Sunday, 18 July 2010


A few days ago, I was on the train on the way to Sydney. A well dressed couple with two little boys got on and sat down at the seat ahead of me. The boys were about 2 and 3 1/2 years old. The father sat down on the seat and immediately opened his newspaper. The children sat by the window and asked endless questions all the way. The mother was fully engaged, answering questions, explaining fascinating things like why the water was blue, where did the boats go, what did frogs do when the train came and so on. The conversation indicated that they were on their way to a day at the zoo and the boys were obviously very excited.

The boys were interested, full of life and questions. The mother was calm, attentive and engaged. At one stage, one little fella said he was hungry. The mother said kindly, that he had a chance to eat his breakfast and that he had chosen not to do that. She explained that he would have to wait until he got to the zoo when they would have morning tea to have something to eat. The way the mother handled the situation was very impressive and the young boy did not 'carry on' so clearly knew his boundaries.

I enjoyed watching the mother with the boys and when I got off the train a stop before they were getting off, I commented on the way she interacted with her children and congratulated her. She was very engaging with me and we had a good interaction in those few moments. The father put his paper down slightly and smiled warmly at me as I said goodbye, then looked back at his paper. As I saw the train pull away from the platform, I waved at the little family; he was head down reading and she was pointing, waving and talking with the two excited boys who smiled and waved at me. 

A couple of days later I was talking with a very proud new grand father.  He was telling me how his son helped with the 'crap work'!  This 'crap work' is with the one week old baby.  I asked what the 'crap work' was with great interest. The grand father told me with great pride that his son bottle fed the baby while his partner caught up with sleep. I knew the woman was breastfeeding and must admit that I was shocked and the look on my face must have made my reaction obvious.  I said I was surprised that feeding was considered 'crap work' and was told, in a defensive tone, that "it is when you are sleep deprived". I found that a very difficult conversation because there was no entry point to have a discussion about newborn needs and the importance of finding ways to protect, support and promote optimal breastfeeding.

After these two recent experiences, I find myself wondering about fathering and how and what we midwives can do to encourage optimal engagement of fathers. We know that men who are fully engaged during pregnancy and birth are more engaged as fathers. We also know that men who have skin to skin with their newborn children have oxytocin (the love hormone) surges and decreased testosterone (the war hormone) and are more attentive fathers who are less likely to spank or hurt their babies and children. Those of us who work one on one with childbearing women and their partners have seen that in action. These two experiences indicate to me that we still have a way to go. Finding creative ways to engage fathers and perhaps grand fathers too, more right from the start will help to unravel and rejig those unhelpful myths, negative attitudes and disabling practices that still abound in our society and disrupt men's ability to be the kind of fathers that is their potential.


Anonymous said...

So glad you gave positive feedback to the Mum. we recently had an experience where our children and us were complimented on their behaviour. It was a lovely affirming episode in a bad week.

Carolyn Hastie said...

That's wonderful that you were given positive feedback on your children's behaviour. Shows what a good job you are doing with them. Parents need that 'mirror' from society - as we all do. Glad that affirmation made your week better.

Leanne said...

My darling hubbie, is the most attentive and interactive Dad i know. he has been there always for each of our darlings, especially in the middle of the night. -why? because he handles little sleep better than me.
I was pulled aside recently by a real estate guy, and was complemented on our youngest interaction with him, and that she didn't shy away from a question. I was chuffed.

Carolyn Hastie said...

How fortunate you are Leanne! Even more fortunate are your children to have such an engaged father. Always encouraging to hear stories such as yours. Thanks for sharing your experience.

bree said...

I also have a very attentive and engaged husband and father, it's a definite teamwork situation and often when we're all together, I find he's the one who delights and engages more with the kids often than I do, but perhaps that's a handing over of the rein's thing, as I'm the full time at home one at this stage. I agree, those little things as midwives, encourage mens fathering role. We had a homebirth with our first and it really gave my husband a great deal of confidence and involvement and has paved the way or perhaps that's just who he is. He remembers his own dad being very engaged with him as a kid, which helps. Thanks for reposting Carolyn.

Carolyn Hastie said...

Sounds like engaged fathers are in the family! What a blessing Bree.