How to Understand the Role of Fathers

Over the years, research findings have consistently showed that for most men, family is a greater source of both involvement and satisfaction than is work.

As the roles of mothers have changed in recent years, so too have the roles of fathers. More and more men report that their greatest satisfaction in life comes through their relationship with their children. The typical father of Victorian times would be surprised, and possibly perturbed, by today’s typical father. No longer is a father’s role rigidly confined to earning money, making decisions about how the money should be spent, or kissing the children good night after they have been fed, washed, and changed by others. The biggest change to have taken place is the degree to which the father is expected to become involved in matters of child care. A contemporary father is asked to share in every aspect of his children’s lives.

This increased involvement starts even before a baby is born. The number of soon-to-be fathers who attend prenatal sessions with their partners has increased tremendously. Attend the prenatal classes at your local hospital with your partner and you will see large numbers of men helping their partners through the regimen of relaxation exercises and participating enthusiastically in the discussions of “how to change a diaper” and “postnatal depression.”

This very early interest in family life signals a pattern that will probably persist throughout the child’s life. Both partners benefit. For a mother-to-be (who may be understandably appre­hensive about pregnancy and childbirth), her partner’s presence during the prenatal phase can be reassuring. For a father-to-be (whose apprehension probably equals that of his partner), par­ticipation in the prenatal preparation stops potential feelings of isolation and detachment. Many men are extremely enthusias­tic about this change in their role, and take advantage of the opportunities it affords.

Fathers are now routinely present at the birth of their child. This has become so firmly institutionalized that people show surprise when a man admits he wasn’t there. Fathers are expect­ed to take a more active parental role. From buying disposable diapers to taking baby for a walk in the infant carrier, the fact of the matter is—family roles have changed.

The very significant change in a father’s role and involve­ment with the family runs alongside his role in the outside world. In a high percentage of the population, the father is still the primary breadwinner, particularly when the children are in the preschool years. This means the man has to accommodate the demands of both these roles, which may not be easy. Some men reject the new role.

Many observers anticipate that the trend for fathers to play an increasing role in raising children will become even stronger in future years. Following are several reasons for this trend:

  • Couples realize the benefits a father’s increased involve­ment brings the children.
  • Many men find themselves enriched by relationships with their children beyond the traditional disciplinarian role.
  • Women welcome the sharing of household tasks that a father’s new role brings.
  • Sharing the care of the children is a fairer way to manage family relationships.

Fathers can offer a unique and special contribution to their child’s life; the father-child relationship is distinctive, not sec­ondary. Psychological research has revealed significant differ­ences in the way moms and dads interact with their growing children, for instance:

  • A young baby tends to gaze when she sees her mother’s face and tends to smile and laugh more when she sees her father’s face.

  • Moms tend to play with their babies using nurturing and soothing activities, while dads prefer more stimulating and challenging activities.
  • Dads worry less than moms about leaving their children at a playgroup; 35 percent of dads expect their child to cry in that situation, compared to 75 percent of moms.
  • Moms encourage their partner to share care of the child because of worries about loss of identity, whereas dads encourage shared care in the hope of becoming closer to their child.
  • For moms, the biggest impact of the new baby is the increased daily chores, while for dads, the biggest impact is adjusting to the baby’s personality and need for attention.

These differences influence the way a father and a mother interact with their child, and so each parent makes an individ­ual contribution to their child’s development. Remember that children who are raised without a father do not necessarily suf­fer psychologically, but if the father is present at home, the fam­ily interactions are different.

Filed Under: Family & Relationships


About the Author: Alan Kennon lives a very happy life with two kids and a lovely wife. He likes to share his life time experiences with others about how they can improve their lifestyle and personality.

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