These days, we often hear it said that it’s beneficial for fathers to get involved in parenting. But while many countries are embracing more flexible work schedules, many employees are working for longer hours, in both Japan and the United States, for instance. Perhaps many fathers (and working mothers too) are wondering whether they can get involved in parenting on top of long hours of work, and how much they can manage.
TIME TO REVIEW TRADITIONAL ROLES?
In the past, fathers have typically tended to work outside home while mothers stayed at home looking after the household and the children.
However, times are changing. And the research over the last 20-30 years has confirmed the positive effects of fathers’ involvement in parenting on children’s development. Many studies have found that children who grow up in a family where fathers actively participate in parenting are more likely to develop better language, social and relationship skills.
Especially for boys, fathers who appropriately interact can be important role models. Some studies have found that it doesn’t matter whether the father figure is the biological father, or whether they live with their child full-time; they still have an important role to play in their child’s development. Overall, it’s been well established that it’s good for kids to have “a father figure” who is positively involved in their life.
“BUT I WORK LONG HOURS”
So what does it really mean to “actively get involved in parenting”? It is not so much about how long you spend with your child. It’s more about ‘quality’ – what you talk about with your child, how you interact with your child, etc. For example, when you help your child have a bath, do simply tell them to do as they’re asked? Perhaps you ask them about their day, or play a fun game with them in the bath to help them enjoy their bath time? Through such interactions, children get the message that their parents are interested in their lives and think they are important, which leads to the child developing self-confidence and self-esteem.
IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING…
…but we’ll say it anyway. Involvement of fathers in parenting is beneficial for mothers as well. Parenting is an ongoing task, and it requires patience and energy from parents. Especially when the child is very young, they need constant supervision, so it’s a very challenging and physically demanding time for parents. A common struggle is finding time even to go to the toilet! And it’s not uncommon for parents I’ve talked to in Japan to feel physically and mentally exhausted spending most of their day with young children one-on-one, with very little or no adult conversation.
So it’s a huge relief for mothers to have a partner who can share their struggles physically or through conversation, even just a little bit. The number of ‘stay-home dads’ is gradually increasing in Japan as well as other countries, and these dads would also find it helpful to get help from or have conversations with mothers. The important thing is for mothers and fathers to work as a team in raising their child.
WHAT IF PARENTING CAUSES DISAGREEMENT?
Some parents might say: “yes, but my partner and I tend to have arguments because we have different ideas about parenting”. Families in which mums say no to their child but dads say OK (or vice versa) tend to have arguments often. A lot of disagreement between parents about parenting not only increases parental stress levels, but also confuses children about what is appropriate, which could affect their learning of important life skills.
Also, when a child sees their parents argue with each other about parenting, the child may feel guilty because they think their parents are arguing because of them.
So it’s very important for parents to calmly discuss with each other their parenting approaches – not in the heat of the moment, but at another time – and try to be consistent and work as a team. If you’re not sure how you and your partner can be consistent in parenting, or how to get more involved in parenting considering your time constraints, it may be helpful to consult parenting support professionals including Triple P providers to get some tips. You can also ask other working parents how they get involved in parenting.
‘Getting involved in parenting’ might sound like a huge task, especially if you are working. But as we remind parents, it’s about quality not quantity. You can start from small things you can do with your child and build on it.