What Is The Father’s Role In The First 12 Months Of A Baby’s Life?
What is a father’s role in the first year of his baby’s life?
Does a father’s role differ from a mother’s role when it comes to raising children? What if the family unit has two mothers or two fathers? Do parents even have ‘roles’?
There are no easy answers and there are no right answers either.
Each parent makes a unique and important contribution to parenting and to their child’s development and the best outcomes happen when parents are supportive of one another and work as a team.
That said however, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that fathers are critical for a child’s wellbeing.
There are positive long-term effects for children whose fathers are actively and positively involved in their lives and hands-on dads can contribute to a child’s emotional health, their wellness, cognitive and social development and self-respect. In short, dads matter.
And when you realise that a child grows and learns more in their first year than at any other time of their lives, the positive contribution that dads can make in those first 12 months becomes even more crucial. The first year is the time that the child starts to relate to the world around them and starts to make social and emotional connections, plus huge physical changes and developments also take place during this time.
So what can a father do?
At first, it may seem that newborns and young babies aren’t really ‘doing anything’ and without the benefit of a maternal instinct, new dads can find handling and interacting with the child a bit bewildering. As a dad, the very best thing you can do is support your partner and do things that bond you with your new baby.
Work commitments can put pressure on father/baby time but it is really important to make eye contact with babies and to talk, read and sing to them, hold them, let them feel your touch and smell your scent as often as possible because these interactions will all help to make them feel comfortable, secure and bonded to you.
Research shows that play can support a child’s learning across a huge range of physical, social, emotional and intellectual areas of development which is great news for dads. Having fun with your child during his or her first year has much more profound, long-term benefits than you might realise.
Dads generally play with their children in a way that’s different to mums.
A quick glance around the playground or backyard will usually show dads that tend to be more energetic when it comes to their children’s play. But this lively engagement is critically important for stimulating the brain and helping with physical and cognitive development including posture, balance and co-ordination, so fathers should be encouraged to play active, rough and tumble games in a safe and responsible way.
Fathers never stop playing an important role in their children’s lives but that first year is crucial.
Remember, you don’t have to go it alone and there are plenty of resources to help dads on their parenting journey. The clear message is to get stuck in from the beginning because dads really do have a profound influence on their child’s healthy development and every positive intervention makes a difference.
But let’s not forget the crucial role that the father can – and should – play in supporting the mum as well as the baby during those first 12 months.
Being a new mum can be joyous and fulfilling. These are the most special of times. But being a new mum can also be physically exhausting, emotionally draining, confusing and even frightening. Many new mums doubt themselves and feel inadequate and in the exhausted blur of feeding, changing nappies, bathing baby, broken sleep, domestic duties and everything else that goes with having a new baby, they can feel like they’re losing touch with their ‘adult’ life.
And that’s where the father can step up and play a hugely important role.
Positive reinforcement, non-judgemental support, gentle understanding and a whole lot of initiative around the home can go a long way. Here’s a suggestion for dads. Look for opportunities to lighten the domestic load. Have adult conversations that don’t revolve around baby stuff. Ask mum’s opinion on things. Read up on what it’s like to be a new mum. Try and put yourself in her shoes.
You’ll probably also want to start discussions with your partner about childcare quite early on because it’s important to choose the right one. They’re not all the same.