There are many questions about fatherhood. Some of these questions have not been fully answered by science. Is attachment to father the same as attachment to mother? How does the importance of father change with the age of the child? Is father especially important for at risk children? Can a man be mother?
We don’t have firm answers to all of these questions. Studies do support the idea that attachment to father is not the same as attachment to mother. Children do not necessarily generalize their relationship with their mother to their father. The father-child relationship has to hold its own. Therefore, all of the guidelines I have given regarding holding of infants and shared enjoyable activities with older children apply to father as well as mother.
If father wants to count, he has to work at having a relationship with his child. He cannot rely on mother to do the “family thing” for him. In two parent families where the male partner stays home and cares for the kids and the female partner is in the work force, the female partner is usually still mother. Generally speaking, the woman remains the primary love figure.
That doesn’t mean that in a single parent situation, a man can’t function as mother. Single fathers (like single mothers) should focus on responsiveness. Be sensitive to the feelings and needs of your child, expressed and unexpressed. If the single father is slightly disadvantaged (by biology) when it comes to responsiveness he should also be at an advantage when it comes to training impulse control. A weak single mother in the area of training impulse control may have a worse outcome than a slightly less responsive single father.
The common wisdom is that a child, “Needs his mother.” Keep in mind though that these statistics do not apply to situations where the child’s mother has antisocial personality disorder or active addiction! Dealing with an impaired parent is very stressful for children. This stress may be particularly damaging to an at risk child.
If you are a single father and the only functional parent of an at risk child, you have both a challenge and an opportunity. Your challenge is to keep your relationship with your child your number one priority. The opportunity this situation gives you is the opportunity to grow as a person. You can become a better person than you would have been had you not had to face this challenge!
Single fathers of children who have lost a mother to addiction or antisocial personality disorder have experienced a common pain. The pain is for your child. The pain of knowing your child will never have the mother you wanted him to have. To get beyond the pain make a good life for yourself and your child. Know that you are not the only single father who has had to face this situation.
Your child may remind you of his mother! If you harbor negative feelings toward your child’s mother, your care of your child could be affected. Deal with these feelings by acknowledging them to yourself. Then, give yourself a positive message for example, “He/she may be like her, but he/she also has qualities I like.”