We explored what being an active father means and how Chinese culture impacts parenting styles with two ICS fathers in our previous ICS blog post. This time, we talked to Matthew and Rebekah Pine for their perspectives on how to support fathers. Keep reading for tips on biblical parenting and forming support networks in your community!
Part 2: Matthew and Rebekah Pine, ICS Parents
Matthew and Rebekah Pine are current ICS parents with two kids at the Elementary school level and one at Secondary school. Matthew is the co-founder of the DADs Network in Hong Kong. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
At ICS, we firmly believe in the Bible, and we teach the bible to all of our students every day. What can we learn from the Bible about fathers?
The Bible shows us two amazing things about fathers: it reveals God as a father; Jesus prays “our Father who art in heaven.” Throughout scripture, there is a “heavenly Father,” and our Creator of heaven and earth is presented as a father figure. We can help reveal God the Father to our children by being a father.
Secondly, the bible provides a lot of wisdom and truth. It instructs fathers to correct and encourage their children. There are lots of examples of what can happen if you don’t correct your children, with the example of the priests and how they didn’t correct their sons: the ark of the covenant was taken away, and the presence of God was lost. There is a lot for parents to gain by reading the scriptures.
How much does it benefit the family when both mom and dad practice partnership parenting? Please share some of your experiences.
Having been a parent for over 12 years now, I can safely say that it’s really hard. It’s the hardest job in the world with very little training, and it’s good to have someone along with you to do it. We’ve been really blessed that we decided we’re going to do it together. Logistically and practically speaking, I’m with the kids most of the time. But I’m so grateful to be able to pass the baton to my husband from time to time, especially during COVID and the kids are at home all the time. It’s really important for moms to support dads and vice versa because we have such different voices, and it’s good for children to have both voices in their lives.
It’s important to put our marriage before our children and realize that a healthy relationship is the foundation in helping our children make good choices later in life. We don’t play “good cop, bad cop”. As much as possible, we’re going to provide a unified answer to their challenges and questions and desire to knock over boundaries. We try to establish our boundaries beforehand, our values, and what we stand for as a family.
There are moments when the kids will catch us off guard. When my husband decides or says something to the kids I don’t agree with, I will keep silent and discuss it with my husband afterward. I’ll say, “I didn’t agree with the decision you made, how can we backtrack and meet in the middle?”
We can’t do it alone. Our family values are multi-generational parenting: involving grandparents or father figures and mothers; we don’t have to rely on my wife alone. The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” is so true. We come together around this central vision of maturing our children who are dependent on us as babies to individuals who are dependent on God as mature adults. For example, inviting and sharing our vision with teachers at ICS, coaches on the sports field, or friends at church and giving them permission within boundaries to speak into our children’s lives and help raise them up.
What does it mean to be an active father?
There are so many things you can do. Read them bedtime stories. Research has proven that it engages children, not only young children but also when they are 10 or 12.
Spend time with your children wherever they are. If they have a soccer game, show up. If they have a recital, go to the recital. Prioritizing somethings that are crucial and be where they are. A leader at ICS talks about “incarnational parenting”, that Christ had come to earth to be with us, and similarly, we can also go into the lives of our children. For example, when my daughter is playing princess and dragons make-believe, I pretend I am one of the characters in her world.
Other things include learning their culture, listening to them, and having patience. Every morning I drive my kids to school, and I connect with them more in those 15 to 20 minutes than any other time. Kids are willing to share when you take the time with them.
Take your child on dates or a one-on-one. If they’re girls, find something they enjoy doing. If they’re boys, find out where you can connect with them, even if it’s just eating and chatting or physical activities. During those times, they know they are your priority, and you get to know each other. To be honest, it was awkward when I had a one-on-one with my eldest daughter. But we got through it, and now she looks forward to it.
In a cross-cultural family like yours, how do you settle cultural differences when it comes to parenting?
Every marriage is a cross-cultural marriage because each family has its own culture. Every family is unique. You need to recognize the way in which your parents brought you up affects your expectations and gut reactions when you parent. You need to be conscious of that and talk it over with your spouse: “this is how it was with my parents”.
For us, we’ve chosen the culture of God’s kingdom, and we align our lives to God. We feel that it’s the most primary way of dealing with differences. If it’s secondary to the values of God’s kingdom, we can let it slide. Open communication and humor is needed because we’re different people. Ask questions such as “is it worth making a big deal? What are our core values?”
We found that we had a lot of identical core values, most of them biblical. Coming up with a list of primary values for a shared vision is a simple starting point. Question why you do things a certain way.
As a wife, how can you encourage your spouse to be a more active father at home?
Don’t nag or point out their deficiencies, because most of the time, men already know what they’re not doing. There’s already a sense of guilt, so it can make them withdraw even more. Spot things they are doing well and encourage them to do more of that.
Make space for the father. Deliberately taking yourself out of the picture, even when you feel things will fall apart with you. Delegate the day to dad. Don’t hover or micromanage. It’s important for you to want your husband to connect with your children. You want him to feel like he can do it. It’s not usually every day, so take the backseat and understand that something more important is happening. Affirm your husband!
I talk to a lot of fathers around Hong Kong. Most of the fathers feel like they’re not doing enough as they’re usually busy with work. They are in the role of a provider, but they become less engaged with their kids, and a gap forms between them. The mom then criticizes the dad for the gap, and usually, the dads know about it. The father goes back to work or even hides in their work to avoid the tension between their kids and their wife; it looks good because they’re productive. Moms can affirm that it’s good and right to provide for their family, but they also need the discernment to see if the fathers are using work as an excuse.
Matthew, tell us more about the DADs Network and what you do.
The DADs Network comes out of my heart for supporting dads. I noticed two situations several years ago. One was youth underemployment, where young people from secondary school go to vocational schools. They are falling through the gaps and are dropping out of school. Research shows that it’s the lack of father engagement starting in primary school and is exacerbated during secondary school. After that, there is a total absence of a father figure.
I run a park for my day job. We have kids that go on field trips, and parents are welcome to come. 95% of the adults would be moms, 5% would be domestic helpers, and there would only be one or two dads. This is consistent week after week. I understand fathers are working, and they are unable to attend, but that’s where the gap is starting to form. By the time the kids are in secondary school, the gap has widened considerably. My partner at the DADs Network did a research study with McKinsey Consulting and found that it costs about $20,000 USD to re-engage the youth to get them back on track. So we’re trying to go back to the early stages to help fathers engage with their kids and work with dads.
Secondly, dads don’t share much. Moms and women form groups in person and online. You never need to encourage a group of mothers to share their feelings, challenges, or things like when the library book is due. But men don’t naturally do that, though some may be more inclined to. Dads end up feeling they might be the only one having difficulties. Research shows when they have a small support group, they are more engaged as fathers, and the children achieve better academic performance and socioeconomic status. When the father is in a small group, there are positive outcomes for both the father and the child.
A friend circle can form between fathers when they are engaged with their children at school because they’re in contact so much, especially when the fathers get involved early on. Fortunately, fathers in Hong Kong love their children, and they want to engage, but they need help. At DADs Network, we focus on fathers and father figures and teach basic things like encouraging their children and the cost/benefits of praising children. We teach dads how to play with their kids. Some of the advice we give is scientific, some of it is cultural, and some experimental. We’ve gone to many schools to talk to dads, and the best thing is that they show up.
How can dads get started or get in touch with the DADs network?
Start simple. Find one or two other dads and reach out to them. Say “hi” and get to know them. Meet them for coffee. It’s uncomfortable and not normal, and DADs network run programs that help foster these relationships. We have different citywide activities, but the best thing is to find your group of dads that will walk together with you. You can get in touch with the DADs Network over Facebook.
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