by Leon Hoffman, M.D.
What Is Father's Special Role?
A father's responsiveness to his children and his emotional availability are key characteristics of fathers that facilitate children's development.
Children whose fathers participate relatively more in the emotion side of parenting (e.g., comforting) have higher self-esteem than children whose father are less involved. It is not appropriate to say
"emotions are only for and from mom and action and activity only for and from dad."
In early childhood, a father provides approval and recognition of the child and also helps the child become more autonomous and self-assertive.
Child rearing in our culture involves helping the child develop more autonomously.
Paternal involvement seems to predict adult adjustment better than does maternal involvement.
A Father's Sons and Daughters
With sons, fathers can imagine back to their own boyhood and imagine the child's future experience. In contrast, fathers relate to their daughters in more complex ways. They may have a hard time imagining how their daughters will turn out since they have no personal experience with knowing what it feels like being and growing up a girl.
It is crucial to not, however, that children of both sexes identify with both parents. A feminine young girt and a masculine little boy will incorporate aspects of both parents into their own personality. A father should be able to communicate to both sons and daughters that they can become like him.
Unquestionably, fathers can help their children develop a sense of competence, security, and self-control. There are basically two poles that fathers should try to avoid: the pole of detachment, leaving all child rearing issues to mom; and the pole of pushiness, over-demandingness, and intrusiveness.
Men and Women
Obviously there are differences between women and men and mothers and fathers. Differences between individuals are the result of genetic influences, of differing cultural expectations, and of specific psychological constellations, including unconscious determinants. Gender distinctions are a result of a mixture of these various factors.
Some people conceptualize that parts of our personality-what we like, what we don't like, how we think of ourselves and others, how we cope with life-is a result of mixtures within us that might be labeled "feminine" and "masculine" attributes. In fact, Freud, as early as 1905, maintained that the sociological meaning of masculine and feminine refers to the observation that individuals display a mixture of the character traits of both sexes. Yet, in virtually every culture, most people's subjective experience is that certain activities and emotional states belong primarily to women and others to men.
Differences Betwee Mothers and Fathers
"Only women can get pregnant and bear babies." This obvious fact is a result of a woman's anatomy. However, the statement "Therefore, a woman should be the primary nuturer of her children" is a result of a combination of biological factors (mainly, hormonal influences), individual differences, plus the cultural expectations that child rearing is an activity that should be done by women. Although child-rearing is, thus, often labeled as a feminine activity, its roots are very complicated.
"Women raise children, particularly infants and toddlers, and take care of the family, while men focus on activities outside the home." This division of labor has always been part of human civilzation. In our current culture this potential dichotomy may be expressed around the issue of whether mothers should or should not work outside the home.
Why are stark differences between mothers and fathers so ingrained in so many people? There are biological, sociological, and psychological reasons as to why, so often, only mothers take full charge of their children and fathers either feel left out, excluded themselves from child-rearing, or are excluded from the tight bond that develops between a mother and infant. In many situations, fathers are considered to be, by both mother and baby, as someone from the "outside."
Importance of Fathers in the Lives of Children
In contrast to these expectations, for all of us who work with children and families, when we listen to both boys and girls, it is impressive how much we hear about the importance of fathers in their minds and in their lives, whether the fathers live at home or don't, and, in those situations where the children do not know their fathers. In fantasy, all children create an idealized version of a father. James Herzog wrote about what he called, "father-hunger."
Children and Fathers Need Each Other
Someone once wrote, "There are fathers who help you with your fractions, or learning to ride a bike, or play baseball, show you magic tricks with cards or handkerchiefs, or who play charades or read the comics with you. There are warm, affectionate father; frightening, punitive fathers; fathers who are grouchy and hard to please; fathers who are sel-preoccupied, and those "you can't talk to." There is the father with such excellence in achievement that a child feels it impossible to meet his standard-and the father who himself fails to realize his potential so that the child feels guilty about surpassing him."
Article as it appeared in Psychology Today.
By Leon Hoffman, M.D.
Created June 5, 2011