By Noha Abu Sitta

For decades, the traditional role of the father was provider and disciplinarian; the figure who demanded respect and obedience from his children. Fathers weren’t expected to help in the nurturing or caretaking of their children, nor were they actively involved in their life. It was considered solely the mother’s responsibility to nurture and raise the children. Psychologists and other researchers assumed that the mother-child bond was the most important one in a child’s life. Thus, mothers often got the credit or blame on how well children were doing. 

Fatherhood today has become about the degree of the father’s involvement within the family. A societal view of the father’s role began to change in the 20th century due to various factors, including:

1) An increase in living expenses caused mothers to become active contributors to the household income, and burgeoning feminist movements saw women entering the professional work force on a full-time basis.

2) New psychological research proved the importance of the father’s role in children’s lives.

3) The increase in the number of divorced families led fathers to take a more active part in children’s lives.

4) Remoteness of extended families that traditionally took part in the rearing of children.

5) The emergence of “the stay-at-home dad”.

 Why Fathers Matter

New research shows that children who receive love and attention from their fathers are less likely to struggle with behavioral problems later on in life. Children who feel loved by both parents are more likely to become less hostile or emotionally unstable.

Psychologist Erik Erikson believed that a father’s love and a mother’s love are qualitatively different. Both fathers and mothers have a distinctive style of interaction with children. Parents fall into the misconception that both parenting styles should be a replica, or else the child will be left confused and insecure. Some research has claimed that this diversity provides children with a broader experience of more or less contrasting relational interactions.

Different, but Complementary

Fathers and mothers have unique and complementary non-identical roles in their children’s lives. They vary in the way they communicate, play, and discipline their children. Studies have shown that if the child’s father is affectionate, supportive and involved, this highly contributes to the child’s social, emotional, and academic development, as well as providing a greater sense of authenticity, self-esteem, and confidence. All this helps children build more eagerness in exploring the world around them and dealing with the constant changes in life, while feeling safe and secure.

Good Cop, Bad Cop

Dad becomes the fun parent who comes and goes, while mom becomes the tough disciplinarian who is responsible for the kids’ day-to-day. This can lead to mom criticizing the father for not doing his job as a disciplinary figure and forcing her to take on the role of bad cop.

Unfortunately, some mothers may go to the extent of complaining about the children’s behavior to the father, which could lead him to get angry and become firm with the kids. It is true that usually mothers discipline more often, yet when fathers do, it is usually in a firmer way. Again it should be clear to both parents that they complement, not mirror one another.

Roughhousing is Important

A few mothers may interfere in the way fathers play with their children, especially when the sort of play includes roughhousing, thinking that this puts the child in danger or makes him more aggressive. Mothers need to know that fathers’ rough play is needed by their children as it helps a lot with their emotional development.

According to a few theories, this style of physical interaction is characterized by excitement and unpredictability, thus teaching children how to deal with aggressive impulses without losing control of their emotions and how to know when is the right time to stop. It is more common that mothers would tend to worry about their children’s safety, while fathers would encourage them to take risks. Nevertheless, it is not always the case since some fathers tend to be more anxious about their children than their mothers, but at the end of the day, we need to create that balance.

Fathers must Father

Fathers might also back off sometimes when they are burdened with too many financial responsibilities beyond their capacity. This is when they might refuse taking on more responsibilities at home. Needless to say, by doing this they are ignoring one of their main responsibilities.

The Present of Presence

A father’s engagement can really make a difference in the child’s life, whether they are married, single, divorced, adoptive, or a step-father. Fathers are central to the emotional well-being of their children and the biggest present they can give to their children is their presence.

4 Reasons Why Fathers May Be Uninvolved

  • Some fathers decide that their sole responsibility towards their children is a financial one. Often fathers are driven to do so to avoid any unnecessary confrontations with the mothers, which usually include blame, shame or criticism – either consciously or subconsciously.
  • The mother acts as the parenting police. By commenting on or directing the father how to talk to the kids, claiming that she is the expert in the house, this could lead to threatening the father’s self-esteem – especially if it happens in front of the kids. In most cases, the father would then refuse to be controlled by the mother and would either do it his way, but behind her back, or become more stubborn and fight back for his right to parent his children the way he sees it fit. He could also completely back off and refuse to be held responsible for anything related to the kids other than his financial duties.
  • They doubt their own capabilities as a parent. This usually happens when the father himself lacked a proper parenting experience in his own childhood, whether it was related to an unfortunate incident such as the death of a parent, a divorce that wasn’t dealt with correctly, or having had an abusive parent(s).
  • A father’s lack of knowledge in this field causes self-doubt. Fathers need to know that having children is a choice they’ve made and are responsible for, thus if they don’t know how to deal with it, it is their responsibility to learn how.

7 Ways Fathers Can Be More Involved

  • Big outings and trips definitely contribute to the father-child relationship, but so does any involvement in the child’s daily activities, such as: eating dinner together, watching TV together, playing a football match or video games together.
  • Fathers can simply ask their children about what they’ve learned at school or in their sports practice. They could talk about an article or an interesting book they’ve read or a video they’ve watched.
  • Learning a new skill together is so exciting for both fathers and children, letting their children teach them something they know, sharing experiences, or funny stories from their childhood.
  • Camping (could be done by simply setting up a tent in the reception area at home and sleeping in it for a night).
  • Washing the car together.
  • Browsing through old photo albums, or bringing out the tools and exploring the insides of old unused electrical equipment can all create everlasting memories and a very strong bond between fathers and their children.
  • Attending events that are of special importance to their children, like sports practice, a school play, or a first/last day at school every school year. Quality time is important and very important for children.