Parenthood


BBC Radio 4 will be hosting a 4-week series about parenting called Bringing up Britain which starts this Wednesday 2 April at 8pm. It will be presented by Mariella Frostrup.

[Note: I’m not sure if those outside of Britain will be able to listen online]

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Trevor Cairney has recently shared on how research on families and demographic trends have demonstrated a number of significant changes in families and parental practices in recent decades. He summarises the trends under four headings:

  • Family structures are changing – e.g. there are less children in families, women are having children later in life, there are more sole parent households, there are more blended families, children stay at home longer (and many more return as adults) etc.
  • Employment structures are changing – that have an impact on families, with more parents working in multiple jobs, more women back in the workforce, many workers working longer hours, more people working from home etc.
  • Fathers and mothers have changed roles and levels of engagement as parents – While there is a trend towards some fathers spending more time caring for children, for others longer working hours have affected family life. As well, the increase in women doing paid work outside the home has led to more children in the critical first five years of life being placed in childcare.
  • Research has highlighted the critical role that fathers have – For example, fathers have a significant impact on their children’s learning and behaviour. The influence on children’s education alone (the quality of which is also correlated with many other behavioural factors) is significant, as a UK centre on fatherhood has outlined.


In a synthesis of five key UK studies Goldman (2005) concluded that higher involvement of fathers in their children’s learning alone is associated with:

  • better class and exam results;
  • higher educational expectations & qualifications;
  • better attitude to school, attendance & behaviour;
  • less delinquent & criminal behaviour;
  • higher quality family relationships; and
  • better mental health.

Other research has suggested that the influence of fathers and family structures flows well beyond children’s learning. Qu and Soriano (2004) conclude that family formation has important implications for individuals and society in relation to health and wellbeing, financial security, life outcomes for children and population growth.

Research also suggests that fathers who show affection, give support and yet offer an authoritative parenting style, have a more significant impact on their children, when compared with fathers who adopt a more authoritarian and detached style. Other evidence indicates that who the father is, and what he does in life makes a difference. For example, Goldman reports research that suggest that high levels of antisocial behaviour (eg, not paying bills, aggressiveness and so on) in fathers were associated with sons displaying more difficult behaviour at home and school.

In summary, what many research studies show is that fathers have a significant influence on the cognitive, emotional and social development of their children and that this is even more significant for boys.

What the Bible says about fathers and families?

The importance of families and the critical role of fathers are seen throughout the Bible. The concept of family is central to God’s plan for his creation and its restoration. The Bible teaches that relationships, like creation itself, were affected, disrupted and dislocated by sin in the Garden (the book of Genesis describes what happened). But God sustained his people in families and sought to restore them to their rightful place and adopt them into his own family (Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 1:4-5 talks about this). He continues to do so in spite of the curse that has been placed on family relationships as a result of sin, and the struggle that ensues between men and women (Gen 3:16). God’s plan to rescue his people ultimately involves family – his family!

Throughout the pages of the Old and New Testaments, family is important. The nation of Israel was one family, descended from Abraham. Within the nation that would rise up as a result of God’s promise to Abraham, there would be tribes defined around family lines and ultimately families within the family, all linked through fathers. Fathers are central to families in the Bible. Marriage in turn is seen as necessary to create a nuclear family – a man and woman, committed to each other in a covenant relationship, who seek to have and raise godly children (Mal 2:14-15).

Some practical implications

I can’t cover lots of implications in one post (but I might over a series of posts). There are many places I could turn to in the Bible for guidance, but there can be no better place than the advice that God gave to Moses to pass on to the Israelites in the desert before they entered the Promised Land. Having exhorted them to fear God and obey his commandments and to take care how they live (Deut 6:1-3), God gives instructions on how this is to be done within their families.

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house
and on your gates.”
(Deut 6:4-9)
God expected the men of Israel to obey his commandments and to love him with all of their being – heart, soul and strength. He also expected them to teach God’s commands and expectations to their children in the ‘everydayness’ of life. To talk about God when they sat together at home, when they walked from place to place, when they were preparing for bed and rest, and when they rose in the morning. They were to speak of God’s ways, to wear the words of God’s law on their foreheads (no I’m not about to suggest we re-introduce this practice that is still followed by some Jewish people), and write them on the doorposts and entrances to their houses, so that they would not forget them and so that they could teach them even more effectively to their children.

Here is a picture of a father with a right view of God, who trusts, obeys and serves his God and who seeks to teach his children to understand the wisdom of God and to follow him. This is also a picture of an involved father. If we were to translate this biblical picture into contemporary terms, we would see a father who seeks to obey and honour God, who sets a good example for his family, who models what it is to be a child of God. Such a father spends time with his children (indeed will ‘waste’ time with them), listens to them and shares godly wisdom at meal times, while resting, while together at home, while travelling.

(HT: The Importance of Fathers)

I’ve just finished reading Peter Baylies’ The Stay-at-Home Dad Handbook. Like every book on fathering, this one’s fairly hit and miss in terms of what I found most useful.

Baylies largely treats fathering as a ‘career move’, and the book is shaped to that end – that is, helping fathers enjoy their ‘new career’. While it’s not the way that I like to think of fathering, there are strengths in this (that will no doubt appeal to other personality types), such as helping new father’s approach their responsibilities thoughtfully, purposely and seriously. Adversely, although the book is clearly set out, and somewhat ‘practical’ (including a somewhat useful appendix of resources), it often lacks the personal warmth, and focus on the parent-child relationship, of many parenting books.

Whether it is just cultural or personality or values (and I suspect it’s all three and more), I found Baylies’ book just too basic. Although much of the ground that he covers is useful (the section on playgroups and networking with others for example), it is difficult to believe that most fathers have not thought through most, if not all, of the issues he raises. If you’re after a ‘Fathering 101’ handbook, this one may well be what you are looking for, though it wouldn’t be my first choice. If you feel that you could skip ‘Fathering 101′ and move up a grade or two, you would be better served to look elsewhere.

One of the strengths of the book, however, is that Baylies has clearly spent much time listening to other fathers. Although at times I was left wondering if he has spent too much time doing this – as the inclusion of copious fathering stories betrays – it does give the book a sort of common-sense, communal wisdom (or ignorance?) feel. Of course, it’s easy enough to navigate your way around the material and jump to the next section if you want.

In talking to at-home dads over the last ten years, Baylies has asked dads what they have changed for themselves that made for a more stress-free family. Here are ten useful things that he lists (pp. 152-3) that one can do to make the household a more pleasant environment:

1. Talk to them and listen to them. When your kids know you are listening to them, it makes them realize their input matters, and gives them a feeling of control and self-worth.

2. Treat them with respect. When you respect them, they will respect you back.

3. Give a lot of hugs and kisses. A feeling of being loved gives your kids a feeling of self-confidence.

4. Show you love your spouse in front of your kids. Seeing Mum and Dad show affection toward each other gives them two role models.

5. Allow kids to be self-reliant. Let them try things for themselves, no matter how foolish it may seem to you (provided it’s safe). For example, my kids liked to do experiments by mixing water with several objects and putting it in the freezer to see what happens. They couldn’t wait to see what it would look like the following day. After a while, when we trusted them with the toaster, we encouraged them to make toast. (My oldest son is twelve and is making a pretty good ham and cheese omelet now.)

6. Communicate with your spouse and agree on parenting styles. To avoid a public argument and mixed messages, make sure you and your wife agree on your children’s behavior.

7. Get to know your kids’ friends. As your children get older and a few neighborhood kids start to visit, listen to them and learn what they are like and how mature they are. This will give you better judgment when they start asking to do more outside the house.

8. Don’t expect too much, but don’t be a pushover. Pick your battles: some disagreements may not be worth the argument. For example, if your children want to walk to school without a raincoat, let them do it, and see if the consequences will help
them make a better decision next time. But if you have a serious issue, stand by it.

9. Avoid yelling at them at all costs. Always discipline with reason, not fear. When you don’t like a decision or action your children are making, calmly ask them why they are making the decision. Have them explain what might happen; sometimes they will see why you might be right.

10. Create as much adventure as possible for your kids. Creating adventure, although it may not be a popular pastime for the mums, is one way that many at-home dads deal with burnout. This does not mean taking the kids skydiving or white water rafting. It is amazing what adventures you can find within a few blocks of your house. In fact, many dads find that every time they take their children out of the house it can be an adventure.

Just been thinking about what I value most about being a dad? Of course this will change but at the moment here’s a few things:

  • The awesome gift of watching a little human being grow, and being used to steer the process.
  • Sharing with Sinead the things I love (like reading, music, painting, cooking, poetry, travel, and being in the garden) and the values I treasure (like love, grace, forgiveness, playfulness, generosity, patience, humour and authority).
  • Reflecting on in what ways human parenting reflects God’s parenting. (See Tom Smail’s essay on ‘Perichoretic Parenting‘).
  • Observing a huge gamut of emotions, facial expressions, sounds (the girl can sing!) and problem-solving solutions – often all within the same minute.
  • Learning heaps about my self, my limits, and what I really value.
  • As a stay-at-home dad, I value getting to see and play with Sinead more, watch her develop more, laugh with her more, dance with her more, teach her more, discipline her more, be taught by her more … and eat lunch together – just the two of us every day.
  • I value that she gets to see me more than most kids do see their dads. I hope she values this too.
  • Walking to the park when it suits us, and not a boss.
  • As a full time student who could happily bury his head in books for years, being a stay-at-home dad helps to keep my life in perspective.
  • I (usually) love the distractions – having my clock and agenda set by one and things other than myself. This also helps me to procrastinate and time-waste less. When Sinead has her 45 minute sleep, for example, I have to use this time wisely and not just read blogs.
  • I enjoy serving my wife in this way. She (mostly) loves her work as a physio, and me being at home means that she can still go to work.
  • By the time I’m most tired (ie. in the late afternoons), Judy is home from work and so Sinead doesn’t have to endure a tired late-afternoon dad.
  • Being with someone I love so much all day.
  • I’m sure there’s heaps more, but I’m too tired to think of any. That’s part of being a dad I don’t like.

What do you value most about being a dad?