Involving dads in children’s lives can make a huge difference to how well they do, says the Fatherhood Institute
If you want your children to behave better, improve their performance at school and be more likely to steer clear of drugs and crime, harness dad power. Studies show that positively involved fathers can have a huge impact on their children in all sorts of ways, and that’s why the Fatherhood Institute has launched a new campaign, Bringing Fathers In, to drive home the dad power message to organisations that deal with families, including midwives, health visitors and social services.
The Institute says research has shown that positive involvement from dads in all aspects of their children’s lives can contribute towards:
Better friendships with better-adjusted children
Fewer behaviour problems
Lower criminality and substance abuse
Higher educational achievement
Greater capacity for empathy
Higher self-esteem and life-satisfaction
Fatherhood Institute joint chief executive Adrienne Burgess says efforts to improve children’s outcomes can be boosted significantly by harnessing father-involvement:
“Fathers’ impact on health, education and other aspects of wellbeing is enormous,” she stresses. “Whether a mother has a professionally-attended childbirth, a child’s likelihood of being vaccinated and of making good progress in language development, can depend hugely on fathers’ attitudes and behaviour. By working creatively with men, we can harness dad power for the good of everyone.”
The Institute, in collaboration with the global fatherhood campaign Men Care, has produced a series of factsheets and other information targeted at the organisations that deal with families both in the UK and abroad. The factsheets cover issues including making the most of fathers to support their children’s early learning, supporting maternal and infant health, and reducing violence in children’s lives.
Burgess explains that at the moment, while most people and organisations that deal with families know that involving fathers in their children’s lives is a good idea, they often don’t know why. “They might know that children whose fathers are involved do better at school, but apart from that, they don’t have any other specific ideas about it. Often they’ll say that fathers are included because it’s fair to dads, which is not, we think, a very good argument. The main reason is that if we don’t address the dads alongside the mums and make every effort to connect with them, mothers and children aren’t getting a very good service.”
She points out that:
Pregnant women eat and live more healthily when their partner supports them, so dads should be given health messages as well as mums.
Men who understand the risk of pregnancy complications will support their partner’s use of appropriate services, so men need to understand why professionally-supported childbirth is the safest option.
Five-year-olds with two supportive parents score higher in language development than those with one or no supportive parents. In addition, a dad’s hormones are affected after his child is born –
almost as much as the mother’s hormones change, says Burgess.
While it has long been known that fathers who undertake a lot of care bond more quickly with their babies and are likely to enjoy fatherhood more, it’s only recently that researchers have shown that within 15 minutes of holding a baby, men experience raised levels of hormones associated with tolerance/trust (oxytocin), sensitivity to infants (cortisol) and brooding/lactation/bonding (prolactin); and that the more experienced a man is as a caregiver, the quicker and more pronounced are the hormonal changes.
It has also been shown that levels of the male hormone testosterone drop in men who live with a pregnant female, and remain about a third lower after the birth and over the first year. Such low testosterone levels are connected with greater sensitivity to infants, and may also bolster a man’s immune system, decreasing the chances of passing infections to newborns.
“Men’s bodies change and are hard-wired to care for infants – not just their own,” stresses Burgess. “The thing that every mother knows is that she doesn’t know what she’s doing when this new baby is put in her arms. But it’s a learned activity for both sexes – nobody knows how to do it at the beginning, and that’s fine. If you’re a mum or dad and you believe mothers are hard-wired to look after babies and it’s not in dads’ nature, everything to do with childcare will be left to mum because she’s ‘better at it’.”
Burgess says the Fatherhood Institute and Men Care hope the Bringing Fathers In initiative will lead to the vital role of fathers becoming more talked about by members of the family services, and they will then pass the message on to families. She adds: “Certainly the experience for more than half of new parents is that fathers are ignored – and the mothers tend to be more dissatisfied than the fathers about that. Fathers don’t have expectations and they feel they should be ignored, without realising quite how that damages them and their family.”
The Bringing Fathers In resources are available to download free at www.fatherhoodinstitute.org/bringingfathersin