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The Growing Child and “Fathering”

The readers would recall that in Chapter 3, I had stressed the strong need for the active support of the father-to-be to the mother-to-be while she was busy dreaming beautiful dreams and carrying the baby in her tummy.

My wife, who was kind enough to go through the manuscript at the prepublication stage and offer suggestions, shot back: “But how about the husband’s continued support to the spouse in the later years – I mean after the arrival of the child and in the course of his subsequent growing-up and the like? You surely do not mean raising the child is entirely the mother’s job now that we are endeavouring into the twentieth century?”

Needless to say, the point was very well taken. So, here I take off.

Let me start by putting it across to you dear readers, that the father’s role by no means ends with the delivery. On the contrary, it finds further extension in a “big way” as the baby arrives and grows from one phase to another. You may call it “fathering”, or as the noted paediatric adteacher, the late Professor S.S. Manchanda, liked to designate it “modified mothering”. To be frank, it is extremely difficult to draw a cut-off line between the role of the mother and that of the father in the care of the child. A lot of overlap is inevitable, depending on such factor(s) as whether both parents are working.

The father, as the noted World Health Organization expert, Professor Michael Gray, puts it in an issue of the World Health, must consider care of the child as vital as his job or career. I am in total agreement with this point of view.

I strongly feel that the father must actively – and, of course, equally – contribute to all aspects of home and child care, especially if the lady is holding an outside job. He is not supposed to do so on compassionate grounds, out of generosity or as a favour to the better-half, but in the true spirit of equal partnership which is the backbone of a successful family life. A particular gentleman would return home and speak to his wife in terms such as this: “Our new friend must have exhausted you to the bone. So, let me assist you here…. And, don’t forget to feel grateful for this out-of-the-way help. Understand?” Such an attitude of the hubby, undoubtedly, defeats the very purpose of the assistance rendered. Worse, it may well backfire, causing additional problems.

More often than not, the father postpones taking share of the child’s care till the little one grows a little. This way valuable time is lost and before long the mother becomes an expert in taking care of the child whereas the father is still planning and postponing “fathering”.

You may well question: how does the father’s sharing care of the child and home help? Firstly, as you can appreciate, it decidedly lightens the wife’s load. Secondly, it gives her a badly-needed companionship, more so in situations concerning nuclear families. Thirdly, it provides the child with a variety of styles of leadership and control. Consequent upon that, he grows up without any kind of sexist attitudes. Fourthly, it gives the mother mental contentment. The observation that her hubby believes that raising the child is a responsibility of both the partners and that sharing is crucial for the welfare of the child means a great lot to her.

What kinds of work can the father do? On the home front, he can help his spouse in shopping, bed-making, laying the table and perhaps in cooking. As far as the child is concerned, the father can contribute to his care in feeding, changing nappies/dress, bathing, washing the potty, putting to bed and playing, etc. For a somewhat older child, he can read stories, teach discipline, break up quarrels and help in doing homework, etc.

Areas where the father needs to contribute

  • Taking turns with the mother when the child cries at night.
  • Attending routine needs of the child, e.g. toilet care/training, changing the nappy, bathing,         washing potty, putting to sleep, playing, etc.
  • Reading stories and helping doing homework in case of older child.
  • Providing support to the mother in shopping.
  • Helping the mother in the kitchen, bed-making, laying the table.

While reemphasizing that the father’s positive help in bringing up the child adds to the latter’s security and development, let me tell you that the father’s role after the child has attained the age of two years becomes more important. The child is eager to imitate the father. This tendency for “identification” must be encouraged. To ensure that this tendency proves gratifying, the father must be in command, a sort of a balanced authority whom, as far as possible, everybody obeys. In no case should the father try to be authoritarian, asserting himself roughly over the child and the wife. Such authoritarianism, in fact, invites troubles inasmuch as that the child either becomes “inhibited” or “rebellious”. There is a good deal of evidence that an authoritarian father quite often had emotional difficulties in his early childhood. This is an excellent example of “fizzled out” or “negative” fathering. The sooner it is stopped, the better.

A word about the “weak” father. Such a father is far too submissive to be a model with whom the child can identify. It is just the opposite of what we just finished talking about, i.e. authoritarian father. This situation too leads to many adjustment problems, anxiety and insecurity in the child, more so in the teenager.

In case of divorce or death, the father may have to single-handedly take care of the child. This kind of “single parenting” can cause problems. For instance, the daughter, because of non-availability of the mother, may get too intimate with the father. This may result in difficulties when she reaches puberty. Secondly, since the father gets obsessed with the child’s upbringing, there may result a lack of security of his authority.

Then, there is the father with a wife who is far too possessive or authoritarian (a sort of mirror image of his mother). Such a father fails to provide the child tranquility, security and stability that the child needs so badly.

Finally, let me wind up with the remarks (yes, even at the risk of repetition) that a happy relationship, partnership and harmony between the parents are the vital and precious stabilising influences for the healthier upbringing of the child. The father’s share need not, in any significant way, be less in this important field. To cite Mother Teresa, “true parenting is a ‘joint effort’ wherein father must make his contribution whole-heartedly. How else can the baby grow in harmony?”

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