This Father’s Day, let’s not forget about dad! While mothers play a significant role in a child’s overall wellness, fathers-influence-development-and-well-being too! In fact, research shows that when a child is raised in a father-absent home, they are more likely to experience poverty, abuse and neglect, have behavioral problems, abuse drugs and alcohol, and experience physical and emotional health problems.
First of all, let’s start with the American Academy of Pediatrics AAP definition of father as “the male or males identified as most involved in caregiving and committed to the well-being of the child, regardless of living situation, marital status, or biological relation.”
There is a big difference in sperm donor and being a dad; therefore, fathers can include biological fathers, step-fathers, grandfathers, and foster fathers.
“According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 18.3 million children, 1 in 4, live without a biological, step, or adoptive father in the home. Consequently, there is a father factor in nearly all social ills facing America today.”
Source: U.S. Census Bureau. (2020). Living arrangements of children under 18 years old: 1960 to present. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau.
Dad—we want to take a moment to honor you. Your love, commitment, and involvement in your child’s life is an important shaping foundation. Your child looks to you as a secure base, a stable figure who they can feel safe. You help promote positive development. Your involvement and consistency are so important. We value your role and want to be able to better support you and your mental health.
As a therapist and parent, I recognize the need to support and encourage fathers in their child’s care. The AAP has provided recommendations helpful not only to pediatricians but also to mental health providers, educators, and families on how to engage fathers.
Fathers are encouraged to become involved in their child’s starting before birth, especially during the first five years, and throughout early childhood and adolescence. It is important to welcome and involve father’s participation in all aspects of their child’s life. Take time to understand the family system, cultural beliefs, and views regarding parenting. While there may be limitations with consent to mental health treatment depending on the circumstances, mental health providers are encouraged to politely explore these areas and obtain the necessary consents and/ or releases of information to involve significant male supports.
Tips for Involved Fathers:
• Be involved in prenatal care such as attending doctor appointments, childbirth/ parenting classes, and being present for the birth/ delivery.
• Model healthy habits during the mother’s pregnancy such as reducing or quitting smoking and substance use.
• Talk to treatment providers about typical responses fathers have during fatherhood, including excitement, fatigue, and potential sexual health concerns.
• Take time to spend with your newborn child after their birth. Be actively involved in feeding, sleeping, and diaper changes. Enjoy “skin on skin” contact, especially when soothing and before naptime.
• Encourage exploration and independence through play.
• Read and talk to your child (this enhances language development).
• Be involved in your child’s life. Spend time with your child and listen to them.
• Be a positive role model; this includes showing mutual respect for the other parent and being a responsible caregiver who is able to meet the child’s needs and keep them safe.
• Discipline with love; use positive parenting skills
• Provide guidance by sharing your experience, teaching skills, and providing advice.
• Provide emotional, social, and financial support.
• Accept your child for who they are (even if they make mistakes, don’t meet expectations, or choose a different path).
• Get to really know your child—their fears, hopes, and dreams.
• Nurture your child—affirm their identity, encourage development of skills and talents.
• Show you love your child through their love languages.
A note to mothers: having these opportunities helps develop the father’s confidence and will complement the child’s psychosocial and behavioral development.
If you were fatherless or experienced an abusive childhood, it may be helpful to process these experiences.
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