June 22nd, 2020

Celebrating Fathers

As I am writing this it is Fathers’ day in the UK and in the USA and in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic it feels like a particularly good time to acknowledge fathers. All of us have had our worlds turned upside down by Covid-generated restrictions on our way of life. Some dads have lost their jobs, some have been furloughed and some have been working from home. Across the world many fathers have been in isolation at home with their families and spending much more time with their kids than usual.

And dads have stepped up.

50 years ago the role of a dad was to support his family financially. When a child was born he was waiting in the wings and his role in the life of the baby was from the sidelines. He did not go to ante-natal classes and was not expected to participate in labour or care for the newborn. He was not directly involved in feeding, bathing or changing the infant (and so did not have the opportunities for bonding provided by those activities), but he could put together the cot and the child seat, and he could go to work. As the child got older he might be involved in discipline and weekend activities. He would teach a child to throw and catch a ball but pretty much everything else was down to mum.

In the half century that followed women gradually got involved more in the paid workforce and in the 21st century the two parent working family is much more the norm. But still mostly it was the women who were taking on responsibility for the childcare. It would generally be mum who’d stay home if a child was sick. Mums would more often take care of homework supervision and organise playdates and birthday parties.

All families are different but there has been a steady rise in the involvement of dads in their children’s everyday lives. Until the pandemic forced fathers out of delivery rooms it had become much more the norm that dads were present and playing a crucial supporting role in the birth and were encouraged to bond with the baby from birth. There is evidence that dads who are actively involved and invested in the baby before they are born remain involved throughout the child’s life. I interviewed for our podcast a dad of a 4 year old and 10 month old who was already working from home before isolation was thrust upon his family and he thought that surely it was the norm these days that parents would share the childcare responsibilities equally. Whether or not that is the rule in all families with young children today there is much evidence that when dads get into the grunt work their relationship with their kids is much enhanced (to say nothing of what it does for their relationship with their partners).

At The Parent Practice we have noticed a marked increase in the number of dads actively engaged in our online positive parenting courses during isolation and families report that dads are taking responsibility for their children in unprecedented ways. Most report that they are loving the amount of time they have had with their families.

Since there is so much to be concerned about regarding isolation it is good to reflect upon this massive silver lining to the Covid cloud. Pre-pandemic it had been reported that younger fathers particularly were keen to spend more time with their families but that their work culture didn’t always allow it or they feared that their career prospects would be jeopardised by taking time off for childcare. Perhaps in the post-Covid era there will be a shift toward more flexible work practices for dads.

Because dads’ involvement matters.

It is well documented that having an active, engaged, involved father in their life really makes a difference to outcomes for a child.

Showing up is half the battle, whether a father lives full time with his children or not. A father living apart from his children needs to be more creative but as isolation has shown we can be resourceful  when  it comes to the vital task of staying in touch. We can write, send pictures or photographs, use video calling platforms (who isn’t an expert in Zoom now?) and phone. “Even if you’re not in physical proximity, knowing your dad cares and wants to be involved to the extent that they can is really important,” says Marcy Carlson, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin. (Quoted in Fatherly) And she reminds dads that providing for their kids also goes a long way.

When dads are positively engaged in everyday activities with their kids and warm and emotionally involved, feeding them, playing with them, putting them to bed, reading to them, supervising homework and attending school events, having conversations with them, providing emotional support and positive discipline, etc the following outcomes can be predicted:

  • Better social competence and emotional intelligence
  • Better physical and mental health
  • Better academic results
  • Less involvement in drink and drugs
  • Better self-control and behaviour
  • Stronger self-esteem and lower incidence of depression 

If you’re physically present with your kids the next level up is being engaged and warm and this is what matters if dads are to impact the above areas. Playing with kids is good for building relationship but also for teaching them social skills and for cognitive development. Dads are particularly good at allowing children to take risks; their play tends to be of a more physical variety which allows the child to develop physically, to learn where the boundaries are and to trust themselves and dads communicate the value of exploring which builds creativity. When dads give the message that the child is capable of a task, the child believes that he is capable and also enjoys and values the task.

Children are watching their dads all the time. Boys model themselves on their dads and girls form their expectations of how men should be by watching their dads. So be sure you are that man for them.

Remember that dads matter and keep up the good work.

Posted in: Fathers





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