Not long ago, the picture of fatherhood focused on a father and son throwing a baseball in the backyard. Today, that view has widened and deepened. Expectant fathers actively support their partners through pregnancy, and new fathers are hands-on from the day their child is born. As daddy-and-me time gains popularity, the research and reasoning behind it broaden. Here, professionals and a Lake Norman-area father share their insight on the special bond between father and child.
From the startIn the early days of a child’s life, many fathers feel their role is one of secondary support. This couldn’t be further from the truth. From the start, babies can greatly benefit from kangaroo care, named after the way kangaroos carry their infants close to them in their pouch, and fathers should be directly involved in it.
“Kangaroo care is a diapered baby being held tummy down on the bare chest of his mom or dad with a blanket covering him,” explains Gretta Blythe, manager of Lactation Services for Presbyterian Hospital.
Research shows that six hours of kangaroo care a day for an infant’s first four to six weeks has dramatic positive effects on both the baby and his or her parents. Babies who receive kangaroo care breastfeed 50 percent longer, cry 10 times less and for shorter periods, smile more often, have better brain development, stabilize their heart and lungs more quickly, have their nervous system and metabolic functions stimulated, have fewer infections, become socially engaged with their parents earlier and sleep more restfully.
“If dad has 30 minutes throughout the day where he can lay down and put his baby skin-to-skin, it’s a huge help for mom and the baby. In fact, the more time he can do it, the more time he has to get comfortable with and learn about his baby,” says Blythe.
This time shared between baby and dad isn’t just good for the baby’s well-being. While it enhances relaxation and decreases anxiety for dad, the most significant outcome, long-term, is that bonding and attachment between father and child are significantly enhanced.
Meet the need Building that bonding and attachment is just what Dr. Lillian Ferdinands, a pediatrician with Huntersville Pediatrics and Internal Medicine who has an interest in adoption medicine, stresses to families who are preparing to bring home their newly adopted baby or toddler.
“Bonding and attachment are not a single word. Bonding is the link between a child and caretaker. Every time you, as a caretaker, meet your child’s needs, you are establishing that initial bond with him. Over time, you attach with him. When children go through separation anxiety, it is because they know that their parents are who meet their needs. You attach to the person who maintains your trust.”
Since not all adoptions, especially international, happen at birth, the transition period can be difficult as the child separates from the caregiver he has known, gets to know his parents and the parents establish a pattern of meeting a child’s needs.
“Throw away the idea of spoiling a child when you adopt. When a baby cries, he is telling you there is a need. Meet that need. Over time and time again of doing that, attachment happens,” she explains. This advice means that parents should be the primary caregivers – providing all the diaper changings and feedings, for example – for the child during at least the first month the child is home.
Some fathers initially shy away if their child shows anxiety about being around a male; this can often be seen in international adoptions where most care center caregivers are women. Despite the anxiety, fathers should stay close and engaged for their sake and their child’s.
“Meet the child where she is and then move ahead. Hold her close during feeding time, work on eye contact, coo and smile with her, play games, carry her in a sling or baby carrier to build that connection. Dad just needs to commit to it and to feeling comfortable in it. We need both parents to nurture us into being a successful adult. It is important for little girls to have a healthy male relationship and important for boys to have a healthy male role model,” Ferdinands says.
Keep going Maintaining that healthy relationship over time is just what the Y-Guides program, sponsored by the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, helps fathers do. For children ages 5 and over and their fathers, Y-Guides provides monthly activities that are meant to help children build positive relationships, develop life skills and become leaders.
Organized by small-group tribes, regular activities include games, crafts and local field trips. The highlight of each season includes Longhouse weekends where tribes go to a YMCA camp and enjoy outdoor adventures.
“The Longhouse weekend is a time when the phones are off, and you are focused just on your child,” says Bobby Cashion of Davidson, who enjoys the Lake Norman YMCA’s Y-Guides program with both his 8-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son. Cashion recalls a trip where he asked his daughter why she wasn’t playing with the other children.
“She said, ‘Daddy, you work all the time. I never get to see you, and I just want to spend time with you.’ That hit hard. You have kids, you get busy with life and sometimes you just need to get unbusy with life and focus on each other, and Y-Guides is a platform to allow you to do that.”
Cashion feels the Y-Guides program gives him a deliberate opportunity to engage with his children one-on-one, away from their other sibling and mom, and he relishes that time with each of them.
“Having a father involved increases their self-esteem. If I can let my daughter and son know that I care for them, they are in a better starting place.”
For more information- To see a video on kangaroo care, go to www.presbyterian.org/site/autoforwards/other_novant_sites/kangaroo_care_video.html.
- On attachment and adoption, read Toddler Adoption: The Weaver’s Craft by Mary Hopkins-Best and The Connected Child: Bringing Hope and Healing to Your Adoptive Family by Karyn Purvis, David Cross, and Wendy Sunshine.
- On the Y-Guide program, visit www.yguides.org.