Turn on your television or browse the latest parenting magazine and there’s a good chance that you’ll see many images of mothers with children. You’ll read a variety of articles and notice ads about being the best mom possible and how moms can find time for themselves in their roles as parents. But what about the fathers or male figures closely involved in the lives of children? Where are their faces? Who shares their stories? Do their voices only get heard on Father’s Day?
While it is vital to recognize and validate the amazing work that involved, loving mothers do each day in raising and nurturing healthy children, it is equally as important to affirm the role of positive, loving fathers and father figures.
As this article discusses the father-child relationship, it’s important to also remember that father love doesn’t always come from one’s biological father. Other father/male figures, such as grandfathers, uncles, or male family friends or pastors, are wonderful sources of support and care for children as they grow and develop.
Several studies have examined the role of fathers and have found that “fathers who are involved, nurturing, and playful with their infants have children with higher IQs, as well as better linguistic and cognitive capacities. Toddlers with involved fathers go on to start school with higher levels of academic readiness. They are more patient and can handle the stresses and frustrations associated with schooling more readily than children with less involved fathers.” (Pruett, 2000)
This important foundation established through positive, nurturing relationships between fathers and their children continues into adolescence and adulthood with better verbal skills, intellectual functioning and academic achievement among adolescents. (Goldstine, 1982) Fathers and father figures play a vital role in the lives of children.
So what does an attentive, involved, nurturing, engaged father or father figure look like, feel like and sound like? There’s no magic formula and no particular level of education needed to fully embrace this important role. An attentive father holds his baby close, hugs her when she cries and sings to her when she is having a hard time sleeping. He is tuned in to her noises, movements and is sure to meet her needs and give her the security and developing trust that she needs.
An involved father takes time to understand his child’s interests and talks openly about goals, dreams and questions his child has. He asks open-ended questions like, “What dreams do you have for your future?” and “How can we work together to make those happen?”
A nurturing father comforts his son when he cries and isn’t afraid to shed a tear himself, showing that it’s okay to be sensitive. He knows that the traditional stereotypes around being “strong” and hiding emotions are important to defy and that strength comes in being vulnerable, open and transparent.
An engaged father takes time to really listen to his teenage daughter when she shares her worries about making friends or concerns about the upcoming prom. He holds his comments and judgments, allowing her to fully share her stories and then he carefully thinks of ways to help her make healthy choices and helps her think critically about her life. He models humility and the importance of self-reflection by demonstrating how to handle intense emotions in a healthy way. The picture that he provides for her speaks volumes and shows her what communication and problem solving looks and feels like in a healthy relationship.
From these first exchanges at birth to the celebration of college graduation, a strong, healthy father-child relationship provides a lasting impact on children and their fathers. Every day should be Father’s Day!
Mona Ivey-Soto, Ph.D., M.S.W., M.S.Ed., received her Ph.D. in Early Intervention from the University of Oregon. She prides herself in being a passionate educator, advocate and therapist for young children and families. Parenting Now! is a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening families through parent support and education. Explore this site; visit us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram; or call 541-484-5316. Family Info Line is also available; call 211, extension 5, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org