Dads are the new moms!

Today's fathers change nappies, feed the children, help in the homework and do everything they weren't 'supposed' to do

father and mother playing with their sonTraditionally, the structure of a joint family has seemingly been patriarchal with a clear and evident division of labour. The men of the family were breadwinners and women, nurturers of the family. This may have been a convenient structure, planned to facilitate the smooth functioning of the family and to ensure predictability of duties of every member. With the advent of the nuclear family unit, however, this structure could not be replicated and the family system underwent radical changes.

New system, unique demands

A nuclear family usually consists of a mother, father and children and in some cases, grandparents. In this scenario, a rigid demarcation of roles with none of the genders participating in each other’s domain of functioning [male: provider, female: nurturer] may not always be favourable. Hence, resources and duties need to be planned according to the preferences and schedules of the family. A strict demarcation of roles is also not always possible today, because women [mothers] have entered the world of work. They are getting aware of their rights and insist on exercising them. Responsibilities are therefore shared rather than merely allocated. This has brought a shift in the traditional role of parents, allowing them to share functions of family wellbeing and parenting.

Birth of a father

Research suggests that a father’s involvement in the child’s development is beneficial for the child’s academic performance. It greatly influences the occupations the child may choose in future, his or her social development, and self worth as also, his / her overall development. And the absence of a father may lead to psychological mal-adjustment, anti-social behaviours and scholastic problems in children.

But the role of a father [and of course, the mother] in parenting does not begin only after the birth of a child; it begins when the couple decides to bear a child. The fathers’ active emotional involvement in the mothers’ pregnancy ensures their collective responsibility and role in parenting ahead. It helps bolster and enhance their relationship, which is definitely essential for the wellbeing of the child and family as a whole.

Why fathers matter

As the child enters the world, the parents are bestowed with newer and more responsibilities. The child needs warmth and unconditional love from both the mother and the father and hence the father needs to spend quality time with the child, irrespective of the offspring’s gender. Sons often consider their fathers as a role model and this enhances the responsibility as a father. By observing your actions and interacting with you, he learns how to be a man. Daughters too need fathers since through you she learns what to expect from adults of both genders. Thus, responsibility lies with the father that he treats sons and daughters equally without sex-stereotyping. Parents become psychological mirrors for the children, which the children use to build their own unique identities.

A new job description

father and mother playing with their sonFathers today are seen playing diverse roles, those of provider, nurturer, educator and provider of safety, security and emotional support. I know of a family comprising the couple, their son and grandparents. The couple has amicably decided that the husband will stay home and nurture the child while the mother will be the breadwinner. Having spoken to each one of them, I realised that they had carefully shared responsibilities and planned the parenting process in such a way that the child receives the love of the mother and father evenly. This is indeed an example of a non-traditional set up of a family, which portrays how a father’s role has been evolving, developing and changing over time.

Daddy cool

For people of earlier generations, fathers were a distant figure, a person hard to get close to. But today’s father has been liberated from the stereotype of the cold, impersonal, and unemotional man. Men are not afraid or ashamed to experience emotional closeness to their children. Today’s father is eager to be a role model of a ‘nurturant man’ for his children. The ‘Super Dad’ phenomenon is gripping every child’s description of their fathers. In a counselling session, I asked a group of children to talk about their fathers. Each one began saying that his dad was a Super Dad, who played cricket with him, who dropped him to school and helped in his homework. Another interesting revelation was that the children loved their fathers even more because they helped their mothers with the household chores. This depicts how keenly kids observe our actions and evaluate us!

Though being a Super Dad is a matter of pride and happiness, sometimes, some fathers find it overwhelming. They feel that they are in some way, unable to live up to the image. It is important in such cases to adapt the title in a way, which is based on realistic parameters and roles, which suit the respective father-child.

Doing it like dad

It may sometimes be difficult for fathers to spend time with their kids due to their job demands. If this is communicated well to the kids, they understand and also know what and how much to expect from their father.

Children are also sensitive to the relationship dynamics of the family. Stable and fulfilling relationships of the father with the mother, grandparents, other family members, and friends indirectly influence the child’s behaviour. Hence, taking efforts to enrich all your interactions with the significant others may help teach children approved ways of interaction. Many a times, the rearing that the father himself experienced as a child may act as a barrier to his parenting. He may be less aware of the ways of successful parenting though he may have the desire to practise them. Fathers need to be open to seek knowledge about the same as their involvement will help boost their confidence in themselves in addition to helping the child.

Trial and error

Every father should review his interactions with the child consistently, and note the behaviours and actions that work and those that fail to impact. This benefits the relationship between him and the child and the family as a whole. As a father you also need to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses, thus retain your personhood. You also need to accept the fact that even though you play a vital role in child rearing, you too may fail sometimes due to situational and circumstantial reasons. You should, however, avoid self-blame since the family functions well with the efforts and participation of every member and not just you.

Together as parents

It is important how well both mother and father can accommodate their values, morals, needs and goals to best suit their child’s development. The child desires love and acceptance from both. The more the roles of the father and mother go hand-in-hand, the easier it is for the child to feel free to turn to either of them in time of need as each will offer similar support and guidance.

Ketki Ketkar
Ketki Ketkar is a qualified counsellor dealing with geriatric, children's, parenting, and career issues. She lives in Mumbai.


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