With summer here, whether it feels like it or not, who will the children of single parents spend most of their time with? Most live with their mothers and will probably spend most of the summer with them. However, it’s a great time for dads to get involved too and to have a close relationship with the kids even if they are not living with them.
Anyone who needs convincing that this is a good idea should read the No. 1 Dad report on Barnardos' website. It points out that: - Children whose fathers are involved with them and who guide and teach them tend to be more productive and industrious as well as more caring than those whose fathers are not involved.
- Children whose fathers take a warm interest in their progress do better in school.
- When the father shows an interest in learning, the children are also more likely to learn. Indeed, some long-standing British research suggests that children’s school performance rises if the parent is interested in what the child is doing even if the parent doesn’t understand the particular subject.
- When they have regular contact with their father at a young age, in other words before they are 11 years old, children are less likely to get into trouble with the law.
Involvement by the father also gives mothers a break, and the opportunity to do other things, or just to have time to themselves.
This can be easier said than done. Not all fathers want to put time into the relationship with their children. Not all mothers co-operate with fathers who want to do so. And support services for mothers and children can very easily leave fathers out of the picture completely.
But the benefits for children are so great that I think it’s worth the effort, even if the parents don’t get along. Promoting contact would also be a worthy ambition for support services. Barnardos recommends that such services might conduct a “father-friendly audit” to check how much visibility they give to fathers within the project, say by displaying positive images of fathers on noticeboards and so on.
Does the project hold social activities which might appeal to fathers? If not, might this be a good time to organise something?
The report was originally written by Francis Chance and Finola Halligan as an evaluation of a Barnardos family support project in Cherry Orchard, Dublin, but it's relevant to fathers everywhere. Go to Barnardos.ie and search for the "Da Project" for a pdf of the report.
Coping On a different issue, reader Martin Crotty commented on a recent column on mental health, saying, "A lot of media people such as yourself talk about the importance of having freely available mental health services and I am inclined to agree with you.
“However, no one seems to ask the question as to why we now have such a glut of mental health problems at a time when we never had a more liberal and empowered society? Why are so many people not able to cope with themselves and their lives? By not asking the ‘why’ question, we are dealing only with the symptoms of a problem rather than the ‘problem’.”
I think people who write about and comment on suicide and mental health issues do, in fact, ask why or try to explain why. But Mr Crotty is right in emphasising the importance of figuring out at a societal level why we have such a high incidence of mental ill-health as reflected, for instance, in suicide.
Is it because of something that is missing; a sense that life doesn’t have enough of a meaning to give us resilience in facing its challenges or is it because of something that our society adds to the human experience, such as high levels of stress?
We need to keep asking these questions but we also need to invest in our mental health services so that they are good enough and available enough to help with the emotional and psychological challenges of the human condition.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @PadraigOMorain
Padraig O'Morain is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Mindfulness for Worriers. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email.