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.
Fatherhood is a big job and it starts with taking care of your partner during the pregnancy.
The link between dads’ involvement during pregnancy and healthy outcomes for moms and babies is powerful.
A father can communicate with and influence his unborn baby in two ways; by talking directly to the baby and by caring for the mother, giving her emotional and financial support so that she can better care for the baby. Helping your partner with household chores, attending prenatal sessions, ultrasounds, listening to your baby’s heart beat, massaging or laying on of hands on your baby’s bump if mom is happy for you to do so; feel his kicking. Your unborn baby can hear, feel, suck and recognize your voice by about 32 weeks. In fact research has shown that your baby can hear their fathers’ voices better than mothers’ because the amniotic fluid transmits the resonant low-pitched male voice more easily than a higher feminine voice. And so dad, as you sing or talk your baby listens.
Babies are not the only thing that grows during pregnancy; relationships grow also. Use the time during pregnancy to strengthen your commitment to each other. As baby grows so should your relationship. For the first time in a man’s life not only is another person - your partner - as important as himself, but a second person - the baby- becomes as important or more important. Take inventory of your relationship. One of the greatest gifts you can give your child is too bring your baby intro a home built on a loving relationship. Best gift to your baby is to love your partner.
Father presence at the birth provides another window into the health of mother and child . Several important studies show that the single most important birth circumstance that protect against birth complications in the newborn was the father’s presence at delivery. This held true even when the father was less than enthusiastic about being present. A related study concluded that father’s presence reduced length of labor and overall rate of birth complications.
Father involvement during pregnancy does more than grow a baby. Nothing matures a man more than becoming a father. This may be the first time in a man’s life that he has had to and wanted to focus more on people other than himself- his wife and his baby. Pregnancy prepares a father for the real world of parenting. Often it takes a baby to make two mature adults.
On this Father’s Day in the United States according to the US Census Bureau, 19.7 million children, more than 1 in 4, will go to sleep tonight in homes in which their fathers do not live. Male absence from family life is a major social consequence of our era. Never before have so many children grown up without a father’s presence and provision.
Fatherhood and manhood continue to be under siege in our society. Fathers are often viewed as superfluous to family life. Our society is not only losing fathers, our society is facing a cultural loss which has been affecting every home without a father. Public scrutiny has been on the roles of women and the plight of children as if the male role was somehow irrelevant.
Involved fathers are essential and play a central role in the family and in the development of healthy happy children. Research findings are very clear. Children who grow up with their fathers do far better emotionally, educationally and physically. And in every way that is measurable, than children who do not . The truth is that fathers are central in shaping the moral character and competencies of their children. And to the extent that fathers are positively involved, the children’s and the mothers’ lives are better.
Fathers bring a unique contribution to parenting. Studies continue to show that fathers who are involved in the lives of their children positively impact their social development. The children of affectionate and supportive fathers have higher self esteem, better self-image and are better able to handle stress. A father’s relationship with his children shapes their relationships with others. This father effect begins during infancy. Children whose dad has regularly changed their diapers, burped them and rocked them to sleep have a special reserve of strength in dealing with stress and the frustrations of everyday life. They are less rigid in their gender stereotyping of their peers , more empathetic in their response to other children and to society in general. All of these positive effects are even stronger and endure longer when they are complemented by a mother’s support of her partner’s active contribution of her child’s emotional, social and intellectual development.
In understanding the fruits of early father presence and engagement and the effect that men have on child development, it is not how the father feels about it, but how well his child does as a result of it. So whether your are a single-father, a stay-at-home dad, a step-father, adoptive father or the primary family provider, you matter. Fathers, you are are essential.