Dr. Natalie Games, Clinical Psychologist at Alliance Counselling, Singapore shares her views and expert opinion on parenting with us. She gives some valuable insights and tips on how to become a good father raising children in the time of a pandemic.
“It’s a fantastic time to be a father historically, anthropologically, and emotionally,” says Dr. Natalie Games kicking off the conversation with us on one of the most sought after topics - ‘How to become an awesome father.’
Covid-19 pandemic has unravelled a new normal on many fronts - from the way the world operates to how we go by our daily lives. Although the term ‘new normal’ is trending across social and economic dialogues, Dr. Games believes it is the ‘new unnormal’. ‘It’s really not normal, but an impetus to further change,’ says Dr. Games when asked to comment on the future of parents working from home with kids citing Professor Robert Kelly’s interview aired on BBC that went viral recently as an example.
Covid-19 Crisis a Chance to Reset
According to Dr. Games, there has been a shift towards gender equality and change in parenthood attitudes since many years. With women participating in education and paid work more than ever before, it has only helped men more to deal with the challenges of fatherhood, she opines. “The forced shift towards work flexibility will further accelerate the change. Mothers and fathers can renegotiate parenting roles and look forward to team parenting where the workload of taking care of children is shared. Covid-19 crisis lends itself to a chance to reset - a chance for fathers to learn to balance work, family and personal life as well as to sit down with their partner to create a plan on parenthood.”
Fathers to Prepare Themselves for the New Unnormal
Fathers waking up early to play their children’s favourite game before stepping into office for work has become a common story in most households recently. Even though they don’t understand the game, they find the time spent together with children critical to parenting. Blocking time to chit-chat, eating dinner as a family or going for a walk or cycling with children are simple gestures that go a long way.
“One of the most important and rewarding roles you have in your life is to be a father,” says Dr. Games. Traditionally fathers were seen as ‘breadwinners’ and their role in raising children was insignificant. Throughout the 20th century, there was a lack of comprehensive research on the influence of fathers on the development and growth of children primarily due to lack of their participation.
Studies in the 1970s designed to explore the impact of fathers on the lives of their children however revealed some interesting findings. Researchers found that an active and engaged father can positively influence moral, social, economic and educational development of children.
“The paternal role is now recognised to be much more complex. When we take into consideration how economic and social expectations have changed women’s roles (over time), the evidence for supporting the contribution of paternal influences to children’s well being is mounting,” Dr. Games observes. With more scope in parenting roles, children now have unique experiences with their mother and father. “We are witnessing a wonderful and passionate engagement of fathers with their children as the restrictive and limiting norms around the roles of mothers and fathers have softened and even more so with the changes that have come with the Covid-19,” - ‘parenting, today, is a team effort’ - she added.
Stay Mentally Healthy
Living in bio-bubbles or in quarantine continuously causes distress and mental health challenges even to the healthiest of individuals during the pandemic. Besides piling work pressure, looking after children and attending to their vulnerabilities may look like a mountain to climb.
The pandemic has given us an opportunity ‘to pause and consider who we are and how we want to be as individuals and parents.’ “Recalibrating our values and relationships makes life feel meaningful - something that is super useful for our wellbeing,” opines Dr. Games.
Dr. Games advises parents to stop worrying and ruminating about things that are out of control and instead focus on how best they can be for their family and children. It is important to realise that fear and anxiety are inevitable when we face any kind of crisis. However, children are very good at picking parents' emotional energy, so “we need to manage our own fear and anxiety,” children look up to their parents to understand if they should fear something”, she added.
“As adults we really do set the emotional tone for our children. Our chaos or calm are contagious, especially to those we spend the most time with. If we’re panicked, chaotic internally, and obsessive about the news, we will dial up our child’s anxiety and they will focus on what they can’t control. If you are informed, calm internally, and share bits of information about what we can control, you will dial down your child’s anxiety. You can say something like ‘It’s great news that the doctors know how this virus gets spread’. That means we know some things we can do to be healthy," Dr Games advises.
For parents having a hard time regulating their fear and anxiety, she recommends walking in nature, exercising, having lunch with friends, seeking expert advice from a counsellor and practising mindfulness.
Parenting Tips for Fathers Working from Home
Dr. Games shares some useful parenting tips for fathers who are especially new to parenting:
- Use Humour - Make it your mission to help your kids laugh, cringe and roll their eyes at your ridiculous antics because it will defuse some of the tension in your house. Helping mum to laugh will also be really beneficial during these years. Do fun stuff with them – whatever is their interest, be it skateboarding, swimming, fishing, dancing etc. Welcome and care for their friends too. Help them do what makes them feel better – it really makes a difference.
- Be Kind and Generous - Offer to pick your children up and their friends and randomly take them for ice creams or hot chips just to cheer them up. Ask if they need your help and do this often without words. Silent hugs or gestures of encouragement and support are really appreciated by our children.
- Support Their Mother - Showing affection and support to their stressed mum during these years will let your children see what a loving, mature relationship looks like – go on dates, have big hugs in front of your kids and make each other laugh.
- Give No Pressure - Do your best not to pressure your children about school because they are already getting tons of that from others. Around exam time, always remember it will be a bit like walking on eggshells and that is okay because you are one of the safe adults in the house. Indeed, spend time building other life skills and even ‘up-skilling’ your kids pre-adolescence – that will help them later in life. They need to know passing exams is a tiny part of living a healthy, worthwhile life.
- Say You Love Them Unconditionally - Even when your daughter gets a radial hair cut or colour, your son spots a Mohawk, brings a lousy report card, or throw a temper tantrum over something minor, reassure them that nothing will ever stop you loving them, even if you don’t like their behaviour at the moment. Show them that you will love them unconditionally no matter what poor choice they make. If you find it hard to say these things, write them notes in their lunch box, on bathroom mirrors or buy them cards that say it for you.
On top of it, she recommends educating yourself with the intricacies of fatherhood by reading up parenthood articles featured in Manhood Project, Fatherly.com, the Fathering Project and the Good Men Project website. She also recommends great books such as Steve Biddulph’s Raising Boys in the 21st Century, The Making of Men by Dr Arne Rubinstein and any of Michael Gurian’s. Besides books, documentaries such as The Australian Man Up series and the Parent TV (Netflix for parents) give useful insights on modern parenting.
“Being a good dad isn’t for the faint-hearted. However, the rewards of learning, growing and making better choices around your kids are so worth it,” she concludes.
Dr. Natalie Games is a Clinical Psychologist who works with clients experiencing a range of difficulties, including mood and emotional difficulties. Natalie is a full member of the Singapore Psychological Society and a registered Clinical Psychologist and Clinical Supervisor with the Singapore Register of Psychologists (SRP) and Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). For professional therapy and counselling support, you may book an appointment with her via Alliance Counselling, Singapore.
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