Even in times as busy, frustrating and up-in-the-air as now, a dad’s role is central to the development of their child. It’s easy, when we are all tripping over one another around the house, to forget that our children still need quality time with us. Studies increasingly show, extra quality time together in acts of play, care and entertainment are just as important as the nurturing moments, especially for dad-child relationships.
The role of ‘dad’ has changed immensely in the last few decades. Until the 1970s, much of the research focusing on child development really only included the mother’s influence in any major capacity. The father’s role was to financially support the family so that the mother could be in charge of the cognitive and social development of the children.
Nowadays, the ideology around fatherhood has changed, reflecting the strides we have made in both psychology and gender studies. Research shows that fathers are spending increased time with their children because of these new, more domestic roles and that it is challenging children’s ideas of parenthood and gender, as well developing their cognitive and social skills in an entirely different way.
‘Babies with emotionally engaged dads show better mental development as toddlers and are less likely to have behavioural problems later on, compared to babies whose dads behave in a more detached way. Older children benefit, too. Those whose fathers, or father figures, are more emotionally supportive, tend to be more satisfied with life and have better relationships with teachers and other children.’ (BBC)
So how can you spend more time with your child in a productive way?
Researchers emphasise quality over quantity in this category. Being totally present and engaged with your child for a block of ten minutes is better than a distracted half hour split between them, your emails and the match. Putting in that undistracted, wholly focused ten minutes with them can make all the difference.
“Play is the language of childhood: it’s the way children explore the world, it’s how they build relationships with other children,” says Paul Ramchandani, who studies play in education, development and learning at the University of Cambridge. Getting involved is the most important thing, noticing what they do and don’t like, even if roughhousing or boisterous play doesn’t come naturally to you. There are many ways to engage with your child, you just need to find what works best for both of you.
Do dinner together
It’s an important social ritual and a moment to centre your days around as a family. Especially now that we are all in the same place all day, there’s no excuse for commutes to interrupt this family time. All being together in the house doesn’t necessarily mean you are connected, so the designated time of dinner for social interaction and catching up on people’s days should be a focal point.
This time is for airing problems and triumphs, big and small, so try to encourage conversation around the table. If you and your partner trade off days for cooking, maybe even get your child’s help for the meal preparation, if the dish is simple. It’s accomplishing a task together and is full of teaching moments.
Include them in your life
Your interests could become their interests, but you won’t know until you try! Your work, your hobbies, your projects could all be something to bond over. If you’re a major sports fan, try watching a game together with some of the older ones. Explain the rules clearly and slowly and let them decide if it’s something that interests them. If you both like puzzles, or DIY projects or art or whatever, give it a go together some rainy weekend and see how it goes!
Even your work life has the potential to create bonds. The more your child knows and understands the different aspects of your job, the more potential there is to bond over problems, triumphs or day to day news.
There is no ‘perfect’ father anymore than there are perfect mothers. All any of us can do it take it day to day and try our best for our children. The cultural and social landscape doesn’t always make prioritising our home lives the easiest thing to do. It’s seen as taking a stand in the modern workplace rather than a right. With work moved into the home space now, it’s more important than ever to keep those boundaries clear, and make time to prioritise family life and bonds.