The following excerpt comes from our upcoming book, Counselling in Relationships: Insights for Helping Families Develop Healthy Connections. The chapter, “Engaging Fathers,” explores the importance of fathers in families and how counsellors can involve dads in the counselling process so they can get to know themselves better, improve their relationships, and feel empowered in their role.
Dads need support for both themselves and their families. As counsellors we need to be aware of their needs, obstacles, and contributions to the family. We need to be aware of our own assumptions around men and fathers and take steps to better include them in the counselling process. We also need fathers to reflect on and envision what being a dad means to them.
Do fathers really matter?
We see time and time again that children are resilient. One of the keys to a child’s resilience is having at least one supportive adult in their corner. Key factors for children’s health and well-being include connection, warmth, and an available, accessible, nurturing adult. These factors can be provided by mothers, fathers, parental figures, or ideally from a variety of supportive adults. The gender of the person providing support is less important than the fact that the support exists – this is key.
When it comes to parenting, the father’s involvement has often been seen as limited, focused more on filling the roles of provider and perhaps disciplinarian. When it comes to other functions within the family, their role has often been seen as peripheral, especially in comparison to mothers.
In families with an engaged father, children and youth show improvement in their well-being, growth, and resilience.
Since the ’60s, many women have become increasingly financially independent and more mothers are raising children alone. This begs the question: What is a dad’s role if it’s not just providing financial stability for the family? What do dads have to offer, and how can dads contribute to their kids and/or family in a world that is moving past traditional gender roles?
In families with an engaged father, children and youth show improvement in their well-being, growth, and resilience (Rosenberg & Wilcox, 2006). This is demonstrated through increased cognitive, language, and social development as well as better academic achievement, a stronger sense of self-esteem and identity, and lower incidence of depression. Being an engaged father benefits not only the family, but also the father himself (Oren et al., 2009). It can lead to better mental health and an increased sense of balance (work, home, relationships, interests), healthier behaviours, increased physical activity and social networks, and more satisfactory relationships.
The positive impacts of engaged fathers also benefit the next generations of dads. Boys growing up with an engaged father are more likely to be engaged with their own children. Good dads create even better dads. Not only do engaged fathers benefit their families, their involvement also positively influences the counselling process. A father’s involvement within family counselling has been shown to decrease dropout rates and improve counselling outcomes (Carr, 1998). Unfortunately, however, many fathers remain absent from the counselling process.
Good dads create even better dads.
Fathers do matter. And they need support and encouragement to help strengthen their families, themselves, and future generations. Unfortunately, this support is often lacking. As helpers, we need to be aware of our own assumptions about fathers and more proactive in engaging them in all areas of family life.
What is a father?
There is no set definition or checklist for what makes a “good” dad, but family counsellor and author Gill Gorell Barnes describes a successful father. Barnes (2018) writes that a good father is one who “finds the right fit between the demands and prescriptions of his own social and cultural context and his own interpretation of these in terms of love and responsibility within which his children can thrive” (p. xxix). In other words, a good dad balances his own needs with the needs of his family and is active and involved.
Dads need support for both themselves and their families. As counsellors we need to be aware of their needs, obstacles, and contributions to the family. We need to be aware of our own assumptions around men and fathers and take steps to better include them in the counselling process. We also need fathers to reflect on and envision what being a dad means to them, given their context.
Read the full chapter in our upcoming book, Counselling in Relationships: Insights for Helping Families Develop Healthy Connections, available for pre-order on our website.
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