08 Jun MEN, CHILDREN, AND THEIR DEVELOPMENT
Men and women handle babies differently, even if they are both very adept at handling children. In many children’s lives a father’s presence is the exception and not the rule, but how does this affect the children? For that matter, how does it affect the father?
Here are some ways a father affects children’s development and vice versa.
A FATHERLESS CHILD DOESN’T EXIST
Though a child’s father may not be in the home or not present at all, this doesn’t mean the child will live their life without a father. When a child is able to understand that children have a mother and a father, this child starts to look for a paternal figure. These children either make up a father or adopt one that is to their liking. They may not use the term “Daddy”, but this man has a big influence on their life, nonetheless. If a child has had no masculine influence, they may seek out a paternal figure for the rest of their lives.
Children’s foundation and perspective on the world are shaped when they are very young and a father plays a vital role in this picture. His presence or lack thereof contributes to the survival and well-being of the child. For a child, the father need not be the biological father, but the child will assign an “emotional father”. this is the most important bond that will shape the future of the child.
The differences in the mother and father relationship ensure that mothers do not “father” a child and fathers do not “mother” a child. There are intrinsic differences in the handling and nurturing of children.
Read on to see the profound contributions a father has on a child and how much a child can affect a father.
GOING FROM A “MALE” TO A “FATHER”
The bond between a child and its father is very strong, even before birth. This change occurs both in the psychological and physical realms. Throughout many cultures, men are intensely invested in the pregnancy and delivery process and may experience physiological changes such as aches and pains in the mouth and abdomen, weight gain, and food craving. For instance, in the Yucatan peninsula, a woman’s pregnancy is undeniable when her spouse craves carbohydrate-rich foods. Often, men may feel immense anxiety about their abilities to provide and protect their child and spouse. Not only in their waking life but in their dreams.
A nearly unmatched effect on the transition from “male” to “father” is witnessing the birth of his own child. This helps the father, especially if he is a new father, attach to his baby in a unique way and create his own feelings. A study, conducted by Greenberg, showed that being present for your baby’s birth increased men’s ability to describe their babies temperament, mood, and personality at 3 and 6 months. He named this period of time “engrossment”. this was characterized by men’s desire to hold, touch, and look at their newborn for hours. Most men were surprised by this intense connection with their child.
After birth, this bond can be disrupted, unintentionally. Society, in an effort to boost the uninterrupted bond between mother and baby, may cut the connection with the father. Fathers are often told or hinted that they should give the mother and newborn space to bond. Often, this can last for three months and over this time the father can miss many opportunities to nurture that close bond he has for his child.
According to Zaslow, two-thirds of first-time father feel some depression during this time. The feel inadequate, like they lack control, and pushed to the side. This study showed that the greatest treatment for this unpleasant state was more contact with the infant.
Often, the vulnerability of parenthood and all its associated concerns is understood from the mother’s point of view, but not the father’s. when her baby responds to her and she is able to practice her new skills, she receives the relief from her feeling of anxiety of being a new mother. This same feeling of anxiety and need for relief of parental inadequacy is present in the father.
Unlike the mother, many fathers haven’t had prior experience caregiving, but for the mother, she is tasked with the unending pressure to be a “good mother” so she may feel a much stronger need to start bonding early and showing her competence. This fear of failure, and not living up to her expectations, may push her to hold close to the infant and push the father out of the bonding relationship. Overall, the mother gets exclusive control of the bonding time with the infant while the father hardly gets in any time.
Francis Grossman labels this behavior “gatekeeping”. The mother holds the key to the child and allows the father access to do tasks she believes he can correctly do, rather than helping the father build his own, unique, relationship with the child.
If society had similar expectations for fathers as mothers, how would this negatively or positively affect this “gatekeeping” behavior?
20 years of research have shown that infants respond different to father, physiologically. Eight-week-old infants are able to tell the difference between their mother and father. A study done by Yogman looked at infants who sat comfortably. In anticipation of being picked up by their mother, the babies responded by settling in, partially closing their eyes, and slowing their heart and respiratory rates. When anticipating being picked up by their father, the babies hunched up their shoulder, increased their heart and respiratory rates, and widened their eyes.
These are vastly different responses and show infants value their father’s interactions and look forward to them.
It has been shown that paternal involvement helped all infants score higher on tests of development, social responsiveness, resiliency, and boosts in weight gain and earlier discharge of premature infants.
FATHER AS SOLE CAREGIVER
When fathers were the sole or primary parent, their babies were shown to be vigorous, active, curious, and enjoyed inviting the external world into their own. They reveled in the external world and were competent.
Fathers play a significant role in children’s lives, experience great anxiety around the outcome of their children, and need a chance to show their paternal side. Rather than being a supplement to the mother’s care, fathers must be considered fully-developed parents who have a profound impact on their child.