Despite the abundance of research that supports the important benefits to families when children grow up with a male role model, we continue to see an increasing number of households where there is no father or male role model present. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America (1 out of 3) live in biological father-absent homes. Between 1991 and 2009, children living with only their mother increased from 21% to 24%. Another important fact is that the percentage of children living with their mother without a father present varied widely among race and origin groups in 2009 (US Census Bureau, 2011). Research also tells us that the absence of a positive male role model has an impact on almost all the social issues facing America today, including poverty, emotional and behavioral problems, maternal and child health, crime, teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol use, education, childhood obesity (Fatherhood Institute, 2014).
Growing Great Kids recognizes the importance and value of all parenting partners to a child’s well-being and healthy development. Thus, the GGK curriculum is inclusive of the whole family in presentation, language, graphics and illustrations, and is written to include all parenting partners.
Today, we are going to talk about how you, as a home visitor, can engage all family members in your home visits, increasing their involvement in child development activities, instilling motivation for growing their parenting and life skills, and most importantly supporting them to grow secure attachment relationships with their child
First let’s talk about the benefits of male involvement. Involvement of a male role model has a significant long-term impact on children’s healthy development in all domains. Studies have identified increases in children’s capacity for empathy, self-esteem, self-confidence, life satisfaction, ability to establish relationships, academic performance, and ability to regulate feelings, emotions, and behaviors in general (Davies, 2015). Undoubtedly, male role models can bring unique contributions to the child’s well-being and long-term development. Research also shows that when a father is involved during pregnancy, there are more chances that he will be involved in parenting later on, and he is much more likely to continue to support his child even if he is not in a relationship with the mother (Moore & Kotelchuck, 2004).
We would be remiss to discuss this research without also noting that there is a considerable amount of research indicating that there is not one particular family make-up that results in either poor or positive outcomes (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2013). The 2003 American Academy of Pediatrics report goes on to say that “A stable, well-functioning family that consists of 2 parents and children is potentially the most secure, supportive, and nurturing environment in which children may be raised” (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2013). We all know that families are extremely diverse. There are many factors that put children’s development and family outcomes at risk. Things like poverty, adult mental health, substance abuse, divorce, and domestic violence all can have a significant impact on children.
It is important to note that we are expanding our discussion to the inclusion of parenting partners in general. Those could very well be traditional mother/father dynamics or alternatives that include families with gay or lesbian parenting partners. Research studies have been very clear that the sexual orientation of parents does not put children at risk (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2013). Multiple studies have looked at both the developmental and psychological outcomes of children whose parents are gay or lesbian. The results are the same time and again, “a family’s social and economic resources and the strength of the relationships among members of the family are far more important variables than parental gender or sexual orientation in affecting children’s development and well-being” (Lamm, 2012).
This is why it is so important that you, as a home visitor, find opportunities to explore with the entire family, their interest in participating in your visits. Here are some suggestions for helping all parenting partners feel comfortable during home visits:
- Always make an effort to schedule your visits when all parenting partners can participate
- Talk with everyone about how they were parented, what they want to be different for their children and how they can start now to be a Great Parent
- Encourage parents to respect each other’s role and importance as a parent
- Share information with mothers and grandmothers, pointing out the benefits for their child of involving potentially influential parenting partners
- Keep in mind that all kinds of brains can be re-wired when given opportunities to experience joy with a child and when you affirm the positive things they are doing
- Remember that the strength-based beliefs for change apply to all family members
- Engage all parenting partners in child development activities with their child
You are not alone! GGK provides many tools for motivating participation in home visits. The entire curriculum is written and designed to support parent involvement. All conversation guides, parent handouts, and child development activities have been created to be inclusive of all family members.
When appropriate to the dynamics of the family, remember that the GGK Prenatal Manual incorporates 4 entire modules written specifically for father figures and designed to be completed sequentially, including an extensive list of topics related to:
o Moving into Fathering Territory
o Becoming a Winning Family Team
o Driver’s Course for Dads
o Fatherhood: The Dad I Am Becoming
There are several parent handouts in these 4 modules that are specifically intended to engage father figures in meaningful conversations. Handouts are intended to increase their awareness of relationship building both before and after the birth of the baby; provide motivation and gain confidence to grow parenting skills, discuss how to balance work, life, parenthood and relationships; and identify what they can begin to do to contribute to their family’s functioning and happiness while exploring the type of parents they would like to be.
Growing Great Families – Unit 3 also includes a couple conversation guides that you might want to consider:
- Module 4: Becoming a 3-Generation Family
- Module 5: Role Clarification in 3 Generation Families
The GGK curriculum supports the many ways in which all parents are present in the child’s life. They can be single or married; employed outside the home or stay-at-home; gay or straight; an adoptive or step-parent; grandfathers raising grandchildren; and also parenting partners who face a physical or psychological challenge. Remember to show genuine appreciation of all family members by acknowledging their capacity to improve their children’s outcomes – every home visit is an opportunity to motivate them to be both physically and emotionally present and to be engaged with their child!
American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on the Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. Promoting the wellbeing of children whose parents are gay or lesbian. Pediatrics. 2013; in press
U.S. Census Bureau (2011). Living Arrangement of Children: 2009. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/children/cb11-117.html
Davies, J. (2015). Fatherhood Institute: Supporting fathers to play their part. Community Practitioner, 88(1), 13. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1644266998?accountid=458
Fatherhood Institute (2014). Bringing Fathers In: Resources for advocates, practitioners, and researchers. Retrieved from Fatherhood Institute.org: http://www.fatherhoodinstitute.org/2014/bringing-fathers-in-resources-for-advocates-practittioners-and-researchers/
Lamb ME. Mothers, fathers, families, and circumstances: factors affecting children’s adjustment. Appl Dev Sci. 2012;16(2):98–111
Moore, T. and Kotelchuck, M., (2004). Predictors of urban fathers’ involvement in their child’s heath care.Pediatrics, 113(3), pp.574-580