Updated: Dec 6, 2019
- Jul 2, 2019
- 6 min read
Updated: Dec 6, 2019
Disengagement can be defined as the action or process of withdrawing from involvement in an activity, situation or group. Disengagement can occur in a multitude of contexts and different relationship types, but we will keep the focus here on the relationship between you and your children. A father can become disengaged for a number of reasons, and sometimes with some justifiable reasoning. Unfortunately the impact that this can and most likely will have on your children is significant and can have a life-long impact.
Emotional disengagement can take place between a father and a child (or children) when he disconnects from the emotionality of the relationship. By doing so, he creates a void between himself and his child where emotions get lost and what comes out of this negative-space is disappointment, frustration and hurt. The emotional disengagement is probably the most common type of disengagement that I witness with the families I engage with. So often the roles within a family are so strongly solidified with the mother generally being the emotional support for a child, and a father being the more hard and cold parent, regularly strong, hard-working and supportive, but emotionally disconnected from his children. Sadly, by falling into this role, we can demonstrate a false reality that can lead children to believe that men are not emotional, they don’t express emotion and dismiss, simplify and downplay emotions.
It is a very common trend for fathers to be the very busy parent who works long hours. Who travels a significant amount during a year and is physically not very present in their child's life. Understandably, this is a necessary evil in order to provide your family with the lifestyle that they have, and the dedication to maintaining this lifestyle is commendable. However, by being relatively absent from your child’s life, you now run a significant risk of finding yourself faced with the void that was mentioned previously. A space of disconnect between you and your child, a space that can seem to fuel frustration and tension in the home. Just because a father is not physically present, it does not mean that the disengagement will occur. In fact there are many families where the father is physically present in the home on a daily basis, yet the physical disengagement still occurs as the effort to connect with his children is not present. Instead, watching TV, or doing things around the house alone seem more important than some quality time with his child. Similarly, there are many families where a father is not physically present (work commitments, divorce etc), yet thanks to his committed efforts to maintain a strong connection with his child, he is able to avoid becoming disengaged.
Social Disengagement can be another trap that seems to catch so many fathers. It is the disconnect from the extended social engagements that your child is involved in. This can include extramural commitments, playdates, parties and other social gatherings. Some families seem to have an unspoken (or spoken) rule that mom’s will attend the parties and take the kids to various other events. Sometimes this is due to work commitments, other times this is due to an avoidance of engaging with other parents and children, or preventing the dust from settling on your golf clubs. Now, I am certainly not suggesting that we completely sacrifice our own lives in order to attend all that our children do. In fact it is very important for your children to see that you do have your own hobbies and interests, however, when your hobbies and interests take priority over your role as a father, we then begin to enter a space of disengagement. Unfortunately, disengagement breeds more disengagement if it is not recognised and addressed.
General disengagement by a father is likely to begin with one of the above mentioned types of disengagement. Over time the more isolated disengagement can begin to creep into other areas of your life and relationships until the disconnect that exists is so significant that it seems almost impossible to be able to salvage the relationships. A potential consequence of this is that there may be a conscious or subconscious need to overcompensate in various aspects of our lives. This could include material items, an over-focus on sports or other hobbies / activities, or even an over-indulgence with food, drink and other negative social behaviours. As we begin to feel isolated, dismissed or disconnected from those that we should be closest to, we begin to lose some of our identity and so we attempt to reestablish our identity in other spaces and with other people.
How and Why of Disengagement
When we consider our own lives, we will come to realise and accept that we will all, at some point or another, disengage from one or many relationships for varying reasons. Human beings are extremely complicated and interconnected beings. None of us live in isolation, and so our actions and engagements will impact those around us, just as those around us will impact us. Similarly, the events that unfold around us (past, present and future) will all impact us to some degree. All of these small and large factors carry the potential to lead us to disengage with those around us. Shifting our focus specifically to the relationships that exist between yourself and your children, there are many potential factors that could lead to disengagement, but there seem to be some common themes which present themselves regularly.
Personal Factors - these could include our own insecurities and triggers which, when unresolved, we carry with us every day and will impact how we engage with those around us and how we manage ourselves and situations. Often this is the most significant, yet most denied factor.
Relational Factors - A breakdown in relationships can occur for various reasons, and the impact can be a disengagement and disconnect that hold the individuals in a void and prevents the restoration of a positive relationship. An important consideration here is the roles and responsibilities that we assume, accept and live daily. If the roles are not balanced to some degree, we can become disengaged by default. For example, if it is mom’s role to do homework and manage the school engagements, a father may automatically begin to feel disconnected from this aspect of his child’s life which can further develop into a greater disconnect over time if nothing is done to intervene.
Developmental Factors - As children grow they move through different developmental stages and with each new stage comes new challenges, attitudes, behaviours and so on. Most often the change from one stage to another happens progressively and so it may not be noticeable at first. If a parent is unaware of a change, they can interpret new behaviours and attitudes in a negative light and react to them as opposed to respond and adapt to them. In doing so, some disconnect may present itself and where this is not rectified, disengagement can begin.
External Factors - Other factors such as financial stress, work stress, travel, politics and so on can have a significant impact on any or all members of a family. These factors may trigger other anxieties or insecurities in us which can ultimately lead to us becoming less present and more disconnected.
My Role as a Dad
It is critical that as a father you take a proactive stance regarding the relationships that you have with your children. You are the responsible adult, and it is up to you to be able to recognise and intervene when things seem to change or get difficult. When you are unsure about what you should or could do, it is up to you to ask for assistance. I emphasise the importance of you taking ownership of your role and relationships because at the end of the day, no one is going to make the relationship happen. No one is going to make the relationship strong and meaningful other than yourselves. We cannot expect our children to come to us, to fix what we feel is broken and to take full responsibility when we are the ones who are supposed to be teaching and supporting them while demonstrating an unconditional positive regard. If you want to have the close relationship with your children, then make it happen, and take action.
- May 29, 2019
- 5 min read
Updated: Dec 6, 2019
What is a Role Model?
Let’s begin with a basic understanding of what a role model is. According to some dictionary definitions, a role model is “a person looked to by others as an example to be imitated”. We certainly see this all the time, with children and adults imitating various significant individuals like celebrities, politicians and family members. Unfortunately we may see a lot of poor behaviour being imitated. We don’t often see a lot of the good, positive behaviour being imitated these days, which is possibly a sign of the times. The world we live in has developed a far greater focus outwards and on image rather than on self development and the solid values that were esteemed more by past generations. The materialistic and superficial world we live in plays a role - but is not solely to blame.
What Role do you Model?
Those of you who have heard me speak, or have had a meeting with me before, will know that I push personal responsibility, in all contexts. We all need to take ownership of the things that are within our control as an individual. When we break it all down, there is not a great deal that is truly in our own control, but there are some very critical elements of our life that are.
We choose our own behaviour - that is our choice.
We choose how to respond to situations and people.
Considering this, how we are as a person, how we live our life, is significantly within our control. So take a moment to reflect on the person that we feel we are? How do you feel about how you live your life, engage with people and handle situations?
Me, Us and Them
Through my career as a psychologist, I have worked with many individuals and families across many contexts, within the school context as well as privately. Through these experiences, I have been able to conceptualise two theories that I make use of on a daily basis when I engage with clients.
Firstly, and probably most importantly is a concept that I apply to all situations and cases. This is my theory that all dynamics and relationships (irrespective of context) can be broken down into three components; ME, US and THEM. For now, we will focus on the family context.
THEM - refers to the broader family context which includes your children - this is the last “stage / level”. Generally speaking, if things are going smoothly in the other domains, this area will functions relatively well with little need for intervention.
US - refers to the “parental unit”, the family managers, the core of the family. The relationship between you and your partner, wife, ex-wife etc. This needs to be ideally in a state of balance, equilibrium and stable. If this is not, it will impact the THEM. This includes parenting styles, values, interests etc.
ME - The “parental care” is comprised of individuals, and so we get to the first and fundamentally most critical component, you. You have a past, a history and baggage. Strengths and weaknesses, insecurities, we all do, we are only human. This being said, we need to acknowledge this and grow and develop who we are at our very core.
Why is this so fundamental to being a dad? Well, being a dad means being a role model 24/7, meaning that you as a person are being watched, imitated and criticised on your behaviour by your children every day. To be a solid role model, you need to be a solid individual. This leads me to my second theory…
One Way Glass Parenting
Being a parent is like living on shiny side of a one way mirror. Being a parent means that what we do is constantly being watch, analysed, monitored and remembered by our children. Being a parent is a whole lot less about the actual interactions with your children (although still critical), but it is so much more about how we are as an individual (ME) and very importantly as a couple/unit (US).
As we consider this, let’s shift our focus completely off your children for now and onto a few fundamental details.
Where last did you have a date night with your partner, that was all about the two of you, and did not involve conversation that focused on your children? How much affection do you demonstrate to your partner, and do your children see this? How do you and your partner function as a unit, and engage with each other both when the children are around and when they are not. Generally, how close are the two of you. Obviously each family is different and there are many separated, divorced and blended families, but the general principles still apply, even if this is in relation to you and your ex since you both are still the parents of your child/children.
How do you talk to your partner, and what do you talk about? Considering how you function and interact as a couple is very important as this sets the tone for the foundation of relationships that your children will develop and either seek or avoid later on in life. Do you prioritise your time with your partner, and do you demonstrate a sense of value and appreciation for them? Remember your kids are watching everything you do, and they are going to imitate you because you are their role model.
Me as a person
Finally, we need to consider how we are as ourselves. How do we live our life when we feel no one is watching. How do you children see you just being yourself, and is this different to how you are with them or their mother? As you consider this point, consider how you do just be yourself, and whether you actually know or do this. The behaviours that your children see you living naturally are some of the behaviours that they are going to internalise and most likely adopt as their own. Remember, monkey see, monkey do.
See the short advert by napkin.org.au demonstrating the impact of the behaviour we model for our children.
Children are far more perceptive than we give them credit for, don’t underestimate what they see.
A starting point
Focus and invest time on the critical areas discussed above, yourself and your relationship. Learn to become more genuine with yourself and in your behaviour, and your children will begin to absorb what they see. This may take time, and yes a lot of effort, but you have to DO in order for your children to learn, you cannot just tell them how to be.
What is beneficial about this approach is that it has three potentially significant impacts:
We improve ourselves and strive towards being a better version of who we are
We improve our relationship
We improve our understanding of ourselves in relation to our children and so we enhance our relationships, interactions and impact where it really matters, with our children.
Time invested in yourself and your relationship is not wasted or selfish time, but rather a significant investment that will yield a return greater than what you were expecting.