Advice Column, Parenting

Father Figures: the profound influence on a child’s development

  • Munchkins
  • Category Advice Column, Parenting

There is an old saying that “one father is worth more than a hundred school masters” which in a few words encapsulates the value of a male figure in the upbringing of children. Loving fathers who are fully involved in their children’s upbringing and show affection and support from day one, are intrinsically valuable to not only their marriage relationship and their family – but also to their children’s future.

Dads are the heroes

Fathers who engage with their children become their children’s heroes. They are central to every life experience those children will have, and will deeply affect how they will react, behave, learn, develop a sense of self, and interact with others. A father is paramount to a child’s sense of security and stability

Through play, fathers can teach their children strategies for life, including self-control, care and consideration, kindness, fairness, morals, fun, humour and taking risks. These principles are all subtly imparted during roughhousing sessions when a dad pretends to wrestle his kids. Kids love it! Dad is the greatest! But more than this, they are learning how to develop attitudes towards winning, losing, discovering strengths and dealing with weakness. They are learning aspects of the psychology of coping.

The dad effect 

The view children hold of their father can affect their relationships with other persons throughout their lives, including friends, authority figures and spouses. Your children are vulnerable to those early interactions and will incorporate what they learn into their own pattern of engagement with others. The way you relate to your child will likely be the way they in turn, relate to others. Boys often view their fathers as role-models and will imitate accordingly. Daughters are observant of the way their fathers treat women. If a girl’s experience of her father was that of a loving and gentle man, she will be more likely to look for those characteristics in other men.

Changing times

Today more than 80% of women work. Parenting roles are evolving. There are a host of new structures coming to the fore: stay-at-home dads, single dads, widowed, divorced, gay, adoptive, a step-father, etc. But what is important in all these scenarios is that the father-figure remains vital to the children and that he is lovingly involved. When natural fathers are separated from their children through divorce, they can still remain bonded with their children by maintaining consistent, strong, loving engagement.

Although there are many different home and family structures today than say 50 years ago, a great positive is that more men are valuing their role with their children than ever before. We see this in a number of changes over the last few years:

  • often both parents will be out with their children, fathers happily wheeling the pram or carrying a toddler or generally chatting with their children
  • fathers are showing themselves to be more active in their child’s schooling, turning up for parent/teacher meetings and helping with homework and projects
  • parents are working more as an equal team and fathers tend to partner fully with their wives in any decisions concerning their children
  • where both parents work, modern fathers are willing to share domestic responsibilities and keen to spend time having fun with their kids
  • this team energy means both parents are equally responsible for discipline, helping to develop their children’s critical thinking and promoting good relationships within the family
  • society’s expectations have changed – and today fathers who look after their children and spend time with them on their own are no longer afraid this may demean them as men

We found this great story by Unicef about the gift of fatherhood – showcasing the profound effect an absent father can have on their children, who then in turn also become fathers – having to step into the role of fatherhood themselves.

A great dad recipe  

  • be present in your child’s life from day one – yes, get used to those nappies!
  • be available to help out in physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs – listen to your children with real attention even if they want to play ‘Captain Pirate’ in the middle of your afternoon snooze!
  • share time, activities and most importantly, conversation – do those puzzles with your kids and give your opinion on a new doll’s dress, because how you handle problems and what you say has an indelible effect .
  • be the kind of constant support that your children will perceive as enduring, dependable, non-judgmental and trustworthy  – be someone your children can turn to and confide in without fear of retribution.
  • read to your kids, get involved at their school, roughhouse with them often – the time you give to your children tells them that you care, that you love them, even if they manage to give you an occasional black eye!

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