The Role that the father’s attachment plays in the emotional development of the child

Recently our family has seen a tragedy where a young mother expecting her first child passed away in childbirth. Sadly, she didn’t get to see her beautiful baby boy and he will never know his mother’s touch. However, as tragic as this situation is, there is a glimmer of hope for this child, for his father is completely invested in his well-being and it brought tears to my eyes to see the father feed the child and talking about using kangaroo care with him, so the baby can thrive. This really got me thinking… for our common perception is that a baby needs his/her mother as primary attachment figures and if she is not present, the child will probably be predisposed to mental health or adjustment issues. Within my circle of psychologist friends, we have a hypothesis, that if you can’t understand what is going on, ask about the mother! If anyone has read Freud, they would usually be of the same thinking. It is no surprise then that mothers are usually wracked with guilt and self-doubt.

So, the untold story is the role of the father and the power he has in his/her child’s life. Are we underestimating the role of the father, his attachment to the child and its impact on the child’s emotional development?
So first, let’s clarify what is an attachment? Attachment theory as developed by Bowlby (1973), assumed that the child internalised the interaction with the parents to consolidate an ‘internal working model’ that guided the socio-emotional pattern of interactions through adulthood. Though this theory used the word parent, most subsequent studies focused primarily on the role of the mother. It is only recently that studies have started to look at the importance of attachment to the father and how the way the child attaches to the father and the impact of this is slightly different from that of the mother.

For e.g. Al Yagon (2013), found that children that considered themselves securely attached to their fathers reported a higher tendency to view the world as manageable, meaningful and comprehensible. A reason for this increased confidence could be that fathers were found to interact with the child in a more light-hearted manner, engaging in more ‘rough and tumble’ play than mothers would, which could encourage the child to take more risks and perceive themselves as braver.
The life stage that a child is at has a profound influence on the father’s attachment relationship. An example of this is that babies under a year old can play equally with both parents but seek out the mother when in distress, however as the child gets older either parent can soothe the baby, depending on their ability to show affection and understanding towards the child.

Looking at the literature available and practically observing how this little angel is attaching and reacting to his father, I have come to a tentative hypothesis; i.e. it is not the gender of the parent but the quality of their presence in the child’s life that matters. My relative as the father may have good days, bad days and some challenges in raising his child, especially since the journey is all new for him and the conditions not ideal. But, him just being there for the child and loving him unconditionally, is good enough and that should provide this little boy with a pre-requisite for healthy emotional development.

By |2019-01-26T07:47:05+02:00January 26th, 2019|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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