Becoming a father for the first time is a big deal – it’s the time you start thinking about your relationship with your own father, your family and the dad you want to be.
Dr David Popenoe, professor of sociology at Rutgers University and co-director of the National Marriage Project in the US, shares that the role of fathers is more than just a “second adult” in the home. “Involved fathers – especially biological fathers – bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring. They provide protection and economic support and male role models. They have a parenting style that is significantly different from that of a mother and that difference is important in healthy child development.”
Dr Popenoe says this “significantly different parenting style” is one of the most vital contributions a dad can make.
Research shows that dads tend to introduce children to a broader range of methods of dealing with life, stressing rules, justice, respect and fairness. This teaches objectivity and consequences of right and wrong. Dads encourage competition and risk-taking, while mothers tend to focus more on creating a sense of security. “Dads tend to see their child in relation to the rest of the world. Moms tend to see the rest of the world in relation to their child.” Together, these parenting styles balance each other.
During pregnancy, you start looking at the kind of man you want to be for your child, which in turn means you may start to look at your relationship with your own father and family.
These relationships influence the way you look at parenting, as you may want to emulate your dad, or you may choose to do things differently. Your partner’s experiences with her father may be different to yours. It’s a good idea to share these experiences, and discuss what elements you want to take on and what you would prefer to do without.
- Think of the good times: What special memories do you have of your father growing up? What is your earliest memory of your dad? What do you want to take from this for your own child? How do you want to mirror your dad’s positive traits?
- Think of the bad or challenging times: Even if you had a relatively good childhood – there may still be things that you didn’t feel were positive about your dad’s parenting style, be it missing your sports activities or being too busy to be there for you. You may be very aware of these limitations and choose not to repeat the things you felt didn’t work for you.
- Working through the pain: Thinking about your childhood can bring painful memories or thoughts to the surface, some of which you may have long buried. However, this can help you define and refine the kind of man and kind of father you want to be.
- Family rituals: You may have special events or activities that your family does, or did, together. Think about these activities that you did or still do with your father or a strong male role-model in your life. You may want to continue these with your own children and family. Your partner will also have traditions and rituals with her family. Discuss this and how you can utilise these into your own family life – embracing both the old and the new and making these rituals your own.
- Create special “dad and me” time. Those first weeks with a newborn at home can be challenging, particular as you try and find your place and space as a new father. Your partner, of obvious reasons, will be your baby’s primary caregiver, which can make you question your role and responsibilities. Create special times from birth with your baby, that you can continue into childhood and beyond, such as setting up a bedtime story ritual, taking a few moments each day to sit cuddling your baby and discussing your day, or taking your baby out for a few hours every Saturday or Sunday morning, just the two of you.
- Don’t panic. It is normal to feel nervous or unsure of the kind of dad you will be. This is completely natural. Discuss your fears and concerns with your partner, your best mate, or even your dad or father figure in your life. You may be surprised what you find out….
Did you know? According to Kermyt Anderson and Peter Gray, authors of Fatherhood: Evolution and Human Paternal Behaviour, there is a growing body of evidence that has found that fatherhood changes men biologically. Studies show that fathers live longer, healthier lives than non-fathers, and positively changes a man’s brain, equipping you with the same “baby sense” that is attributed to mothers.
Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday.