Thoughts About Fatherhood and Father’s Day in the #Metoo Era

The #metoo movement has the potential to promote a profound cultural shift.

Posted May 29, 2019

A father’s responsiveness to his children and his emotional availability are key characteristics that facilitate children’s development. Children whose fathers participate in the emotional side of parenting (e.g., comforting) have higher self-esteem than children whose fathers are less involved. It is not appropriate to say “emotions are only for and from mom and action and activity are only for and from dad.”

Child rearing in our culture involves helping the child develop more autonomously and become more self-assertive. These attributes are promoted by a father who provides approval and recognition of the child in early childhood. In fact, paternal involvement seems to predict adult adjustment better than in situations where there is only maternal involvement.

With sons, fathers can imagine back to their own boyhood and imagine the child’s future experience. In contrast, fathers relate to daughters in more complex ways. They may have a hard time imagining how their daughters will turn out since they have no personal experience with knowing how it feels to be a growing girl.

It is crucial to note, however, that children of both sexes identify with both parents. A feminine young girl and a masculine little boy will incorporate aspects of both parents into their own personality. A father should be able to communicate to both his sons and daughters that they can become like him. Unquestionably, fathers can help their children develop a sense of competence, security, and self-control. There are two poles that fathers should try to avoid: the pole of detachment, leaving all child-rearing issues to mom; and the pole of pushiness, over-demandingness, and intrusiveness.

Differences between Mothers and Fathers

“Only women can get pregnant and bear babies.” This obvious fact is a result of a woman’s anatomy. However, the statement “Therefore, a woman should be the primary nurturer of her children” is a result of a combination of biological factors (mainly, hormonal influences on the brain and the body), individual differences, and the cultural expectations that child rearing is an activity that should be done by women. Although child-rearing is, thus, often labeled as a feminine activity, its roots are very complicated.

Why are stark differences between mothers and fathers so ingrained in so many people? There are biological, psychological, and sociological reasons as to why, so often, only mothers take full charge of their children and fathers either feel left out, exclude themselves from child-rearing, or are excluded from the tight bond that develops between a mother and infant. In many situations, fathers are considered to be, by both mother and baby, as someone from the “outside.”

Assertion versus Aggression

In patriarchal families or cultures, the father can be seen as forbidding and restraining and is viewed as potentially aggressive towards others, including members of the family. In such a milieu, activity and aggression are equated. Boys who grow up in such environments may internalize these values and become aggressive towards others when they reach adulthood. On the other hand, they may remain passive and submissive if they are frightened that any activity is the equivalence of aggression for which they will be punished. Girls raised in such an environment can feel that to be a woman she has to submit to a man.

Fatherhood and the #metoo movement

The #metoo movement has the potential to promote a profound cultural shift. Can this movement continue into the future or will it fade from view? This movement has the opportunity to promote two messages: 1) Girls and women of any age do not have to feel compelled to submit to men against their will and 2) Masculinity is not a unidimensional construct which is equated with aggressive behavior. Such an approach can promote the distinction between assertion and aggression. Fathers can then encourage the development of autonomy and assertion, rather than destructive aggression, in both boys and girls.

References

Hoffman, L. (2008). Oedipus and Autonomy Assertioe n, Aggression, and the Idealized Father. Annual of Psychoanalysis, 36:85-100

Herzog, J. M. (2001). Father Hunger: Explorations with Children and Adults. Hillsdale, NJ/London: Analytic Press.