Fatherhood programs frequently engage participants in conversations and activities, working with them to enhance key life skills and establish healthy behaviors that can improve relationships in their lives. Programs can be ready with relationship tools and resources to help dads meet their goals.
Many fatherhood programs offer educational and peer support groups that include sessions on communication, conflict resolution, and other relationship skills. Programs should also support fathers to develop successful co-parenting strategies. These skills can help fathers strengthen ongoing relationships. Fathers might need help to figure out how to put their children first, see their children’s mother through their children’s eyes, and recognize the need to communicate effectively and coordinate parenting activities for the sake of their children. In some cases, mediation and/or co-parenting classes may be ordered by a family court judge as part of a divorce agreement or by a child welfare worker in connection with a child protection case.
Here are some strategies fatherhood programs can use to support fathers in developing healthy relationships.
Tips & Best Practices
- Fatherhood programs can offer support by providing relationship, skills-building classes. Classes may include sessions for married, engaged, or cohabiting couples. They can also include information for complex families, including blended and stepfamilies, or families with an incarcerated parent. They can also include group sessions with expectant fathers. Classes can include hands-on activities to develop relationship skills for conflict resolution, communication, financial literacy, family safety, and parenting.
- Programs can offer father-and-child activities. Activities with children give fathers opportunities to practice parenting and relationship skills and receive constructive feedback from instructors and peers. They can also incorporate social activities, such as picnics, outings, and other program events or celebrations. In some cases, mothers can also be invited for a specific session or included in social activities.
- Programs can support fathers by working with them to develop effective co-parenting skills, which may include encouraging adults to put their child first, treating the co-parent with respect, keeping communication lines open, and letting their child interact with both parents. Effective co-parenting relationships require cooperation, communication, compromise, and consistency among adults. However, this can be challenging when coordinating changing family dynamics, including relationships among former spouses, new partners, extended family members, or multiple partners and families. Fatherhood program practitioners can help by working with fathers to work through grievances and encourage the development of “co-parenting teams”, who support and communicate one another for their child’s well-being.
The Center for Urban Families in Baltimore, MD, emphasizes mediation activities to help parents build co-parenting relationship skills. Sometimes working with traditional third-party mediators, the program prefers non-traditional mediation activities designed to help parents gradually learn to cooperate with each other.
The center also operates Couples Advancing Together, a pilot program in partnership with the Maryland Department of Human Resources. Couples Advancing Together provides healthy relationship skills-building, employment assistance, and case management services for couples with children receiving public benefits through the Department of Social Services. The pilot features a 6-week (12 sessions) curriculum, home visits, and long-term follow-up. Group sessions are led by skilled facilitators who create a learner-centered, positive, respectful, and comfortable environment that allows couples to share their experiences and knowledge with peers. With assistance from family services coordinators and group facilitators, participants develop a family self-sufficiency plan to help them set family and career goals, compete in the job market, and develop family budgets. Transportation assistance, childcare, and dinner for parents and their children are provided.
What are some examples of communication skills that would be important to teach during relationship building courses?
Communication skills that are valuable in a variety of different relationships and environments tend to be the most useful. Important skills to teach include active listening, using “I-messages” (speaking for yourself, not for others), framing complaints without criticizing, teaching how to be supportive, showing appreciation, learning to admit when you were wrong, and communicating honestly.
How can I encourage co-parenting if the mother is not involved?
Ideally, the fatherhood program would involve the mother. When this is not possible, the program might work with a partner agency, such as Head Start, if it has a relationship with the mother. Practitioners also can refer clients to a trained mediator or call the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse helpline (1-877-4-DAD-411 or 1-877-432-3411) to facilitate mediation between the couple.
Where can I find additional resources centered on marriage and relationship development?
Various curricula are available to help structure group or home visiting sessions. These curricula typically include skill-building lessons on conflict resolution, communication, financial literacy, family safety, and parenting. The National Resource Center for Healthy Marriage and Families offers information on relationship curricula plus tips for assessing and selecting materials appropriate for different program settings. The National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse also has information on relationship curricula used by some fatherhood programs.