Earlier generations had very clear ideas about what a man’s role in his child’s life would be – mostly that of the breadwinner and disciplinarian, unconnected with the day-to-day raising of the child. Mothers were considered the sole caregivers. Statements such as “If you don’t behave, I’ll tell your father” and “Your father won’t like it” moulded the relationship of many people, which hardly encouraged any positive bonding between father and child.
Things have changed nowadays and a father’s role in his child’s life has taken on new significance. After much study, the results are in and are very clear. There’s so much more than paying the bills. Fathers and father-figures have lots to contribute to a child’s development.
An involved father can inspire and bring about so much growth in a child, including better academic results, higher self-esteem, healthy risk-taking, general well-being, and even influence marital stability when the child grows up. (And very likely promotes marital stability in his own marriage when he helps feed and change nappies!)
A child’s relationship with the father is somewhat different from that of the mother, in terms of communication, style of playing etc. When a father is highly involved and loving, there’s a lot that the child can learn and apply. Not only does the child pick up a different way of relating with others, but the sense of self-worth also grows.
For example, girls learn what a healthy relationship can be (involving respect and love) and are likely to know what to look for when they are looking for a romantic relationship with a man later – or at least to recognise an unhealthy relationship. Similarly, boys model behaviour that they pick up from their father and so, easily learn the capacity to be kind and supportive.
Of course, society doesn’t make it very easy for a father to be hands-on. General beliefs, societal expectations and what we’ve learned from our parents still tend to separate a man from the activities that make up child-rearing. Many still believe that parenting 'comes naturally' to a mother, and fathers will not be able to do such a good job. Others feel that it is not so 'manly' to be involved in daily care of the child. It is certainly much harder for a father to say he needs leave to take care of a sick child. And sometimes mothers are actually reluctant to relinquish their role as sole caregiver. Times are changing, though, and perhaps all of us – fathers, mothers, to-be parents, and the extended family can all encourage this positive change in family roles.
So go ahead and get more directly involved in your child’s upbringing – and if you need a little help with the how’s and when’s, or to overcome specific challenges, speaking to a professional counsellor can be beneficial.