world, we in turn define them. Our feelings are written on our faces, blaring in our tone of voice, and hammering away at them in our actions. Our children are “hard wired” to attend to those messages. When father demonstrates too much fear/anger, his children will begin to think of themselves as “bad” or “scary.” When we are able to create and enjoy moments of shared joy together, they begin to experience themselves as “good.” and “valuable.” Our personal experience of our children becomes their definition of themselves! Without intention, children strive to live up to… or down to, those definitions. Every interaction, sets an impression on the child’s limbic brain and orients them toward the next interaction, positive or negative. A father’s awareness and intention to this role are essential to his children’s developing sense of self. Lack of either one will lead to mixed messages and children’s internal struggle over who they are, sometimes lasting a life time! Sons and daughters, a like, need to be enjoyed by their father. They also need boundaries around emotional expression and behaviors that fathers can be uniquely suited to provide. Fathers should maintain an awareness that whether they are chastising a poor behavior or gushing with pride over a child’s achievement, we are always defining.

Pitfalls observed

Triangulation:

The tendency of the traumatized brain to alter presentations based on who they are interacting with makes parenting traumatized children much more difficult. Fathers report the difficulty in reconciling the child they interact with to the stories the mothers tell. He is simply not being presented with the behaviors the mother is reporting. This problem is compounded by the increasingly dysregulated emotional state of a mother in the cross-hairs of a traumatized child’s NIWM. Faced with this discrepancy, his own eyes registering the child’s presentation and witnessing the changes that are occurring in his wife, fathers may harmonize this situation by assuming it was all too much for the “poor girl.” They essentially wind up aligning with the child’s “caregiver suck” belief against their own wife. Marriage relationships have been destroyed and placements disrupted because fathers become the victims of triangulation. The ways to avoid this pitfall are:

  1. Intentionally allocate time and effort to the marriage relationship.
  2. Educate self and participate fully in the Trauma Lens Paradigm Shift and the interventions being applied.
  3. Collaborate with your wife to validate her experiences.

Absenteeism: (emotional response of flight-being physically absent)

We have seen many fathers simply withdraw from the parenting effort and place all of their time and energy into the role of breadwinner. This can be a response to the emotional conflict (fears) the children bring into our home. However, workaholism is an addiction. Addictions are used limbicly to satisfy a perceived need (get away from the fears at home). Because of this, it can feel incredibly rewarding to invest ever greater parts of your life in an activity that more reliably provides validation and security. The side effects of addiction unfortunately can be devastating. Wives feel alone and abandoned; children are re-traumatized by behaviors they unerringly interpret as “you suck” messages. Fathers who “work so hard for their family” often wind up losing the very thing they were working for. It must be noted that not all absentees go in the direction of work. Some father’s imbalance their life with addictions to golf, hunting, pornography, anything that makes our brains feel “good” can be overused to the detriment of our role as fathers.

Ways to avoid this pitfall:

  1. Intentionally allocate time and effort to balance time away with time in family interactions.
  2. Educate self and participate fully in the Trauma Lens Paradigm Shift and the interventions being applied.
  3. Become better acquainted with and able to verbalize the fears in your life and your strategies for dealing with them.

Ignorance around how to interact with sexually abused children:

Parents welcome children from all walks of life into their homes. Unfortunately, it is becoming more prevalent that children having histories of sexual abuse are placed in care. Fathers may be fearful of how they should proceed with touch, hugs, privacy, etc. As males, we are further burdened because the most common predator has been male. All parents have at least a small struggle as their children’s bodies mature and change. However, fathers may become too avoidant of behaviors that may trigger an abused child. In these cases, we abdicate our role in modeling safe, good touch to our children. If and when, children do not experience “good touch,” they may seek out and substitute “bad touch.” We avoid this pitfall by:

  1. Increasing our ability to narrate our fears around the subject.
  2. Collaborate with child, case workers, therapists, etc. to create specific interventions that acceptable to everyone.
    1. Around how to touch
    2. Around how not to touch (boundaries)

© 2022, Jeff and Faye. All rights reserved.

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