Parenting in the 21st century has changed vastly since the past and more so now in this Covid world. In current times, having a child is typically a “couple event” where both parents are much more involved in. In comparison to 50 years ago, the typical idea of paternity was of a father removed from childcaring, whose role for children relied mostly on financial assistance. Given the Covid-19 pandemic situation, attitudes toward fatherhood have further reshaped the father’s role. It has highlighted new opportunities but also challenges for fathers as their role is rapidly evolving (Lista, 2020) .
In the Asian context, some fathers may still be stuck in believing that their main role is just to focus on work and just providing for the family possibly due to traditional mindsets and how their own father played his role. Many may be unaware of the importance and are struggling to adjust caring for their children when at home.
The role of Asian fathers in the past
Many Asian fathers struggle with the idea of what it means to nurture their child and care for them emotionally. Many probably did not have such an experience with their own fathers who they saw only as breadwinners of the family, who provided for their physical needs but received very little emotional attunement. Traditionally, the father’s role was focused on survival and being able to put food on the table hence, fathers would mostly be out working while the mothers are left at home to care for the children and attend to household affairs (NYU Shanghai, 2017).
This phenomenon may have led to many suffering from a ‘father wound’. The father wound is the psychological, relational, and physical dysfunction that occurs in people who grew up with a father who was emotionally or physically absent. Many may not recognise the detrimental long term impacts it may have on their children especially if it occurs in the early years (Loehnen, 2020).
Research has shown that Asian parents tend to adopt an authoritarian parenting style whereby they are very strict and believe in controlling kids through punishment without considering their child’s feelings. This is in comparison to authoritative parenting which also emphasises on high standards but is coupled with high levels of parental warmth and is committed to explaining the reason behind rules (Morin, 2019).
Social and emotional benefits of children with engaged fathers:
“Fathers are far more than just “second adults” 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.” David Popenoe, Life Without Father,(New York: The Free Press, 1996), p. 163.
Men and women are different. They both have different parenting styles which makes the father’s role even more pertinent in the child’s development. For instance:
- Fathers promote “rougher” and more exploratory play and are more likely to encourage risk-taking than most mothers. This provides kids with a wider diversity of social experiences since they are given more leeway to discover outside of what they may be comfortable with
- Fathers encourage competition resulting in greater independence while mothers show more sympathy, care, and help, thus creating a sense of security.
- Fathers emphasise conceptual communication, which allows children to stretch their vocabulary and intellectual abilities. Mothers usually speak simpler sentences and try to go down to the child’s level so that they can understand better (Focus on the family, 2021).
Regardless, it is important to note that neither style of parenting is sufficient in and of itself. They both complementeach other and equip children with a healthy, well-rounded approach to life.
The level of involvement of a father has, has different impact on girls and boys. Young girls look to fathers for protection and emotional security. A father can show his daughter what a healthy relationship with a man is like and how she should be treated. When they are older, they are likely to be influenced to look for a man with similar qualities.
Young boys on the other hand try to model after their father’s character and tend to seek approval from their father. If a father is caring and treats people with respect, the son is likely to grow up similarly. If his father is absent, he may then look to other male role models to set the “rules” for how to behave and survive in the world (Pediatric Associates of Franklin, 2021).
“The Father Effect” is a term which refers to the benefits of a paternal presence. A minimum amount of time spent together is a must, but the quality is more crucial than the quantity of time spent. For instance, just sitting on the couch watching television together may not be the most ideal, as compared to engaging on another after the show and discussion their viewpoints can help foster better relationship as it shows that the father is both physically and mentally present with the child (i.e., quality time). Research suggests that the sooner a dad is involved, the better. They argue that a father who is actively involved throughout labour is essentially creating a bond (albeit one-way relationship) with their child resulting in stronger early attachment to the new born (Krisch, 2021).
Here are some tips for Dads who may be lost in this transitioning of Covid-19:
- Keep your children engaged in activities
- Find creative ways to keep them active and busy
- Spend time with them in your small pockets of free time even while working from home
- Team up with your partner
- Be open about structures and committing to the routines set by sharing the load
- *If both working parents are home with young children, taking 1.5 hour shifts with your wife, alternating between work and kids could be possible (FitzPatrick, 2020)
- Communicate openly and honestly with each other – both of you can’t read each other’s minds
- Support and show grace to each other during this stressful time
- Be open about structures and committing to the routines set by sharing the load
*Note: is not about only being physically present but also sharing the mental load in engaging the children
- Talk to your children about what’s going on
- Children have many questions, if they don’t get information from parents they would turn to their peers or the internet instead. Ensure that you are their source of information.
- Be open with them and answer their questions at the level they will be able to understand (depending on their age)
- Older children may be able to engage in more complicated discussions. Ask them what they know about Covid-19
- Keep a routine and have special dad activities with your children
- Routines are comforting to kids, they help them to feel secure and are better behaved
- Practice patience and expressing your love
- In stressful times, children may become more needy and may fuss more. Be reminded they are just responding to the stress, they just need you to provide extra physical and emotional support (Dayton, 2021)
There is a lot that goes into being a good dad. Perhaps realising that whatever you do, your children are always watching and what you do does matter. The father’s role is no less than a mother’s one. Your parenting can influence your child’s psychological, cognitive, and social development which will steer them towards adulthood. However, that does not mean you need to know it all. Sometimes just doing what you can to show your love and being actively involved with your children may be the best way to becoming a good parent.
Camellia Wong, MA., Sara Chiang
Dayton, C. (2021). Parenting tips for dads during the COVID-19 crisis. School of Social Work. https://socialwork.wayne.edu/coronavirus/fathering
Fitzpatrick, D. (2020). The pandemic has triggered a blurring of home and work, giving working parents, especially fathers, the chance to be more active at home, says Daniel Fitzpatrick. CNA. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/commentary/covid-work-home-flexible-parent-childcare-father-life-balance-12707492
Focus on the Family. (2021). The Significance of a Father’s Influence. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/family-qa/the-significance-of-a-fathers-influence/
Krisch, J. A. (2021). The Science of Dad and the ‘Father Effect.’ Fatherly. https://www.fatherly.com/health-science/science-benefits-of-fatherhood-dads-father-effect/
Lista, G., & Bresesti, I. (2020). Fatherhood during the COVID-19 pandemic: an unexpected turnaround. Early human development, 144, 105048. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2020.105048
Loehnen, E. (2020). How Absent Fathers Impact Our Adult Relationships. Goop. https://goop.com/wellness/relationships/how-absent-fathers-impact-our-adult-relationships/
Morin, A. (2019). 4 Types of Parenting Styles and Their Effects on Kids. Verywell Family. https://www.verywellfamily.com/types-of-parenting-styles-1095045
NYU Shanghai. (2017). Perspectives on Chinese Fathers. https://shanghai.nyu.edu/is/perspectives-chinese-fathers
Pediatric Associates of Franklin. (2021). The Importance of a Father in a Child’s Life. https://www.pediatricsoffranklin.com/resources-and-education/pediatric-care/the-importance-of-a-father-in-a-childs-life/