Fatherhood is a topic very close to my heart, largely because of the influence my father has had on my life. Because of him, my inner voice pushes me to be patient, to persevere, serve those in need and stand up for myself and for what is important to me.
In my experience as a therapist working with families and couples, I have seen that the role of fathers in parenting often stands on a slim fence—of being responsible, and yet silently keeping the peace. I strongly believe that fatherhoods is often a role that is underestimated and yet can have a profound impact on the child’s development.
Women are ascribed the role of principal nurturers and primary care-givers. This defining of roles limits the focus and discussion around the father’s involvement, relegating them to the back seat. This very often leaves many dads confused about ‘fatherhood’.
During therapy, my fathers have confessed to me about having no idea what to do. “How do I interact with my baby?”, “does my baby even need me,” are some of the common questions. Unaided by increased oxytocin levels or a physical dependence of the baby for food and nutrition, dads have to work their way into creating opportunities to engage and bond.
Well, here is a list for clearing some of your confusion:
Become a part of your child’s environment: Whether your child is an infant or a teenager, it’s important to try and blend into their environment at times. Engaging in some tummy time, getting your hands dirty as they play with paints or doing warm-ups on the field, children appreciate the presence of an engaged father. It doesn’t have to be a drive to the ice cream shop or to a toy store. They are happy for you to participate in any simple activity well within their castle of comfort.
Talk to your child: This is significant as often fathers hesitate to converse. Baby talk doesn’t come naturally to some dads and they wonder if talking to their kids as an adult will help the rapport. Well, the answer is yes. Be yourself, ask lots of questions about how the toy works, what the surface of the grass feels like and if they would like for you to hold their hands firmly or softly. Talking to them about their feelings, actions, thoughts and environment stimulates them, and helps in forming a secure bond.
Do something you both enjoy: It is important that you also indulge in activities that you enjoy as well. If neither football is your thing, nor books, then compelling yourself to do those all the time will not work in the long run, at least not smoothly. While you fit into their environment, talk to them about what you value, sing a song that you enjoy, or play an instrument if that’s a hobby. This will help you stay consistent and enjoy your time with your kids.
Research proves that positive father engagement can contribute to their child’s physical and mental health, cognitive development, academic achievement and even impact their children’s future relationships as parents and partners.
An engaged dad can also contribute to the mother’s or partner’s emotional well-being, helping create a conducive environment for a child to grow up in.
No pressure dads, but a legacy of love and empathy can change the way our kids will grow up, defining their quality of life, and engagement with communities and the world.
Shwetambara Sabharwal is a Mumbai based psychologist, psychotherapist and a mother of two.