The modern-day father is a complex role that comes in various forms. They are no longer always the traditional breadwinner and disciplinarian in the family. He can be single or married; externally employed or stay-at-home; step-parent or adoptive. Psychological research however across families from all ethnic backgrounds strongly suggests that a fathers’ affection and increased family involvement is important to a child’s social and emotional development.
Father’s Day is this weekend so I thought this would be a good time to reflect on the significant contribution that fathers are called to make. For this week’s blog, I am referring to an article called ‘The Involved Father’ which outlines seven reasons why fathers have a significant impact on the developmental health of their children. Of course, these are generalisations but I hope they are helpful ones.
I’m also aware that this can be a difficult day for many families. My sympathy, in particular, goes out to those who have recently lost fathers or for families who have absent fathers for various reasons.
Fathers parent differently
Dr Kyle Pruett says that it is this diversity that provides children with a broader and richer experience. In a world where we are told that all genders are the same, a child as young as eight weeks of age can tell the difference between their mother’s and father’s interaction with them.
Fathers play differently
Did you know that fathers roughhousing with their children actually teach them that physical violence is not acceptable? John Snarey, author of How Fathers Care for the Next Generation: A Four Decade Study, says that children learn self-control by roughhousing because dad tells them when they are going too far and when they should settle down. This helps children develop an awareness of right and wrong and the self-control to put it into practice.
Fathers build confidence
While mums tend to say ‘be careful, you might fall’, it’s usually the dads who are saying, ‘climb higher, you can do it!’ Mothers tend to be more cautious and dads tend to play on the riskier side. Neither parenting style is wrong but in isolation, they can be unbalanced. Risky behaviour without considering consequences can be just as damaging as careful behaviour that doesn’t build independence or confidence. Celebrate the difference and let your children benefit from a wonderful balance.
Fathers communicate differently
A major study (not cited in the article) said that mothers simplify their words for children but fathers don’t modify their language. Mum’s communication is easy for the child but dad’s style challenges the child to expand their language skills. It is when the combination of communication styles is used that children benefit the most.
Fathers discipline differently
Dad’s discipline is more often based on the rules, duty and justice while mum’s style is based on relationships and emphasise care and sympathy. Dad’s style is more systematic and teaches the consequences of not following the rules while mums tend toward grace and sympathy and gentleness. Both styles are needed for a well-balanced child who grows into a responsible adult.
Fathers prepare children for the real world
Dads tend to tell it like it is. If a child is slacking off at school, it’s usually the dad who tells them they will end up in a job they hate. If a young child asks if their joke is funny (when it’s not), dad is the one who will tell them no. This is what children can expect outside their family home so when they hear the truth from someone who loves them, it’s not cruel but an honest preparation for the real world.
Fathers provide a look at the world of men
It may be a very un PC to say so, but men and women are different. They usually dress differently, look different from each other and even eat differently. Dads help their sons understand appropriate male behaviour, hygiene and sexuality. Dads help their daughters understand what a healthy male relationship looks like so they know what to look for in their future relationships. Good dads show their children how to treat women well by how they relate to their spouses.
We live in a broken world where families often don’t have an ‘involved’ dad in the picture but let’s not use that sad fact to underplay the importance of fathers and their significant impact on children and the family.
Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there and all the men who provide wonderful role models for children.
Mike Curtis, Principal