- Create an open line of communication to talk about mental health and emotions at home.
- Focus on positivity.
- Look to the future and learn from the past.
As our society begins to embrace mental health more proactively, we also need to begin discussing mental health at home more regularly. In doing so, acceptance and compassion will emerge from our homes and flourish in our world. But it takes strong leaders at home to make those discussions happen. Fortunately, many fathers today are ready to make a difference for their children and their communities. I recently interviewed four entrepreneurial dads with multi-billion dollar businesses who know how to lead and get things done.
Donna Tetreault: How do you create a sense of belonging in your family?
Jason Harris: I believe that belonging to a family is part of a clan or a tribe, and a clear way to create a sense of belonging is to develop traditions and customs unique to your tribe. Much of my bond with my two boys revolves around the traditions where we learn and explore together.
Another simple thing I’ve done since my kids were very young is when I put them to bed every night I whisper in their ear, “You are loved, I’m proud of you. and I know you’ll do a lot of things.” I think that repetition gives them support and builds confidence.
Donna Tetreault: How do you talk about mental health with your children?
Eric Ryan: Compared to me when I was growing up, it’s amazing how comfortable and fluid our kids are in discussing their emotional health. They actually helped me be as comfortable talking about mental health as I was about physical health. As a family, we talk a lot about preventative skills to stay mentally fit, which then makes it easier to talk when one of our kids is feeling anxious or stressed.
Alex Faherty: Our kids are 6 and 4, so they’re just getting to an age where they realize they have feelings, and we really want to help them understand those feelings and feel comfortable sharing them with us and talk about why they feel a specific way. For example, if they seem to be in a bad mood, we will ask them why or if something happened at school today. Asking, instead of just telling them to cheer up, gets them to open up and share.
Donna Tetreault: How do you work with your partner to support each other’s mental health and well-being?
Charles Bonello: With three kids under the age of 3, life gets out of hand, so we try to make sure we work together to give each other space and time alone and give each other permission to do things like relax. If you let it get to you, you could do laundry 26 hours a day!
Donna Tetreault: How do you talk about emotions and feelings at home?
Charles Bonello: With our 3-year-old, we often talk about our feelings and how to honor them without letting them control us. It means building ways to name and disarm our feelings and to “press pause” so that being overwhelmed doesn’t turn into a meltdown. It doesn’t always work, but it gives us tools to deal with difficult emotions.
Jason Harris: I let my children know that our home is a safe space to talk freely about their feelings. And I follow a few ideas that I reinforce over and over again: Focus on the things in your control. There will be a lot of things that are out of your control and you can’t waste your energy worrying about them. Be yourself above all else. Know who you are and what your values are and be consistent. Don’t let your mind intimidate you. Try to control your thoughts and actions and train yourself to be optimistic. It really can be a learned habit.
Eric Ryan: One of the most difficult challenges as a parent is finding the balance between empathy and validating what my children are feeling while trying to instill courage and resilience. I’ve found that approaching parenthood with the “growth” vs. “fixed” mindset helps strike that balance by rewarding hard work rather than the end result. It has really helped my kids feel less academic pressure when I always reward hard work and effort put into their school work, regardless of the end result. I remind them that they may not remember what they learned in this test, but they will remember how hard they worked, and it will serve them for the rest of their lives.
Donna Tetreault: What is one thing you wish for your children that we are failing as a society?
Charles Bonello: The burden that childcare places on working parents in our society is untenable, with a lack of emotional, logistical and cultural support. As a father of three children, including two daughters, I am saddened to see that women’s participation in the workforce is at its lowest since the 1980s. But I am optimistic that the corporate sector will step up and prioritize needs of working parents, with benefits such as affordable and accessible childcare; flexibility in the workplace; and mental health support. My wish for my children is that they truly believe that you can both parent and work, and I’m going to do everything in my power to help us make that happen.
Jason Harris: I think as a society we are not instilling the values of volunteering and using our skills to help others. This was lost a bit as we became more focused on ourselves and our own needs and pleasures. We forget that we are part of a much larger community, and if we can help make the world a little better, we can make big changes.
Alex Faherty: Protect them from the dangers of technology – I see how teenagers and even young children have their lives controlled by social media, and it’s scary as a parent.
Donna Tetreault: What worries you the most about your children and coming out of the pandemic?
Eric Ryan: Our biggest challenge has been helping them make up for lost time academically. They basically skipped a grade, so the kids had to deal with a much longer learning curve, creating more stress and anxiety. But I’ve also tried to make sure we keep the gifts that COVID has given us that I don’t want to lose. I tried to teach my children never to waste a crisis, because it is an opportunity for growth and reflection.
Alex Faherty: One of our biggest priorities is getting them out into the world and around other kids. We recently decided to leave New York and move to a small town where they can more easily spend time with family and friends, play sports, play outdoors, etc.
Donna Tetreault: What advice have you received from your own father and used in your family?
Jason Harris: My father has a bit of blind optimism. He goes through life hoping things will work out. I don’t know if I fully subscribe to this methodology, but it taught me to have a positive attitude and not let toxic thoughts become my reality.
Eric Ryan: It is not what he said but what he modeled. Calm. Wow, was this man calm in the chaos of three energetic boys! I think I saw my dad get mad at us maybe twice. We try to channel her calm in the face of the daily chaos of three kids and a busy work schedule, usually with mediocre success.
Donna Tetreault: How do you see the role of fathers evolving in this generation?
Alex Faherty: We need to be more involved in the emotional development of our children and have a more intimate relationship with them. My father was born in 1939, and his generation had a very different approach to fatherhood. He worked during the week and then played sports with us on the weekends, but we never formed a really close and intimate bond, which I hope I can do with my children.
Charles Bonello: Generational change takes work, and that includes changing cultural perceptions about men and caregiving. That’s part of why our Father’s Day campaign at Vivvi, #dadsdoingdropoff, focuses on normalizing images of dads doing daily caregiving activities, like going back to school, eating meals and doing laundry. Each of these things in and of themselves is not groundbreaking, but by celebrating dads who share the load, we can hopefully encourage more of them to participate in caregiving and ease the burden of mothers who working.
What we model for our children impacts them and we can change our world for the better. Lead with love and compassion, build emotional safety by talking about mental health and emotions, and focus on positivity. We know from science that a positive mindset can be developed and provide a more fulfilling life trajectory. Thank you to these awesome dads for leading by example. Happy Father’s Day!