WE all know that most Jamaican households are female-headed — the mothers play both the breadwinner and the caregiver roles. But where are the fathers, and what roles do they play? Although the father may not live with the family, hardly visits or does not provide financial support, chances are he is out on the road boasting about how many children he has.
We have to admit that there are quite a number of fathers who do not live with their children but are still very good caregivers who love and support their children. Not all non-resident fathers are 'deadbeat dads'.
People often say that the most important thing in raising children is to give them lots of love, something that all parents can do, regardless of whether they are a mother or a father, and regardless of whether they live with their children or not.
There are many reasons why a father may not live with the mother and his child or children. Sometimes it is for the best. Social scientists often emphasise the role of fathers in the family system, and how their actions affect the entire environment and context in which a child grows.
Social psychologist Dr Herbert Gayle has long since explained that “manhood” and “fatherhood” in Jamaican society is determined by how well a man can provide financially for his family. However, Dr Gayle's study (2002) revealed that, in many cases, males enter the workforce prematurely and are thus “robbed of the chance to reach their full potential”. Therefore, many men will never be able to provide for their families as they would like to (a father is responsible, provides for his family, cares for his children, sets good examples, gives guidance and emotional support to his family, and nurtures and raises his children).
If a father is unable to sufficiently provide for his family, he may become detached physically and emotionally. Sometimes, especially in the case of divorce, it is the woman who pushes the father out of the children's lives. Some mothers believe that the presence of the father causes more harm than good, as women fear that their sons may turn out to be worthless “just like yuh fadda”.
One of the most important ways a father influences that environment in which the children grow is in his interaction with his children's mother. This is because the relationships which children observe and experience at an early age influence their own relationships later in life. If a mother constantly curses the father for not being good enough, the child might grow to resent his or her father, or a young girl may grow to resent men on a whole.
Statistics show that children tend to do better when they have a good relationship with both of their parents. However, if the parents are not able or willing to live together, that is no excuse for a father's absence in his children's lives, and women need to understand this. There are many ways that non-resident fathers can bring unique strengths to their relationships with their children.
Non-resident fathers can still make a difference for their children by:
•Providing adequate financial support — studies show that children whose fathers pay child support do better in school and have fewer behavioural problems.
• Keeping in regular contact — children who feel close to their non-resident fathers tend to do better socially and in school.
•Using time with children wisely by helping with homework, setting and enforcing rules, and supervising their children. Children can benefit a great deal from this kind of relationship with their fathers.
•Setting good examples — although being a non-resident father can affect a child's relationship with their significant other in the future, there are many other lessons in life that fathers can prepare their children for by setting a good example.
The National Family Planning Board encourages all fathers, whether resident or non-resident, to take this role seriously and lead by example. Be responsible and nurturing, provide for your family, care for the children, and give guidance and emotional support.
Renée Gauntlett is the communications and public relations officer at the National Family Planning Board.