Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Paternal behaviours

Many wedding services have a statement such as “marriage was instituted for the forming of a family, so that children may be raised in a loving environment. … for mutual companionship, help and comfort, in good times and bad.” The way a mother and father work together in providing for children has huge significance for all concerned.

Just as mothers have specific design that supports and protects their ability to give birth and care for their infants, the father’s role is also supported by intuitive forces. The man’s role as provider and protector is especially important during the childbearing years. Dad’s advice, “The best thing you can do for your little children is to love their mother” is a simple statement of this reality.

If we try to understand what the baby experiences in relating to his daddy and his mummy, we can begin to understand one of the great mysteries of a baby’s life. As already described, baby knows his mother well from a long time before birth: he recognises her movements, her voice, her touch, her responses. He also knows his father who is companion, friend, and lover of his mother, to whom she responds in a positive, loving way. The father’s voice and activities are part of the world that is home base to the baby. After birth, baby learns very quickly that his mother’s breast is a place of comfort, warmth, and satisfying almost every need. Quickly he also learns that daddy is the interesting, exciting person who is frequently in close contact. Daddy’s strength, energy, and individual behaviours, whether in singing with a big, deep voice, or gently embracing mummy, are also familiar terrain for the very young baby. Daddy and mummy are very different people in baby’s mind.

The father and mother complement each other in providing all the basic needs of a newborn baby, and of young children as they grow. The father’s strength, and freedom from the restrictions that come with childbearing and nurture, provide support and safety for the more vulnerable mother and children. The father’s difference from the mother gives the new baby a model of the big world out there; an understanding that different people relate to you in different ways. It seems to me that the baby sees daddy as the exciting one, who opens up new possibilities, while mummy is the more plain person who is always there when you need food or comfort or warmth.

Even amongst those parents who set out with the very best of intentions to love their children, and set precepts for healthy and God honouring lives, we soon find evidence of our imperfections. This is often evident within days of the birth, as the father faces exhaustion of sleep deprivation. This realisation of our failure to meet even our own expectations in parenting comes as a hard lesson that new parents need to confront.

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