The Father Factor

Why You Should Let Dads Cheat to Become a Better Dad

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Jan 11, 2018

responsible fatherhood

Have you ever cheated when you tried to reach a personal goal, such as adopting a better diet, losing weight, or stopping smoking?

Recent research shows that giving people the option to cheat on the way to achieving a personal goal—what researchers call “emergency reserves”—helps them to achieve that goal and to perform better along the way. 


  • Having the option every once in a while to not behave consistently with achieving a goal—a day or two during the week to not follow a new diet, for example—integrates flexibility into goal attainment, which motivates people to achieve a goal.
  • Knowing they can cheat from time to time motivates people to resist cheating! When faced with a desire to cheat, they tend to resist the temptation as they wait for a greater emergency.
  • People tend to feel guiltier when they do cheat. After they cheat, they’re more likely to get back on the proverbial horse and achieve their goal.

This research has implications for helping dads become better dads.

If your work with dads involves helping them set goals, you should consider providing dads with emergency reserves related to those goals. If you use the 24/7 Dad® program (3rd edition), for example, you help dads identify ways to be more involved in their children’s lives using the My 24/7 Dad® Checklist. This checklist includes activities (tasks) that dads can do daily, weekly, monthly, or one time to be more involved. If a dad creates a daily activity, such as talking to his child after school about the child’s day, you could tell the dad that it’s okay if he doesn’t do that once every couple of weeks.

The challenge in telling dads it’s okay to cheat from time to time is how often to tell them they can cheat. Researchers are only now starting to explore how much cheating is too much such that it affects achieving a goal and performance along the way. It’s also vital to consider the nature of the goal and whether any cheating is okay.

Here are a few tips for applying this research.

  • Think about the goal and the consequence of cheating. Allowing dads to cheat is about integrating flexibility into becoming a better dad. It should help and not hinder achieving that ultimate goal. It’s okay for a dad to cheat a few times a month on a daily task to search for a better paying job. It’s also okay for a dad to cheat a few times a month on a daily task to read a book to his child before bedtime. It’s not okay to cheat, however, if a dad’s task is to make regular child support payments. It’s also not okay for a non-custodial dad who can visit his child only once a week to miss visits.
  • Dads should never cheat on activities they have told their children to expect. That doesn’t mean that a circumstance won’t arise that prevents a dad from delivering. When such a circumstance arises, a dad must explain to his child why he can’t deliver and apologize.
  • Experiment and measure performance. Vary the frequency with which dads can cheat. Measure how they do against their goals to see how much cheating is too much.

We’ve all been told that any cheating is not acceptable under any circumstance. This research shows, however, that’s not the case.

Does your work with dads involve goal setting?

Are you or the dads you work with inflexible with progress toward goals?


Effective Fatherhood Program Facilitator


Topics: General Fatherhood Research & Studies

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