Asia Fatherhood Research Conference Roundtable: Engaging Fathers and Strengthening Practice

Introduction

tree11The following summarises the Roundtable on Engaging Fathers and Strengthening Practice, and distils relevant points for discussion and reflection on how to shape programmes and policies in Singapore. The Roundtable was held as part of the first Asia fatherhood research conference entitled Fatherhood in 21st Century Asia: Research, Interventions, and Policies. Father-friendly Practices: Transitions, Linked Lives and Cultural Contexts (TLC), William Marsiglio, Professor of Sociology, University of Florida In order to conceptualise what qualifies as father-friendly practices, practitioners must first deconstruct the term ‘friendly’, and take stock of programmes and policies. Father-friendly practices are responsive and address the challenges to good fathering. These include:

  • Timing and Degree– the intervention is suitably intense, and takes place over a sufficient length of time
  • Formats and Styles– there should be a strong selection of programmes

Father-friendly practices should embody an “Empowerment Philosophy” as it is vital for men to have a sense of control over their destiny. To discuss father-friendly practices, Dr Marsiglio used the letters ‘TLC’ (more commonly used as a short form of ‘tender loving care’) to represent its components: Transitions, Linked Lives and Cultural Context.

  • Transitions  It is important for practitioners to have a nuanced understanding of transitions because they have to help fathers go through cognitive and behavioural transitions or adjustments, which may be negative or positive. According to Palkowitz and Palm (2009),
  1. Transition involves growth. Fathers experience higher levels of integration and differentiation as they go through transitions. For example, fathers who move from one region to another for work may have to think of new ways to remain engaged with their children.
  2.  Transitions can be progressive or regressive. Some transitions are more welcome than others, but they all entail adjustment.
  3. Transition occurs across the parenting domains: Cognitive, behavioural and affective, and sometimes in combination.
  4. Transition involves disequilibrium. As such, practitioners need to help move fathers to equilibrium.

Timing is crucial when supporting fathers through transitions. Programmes should:

  1. Circumvent challenges or crises. Make relevant programmes available before and after the onset of fathering. Also address how the fathering experience is interacting with other life course events.
  1. Address ongoing challenges or crises. Recognise how men manifest and cope with stress. Offer resources, empower them, and provide hope in the process.
  1. Have a Follow-up Component. Help men adapt, become resilient, and reinforce what they learn. Gather feedback on why a programme was effective.
  • Linked Lives Practitioners should help fathers find resources from within their own familial and community networks. In addition, practitioners can teach fathers how to identify and resolve conflicts, or work within constraints.
  • Cultural Context – Practitioners must be aware of the cultural context that prospective fathers are in. Factors include:
  1. Forces that shape father identity. Gender ideology sets norms of how masculinity is displayed, and affects whether men are comfortable to talk about their fathering experiences.
  1. Institutional policies and practices. Practitioners can get institutions to work together, and create resources within the settings fathers are already in.
  1. Family related issues that fathers grapple with. They include structural circumstances in the family, the father’s own personal history and the role of rituals in family life. Practitioners can encourage fathers to create rituals for emotionally important times so that they can connect with their children. For example, rituals just before children sleep and after they wake up, are important. This is because that is when children feel vulnerable.

Getting to Know Fathers

It is important to conduct needs assessments to know how to better serve fathers and the professionals working with fathers and families. Also capture fathers’ sentiments on transitions, linked lives and context.

Some Father-Friendly Practices

The following are examples of father-friendly practices:

  • Flexi-time at work
  • Mediation between co-parents
  • Programmes that enhance family and other social supports
  • Training programmes such as money and anger management
  • Developmentally appropriate parenting skill development
  • A broad selection of counseling and support groups

Take Home Messages

To reiterate, practitioners need to:

  • Think of fathering broadly as men have varying needs.
  • Engage fathers physically, emotionally and psychologically with programmes at where they are.
  • Be attentive and responsive to transition periods and their unique needs.
  • Appreciate that father-child relations as socially embedded in other familial and community relationships.
  • Help build networks of trust between father and child, and the larger community they function in, finding ways to enhance, manage and re-build trust where needed.

Father-friendly Services by the Child Care Providers Association in India, Rajalakshmi Sriram, Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS), University of Baroda, India Dr Rajalakshmi shared about programmes by the Child Care Providers Association in India to reach parents over the last five years. The Association uses a needs-based and partnership approach, providing training to schools, companies, religious organisations, healthcare providers and teacher networks. In their interactive workshops, parents learn through games and the use of self assessment forms. Each workshop has two trainers, who are resource persons for the parents. The programmes utilise resource materials in the regional language. Parenting@Work Programme, Malaysia, Rumaya Juhari, Associate Professor at the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Faculty of Human Ecology, University Putra Malaysia, Serdang, Selangor Dr Rumaya shared about the Parenting@Work Programme initiated by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development in Malaysia. The programme brings training for parents to the workplace, making it convenient for fathers to attend. Launched in 2007, 15, 000 people have since benefited; half were fathers. Since its launch, the trainers have been running the programme in various sectors. This includes working with leaders in the religious sectors, as well as talking to children’s book writers and motivational speakers.

Discussion

Mr Lim Soon Hock, Chairman of National Family Council, asked Dr Marsiglio to recommend strategic initiatives to promote active fathering in the government, among businesses, and in the community. Dr Marsiglio suggested that the State can look into minimising wage differentials between men and women as couples often decide who will take parental leave to care for the children based on who earned the lower wage. To promote active fathering in businesses, Dr Marsiglio suggested reaching out to CEOs and establishing onsite day care centres. Businesses can also be roped in to fund advertising for events that men attend. e.g. sports. In the community, the establishment of day care centres in schools will provide boys with opportunities to interact with and mentor younger children. Alfred Tan, Executive Director of Singapore Children’s Society asked for a strategy that promotes active fathering in a sustainable manner. Dr Marsiglio responded that fathers who are health conscious and minimise their participation in risk taking behaviour, are good role models to their children. Therefore practitioners should try to help fathers develop an orientation towards healthcare for themselves and the children.

Conclusion

The last participant to comment at the Roundtable brought up the need to use invitational and inclusive language to better engage fathers, echoing Dr Marsiglio’s presentation on what makes for father-friendly services.


About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.


First published on 29-04-2011.

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