A father who wants close emotional ties with his children should start building them when the youngsters are infants - by feeding, changing diapers, rocking and other tasks.
Fathers who shy away from taking care of their infant children are susceptible to an immediate loss of emotional involvement with them and may build walls that later are difficult to bring down, says a Brigham Young University professor of family sciences."In these days when we're talking about who takes care of the children and what the parental role ought to be, it is interesting to note that a father's emotional involvement with his children is directly related to the matter of caretaking," says J. Craig Peery, who has conducted research on the issue.
"The more fathers took care of their children in our study, the more emotionally involved they were. They also looked at their children more often and touched them longer and more often."
Peery and co-author Lori A. Roggman of The University of Texas published results of their research in a recent issue of the journal "Early Child Development and Care."
Care giving is described as taking care of an infant's daily needs, such as feeding, burping, changing, rocking, nurturing, holding and playing with a child. While mothers most often are considered the primary care givers, says Peery, fathers should not assume they are not needed by the infant or vice versa.
First-time fathers may be confused about their role in an infant's life, says Peery, with many feeling that it's the mother's role to nurture, while fathers should be the good-times-let's-play kind of parent.
"From the father's perspective, the long-term relationship he has with his child begins very early in life. And it's going to be difficult, I suspect, for both the father and the child to make some radical, emotional adjustment at some point in time way down the road. What you do in the early months will influence the whole relationship."
Dividing infant care 50-50 between parents isn't the answer or the issue, Peery says. The point is to help each parent understand that touching and caring for their infant is a critical element in trying to build a healthy parent-child relationship.
"If you're a young father with a new baby and you're saying, `Gee, I'm sorta feeling like this is a strange visitor from another planet here,' then one of the things you might consider is getting more involved in the care taking," Peery advises.
And if you're the mother? "Be aware of the needs of the other parent. We may very well be talking about long-term implications when we speak about father-infant care giving. If there is an early physical distance, there will likely be more emotional distance over the long range."