The father’s role in the family

The expectations of the mother and father and their different roles were in western culture dichotomous where mothers and fathers had clear tasks and responsibilities. While mothers’ primary duties were children and household, fathers were to be the breadwinner. Today the roles have expanded beyond yesterdays expectations, and often both parents are working and fathers today are expected to be more present in their children’s lives.

Interaction with children can be divided into three categories:
- contact,
- being available and
- taking responsibility for organizing everything around the child (like childcare, buying new clothes, dentist appointments, etc.)

Even though fathers have taken a step into the household and being a more present father research shows that mothers interact more than fathers and take most of the responsibility for organizing everything around the child.
While this might seem to confirm what many people think about mothers and fathers, there are perspectives that haven’t been in the spotlight as much. 
Some view fathers as less competent as parents compared to mothers. It is often assumed that the mother is the primary figure in the child’s life and that is often also true but perhaps not for the reason some might think. Mothers and fathers are children of their time, and they grow up with the culture that put different expectations on mothers and fathers; what they should do, how to act and what responsibility to take in family life. This is not seldom also manifested in different ways between the parents themselves.

When my husband and I became parents my husband went to work while I stayed at home caring for our son. I spent all my time with him, got to know him in ways my husband couldn’t and we created routines on how to do things. Since this worked for me, I was convinced this was the right way to do things. When our son needed comfort, he reached out for me. For us, it stated as proof that I was doing it right, ignoring the fact that I had become the primary caregiver. Not because I was better or doing it more right though, but simply because I had spent more time with our son.

Since our son was reaching for me and was happy the way we used to do things, I started giving orders on how to do things around our son diminishing the opportunity for my husband and my son to bond and create a relationship of their own. The opportunity I was given to bond, I robbed them. At the time I thought I was doing them a favor and doing what was best for our son. I didn’t want him to scream and be upset completely forgetting that we went through all of that too when my son and I was in the process of getting to know each other.

My dictating and taking our son from my husband was not beneficial to anyone. I robbed my husband’s and my son’s opportunity to bond, I took away my son’s authentic relationship to his father who wanted to be there, I imprisoned myself by making everyone dependent on me, and it caused fractions between my husband and me.

My husband finally told me in an argument that I’m not perfect and my way to do things is not the only way. I had to take a good look at myself and how I’ve been acting and how it affected us all. I took a step back and bit my tongue many times before I realized my way to do things really wasn’t the only way. My husband and son went on a journey of trial and error of their own and found their way of interacting which is different from the way my son and I interact.

Fathers are often told and portrayed in more or less direct ways that they are less competent at parenting compared to mothers, that mothers are the primary caregivers, that fathers don’t take responsibility for their children and that fathers aren’t as important to their children as mothers. If this is the collective truth about their role, it is also not strange that this is the reality we live in. Most people want a change; mothers want more equality in the household and fathers want to be part of the family life. So why do we keep feeding this “truth” that isn’t serving anyone?

Being a good parent has nothing to do with gender, it’s all about time and effort.

It takes time to change roles, and just like when it comes to any major changes in society, a majority need to participate. In many discussions about fathers and their lesser involvement in the family and household, it’s often highlighted that fathers need to take their responsibility. While that is true, mothers also need to loosen their reins, trust fathers to be good parents and not expect fathers to be in a certain way and to do everything as mothers do. Mothers also need to stop reinforcing the negative picture of fathers, by not talking about fathers in ways that strengthen this view. We also need to be clear on what kind of changes we as mothers want in the family life, have a look at ourselves and our part of this, and understand that fathers struggle too. It is hard to be a mother, but it is hard to be a father as well, just not necessarily in ways mothers expect or experience. For example, leaving your children when going to work and thereby missing the opportunity to bond, and not knowing what to do or how to behave in different situations due to colliding expectations in our evolving society.

Fathers have shown that when taking care of their infants’, they are just as sensitive to the baby’s signals as the mother. Fathers are also as competent in taking care of their school-aged children as mothers. Research shows that fathers are just as good as mothers at parenting as long as they are given the same amount of time and space as most mothers to develop their parenting. So, what are we really waiting for?