In many cultures over the past decades, fathers were called ‘the head of the family’ while mothers were always seen as the main carers of the family and the household.
Fathers have always had an important role in the family structure and over time this has changed to see fathers more involved in their children’s upbringing and development.
The diversity of different family structures has also grown much more lately.
Let’s explore these changes and the different roles the father figure has evolved into.
What was the role of the father in past?
For many centuries, in most families in western societies, the role of the father was mainly to provide financial support. The father worked and made sure the family’s financial needs were met. It was the mother’s role to take care of the babies and young children and she was the parent who gave most of the emotional support to family members.
In many households, paternal involvement in a child’s upbringing was mainly to discipline or punish the child when he had seriously misbehaved. The threat of making the father aware of any challenging behavior would in many cases be enough to stop that child from misbehaving again.
Fathers were more likely to use physical punishments, such as smacking, as a corrective method for bad behavior. For a long time, physical violence was seen as normal, and even appropriate, as a form of discipline in many cultures.
How has the role of the father changed over time?
With time, education, and social development we’ve learned much more about the importance of establishing healthy relationships from a very young age.
Dad can start to be involved in his baby’s cognitive and emotional development as early as in utero.
You can read more about this in the article Dad’s Role During The Pregnancy.
What is the father’s role in the family?
We now know positive father involvement in a child’s emotional and cognitive development is of paramount importance to any child’s upbringing.
Nowadays, to identify a specific paternal role isn’t an easy task as each family is different and what works for some might not work for others.
Children and adolescents need supportive male role models to look up to prepare them for when they become parents themselves.
Let’s have a look at what fathers can do to help children become great role models in the future.
Duties and responsibilities of a father in the family
#1: Be a provider
This doesn’t mean the father has to be the one who provides financial support. It means both parents’ involvement is important in raising healthy children. Every family needs an income and it can be either one parent or both who provide financial support. There are many ways to be a provider for your child’s development and making sure the household weight lies on both parents’ shoulders is key to setting a good example in your child’s life.
#2: Be a good listener
Show an interest in your child’s life. Know about the friends she has, or what worries him. Ask how things are in school. If you get involved in your kids’ daily life and offer a comforting, non-judgmental ear, your children will grow up knowing who to turn to when they need parental advice or help.
#3: Spend time with your child
Becoming a parent is much more than making sure children’s basic needs are covered. Children don’t need the latest technology and expensive presents. What’s most important for them, although they might not know it at a young age, is to spend quality time with their mothers and fathers.
For dads, this actually means spending father-child time doing something together, not just being in the same room. Play together, go on walks or trips, watch a movie, practice sports, go to see their guitar recital or their sports match.
When they ask for your attention make sure they have it before answering ‘Yes’ while you keep typing away trying to finish that report or scrolling down your phone. When you accept what they’re suggesting, make sure they perceive how important it is for you. If it’s not the right time, be careful to offer an alternative time when you’ll be able to give them your full attention. This will help your child’s self-esteem greatly.
#4: Lead by example
Fatherhood is also about supporting the mother. Many of the lessons you’ll teach your children won’t be on purpose or involve you actively preparing them for life. Seeing their father loving and supporting their mother will help them become involved parents themselves.
Even if they never become parents you’ll still become an amazing role model. When children see adults treat each other with love and respect, they come to know and understand what a healthy relationship is as they get older.
#5: Accept your limitations and apologize when necessary
We all learn our parenting skills by becoming parents ourselves. We might have gained some preparation and tools from our own childhood, or we might have decided not to follow the same strategies as our parents did.
Our parenting journey is our own, and we’re going to make many mistakes. We’re going to be tired and busy. We’ll also be triggered by our child’s behavior and will react inappropriately many times. That’s okay and it happens to all of us at some time or another.
How we deal with the situations when we didn’t behave as we would have liked will also help a lot with the moral values and the upbringing we give to our children.
Many fathers might think this is showing weakness to their children. However, being able to recognize our wrongdoing will have many positive effects in that moment and in our children’s future. It will affect their emotional development, social interaction, and understanding of the consequences of their own behavior for others.
How important is the father’s role in the modern family?
Fathers should be involved in their kids’ upbringing as much as mothers are. We understand that during the early years the bond and the time spent with their mothers are highly important and beneficial for the child’s emotional development.
That doesn’t mean good bonding with the mother should be enough or a father’s role is somehow redundant. Nothing could be further from the truth. As opposed to the traditional father’s role in intact families (nuclear, constant families without divorce or other divisions), in modern life there are many different paternal roles: stay at home dads, separated dads, stepfathers, adoptive or biological fathers. Each one of these roles will bring different challenges.
What we know for sure is we must leave in the past those father figures who were hardly involved in their children’s emotional rearing. There is robust evidence that a father’s involvement in his kid’s upbringing, from the early years, will be a great asset to that child’s healthy physical development and mental health.
The changing role of the modern day father
For a very long time, the intact family was the only ‘good’ way to be considered a family in society. The shame brought on families by nonmarital childbearing, not being able to conceive, or by restructuring the family, forced many people to stay in relationships they weren’t happy in.
Fortunately, that has changed. Today, most people look for their own happiness, even if that means separating from their partners, becoming a lone parent, or adopting children.
Of course, when children’s wellbeing is at stake we worry more but, as society develops, we understand children’s wellbeing depends just as much on the mental health of their parents as it does on keeping up social appearances.
Most people who decide to become parents with their partners do it believing their relationship will last and they’ll raise their children together. However, we know this isn’t always the case and family structures are constantly changing.
Being a good father (or a stepfather) depends much more on your capacity to be empathetic and your paternal involvement than on your relationship status.
How your father influences your development
Fathers play a very important role in child development. The more involved fathers and mothers are in a child’s care, the better the child’s mental and emotional development.
We don’t need studies to tell us that a father who had an active role in his kid’s upbringing made a huge difference to that child’s development.
Fathers who are actively involved in their children’s lives will dedicate time to them, play with them, get involved with their children’s interests, listen to them, and support and uplift them.
In terms of child-rearing, being a good role model for our children is the best thing each one of us can do.
Children learn from our behavior much more than from what we tell them.
Telling children how they should behave when we don’t behave in that way ourselves will negatively affect their behavior in many different ways.
First, there will be increased frustration in the parent-child relationship, because the child won’t adopt the expected behavior.
Then the child’s disappointment in the parent will grow, because the child will see there is no consistency between what the parent says and does.
The child will see this inconsistency as a form of lying (which, in fact, it is). It can also lead the child to believe that during childhood you must always do as you’re told and never question authority, even when that authority’s behavior isn’t making a lot of sense.
It can also confuse a child into believing that what’s not acceptable during childhood is perfectly okay to do in adulthood.
Importance of an involved father to the mother
Try to put yourself in the shoes of the mothers around you, such as your sister, your own mother, or a friend.
How do you think the involvement of the father of her children affects her life?
It’s not difficult to see how much easier these women’s lives are the more involved the fathers are in their children’s care.
A woman who feels well supported by her partner will be a much better mother, and also a happier person and partner.
Most of the time, becoming parents is a mutual and meditated decision. Many women wouldn’t agree to it if their partners’ involvement in their children’s upbringing wasn’t ideal.
The harm an absent father can do to his children and his partner, and to himself, is quite substantial.
The time where a woman just took all the weight of the family on her shoulders, while taking good care of her partner as though he were another child, is well in the past.
Women today want to raise a family in partnership and with the help of the other adult in the family. Believing your partner will simply stay by your side when you don’t take your share of parental responsibilities won’t take you anywhere nice.
Being in a healthy relationship is a shared responsibility between all parties.
Being an involved father and a supportive partner will bring lots of joy to your life.