What do Singaporean fathers do during the first six months of their child’s arrival? “Pay the bills, lah, mostly. (Laugh) That’s the largest part I have to play,” says one participant of a study by Dr Shorey Shefaly and her team of researchers from the National University of Singapore. Another shared that bathing the infant is almost exclusively done by his wife. He is with the older child most of the time.

These fathers are not laid back or shirking their paternal responsibilities, as some might think. They want to be an involved father – we know this from the new fathers who attend our Beginning Parenting Programme. However for many, their involvement are hindered by one or a combination of factors. Here are some of the more common ones.

1. Fathers’ self-efficacy
Some fathers might perceive themselves as incapable, although they actually might be quite capable, of performing child care tasks such as changing diapers, feeding and bathing the infant. These fathers will tend to leave the tasks to the mums and try to help out in other ways, like boiling the water and washing the milk bottles. Someone should remind them that “practice makes perfect.” He will get better at it the more he tries and his beliefs about his competence in the parenting role will also grow. That’s provided he is permitted to.

2. Meaning of Motherhood
Many women associate motherhood with care giving and so may be reluctant to relinquish aspects of child care. She might experience a loss of self-esteem if she feels that she isn’t doing enough.

“My wife is a housewife, so she do[es] everything… She just take[s] care of the baby and the house itself, lah. Ah,[I] can bathe her and do everything, but mostly [they were] done by my wife, lah, because she’s a full-time housewife, lah.”

3. Wives are the ‘experts’
In the area of child care, men still rely on their wives to assign tasks rather than taking responsibility on their own. This stems from the stereotypical perception that women are the ‘experts’ in this field. And when a man wishes to participate in child care, they will need to be first instructed and then appraised by women. Men will not participate if the spouse seems unsupportive or disapproving, and might stop his involvement all together.

Further Reading: How Moms Can Help New Dads Bond With Their Babies

4. Presence of assistance
The presence of support and assistance for infant care can be an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time. The experience of, for example, a mother or mother-in-law brings a sense of stability and security to the new parents. Needless to say, an extra pair of hands comes in handy during the day and night. However, such assistance can discourage fathers’ involvement in infant care duties or simply squeeze him out of the picture because these tasks were completed and nothing was left for them to do by the time they returned home.

5. Grandparents’ attachment with the child
Over time, things might not improve. In fact, it might even get worse. The father’s involvement continues to be limited because of the over-attachment of grandparents to the growing child.

“Sometimes, they are really…attached to my kids, uh, that I can’t spend time with them.”

6. Grandparents knows best
Grandparents can act like sages some times. They think they have the answer to everything, like why the baby is crying.

“[They] think that they have the answer to what he is crying about… That [is] what [is] hindering me, ah… But some-times, to me, I feel that, you know, let me try to, you know, coax him… Sometimes, it works, ah… Uh, if it’s not milk, if it’s not poop, then may be sleep. So, I try everything… For exam-ple, I thought that he wants to sleep, then I try to make him sleep, but he still cries, and then he’s been taken over [by parent-in-laws]…

These six factors are also responsible for causing a new father return to work prematurely, before he has consumed all of his paternity leave entitlement.

7. Marital quality
Marital satisfaction has been found to be a consequence and a source of fathers’ participation in child care. Having a happy marriage is important because it has a proportional effect on parenting. When your marriage is not going well, your parenting skills and your children will suffer. The adults in the most successful families do not neglect marital problems. They routinely examine their relationship and how it can be improved.

Further Reading: How New Parents Can Maintain Intimacy With Each Other and Happy Wife Happy Father

8. Rewarding experiences
It might be love at first sight for some fathers. For others it might take some time for the feelings to grow. Skin-to-skin contact as a result of the father holding his infant can foster the feeling of bonding and attachment that the father longs to have. Studies have found that fathers are motivated to care for their children through the “rewarding experiences” of playing with, taking care of, and holding their infants. Fathers expressed feelings of joy and closeness during these times, like this one:

“he’s also a lot more responsive. Ya, he can do eye-to-eye contact and [when you] talk to him, he will look at you. There’s more interaction going on, so it’s actually a lot more fun, lah.”

Skin-to-skin contact between fathers and their infants should be encouraged especially after an infant’s birth as it helps to strengthen father-infant bonding and results in beneficial infant and paternal outcomes. Father-infant relationships as well as fathers’ sense of responsibility were strengthened and crystalized over time through interactions and skin-to-skin contact with their infants.

New dads need our support

According to Kevin Shafer, an associate professor of sociology at Brigham Young University, paid parental leave for moms and dads, and a change in overall work culture is desperately needed. His research found “fathers were more nurturing, emotionally engaged and better co-parents if they worked for organizations with cultures and policies that promoted family involvement.” Dads are doing so much these days, it’s time for society to step up and support them.

Singapore’s President Halimah Yacob recently said that a “culture shift in the workplace” is needed to encourage fathers to be more involved. Centre for Fathering is ready and keen to work with companies to this end.

Author: Parcsen Loke is a husband and father of three children (27, 25, and 14). He is also the Head of Programmes and Development at the Centre for Fathering.

I would like to know what your experience was like. Email me.

References:
1. Jennifer F. Bonney, Michelle L. Kelley, Ronald F. Levant. A Model of Fathers’ Behavioral Involvement in ChildCare in Dual-Earner Families. Journal of Family Psychology 1999, Vol. 13, No. 3, 401-415
2. Shorey, Shefaly et al. Paternal involvement of Singaporean fathers within six months postpartum: A follow-up qualitative study. Midwifery, Volume 70, 7 – 14
3. Shorey S, Ang L (2019) Experiences, needs, and perceptions of paternal involvement during the first year after their infants’ birth: A meta-synthesis. PLoS ONE 14(1): e0210388. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0210388