The number of fathers who took a full week of paid paternity leave has more than doubled since 2013 – 5,500 fathers who were eligible under the scheme took the paid leave in 2013, while 11,900 and 12,300 fathers took theirs in 2014 and last year respectively (Source: www.gov.sg).
From 2017 onwards, the second week of paternity leave which used to be voluntary for employers will be made compulsory. This means fathers will have more time to spend with their newborns and a bigger share of their spouses’ maternity leave.
⇒ Related Read: Take Your Leave Daddy! Paternity Leave For Fathers
Fathers play an integral role in child development. Let us re-look the perception and view of fathers simply being the breadwinner or handyman in the house.
Different Aspects of Involvement
Most fathers strive to do their best for the children. They work, pay the bills, put food on the table, provide for children necessities. Some even pitch in with housework. All these are great and valid contributions made by a responsible father. The challenge here is to expand the view of father involvement beyond being a help around the house to being an irreplaceable presence to children in their development.
Benefits of father involvement
Researchers Lamb, Pleck, Chernov and Levine outlined several foundational pillars of father involvement. They put forward that direct and shared engagement, availability, approachability and provision for the child form the basis for a positive nurturing father-child relationship. Besides the provider role, being interactive and forming regular connections are also aspects not to be neglected, but rather to be strengthened.
1. Enabling more-rounded development of a child
Fathers and mothers exhibit different qualities. Some observations include that the mother’s domain is more nurturing and comforting towards an infant’s needs, whereas the father is inclined to relate in terms of boundary setting and reality testing.
2. Supporting relationship building and separation
The father is an important person who builds relations with the child outside of the mother, assists in separation of the child from the mother as well as helping the child learn how to build relationships with others outside of the family. John Bowlby, a British child psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, believed that the earliest bonds with their caregivers affect the child’s development throughout life. There is a strong causal relationship between the child’s experience with the parents and how relations are formed later in life.
3. Encouraging cognitive development
Studies have also shown that fathers who are more participative in play and caregiving tend to have children who are better cognitively developed. This starts from as young as 5 months old up to school-going age. Toddlers experience a myriad of feelings through play. In playing, they develop their sense of awareness of the world, learn about limits and emotional regulation. As they get older, studies have also shown that children with involved fathers can tolerate stress and frustration better and are better adjusted and self-accepting.
4. A role model for the child
Children learn from observations – what they see and hear. They usually will emulate the parents who are a regular presence in their daily lives. As parents, we do not have a decision to model or not. Your children will see your example and they will take away from it through observation and imitation. Jessica Benjamin, a psychoanalyst, further supports that the father’s role contributes to the differentiation of self which is essential in the formation of gender identity. Thus a good male role model supports the development of behaviour, attitudes, empathy, self-identity and much more.
Dads, here’s how you can be more involved!
• Have fun
Engage in age-appropriate play even from a young age. The baby may not be able to talk but they are able to recognise the voice and face and establish connections and trust.
• Carry them
Keep the young one close. Carry, or babywear them – there are so many ways this can be done. This promotes feelings of safety and security.
• Engage in shared activities
As the children get older, keep up the engagement. Get involved in sports or attend activities together (common places of interest), or do something productive together (paint the house or do household chores).
• Participate in educational activities
Be involved in your children’s lives, such as going through their school work with them or attending school events. This is one aspect in which a father’s presence can have significant impact aside from the mother’s. Attend a class with your child or a parenting workshop or seminar with your wife. In the Parenting With Love Seminar organised by The New Age Parents and New Age Pregnancy, it was heartening to see so many fathers turn up with their wives to learn more.
The importance of a father in a family is indisputable. Fathers have a vital role where they can influence the cognitive, social and emotional development of their children where most effects carry on into adulthood. Fathers who are actively involved also contribute to a more optimal relationship with the spouse and indirectly build stronger marriages.
While there can be many factors in today’s world that can make this challenging, it is not impossible to plan at that time to be more engaged, especially in the children’s early years. The extension of paternity leave is a good step forward and a recognition that fathers – you matter too.
By Som Yew Ya
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