Social Distancing: The Perfect Time for Digital Outreach about the Importance of early paternal Involvement.
I’m writing this post under the unusual circumstances we all find ourselves plunged into. People across the Country, sick or not, are doing the same - in an effort to stem the tide of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Normal life is suspended. We don’t know what is coming. (This is actually always true, we’re just not usually as aware of it). But given the dualistic nature of our existence, much good can come of our current situation. We can all appreciate the extra time it provides to spend with our family and do extra hand-washing.
When fathers are actively involved in the lives of their children, the children thrive in their development and in school. In fact they thrive in every measurable way. So it should not come as a surprise that fathers have a central and unique role in the health outcomes of baby and mother when their involvement begins during pregnancy. Many studies continue to tell us that when dads are involved in the pregnancy, attend prenatal visits, and ultrasounds , help moms with household chores and provide financial support, the father factor carries a buffer against complications during the pregnancy and predicts a healthy birth outcome for the baby and the mother. By contrast infants with absent fathers are more likely to be born with low birthweight, Involved fathers during pregnancy may also protect the baby against neurodevelopometntal delays when medical risk factors are present. Regardless of race or ethnicity, the newborn deaths-rate of father-absent infants has been found to be nearly four times that of their counterparts with involved dads.
A father’s presence during the birth is a powerful predictor leading to a healthier baby and a healthier mom. In a study comparing father skin-to-skin care with conventional care during the first two hours after birth, newborn infants in the fathers skin-to skin group cried less and became drowsy sooner. Simple interventions such as bathing in the newborn period has been shown to have a long-lasting effect enhancing father involvement. Fathers can also play a critical role in supporting maternal breastfeeding. And conversely, if feeling excluded and competitive can undermine it. Many birthing hospitals now have programs designed for expectant fathers and offer resources for them as key partners in the start-up of the new family.
Fathers have been shown to be as nurturant and as competent and capable of reading their infant’s cues as are mothers. Father presence buffers against stressors. Paternity leave - especially longer leaves of several weeks the studies tell us, improves the outcome for marriage, encourages parent-child bonding, and the well-being of the family. National paid parental leave for fathers, as well as for mothers will provide a real advantage to working families. Empowering more dads with parental leave means they can achieve their professional goals and be supportive nurturing fathers and partners.
The fathers of our country are key to its survival. I don’t know about you but I’ve been very contemplative and reflective during these last trying weeks. The one thing this collective experience has provided for us all is a chance to realize what things are important. For me family and faith have become even more important. I also enjoy encouraging the ongoing renewal of fatherhood in our society.
Till next time,
Paid parental leave is most often framed as an issue that matters to working women. Parental leave is also critically important for fathers. Paternity leave and especially longer leaves of several weeks or months can promote parent-child bonding, improve outcomes for children and increase gender equity at home and at the workplace.
Longer paternity leaves are associated wth increased father engagement and bonding. Longer leaves mean more time to bond with his new child and more involvement in the care from the newborn period on. A father’s hands-on engagement can set a pattern that lasts long after the leave ends. One study of working dads in the U.S., those who took leaves of two weeks or greater, were more likely to be actively involved in their child’s care nine months after birth. This care included feeding, changing diapers, getting up in the night and taking the children to medical appointments.
There are several studies showing that increased paternal engagement leads to improved health and development for children. A young child’s earliest relationship with his parents impacts the developmental architecture of the developing brain. These relationships require care, consistency and above all, time. Better developmental outcomes means fewer behavioral problems and improved cognitive and mental health.
Fathers taking parental leave helps not just children, but mothers also. Paid paternity leave carries many benefits to the mother. A recent study from Sweden underscored that the father’s presence in the household following childbirth was associated with the reduction of stress and improved maternal mental and physical health. Studies continue to emerge showing that paternity leave benefits the relationships between parents and contributes to reducing the risk factors associated with divorce.
Fathers still face economic and social barriers that keep them from taking longer paternity leaves or taking them at all. In the United States where parental leaves are rare, cultural biases along with gaps in policy make fathers even less able to access time away from work with their children. An early study from 2004 suggests that even when fathers do gain access to parental leave they may be reluctant to take it. Some studies continue to show that taking paternity leave can damage a man’s professional reputation and affect his future earning potential.
Public policies that promote time for parents to care for and bond with their newborns and very young children without jeopardizing the ability to pay for basic necessities is sorely needed. National paid Family (and Paternity) leave will benefit the parents, their children, the entire family and the future of our country.
If fathering differs from mothering in fundamental ways, are there things that only fathers can give their children. Clearly mothers do not father. Our cultural expectation is that mothers will be the child care experts from the moment the umbilical cord is cut. So how is it that men become nurturing beings.
Both mothers and fathers have nurturing skills, i.e., the ability to be patient, loving and selfless. Nurturing skills transcend gender. And beyond gender there are historical values and emotional factors which shape us toward or away from the expression of these.
Involved fathering is male behavior which promotes the healthy development of one’s child and family in active ways. To name a few; being physically and emotionally accessible, providing material support to sustain the child’s needs, exerting influence in child rearing decisions. Fathering also means means changing diapers, feeding, burping, making trips to the pediatrician, bandaging cuts, helping with homework, knowing your child’s friends.
Research has shown that the attachment and closeness that mothers and fathers feel toward their newborn is not predicted by previous experience. Fathers and mothers equally are able to interpret their child’s behavioral cues indicating hunger, gastric distress, and fatigue and able to respond appropriately. Fathers and mothers have been found to be equally anxious about leaving their baby in the care of someone else. They plan ahead, hover and double-check, showing behaviors that are more alike than not. There is no evidence that given equal experience and support, parents of one gender necessarily excel as caretakers. Michael Lamb, a very famous fatherhood researcher has noted, ‘with the exception of lactation there is no evidence that women are biologically predisposed to be better parents than men. It is social convention, not biological imperatives that may underlie the traditional division of parental responsibilities.’
Scientific observations over time have identified several common paternal behaviors; fathers enjoy activating their children in order to interact with them. The father as play partner is one of the best known findings in the research on the role of the father in child development. The play between a father and his child has characteristics which are not ‘toy-mediated’. Even the physical child-care chores - bathing, diapering, brushing teeth, are often made more intensely physical and playful by dad. Researchers have also followed another trend in father care; the tendency of men to encourage and and support novelty-seeking behavior in their children both boys and girls.
Parental nurturance, warmth and closeness are shown over and over again to be connected to healthy child development, regardless of whether it is the mother or father at the helm.