After the ball has dropped, the confetti has been swept up and the champagne hangovers are over, a familiar promise took flight: the New Year’s resolution. We promised ourselves a fresh start and made commitments to become a better dad. How’s that going? Usually, not so well. Despite the well-intentioned vows, only 8% of individuals see their resolutions through to fruition. Why do our grand hopes for change so often wither like unwatered ferns? There are several causes.

Three Reasons Resolutions Don’t Work for Most of Us

#1 – Thinking Too Big.

We dream of scaling mountains, not tackling stairs. Resolutions like “get fit”, “learn Spanish”, “read the Bible from cover to cover”, or “become a better dad” are noble, but vague. They lack the specificity and actionability that guide our steps. When a goal is big, but the small actions required to reach the goal are not in place, we increase the likelihood of failure. Then, discouragement sets in.

Instead, we need bite-sized goals: “walk 15 minutes daily”, “practice Spanish greetings daily”, “read a chapter a day” or “read, talk, or sing to my child every day.”  Later in this week’s blog, we will offer some ideas for setting achievable fatherhood goals.

#2 – Motivation’s Fickle Flame

The fire of January’s enthusiasm cools from the wind of daily routines. We forget the “why” behind our resolutions, the deeper purpose that fueled our fire. Reminding ourselves how “eating veggies daily makes me feel energized”, “daily devotions make me feel closer to God” or “spending quality time with my child builds our bond” can fan the embers of commitment.

#3 – We Underestimate the Power of Habit

Changing ingrained patterns is like reshaping a river, not painting a picture. It takes consistent effort, not just bursts of willpower. Instead of “quit smoking cold turkey,” consider “replacing two cigarettes daily with healthy snacks.” Small, sustainable changes lead to lasting transformations.

Now that we are back to work and settled into the new year, it is a great time to set meaningful and achievable goals for the rest of the year.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals Setting to Becoming a Better Dad

As fathers, we want to be present and supportive for our children at every stage, but sometimes feeling overwhelmed can make setting clear goals tricky. That’s where S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting comes in. It helps transform vague aspirations like “being a better dad” into concrete, actionable steps.

Specific: Instead of a general goal like “spend more time,” define it as “read bedtime stories twice a week.”

Measurable: Track your progress by marking off days on a calendar or logging hours spent playing together.

Achievable: Start small and build momentum; aiming for daily park visits might be unrealistic if you work late.

Relevant: Ensure your goals align with your child’s needs and interests; prioritizing soccer practice if they prefer ballet won’t be motivating.

Time-bound: Set deadlines to keep yourself accountable, like learning a new bedtime game by the end of the month. By applying S.M.A.R.T. principles, you can break down fatherhood into achievable steps, track your progress, and celebrate each victory on your journey to being the best dad you can be!

Fatherhood Goals for Different Stages of Your Child’s Development:

Newborn to 12 Months:

  • Bonding and Attachment:
    • Establish a regular nighttime routine like bathing, singing, and reading.
    • Respond consistently to cries and needs to build trust and security.
    • Engage in skin-to-skin contact during diaper changes and playtime.
  • Physical Development:
    • Tummy time every day to encourage muscle development and head control.
    • Participate in playful movement activities like bouncing and singing games.
    • Read colorful books and show pictures to stimulate visual development.
  • Emotional Development:
    • Talk and sing to your child often, even if they can’t reply yet.
    • Make silly faces and respond to their smiles and coos with enthusiasm.
    • Be patient and understanding during fussy periods.

1-3 Years:

  • Language Development:
    • Read books together daily, pointing out pictures and asking simple questions.
    • Sing songs and rhymes and encourage your child to join in.
    • Talk about your day and daily activities using clear and simple language.
  • Cognitive Development:
    • Provide safe and open-ended toys and materials for exploration and play.
    • Engage in pretend play and storytelling, following their lead and building on their ideas.
    • Ask open-ended questions to encourage curiosity and problem-solving.
  • Social and Emotional Development:
    • Encourage interaction with other children at park playdates or daycare.Model empathy and positive communication skills in your interactions.
    • Help them set and achieve small goals, celebrating their successes.

4-6 Years:

  • Independence and Responsibility:
    • Assign age-appropriate chores like setting the table or putting away toys.
    • Allow them to make simple choices like clothing or snack options.
    • Encourage self-care skills like handwashing and dressing independently.
  • Literacy and Learning:
    • Visit the library regularly and explore different books and genres.
    • Play educational games and apps together, focusing on age-appropriate skills.
    • Create a dedicated learning space like a reading nook or craft table.
  • Physical Activity and Play:
    • Engage in active play outdoors like riding bikes, playing tag, or going for walks.
    • Enroll them in a sports class or activity they enjoy.
    • Set aside time for unstructured play and imagination exercises.

7-12 Years:

  • Communication and Emotional Support:
    • Create a safe space for open and honest conversation about their feelings.
    • Actively listen without judgment and offer guidance and support.
    • Help them identify and manage their emotions in healthy ways.
  • Problem-solving and Decision-making:
    • Encourage critical thinking and reasoning skills by discussing scenarios and options.
    • Allow them to make safe choices and learn from their mistakes.
    • Guide them in setting personal goals and developing strategies to achieve them.
  • Interests and Talents:
    • Show genuine interest in their hobbies and extracurricular activities.
    • Attend performances, games, or competitions to show your support.
    • Encourage them to explore new interests and discover their talents.

These are just a few suggestions, and the best goals will always be personal and tailored to your unique relationship with your child. Remember to focus on small, achievable steps, celebrate successes along the way, and most importantly, enjoy the fatherhood journey!

Additional Tips:

  • Don’t take on too many goals at one time.
  • Be flexible and adjust your goals as your child grows and changes.
  • Communicate openly with your partner or co-parent to ensure consistency and support.
  • Don’t compare yourself to other fathers; every family is unique.
  • Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually to be your best for your child.
  • Most importantly, cherish the moments of connection and joy that come with fatherhood.

Finally, don’t forget the joy of progress, not perfection.

Celebrate milestones, not just finishes. For example, each bedtime story read, every advance your child makes, and each indication that your relationship is strengthening is progress. Forgive your slip-ups, learn from them, and get back on track. Progress, not perfection, is the path to a fulfilling fatherhood year.

Inspiration from the Holy Scriptures

As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.

 

–  Psalm 103:13 God’s Word translation

Join Fathering Strong

The Fathering Strong community is here to help you have a great beginning to 2024. By joining, you will be able to connect with other dads for mutual encouragement. Discuss the content of these blogs. Share your stories, learn from others, and maybe even mentor a young dad. Be as involved as you choose to be. Register, download the free Fathering Strong app, and turn on the notifications. Do it today and become a part of the Fathering Strong Community of dads.

Your financial contributions make it possible for us to serve fathers at no cost. Please consider donating. Fathering Strong is powered by Urban Light Ministries, Inc., a not-for-profit organization founded in 1995 in Springfield, Ohio. Our mission is to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to the Heavenly Father.  Go to www.fatheringstrong.com to donate. To learn more about Urban Light Ministries’ history, work, and mission, explore www.urbanlight.org.

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Eli Williams