Fatherhood – the quiet revolution
Research today indicates fathers have an increased involvement in their children’s lives.
This involvement is not just important for the child’s development but it also makes the fathers happier and healthier, according to consultant trainer and program developer in group work and writer, Andrew King who spoke to members attending a recent discussion group at Homebush Uniting Church.
“When a father is very involved in the care of his baby, it increases the level of oxytocin in his blood, the love/trust hormone, by 30%. This makes him happier and more focused. Men need someone to protect, support and provide for their world to make sense. They live longer if their relationships are good”, he said.
Andrew said oxytocin was triggered differently in mothers and fathers.
“Levels of oxytocin in fathers increase when they play physically with their baby, such as when they play peek-a-boo. The levels in mothers increase when they hug, caress and talk to the baby.”
When a father is very involved in the care of his baby, it increases the love/trust hormone.
Physical play with older children, such as chasing, tickling and pretend wrestling is also very important, he said.
“Because rough and tumble play involves dominance swapping when different people take turns in winning it helps children learn about the skill of winning/losing with effort. This helps develop emotional self regulation in children. They know how to pick themselves up when life doesn’t go their way.”
Andrew said that research shows fathers’ roles include helping children learn to enter into a larger social world and transitioning into the outside world.
“One man told me that when his son told him, ‘he didn’t feel five’, he took him up on the roof so the boy could see all around him. His wife came outside and was horrified by the danger and he had to bring his son down. However, his son later told him that he ‘felt five now.’ There are two types of attachment experiences which are important for a child’s development and they are security and safety, and risk and exploration.’ Children require opportunities to grow and learn through risk and exploration to fully realise their development and self-confidence.
Andrew also said that “fathering is a relational role that men play in children’s lives by being the biological father, step-father, grandfather, uncle or significant role model. It is best described by the notion of Father-work, which can be described as having four key characteristics.”
“These are: development work, which is responding to the developmental needs that children have as they grow throughout childhood; relational work, which is responding to the relational needs children have for companionship, relationship and connection; ethical work, which is responding to the ethical guidance children need to develop their other ethical compass in life, and spiritual work, which is responding to a child’s, and broader community’s, need for a ‘big picture’ view of life’s experiences and the inter-connection of stewardship and the role of faith and care for the earth.”
Andrew said that there has been a quiet revolution and men are now doing quite different things to their grandfathers.
“They are no longer powerless observers; they have a shared role. When a marriage breaks up, children still have contact with their fathers and around 93% – 97% of men attend their children’s births. Husbands are useful at births and their presence can reduce pain levels and reduce the need for medication. Their role will continue to change too; in the future, there will be an equal number of men and women acting as carers for their parents.”
Andrew said that men still needed to talk more about their unspoken fears about parenting and must make time to discuss these with their partners.
“It’s equally important for both men and women, but women have always been better at vocalising their concerns.”
He said men should also use their systematic and practical skills to “renovate their relationships”.
“If they see their relationship in terms of a building site, they feel they can tackle problems methodically.”
Andrew said one of the theorists he found particularly helpful when he was doing his research was Erik Erikson, who believes there are eight stages through which a healthly developing person passes through. However it was the seventh stage that Andrew found most interesting: Generativity vs. Stagnation (middle adulthood, 25-64 or 40-64 years).
“Generativity is about investing time and energy into something or someone who is going to out live you. Examples of generativity in society today include the Men’s Shed Movement and cleaning up in a disaster zone, such as the Queensland floods; as well as becoming involved in the lives of your children and grandchildren. Grandfathers who feel they weren’t as involved in their own children’s lives as they would have liked to now have a new opportunity to experience generatively,” he said.
“Actually caring for someone or something that won’t out live you can help. Some young men who were truanting were given a cattle dog puppy each to care for – their new responsibilities settled their behaviour and they returned to school. Another study showed that within a group of young people with drug and alcohol problems, the ones that got better were the ones who helped someone, such as a sibling. It is helping others that we improve our wellbeing and learn healthy life skills.”
Andrew also emphasised the portrayal of the role of parents in the Bible.
“The comparison of God to being like a mother or father has always been a common imagery used in the Bible. Both in biblical times and today, we make many similar assumptions about the sacrifice that men and women willingly make for the wellbeing of their children.”