There are many fathers who face tremendous challenges – within themselves and society – when they try to connect with their families. A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of presenting at the “Engaging Fathers” conference in Seattle, Washington. The goal of the conference was to bring awareness and find solutions to help fathers engage with their families. It was encouraging and inspiring to see so many people in the social services field (case workers, social workers, family advocates, etc.) who were interested in this topic.
The majority of programs and services that are in place for “families” tend to be mother-centric. That is, the majority of social services are focused mostly on helping women in their role as mothers. However, there are few services focused on supporting dads.
How can we help fathers be more engaged?
The question, then, is how do we help men succeed in their role as fathers? What are some of the factors we need to address in order to help men engage more with their children and families? These were two of the questions I wanted to answer in my presentation. Here are a few points that I mentioned in my talk, which are based on the experiences of fathers and those who work with them.
- Employment plays a large part in a man’s identity. Whether a man sees himself as a ‘successful’ dad or ‘unsuccessful’ dad is largely dependent on whether he feels employable or not. Dads who are employed are more likely to be engaged in their families.
- The child’s mother helps shape the child’s dad. The mother has a tremendous influence on whether the father sees himself as being competent or incompetent. If she praises his efforts, he is more likely to be engaged in parenting.
- Personal qualities go a long way to connecting with children. It’s important for fathers to be warm, open, and nonjudgmental. These qualities facilitate the connection between fathers and children.
- Dads connect with children differently than moms. Fathers’ attachment with their children typically takes longer than it does for mothers. Fathers will want to ‘fix’ while mothers will want to ‘soothe.’
- Disengaged fathers often lack positive male role-models in their life. One of the fathers at the conference said that one of the toughest barriers he encountered to being a good father was finding a role-model that he could look up to for advice. Almost half of all dis-engaged fathers did not have a father in their life. Being a ‘father-figure’ to other young boys can make a tremendous influence in their life – more than we can ever imagine.
Although there are many men who are disengaged from the lives of their children, many of these are dealing with the barriers identified above. By recognizing these barriers, and by having more father-inclusive programs and services in our communities, there is potential for a tremendous positive impact on the lives of many youth and families.
Hoping this piece of psychology helps you to recognize some of the positive men and fathers in your life….