There is numerous literature and research around the importance of a healthy attachment between mother and baby in the first few years of a child’s life. Publications and media in general consistently refer to ‘mother and child’ and the bond that is so very important in those crucial first few years. Anyone who learns about attachment theory, or understands the importance of a healthy attachment can attest to the research behind it, and the resultant problems that occur if this relationship is fractured in some way. However, what is not publicised of equal importance is the role Dads play in the healthy development of their children – and in particular their set of skills they can add to the mix in contrast to the skills offered by a competent mother. Too often, a father is seen as the second-best option in raising their children, rather than an equal, but different, option. Dad’s offer things to their children Mum’s cannot. Mum’s offer things that Dad’s cannot. Surely by having the best of both, the child is exposed to a cocktail of experiences and skills from which to form impressions of their world around them.
Today was our day to have everyone at home. I say this in almost a celebratory manner, as given the busy nature of our lives, Sundays are so precious in our household. Add to that a rainy day we found ourselves spending more time together in closer confines than we have done in the past few weeks. While this could sound nightmarish for some (children + rain + full household), it allowed me the opportunity to really appreciate the kind of father my children are privileged to have. Today we ‘tag-teamed’ so that the children had the best of us throughout the day. This is not to say it was a day filled with roses and butterflies. There were moments in the day when we all took our various corners for some individual ‘me’ time. But in the moments when we all came together, the laughter and relationship building that occurred was fantastic.
Typically, my role of Mum is to ensure everyone is fed, watered, cleaned and schooled. I ensure routines are in place and adhered to. I monitor intake of healthy foods. I remind of manners and walking in the house and tidying bedrooms. I do baking with, colouring alongside, singing and dancing in the lounge. I enforce homework and sign permission slips. I paint toenails and brush hair. I administer first aid, cheer on sidelines and give cuddles and kisses throughout the day. This role is hard-work and often a thankless job. It also demonstrates one side of life for my children. But not a completeness that is needed for their total well-being and development.
Today, after having their showers, my husband and I were drying the kids in the lounge by the fire. As usual, I was on drying and dressing duty. Dad was on transportation. This involved wrapping said child in four corners of the towel and ‘helicoptering’ the child to Mum, the dryer/dresser. Amidst squeals of delight, said child arrived ready for pyjamas. As one child was dressed, Dad was then on hand to facilitate the helicoptering of said child in flying circuits through the dining room and kitchen. As the second child was dressed, pleads to be included ensued. Muscles were starting to feel the strain, so the helicoptering was then changed to ‘astronaut jumping’. This involved Dad assisting the ‘astronaut’ to bounce high, as if they were walking on the moon, from floor to dining table (shock horror feigned by Mum), from dining table to wall……run along the middle of the wall to then ‘bounce’ through the kitchen……flip off the bench-top and land safely on the earth again. The laughter was simply contagious. Multiple requests to astronaut jump continued, until Mum had to intercept suggesting Dad really was pooped. Distraction into a clean-up before dinner was successful and the celestial activities were put to rest for the night.
What child would not want this experience with their father? And I happily admit, this is not something I could easily offer my children in their father’s absence. Watching this tonight made me consider the large number of solo-parent families who are not in a position to be able to offer these experiences for their children for various reasons. Yes, there are many Dad’s out there who do not take up their responsibilities at the point of conception and fail to appear in their children’s lives. That is a topic for an entirely different blog. There are many separated families existing, however, at the control of the mother. At the point of separation, for most, it is assumed that the children will continue to live in their mother’s care. What is up for negotiation is the amount and type of contact the father will have in the future with their children. There are many mothers who do not value the tremendous contribution their ex-partner can play in their children’s lives. They invariably get caught up in their own ‘stuff’ that they limit their children’s opportunity to experience the best of both their parents. The children become a commodity from which the mother can trade from. Children can’t exist on fortnightly weekend visits, or once-a-month arrangements. Furthermore, the relationship a child has with a step-father cannot, ever, be assumed to be the same than that of their relationship with their biological father (providing the relationship was a healthy, happy one prior to separation).
At the end of the day, a child needs to be able to feel secure in having a relationship with both their parents. If this means that, despite the relationship break-down between husband and wife, mother and father continue to work together on a daily or weekly basis to parent their children, then this is what needs to occur. From a child’s perspective, they need both parents in their lives in order to have all their developmental needs met. Children need a cleaner, cook, taxi-driver, homework enforcer and nurse offering cuddles when (and sometimes when not) required. But they also need an ally in war games, pilot in flying, muscle to be lifted up high and above all else……..the experience of astronaut jumping. Feeling the lack of gravity while held firmly in their daddy’s arms. Childhood at its best.