A exact role of fathers in the

A child’s well-being and mental
health, especially emotional and social development depend on the nature of
parenting received during the early years. Most literature on this topic has
studied the role of maternal influences, while very few have looked at the
contribution fathers have on the development of the child (Cookston,2006).
In traditional society, fathers’ role was supposed to be mainly that of a
patriarch, provider and a moral teacher while the mother was meant to be the
nurturer and carer. Substantial work clarifying the exact role of fathers in
the child’s life has received attention only recently. Most studies theorize
the involvement of fathers as unidimensional, paying attention to one construct
of fatherhood like father-child interaction, direct engagement in childcare or
being a resident father. Though recent research has grasped that fatherhood is
a complex multidimensional construct involving interaction, attitude and
financial provision, more attention needs to be given to the topic (Opondo,2017).
Evidence of early parenting effects on later development of children and
changing family dynamics, have resulted in focusing attention on understanding
the nature and effects of paternal involvement on health, cognitive and
socio-emotional development of children. Suggestions from these studies will
help policy makers undertake more informed decisions regarding the importance
and length of paternity leaves and other policies aimed at family health and
well-being. The following essay will look at theories on parental involvement
and attachment in children, studies related to the development of children in
relation to paternal role in child rearing, and intervention techniques for the
same.

John Bowlby developed one of the
most influential theories in Psychology, the Attachment theory, in 1950’s after
his work with emotionally disturbed children. Attachment was defined by him as
the tie between an individual and an attachment figure (Prior,2006)
. Here ‘the individual’ refers to an infant and the ‘attachment figure’ a
primary caretaker. Bowlby theorized that infants have a primary need for
maternal love and deprivation of this need has disastrous long-term effects on
the child’s attachments and emotional development (Vicedo,2011).
According to the attachment theory, the early bonds formed by an infant with a
primary caretaker, the mother, provide a sense of foundation and security and
have effects that continue throughout life. The presence of a non-responsive or
periodically absent mother in the first 2 years of a child’s life can cause
irregular attachments, negative social development, decline in intelligence,
depression, aggression and can even lead to delinquent behaviour in the future (Anonymous 1983; Bowlby, 1991). Bowlby (1958) proposed an evolutionary model of the attachment
theory, which believed children had an innate need for seeking proximity in the
face of threat, insecurity, stress or need. Children are biologically
programmed to form associations with the provider of security and care. However,
it was Mary Ainsworth (1913-1999) who not only provided an extensive and famous
body of research but also developed the first empirical evidence for the
attachment theory. She developed the strange situation procedure to determine
the different attachment styles between infants and mothers (Ainsworth, 1970).
Ainsworth (1978) observed that three main patterns of attachment styles in
infants namely, secure, insecure avoidant and insecure ambivalent/resistant
develop through early interactions with the mother and the level of maternal
sensitivity displayed. While secure attachments led to a positive working model
of self, avoidant attachments led to children feeling unloved and rejected even
in future relations and ambivalent attachments led to attention seeking
behaviour in later stages of life. While Bowlby and Ainsworth considered innate
need for security and maternal sensitivity as the basis of attachment
formation, biological theory of attachment on the other hand recognized forming
associations as a learned behaviour with the basis of attachment in the
provision of food. The theory proposed that infants associated the feeder with
the comfort of food and through the process of classical conditioning found
comfort in the presence of the feeder who usually is the mother (Gross, 1951).
Though both the theories gave opposing explanations for the formation of
attachment, they emphasized on the benefits of secure early attachments on
socio-emotional development in infants and both stress on the importance of attachments
with the mother as a primary caretaker.

The fact that humans are social
animals and show wide psychological adaptations to social situations
interrogates whether historically infants were nursed and raised solely by the
mothers or did she receive help from other members of the group (Ahnert, 2005).
Hrdy (2016) believed that it was collective care that enabled our
hunter-gatherer ancestors to rear the infants and explore different habitats at
the same time. This cooperative caregiving towards non- biologically related
infants is also termed alloparenting, derived from the Greek word ‘allo’ which
means ‘other’ and Latin roots ‘parens’ which means parents (Bentley, 2009).
The attachment theory which prefers a single caretaker model is considered an
aberration from the more traditional methods of alloparenting (Ahnert, 2005).  Alloparenting in a nutshell involves
cooperative breeding by biological and non-biological ‘helpers’. Along with
humans, alloparenting is a common phenomenon in various species like birds,
geese, fish and particularly primates. As infants are altricial at birth,
support from kin and non-kin alloparents is necessary for the survival of the
human species. Historically, it has set the foundation of dependency on others
for many years initiating steady development leading to functionally modern
people with bigger brains (Hrdy, 2011).
Most studies on alloparenting are conducted with the Aka foraging group as they
display high levels of alloparental caregiving and stress on gender and
intergenerational equality, have minimal political hierarchy with limited
status positions (Meehan, 2005).
Though the mother receives support from kin and non-kin helpers, the focus is
on males, older adults and siblings. In avian studies, where cooperative
breeding studies originated, the help of males was mainly considered to be
paternal. However, over time as testing paternity became possible it was
established that male helpers were not only biological fathers but also other
members of the kin. Although male investment in childrearing is unusual or constrained
in animal and humans, it is common in cooperative breeding species and
alloparenting kin like the Aka foragers (Kramer, 2010).
Although attachment theory concentrated on the importance of mother child
dyadic relationship; biologists, anthropologists and even developmental
psychologists were critical of this viewpoint maintaining that humans grow up
in complex, varied social groups and that infants develop relationships with
fathers, siblings and other family members which help shape growth and
relationships even beyond infancy (Lamb, 2005; Lamb, 1978). It is hence important to consider the effect other relationships
have on child development. This essay will concentrate on paternal influence
and its effect.

Over the past decade, an
increasing body of work has concentrated on the importance of father-child
relationship rather than mother-child relations. An integrative review of 12
studies on the impact of skin-to-skin contact (SSC) by fathers on infants and
paternal outcomes revealed that paternal SSC has a positive effect on infants.
They were easily comforted, stopped crying within 15 minutes, reached drowsy
state earlier, were calmer and pre-feeding behaviours like rooting and sucking
were less frequent as compared to infants who were on a cot or received SSC
only by the mother (Shorey,
2016). Another study which
examined the link between paternal involvement and infant cognitive outcomes
suggested that paternal involvement in physical care, cognitively stimulating
and caregiving activities, and warmth led to lower delays in achievement of
cognitive milestones. This positive effect is more pronounced in males in
comparison to females and in children with special needs (Bronte-Tinkew, 2008). Lipscomb (2011) in her paper on strategies to improve fathers’
involvement with their children’s development and academic achievement stated
that fathers’ who contributed to minimum 40 percent of childcare tasks were
responsible for higher academic achievement and empathy in their pre-schooled
children. Another study on African American adolescent males revealed that
lower levels of depression, anxiety and greater life satisfaction was
associated with higher emotional support from their fathers (Zimmerman, 1998). A
longitudinal study which aimed to study the effect of father-child interaction
on cognitive development of infants at 24 months, examined the interactions at
3 months and 24 months. The study found that 3-month-old children of fathers with
remote or depressive behaviour, displayed poorer cognitive competence assessed through
lower Mental Development Index (MDI). The reason for this can be attributed to
the fact that remote fathers are less likely to communicate verbally or non-verbally
with the infants. Considering that language and symbolic development is most
rapid in the first year, withdrawn communication provides a less stimulating
social environment affecting the social learning experience of infants. By 24
months it was observed that more paternal engagement during free-play led to
higher MDI scores. This is related to social learning process where positive
interaction leads to positive social sharing of information which in turn accelerates
cognitive abilities. Sensitive, calm and supportive behaviour was also related
to higher MDI scores which affirms that controlling or conflicting interactions
obstruct exploration and acquisition of new knowledge (Sethna, 2017). Boyce et
al. (2006) conducted a research to understand if fathers’ involvement in the
early years controls biobehavioural susceptibility to mental health problems in
middle childhood. The results of the study indicated that scarcity of paternal
care during infancy was significantly linked to greater sensitivity to social
contexts leading to higher mental health symptom severity by the third grade.

The studies quoted above clearly
confirm the importance of father-child interaction for progress right from
infancy to adolescence. It is hence imperative to increase paternal involvement
in child rearing for better cognitive as well as social development of the
child. Apart from the numerous studies done highlighting the importance of
greater paternal involvement in child-rearing, changes must be made on a larger
scale to encourage this transformation. Historically, infant care has been
regarded as a private family affair but with more parents engaged in the
workforce which involve laws concerning return to the workplace after
childbirth, the onus of childrearing has been shifted onto the government and
policymakers (O’Brien,
2009). Few countries are
changing their parental leave policies to accommodate the current need for dual
child carers. Quebec, in Canada introduced a Parental Insurance Plan in 2006
which comprised of higher benefit rates, five-week non-transferable paternity
leave and no unpaid waiting period. The outcome of this plan was the increase
in proportion of eligible fathers claiming these benefits to 56% in 2006 from a
mere 32% in 2005. The evolving leave policies and increase in the number
of claimers of these policies indicate the ongoing social change of families
becoming dual-carers (Marshall,
2008). Though
89% men take a leave after the birth of the child, it is most often for a week
or less (Nepomnyaschy,
2007). The
economist (2015, p.54) published a review of a survey done by the OECD
(Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) on the longitudinal
studies related to children born in the 2000s from America, Australia, Denmark
and Britain. The review showed that in Denmark 90% fathers took a paternity
leave for minimum 2 weeks whereas within American fathers who are not privy to
paternity leave, two-thirds resumed work within a fortnight. The survey pointed
out that 50% of men who took paternity leave not only carried out childrearing
activities but also continued engaging in them for two years and more. Along
with childrearing activities, paternity leaves also influenced better
educational interaction in the future. British men who took paternity leave in
comparison to those who did not, were almost a third more likely to read books
to their children while in America, this difference was nearly a half. The OECD
also found that even dedicated men who attended antenatal classes and were
present at childbirth did not get completely involved in child-rearing if they
failed to take a paternity leave. This proves that paternity leave and not just
dedication is accountable for increased involvement in child-rearing. Haas and
Hwang (2008) conducted a study in Sweden to study the impact of parental leave
on fathers’ participation in childcare. Sweden was the first country to grant
equal access to paid parental leave through its social policy in 1974. Results from
the study showed that the number of days of leaves taken and not just taking
them, positively affected five out of nine aspects of child rearing, including
solo responsibility of children when the mothers worked, quality time with them
and carrying specific childcare tasks. The number of leaves taken also depended
on the employment status of the mother and general views about fatherhood held
by the men. Men are more likely to take a leave if the woman too is employed.
Social policies like non-transferable parental leaves and paid paternity leaves
with higher compensation levels may compel fathers to take more leaves and
encourage more sharing of childcare activities. These policies may not
significantly reduce gender differences at workplace and at home, nonetheless they
may convince individuals about rights and benefits of equal distribution of
employment and parenthood. Though paternity leave policy is a reality in a
handful countries, most of these, excluding the Norwegian countries, offer
unpaid leave. The financial burden of an unpaid leave discourages most men from
taking them (Nepomnyaschy,
2007). Hence,
it is imperative for governments across the globe to make paternity leaves a
reality for everybody and not just the financially capable.

The last ten years have seen an influx of enormous
literature regarding the importance father-child relationship in the early
years and the effect of paternal involvement in infant rearing on child
development. While attachment theory regarded maternal participation as the
most important for children, it was alloparenting that focused on the importance
of kin and non-kin relationships during infancy. Lamb (2005) stressed on the
importance of fatherhood. Early involvement of men in childcare has a positive
influence on not only cognitive development but also on the mental health and
life satisfaction of children in the later years. The effect of constructive
paternal involvement has been seen right from infancy to adolescence and
beyond. Despite the vast literature available, fathers’ participation in
childrearing is little. Research mentioned above demonstrates that this can be
attributed to factors like financial responsibilities, employment status of
both parents, personal views about fatherhood, and workplace policies regarding
paternal leave. Absence of parental leave, unpaid paternity leave and
transferable leaves still put the onus of childcare onto the mother. To be able
to make a difference on a larger scale, policy change is of utmost importance.
Norwegian countries, especially Sweden has paved the pathway towards better
family policies and their importance. Longer parental leave, paid and
nontransferable paternity leave will encourage men to participate more in
childcare and may even lead to attitude change regarding childcare and
fatherhood in the future. As paternal involvement in child development is
deemed critical, it is necessary for policymakers worldwide to promote the same
and introduce policies to inspire families, especially men to participate more
in infant rearing.