The importance of Fatherhood
Almost a quarter of South African families are headed up by single mothers – and that percentage is even higher among poor families. While some dads are more involved in parenting their children than ever before, the stark reality is that an increasing number of men are fathers in the biological sense only.
Paddling father

Present at conception, they flee at birth or soon after, leaving women literally holding the baby. Absent fathers are more common in societies, like South Africa, with high rates of male and female promiscuity, leading in turn to many “maternal families”, where the children share a common mother, but not a common father. So how do we ensure that biological fathers stick around to raise their children, and why is it important?

A good start is to ensure that before there is a baby there is a couple – strong, secure, committed, loving and faithful. Babies do not heal or strengthen relationships – they make demands on parents; if the parents were not already a unit, there will be even greater conflict between them. A baby can enrich an already good relationship, but it cannot create a good relationship.

Unlike mothers whose role in the baby’s life is automatic and taken for granted, men often feel excluded during pregnancy and after the baby is born, unless moms consciously make a space for the new father and baby to get to know each other and to bond without interference, or instructions about the “right” way to do things. Including the father starts from the moment of wanting and conceiving your baby.

Invite him to parent with you, making him a co-partner in decisions about names, expenses and where baby will be born. Let him in from day one, sharing what you have learnt about your baby and allowing him to develop special time or a task with his child. Some dads like to do bath-time, others the evening feed and some dads describe how they love the quiet of getting up at night to the baby. It is their time with their child, with you sleeping soundly.

Try to keep the financial demands limited and share the responsibility for the finances even if you are not working. Financial strain can be overwhelming for new dads who take their responsibilities seriously. In the same way that you may need support as a new mom, help him grow as a dad. He needs to feel proud of himself and his baby; he needs a space to voice his doubts and fears about coping with fatherhood. He needs to be able to talk about his fears and hopes during your pregnancy.

Having a partner who is an involved father is important for both mother and baby. Being alone with a new baby for long periods can be very demanding and tiring. Fathers can give mothers a break, bringing in new energy and helping with the housework. Also, loving parents model a cooperative couple and this helps children learn about working together with other human beings and developing healthy, intimate relationships. Each parent brings different skills and values to the task of parenting.

Mothers are usually more nurturing and good for comforting baby, while fathers are often more fun to play with and bring a boisterous energy that babies love. If parents work as a team, it is enormously beneficial to have a partner to consult and decide with about the parenting decisions you have to make, such as the child’s health and education and discipline. Two parents can support each other, generating the emotional energy and physical stamina to cope with the demands of parenting. By Gael Beckett

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