Both parents are very important. Generally, mothers do more of the explicit nurturing, while fathers tend to be more involved in play, particularly physical play and “rough and tumble” play. However, fathers do much more hands-on caregiving now than they did a generation ago — changing diapers, getting up at night, taking children to the doctor, sharing drop-offs and pick-ups, and helping with homework.
Prior to the late 1970s, most research on fathers compared children with fathers versus children whose fathers had died or deserted. In the late 1970s, early childhood research began to focus on a father’s role and not just “father absence” as a variable for investigation. In her doctoral dissertation at Brandeis University, Sheila Brachfeld-Child, now senior lecturer in psychology at Wellesley College, asked mothers and fathers simply “to have fun with your baby.” Completed in the early 1980s, it was her impression that for many of the fathers, it was their first and only solo outing with the infants. The fathers’ play style was very active, throwing the children in the air or rolling on the floor. The mothers’ play was based more in teaching activities and fine motor skills, like finger plays, singing and sitting quietly.
And when looking at more recent early childhood literature from Michael Lamb, professor in the department of psychology at the University of Cambridge, children turned to fathers when they wanted to play and turned to mothers when they were stressed or upset.
In the second part of adolescence, teens tend to look to their peers as to who they should be at that time, and look to their parents as to who they will become.
When children become parents, they look to their parents as to what they should and should not do. For young girls in particular, their fathers can make a huge impact on their self-esteem and how they grow into women. There are also interviews and autobiographies of Hillary Clinton, Madeline Albright, and many prominent women scientists that emphasize fathers’ influence on girls.
It is just as important for men to hear and be shown affection from their children as it is for women.
It’s great when a child does something that says to the father, “Today is your day, and I love you all year long.” Any type of gift, note or gesture that reflects the father’s interests and the child’s acknowledgement of their different interests is great. As an example when a mother took her young son to buy a gift for his father, he wanted to buy two action figures, so that he could include his dad in his play. Even though he was young, he was thinking about trying to include his dad in an activity he enjoyed.
Words are very important too. Some men back off from expressing their affection, especially to sons, and their sons then have a harder time expressing affection to their fathers directly. This is true whether it’s verbal or physical affection.
For modern teens, texts or e-mail can be helpful. Forwarding an article or a song may be less anxiety provoking than saying “I love you” out loud, but clearly says “I am thinking of you.” Because teens do this all the time, it doesn’t have to feel like a “big deal,” but fathers will love the connection. This is especially true when teens and fathers do not share a household, and can set the stage for parent-child connection, too.
Lastly, it’s important to recognize that many different people can be in the father role. Father’s Day is the perfect opportunity to remember the other important men in your life and say, “I love you.”
For more information on this topic or to schedule a program in any area of family and consumer sciences, contact Mills at 918-534-2216 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.