Dr. Dad


Nuturing Fathers

We all want to be nurturing parents. Most fathers today want to reassure their children that they love them. Many fathers grew up with fathers who were not very demonstrative with their emotions and often left them feeling that they had to "earn" their father's love. It is important for fathers to show their children that they love them, not only for their childrens' sake but for their own as well. Fathers demonstrate their love for their children by being available to them, by taking an active involvement in their care and upbringing, and by supporting their personal interests. This type of engagement with their children often reflects how fathers wish their own fathers would have been involved with them. Certainly participating in their children's lives does convey father's love for them but, beyond that, fathers must be able to prepare their children for the complexities of the world. In this sense, "love is not enough."

In 1950, the child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim wrote a book called "Love is Not Enough," in which he says: "Fortunately, most parents love their children and conscientiously strive to be good parents. But more and more ofthem become weary of the struggle to arrange life sensibly for their children, while modern pressures create more and more insensible experiences which are added to the life of the child." This quote, written in 1950, has only become truer with the passing of time. Fatherhood involves more than just time and love. To be able to raise healthy children, fathers must be able to help their children navigate through the stresses and "insensible" experiences of life. This is particularly true when the children are young. 

My definition of nurturing fathers centers around the fathers' ability to help anticipate their children's emotional needs. This means that they must be able to translate with some accuracy their children's emotional environment. Children's television shows like Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood do a good job of understanding children's emotions. Both of these shows have talked about the fears children have when they start school, what it feels like when their parents fight, and how to handle disappointment. They offer comforting, reassuring examples of how a child can cope with these situations, and this can truly reduce a child's anxiety.

Often adults feel stressed and emotionally fatigued. When this happens, it leaves them little energy to sympathize with their children's stress. Parents need to examine their own ability to balance and juggle the many tasks of life so that they can be genuinely available to their children. No one needs to tell fathers how to love their children. The devotion and affection that fathers feel for their children is a profound kind of love, but it is not enough. Today' s fathers need to be able to anticipate the stresses and pressures that impinge on their children's lives. If they can do that, they may not be able to remove these stresses but they may be able to soften them a bit. As children grow, they will develop the strength and resiliency that they need to master these situations and learn from their fathers that life's difficulties are not a burden but an adventure! 

For Further self-reflection and discussion:

  • How do you do that lets your child know you love them?
  • Even if you have a newborn, what do you know about your child's unique emotional needs?

When you are tired or fatigued, how do you respond to your child needs?

© 2010 Dr. Bruce Linton

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The kind of man who thinks that heping with the dishes is beneath him will also think that helping with the baby is beneath him, and then he certainly is not going to be a very successful father. - Eleanor Roosevelt

Dr. Bruce Linton is the founder and director of the Fathers' Forum in Berkeley, CA. In his weekly columns he share his expereinces and insights gained from his work with fathers in his groups, classes and clinical work. He explores how parenting and fatherhood effects us as men. Bruce is a Marriage and Family Therapists and recieved his doctorate for his research into men's development as fathers. He is the father of two children. Dr. Linton is the author of Finding Time for Fatherhood: Men's concerns as parents. Visit Fathers' Forum

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