Fatherhood Then and Now…

As we adapt our lifestyles to environmental challenges and our evolving communities, there is one notable area which is changing and heartwarming for everyone involved: fatherhood. 

Generations ago, fathers played the roles of protectors and breadwinners for the family. They were guardians who fought off enemies and the scourge of natural disasters. Mothers played the roles of nurturers and educators and were often children’s sole source of emotional support and physical affection.

As women entered the work force – jumping from 33% to 60% between 1948 and 20011– men’s roles in parenting adjusted accordingly to share in the duties of the primary caretaker. The effects of these changing roles are being studied and have already shown some positive effects not only on fathers but also on their children. Historically, research on child development has focused more on the sensitivity of mothers to fulfilling their children’s needs. However, in the last 20 to 30 years, research has increasingly focused on fathers. This is due to the growing role modern day fathers play in caregiving. 

A study conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) found that fathers tended to be more involved in caregiving when they worked fewer hours than other fathers, had high self- esteem, lower levels of depression and hostility, and coped well with the major tasks of adulthood. In general terms, those fathers lived with co-parenting mothers who worked more hours outside the home than other mothers.2

Fatherhood has become more complex as fathers take on more caregiving. Three areas of fatherhood that anthropologists and behaviorists have reported notable changes in are:

  1. Commendation: Fathers of the past took on the role of disciplinarian and were sparse in their compliments. Modern fathers use positive re-enforcement to sustain outstanding performance in their children.3
  2. Accessibility: Children have the freedom to talk to their fathers more than it was possible in the past. Now fathers communicate freely with their children. Very few topics are off-limits with the modern father. 4
  3. Emotional Availability: In the past, fathers were mainly involved in protecting their children from physical harm. Now fathers want to be part of every little detail of their children’s well-being, from mental to physical health. 5

In the 1970s, attachment theory was the focus of child development studies, focusing on the first years of children’s lives and their bond with their mothers. Michael Lamb, a forerunner of fatherhood research and still continuing with studies at the University of Cambridge in the U.K., explains, “That went along with the assumption that the bond with the mother was the only [primary] relationship kids could form.”6 However, Lamb and a small number of other researchers were all coming to the same conclusion: Babies can form as strong an attachment to their dads as to their moms. From that seed has grown an intriguing but limited body of evidence stating that not only are men built to care for children, but that being an involved dad impacts kids’ physiologies, psychologies and outcomes for the rest of their lives.7

It wasn’t until the turn of this century that researchers discovered the fascinating detail that men’s bodies transform when they become fathers. Oxytocin- the “love hormone” – has been known to play a role in a mother’s initial bonding with her child after birth. Recently, researchers have observed that the same spike in oxytocin occurs when fathers hold and play with their newborns. The new fathers also register an increase in prolactin—a hormone best known for helping women produce breastmilk. Its purpose, it turns out, is greater than that.8

19th June 2022 – Happy Father’s Day from Nikken to all fathers across the Global Wellness Community!

1, 2. https://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/changing-father  

3, 4, 5. https://guardian.ng/life/life-features/fatherhood-in-the-past-and-fatherhood-today-what-changed/

6, 7, 8. https://www.todaysparent.com/family/parenting/the-science-of-how-fatherhood-transforms-you/

17th June 2022

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