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Strong fathers, strong families

International Day of Families – 15 May 2008
Fathers have an important, constructive role to play in families and the development of their children

© UNICEF/2006/Nadchatram
When fathers are involved, their children learn more, perform better in school, and exhibit healthier behavior. It also develops a child’s confidence to solve problems.

KUALA LUMPUR, 5 May 2008 – Fathers have an important, constructive role to play in families, particularly in their children’s development. While past research on family well-being tended to focus mainly on the links between mothers and children, there has been an increased interest during the past two decades in the role of fathers, especially in view of the changing dynamics of families globally.

According to UNICEF Malaysia Representative, Mr. Youssouf Oomar, the roles and responsibilities of fathers with respect to their children has changed over time in many families and cultures.

“In many societies, the traditional responsibilities and role of the father were that of moral teacher, disciplinarian, male role model and breadwinner”, said Mr. Youssouf. “Fathers exhibited a strong presence in family life, though not necessarily through direct or heavy involvement in childrearing”

“However, with the continuing shift from extended families to more nuclear families, both parents are taking on a more direct role in childrearing, and the influence of fathers on their children takes on added significance”, he added.

Positive fatherhood

This year’s International Day of Families observed globally on 15 May each year underscores this direction in addressing children’s development. Themed “Fathers and Families: Responsibilities and Challenges”, the event aims to foster a positive environment for fatherhood, both within families and within society, and to construct and implement father-friendly social and family policies to assist fathers to meet the many challenges of fatherhood.

The internationally recognised importance of gender equality and an increased number of women, including mothers, participating in the labour force have also brought about changes in the expected responsibilities of men and fathers. In many cultures, there is now an increased emphasis on the father as co-parent, fully involved and actively participating in both the emotional and practical day-to-day aspects of childrearing.

Research shows that children perform better academically, have fewer discipline problems, and become more responsible adults when both their mothers and fathers are actively involved in their learning and development.

Fathers who are engaged in their children lives can demonstrate that male adults can take responsibility, help to establish appropriate conduct, and provide a daily example of how to deal with life, and the importance of achievement and productivity. If they have an active religious or spiritual life, fathers, like mothers, can serve as models in that area as well. A fathers’ involvement also seem to encourage children’s exploration of the world around them and confidence in their ability to solve problems.

Challenges for direct fatherhood

While the expectations of direct fatherhood in parenting have changed over time, the challenges to fathers, as well as to society, remain as strong as ever.

One of the largest of challenges is the absence of fathers from the family. Fathers may be absent physically, emotionally or both. They may also be absent economically, not providing financial support, such as child-support payments, despite having the means to do so. All of these forms of absence are more likely in families where fathers no longer reside.

With growing rates of divorce particularly in developed countries and rising labour migration particularly from developing countries, men are more likely than ever before to live separately from their families and children. Today, more and more children live in one-parent households, usually headed by women.

An added dimension and challenge to families and society is when fathers themselves are the source of violence or sexual abuse within the family, leaving their spouses and children with profound physical and emotional scars. With a growing number of married women living with HIV, more often than not infected by their husbands, another challenge is to ensure that fathers are equipped with both a sense of familial responsibility as well as with the information, services and tools required to protect themselves and their loved ones from the virus.

Supportive policies for involved fatherhood

Social policy and programs have a vital role to play in these situations through the education of family members, educators and healthcare workers to the signs of abuse; as well as the provision of healthcare, physical and legal protection to vulnerable family members stressed Mr. Youssouf.

“Policies supporting fathers should aim at removing barriers to paternal involvement and at being supportive of enhancing fathers’ constructive role, carried out in the context of a broader family policy. Rather than demonising a situation, we need to attack the root causes of a problem and put in place effective mechanisms that help ensure a father’s more positive role in their children and families well-being”, he said.

Involved fatherhood should be promoted early on through father-inclusive practices in health, education and family services. Fathers have a positive and healthy role to play in families. Policies to support fatherhood can include education programs for fathers, father-friendly work-related policies as well as legal policies which do not establish unnecessary barriers to paternal involvement with their children especially in the case of divorce.

Nurturing happy healthy children

Fathers, no matter what their income or cultural background, can play a critical role in their children’s education and development. When fathers are involved, their children learn more, perform better in school, and exhibit healthier behavior. Even when fathers do not share a home with their children, their active and constructive involvement can have a lasting and positive impact.

“Fathers can be at their best as parents when they are highly motivated. Fathers contribute to increased mental dexterity in children, increased empathy, less stereotyped sex-role beliefs and greater self-control,” added Mr. Oomar. “Strong fathers make strong families and children!”

 

 
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