We interviewed 3,400 Jamaican fathers for the JA Kids 2011 Birth Cohort Study, and we listened to them. We asked them about how they felt about their children; and we asked them about how they felt about raising children and about what it was like being a father.
We were impressed with the support of Jamaican fathers. Sure, there are some fathers who are not doing their work. But there are a lot of fathers who are, and it was great to hear from them and from their partners – the women – about how much they were engaged with their children.
We want to continue to encourage and to engage fathers because we know how important fathers are in the lives of their children, and in their children’s development.
Fathers actively involved before and after birth
It’s important too that we look at the positive image of fathers. We saw many of these in this study. We heard about fathers – large numbers of fathers – who listened to their babies’ heartbeat, who supported their babies’ mothers emotionally, who did domestic work because they were concerned that the mother might have too much work to do.
We listened not only to the fathers reporting on this, but we listened to the mothers saying how much the fathers did to support them in their pregnancy and to support them in the first few years of the babies’ lives. It’s important that we get the message out that fathers are doing lots of great things, so that we can support the ones who are engaging with their children and we can encourage the ones who for some reason are not as active as they should be.
Fathers told us in this study that they felt more comfortable managing a child who was a little older and interacting with a child who was a little older. This probably occurs because we haven’t engaged fathers enough about how to interact with their small children; and this is a teaching point for us, that we need to be going out of our way to ensure that fathers understand the importance of that interaction when children are very young.
Greater support needed to educate fathers
Some fathers said they didn’t understand how to interact with young children very well; it’s up to the rest of us to ensure they understand it; for us to improve the parenting support that we offer to fathers to ensure that they’re comfortable engaging with the little ones.
Sometimes as mothers we are a little nervous about the way fathers engage – fathers tend to be a little more physical and sometimes as moms we get anxious even though the fathers feel very comfortable with what they are doing! So let’s encourage our fathers and continue to support them in their interaction with their children.
Professor Maureen Samms-Vaughan led the Jamaican Birth Cohort Study 2011, a groundbreaking national study of Jamaican children and their families. It follows the progress of 9,700 children across Jamaica. JA Kids aims to improve the health and development of Jamaican children by getting information on children’s families, schools, communities and environment, and identifying those factors that help and hinder growth and development.