Maladaptive dads are constantly in the news. They make the headlines with excessive abuse, abandonment of responsivity, neglectful actions, or even the death of their children by their own hands. While the headline is sensational, it can give the appearance that all dads are bad. But this is not true.
Unfortunately, not much attention is paid to excellent fathers. They rarely receive any attention at all and are frequently tossed in the dysfunctional section for some minor offense. There are many good dads that pay attention to their children and are mindful of the developmental stages. These dads mold their parenting skills to meet their child’s developmental, emotional, mental, and physical needs. They successfully navigate through joy and sadness as their child passes to another stage in life. Most importantly, these dads know how to care for their child without being too overprotective. It is a delicate balance and one worth striving to achieve.
One of the best ways to emulate a good dad is to utilize Erik Erikson’s Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development serves as a parenting guideline. As a child progresses through the stages, different parenting skills are needed. Please note that these stages will be discussed from a paternal perspective due to the nature of the article. It is not meant to diminish the value of mothers or other caregivers.
- Trust vs. Mistrust (Birth to 1 year). While breastfeeding may make this attachment phase for the dads more difficult, trust can be established through voice recognition, cuddling, and even changing diapers. The strong positive attachment allows the child to feel safe knowing their physical, mental, and emotional needs are met. Since a child is unable to care for themselves, all needs must be met with a caretaker. The successful completion of this stage instills a sense of hope in the years to come.
- Autonomy vs. Shame/Doubt (1 – 3 years). These years are marked by a child’s desire to experiment and try new things such as walking, talking, potty training, and eating solid foods. A father who allows a child to progress without overprotecting develops resolve in the child. Stage one and two are a sharp contrast from meeting all of the child’s needs to allowing the child to meet some of their own needs. The success of this stage allows a child to feel a sense of individuality.
- Initiative vs. Guilt (3 – 5 years). The pre-school years are ones of learning large motor skills such as riding a tricycle, getting dressed without assistance, and throwing a ball. There is a lot of imaginative play where the child makes up the rules and purpose of the activity. Fathers who delight in the child’s imagination and engage in play time help to foster creativity and provides them with a sense of purpose. Trying to coddle the child, as was possible in previous stages, frustrates them.
- Industry vs. Inferiority (5 – 12 years). These are the best years for education as a child’s brain is similar to a sponge. Children take in volumes of information and then regurgitate it when questioned. Fathers who stimulate learning develop competent children who are unafraid of their abilities. While answering the abundant “why” questions may be exhausting, these dads realize the value of poring information into their child as it gives a sense of competence.
- Identity vs. Confusion (12 – 18 years). At the beginning of this stage is the development of critical thinking skills. This is usually a difficult adjustment for most dads as they are no longer one of the greatest influences in their teen’s life (and may appear to the teenager as stupid). But the best of dads appreciate and encourage their child to challenge their beliefs without judgment or condemnation knowing that this process leads to a fully formed sense of self and fidelity. This is difficult to do which is why the teen years are so troubling for many families who do not work toward this goal. Please note that while the technical definition is that a sense of identity is achieved by 18, this generation seems to develop this by 21.
- Intimacy vs. Isolation (18 – 30 years). Without a strong sense of identity, it is impossible to achieve true intimacy with another person. As the now adult child matures, it is natural for them to pull away even further. Unfortunately, in the American culture today, the previous stage is often extended unnaturally well into the twenties. Fathers who focus on proper development find ways to encourage their adult child to leave the nest and integrate into society without being harsh.
- Generativity vs. Stagnation (30 – 60 years). This stage and the next cannot be taught; rather it is modeled by their father. These dads live a life of individual development, professional advancement, and community generosity. They demonstrate a strong work ethic while striving to understand their adult child’s vocation. There is no comparing between siblings, just an appreciation for each adult child’s unique path. The successful completion of this stage spreads wealth, knowledge, and compassion to the next generation.
- Integrity vs. Despair (60 – death). With age comes wisdom and these dads are willing to share their kernels of truth and insight. They are available to their adult child providing guidance only when asked. They are not judgmental of their adult child’s choices but find areas of pride and joy in their accomplishments. They focus on the positive aspects of their adult child’s life and minimize the failures or struggles.
The best of fathers master these skills and help to rise up another successful generation. Their attentiveness to intentional parenting is a blessing for many generations to come. They deserve appreciation and thanks for their efforts.