A father has always been depicted as the sole provider and a disciplinarian in the house. The first thing you’re afraid of when you did wrong was the whips of the cane coming from him. Times have changed and although the roles of a father today are still as it is since the beginning, fathers today are more involved in raising their children. It is even better now when we can show scientifically that the presence of a father in a child’s life is not only a positive experience for all concerned, but is actually beneficial to a child’s social, emotional and cognitive growth.
Fathers and Mothers Nurture in Different Ways
Studies of men and their modes of interacting with, caring for, playing with, disciplining, and talking to children revealed that men are not only capable of nurturing children, but they do it in ways which are distinctly different from women.
In play, an activity often associated with fathers, men tend to be more physical and reciprocal as playmates than are women. Women tend to use more verbal interaction and direction in their play with preschoolers. Men often tend to structure play and interaction with children around a task, game, or project. Women tend to structure play and interaction around an idea or make-believe situation.
The effects of father/child play have been shown to have long-range implications for cognitive and social development, problem-solving skills, reciprocity and turn taking, and encouragement to explore a broadening environment. In caregiving activities, such as feeding or bathing, men tend to engage in them as tasks to be accomplished, while women tend to approach such activities as opportunities for verbal interaction. The differences in such approaches seem to have a beneficial effect on children. Two parents who interact with their children uniquely and, often, in contrasting ways, afford variety in the interactive experiences these children have and also fosters a capacity for these children to attach to each parent as a separate individual with distinct relational styles.
Fathers’ Involvement in Family Life
Studies of families with fathers actively involved in both childcare and household responsibilities, reported preschoolers who showed increased cognitive competence, increased capacity for empathy, increased self-control, and a decrease in gender-stereotyped beliefs. Parents who assume less gender-stereotyped roles in the home and their work produce children who have less gender-stereotyped attitudes about themselves and about male/female roles.
Findings of increased cognitive competence, in the early years, have been attributed to the involvement of two highly involved caregivers offering a diversity of stimulation and an opportunity for children to learn to interact with people having different behavioral styles.
In a family with a father who is often present and highly involved, children are more likely to see parents in supportive, cooperative roles. Children are also able to see parents make efforts to resolve conflicts as they arise from differences of opinion, opposing needs, or just plain irritability and fatigue.
Fathers and Separation
Not only do fathers serve as an additional attachment figure in children’s lives, but they also serve as a significant figure in the separation process, too. In infancy, fathers function typically as the first safe “other” that infants seek. As early childhood progresses and the world of the child expands, fathers tend to be more encouraging of exploration, more tolerant of frustration in children, and more encouraging of trying new things than are mothers. As the child’s need to be more separate and individual emerges, the different interactive styles of mother and father remain important.
We have come to understand that greater involvement of fathers in nurturing children does not result in the blurring of sex roles into one androgynous parent figure. Nor does active fathering of children require the mimicking of mothers. Men are able to provide uniquely for their children in a way that is enriching for both father and child.