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Dad strength means different things to different dads, but it includes many ways to be strong. There are many factors that all come together to make a strong dad. When we started looking into dad strength, the methods most men wanted to be strong for their kids came down to three main categories.
Physical strength - raw physical power. Mental strength to be as present as possible with your family. And finally, the emotional strength to set the example for your children and talking honestly about feelings - both yours and theirs.
Dad Strength #1. Physical Strength
Back health is critical as a dad. You'll be spending a considerable amount of your time carrying a child and their massive bag of stuff around, picking things up from the floor, and leaning over changing mats. You will develop a lot of unexpected strength benefits from those low-level workouts. Still, without proper preparation, there may be some aches and pains to expect.
I am trying to say that your back muscles, especially the ones running on each side of your spine, should be included in your workouts. To build strength in your erector spinae, consider adding back extensions into your training routine. These are tricky to get right, so start with bodyweight only on a back extension bench or a glute-ham raise.
If your gym doesn't have one of those, try adding good morning exercise into your home workouts. Once you've nailed the movement pattern with your bodyweight (keeping your back flat and feeling the pull in your hamstrings and glutes), you can progress with external loading. Aim for 3 sets of 8 reps with excellent form before adding extra weight.
Having a strong core, which is all the muscles around your stomach and back that support your spine, will be necessary for dads too. You'll be picking things up (kids and toys!) from the floor, and you'll need to be able to descend straight. To build your core - and your quads, consider adding goblet squats to your routine. You can hold a dumbbell close to your chest, under your chin, and squat down, trying to keep your chest as vertical as possible. If you don't have a dumbbell at home, you can also use your child. Cuddling and squatting in one move!
Finally, you're going to be spending a lot of time carrying your little one around in their car seat. This needs a strong core, shoulders, and traps. It's unlikely your baby will be heavy enough to test your grip. Still, you can train for this using a heavy kettlebell or a heavy dumbbell and carrying the weight in one hand while you walk. These are sometimes called farmers walks, and when you do them, focus on bracing your core and making sure you don't let your weight shift too much to one side.
With all these movements, start with less time and fewer reps. You can aim to build your strength up with plenty of practice over time. Rather than doing a high volume of work, put your attention on moving with excellent form. The goal is to bulletproof your back and core from tweaks and injuries.
Dad Strength #2. Mental Fortitude
Mental strength means different things for different dads. Still, we're going to focus on being more present when you're with your kids for our purposes. This feels like it's more difficult at the moment, with so many demands on our attention and the rise of working from home. Rather than just trying to be more present, though, what are some practical strategies for dads to be more present?
Put your phone away when you're with your children.
If your children are old enough to have phones of their own, having family time together when no one has their phone out could be an excellent way to increase your bond with your family. Relying on phones to relieve boredom deprives us of sitting with ourselves and allowing creative thoughts and free reign for imaginations.
Make time for having fun every single day.
This should be the norm rather than the exception. Having children reminds us as adults of how to let go, how to play, and how to have fun. Let them show you how to reconnect with this lost skill, and be sure to allow space for it every single day. Make it a priority, and look for opportunities to create more pockets of fun throughout the day.
Turn the news off.
Research suggests that dads who consume as little as 14 minutes of news per day are significantly more anxious and sad than those who didn't. We spend a lot of time managing screen time for our children, but we're less aware of the impact it has on us. Don't let the news steal your attention, and certainly don't let it steal your optimism and good humor.
Say no to distractions.
When you say yes to that work commitment, that evening out, or that extra project, that's a no to something else you could be doing with your kids. That's fine, and sometimes it's even unavoidable. Ensuring that the time you spend with your children is intentional and valuable is just as important. Letting go of your expectations of what you "should" be doing at that moment and just appreciating the time you have together is a powerful way to build deep and lasting bonds between strong dads and appreciative kids.
Dad Strength #3. Emotional Strength
The world your children are growing up in is in many ways more complex than the world when we were young. The technological advances are so rapid that you could take your attention off it for one year and have entirely different technological advancements.
Children socialize differently from when we were kids, with less separation between home life and friendships and school. This creates diverse and complex social structures for children to navigate, which can sometimes cause anxiety, especially once they reach school age.
As a dad, you will probably want to solve all your kids' problems for them, stepping in to be the hero. But it's essential you give your children space to solve their problems themselves. And simply by being honest with yourself and your kids about your feelings can be enough. By demonstrating a willingness to be open about your emotions in simple language that they can understand, you will build an honesty of communication and an emotional authenticity between you and your children.
Importantly, it will also permit your children to be honest with you about their feelings in return. You will have set the example in terms of how and when to talk about emotions, and from their dad, they will see this as a gesture of strength. If you want your children to be open with you about their feelings, that will begin by being open and honest with them about your feelings.
As with all things, children will turn to parents as the template for how they should behave in any given situation. If you want to raise your children to be emotionally resilient and intelligent, you will have to teach them how to articulate their feelings to you by expressing your feelings the right way in front of them.
Being a strong dad isn't just about having the biggest biceps in the schoolyard. Being physically strong enough to carry your children, to respond to their physical needs and play, and doing it all without getting injured is part of it, though. Ensuring that you're not neglecting the less glamorous muscles of the back and core in your workout will undoubtedly play a role in this.
Additionally, making time to be emotionally present with your children will be necessary. Creating valuable memories rather than spending money on them will impact the short-term relationship they have with you as their dad and a long-lasting impact on how they bond with their children. You might introduce high-energy playtime in the form of games. But you could also introduce calmer activities like reflecting on the things you're incredibly grateful for together at bedtime.
A willingness to discuss your emotions, feelings, and thoughts candidly will set the tone for your relationship with children. It may feel unfamiliar to do this at first, especially if this is something that you didn't experience with your father - but in many ways, that makes it all the more vital that you can do it for your children now.
Another generation of children believing that "boys don't cry" isn't productive for anyone's long-term wellbeing, and that starts with an example of dad's strength through lessons learned at home. Finding a way to talk about your emotions with your children will help build that trusting relationship.