Science-based insights from Kinedu’s Chief Executive Dad.
We all know that being an involved parent is good for our children. Nourishing, loving, and engaging interactions are key to giving our kids a strong start. Because I’m in early childhood development, I’ve preached the importance of involvement for 11 years through my work, but I don’t think the concept really “clicked” until I found out I was going to become a dad.
Where I’m from, it’s not normal for dads to be actively involved or take paternity leave. Intuitively, I knew how important it was to be present for my daughters, but I didn’t really see examples of that happening around me. So five years ago before the birth of my twin girls, I did what I normally do when I have a parenting question: I dove into the research. Here are three highlights I want to share with you this Father’s Day that helped me better understand my role as a dad:
Lessons learned from being a dad:
Being an active and present dad matters.
The foundation for your baby’s cognitive, emotional, and physical skills is built during the first 1,000 days of life. These early years are shaped by the interactions children have with the adults in their life. This is true for any caregiver, but countless studies have shown that babies whose fathers interact more with them have higher cognitive scores and better grades in school later in life. The impact on social-emotional skills is even greater: children whose fathers are more involved grow up to be curious, social, and more resilient to stress, frustration, and adversity.
All of the studies I read consistently found the same thing: when a father is actively involved, especially from birth, the child’s future is much brighter. As parents, we always want what’s best for our kids —for them to grow healthy, as well as be happy and emotionally stable— so it’s up to us to instill these qualities, starting at birth.
An active and present father makes a partner’s role so much easier.
Dads need to remember that the more they do at home, the more they allow moms, partners, or other caregivers to focus on work, bond with their child, practice self-care, etc. This is especially true for moms. The birth of a child disproportionately affects women’s mental and physical health. Not surprisingly, having an involved partner at home during the first few weeks after birth has been shown to reduce the incidence of postpartum depression.
That said, making sure dad can stay home requires institutional change. Companies need to offer paternity leave and flexible working schedules. When they do, everyone wins —including the employer. In companies where paternity leave is offered, women return to work faster, the gender pay gap is reduced, and teams are more productive. Companies should promote wellness and balance for the whole family —not just moms. (This may change after COVID19. Now that quarantine measures around the world have shown many companies that remote work is possible, this could be a positive step for men and women.)
It’s not the quantity, but the quality of time spent that matters.
Not every father can spend all day with their children. I normally travel for work, spend most of my time in the office, and have little time at the end of the day for my family. However, research shows that quality time is not about generating special, pre-planned events: it is through regular day-to-day interactions, like chores, and routines such as meal preparation, sharing, and cleanup, where you can make the most of your time together. You just need to be connected, attuned, and interested in your child and their world.
So, however much you can, engage more with your kids. Read books, have a tickle fight, and give your kids a bath. These moments don’t come back. Being a father changed my life forever, and I’ve enjoyed it every step of the way. While I can’t be present all the time, the last few months spent at home have been a blessing in disguise: I’ve seen my wife and kids every day! I don’t know when this will end or what will happen tomorrow, but I know today is a gift that I will not waste. Happy Father’s Day!
- Dad Brain: the science of fatherhood
- Effects of Father Involvement: Updated Research and Summary of Evidence by Allen & Daly
- Harvard’s Center of the Developing Child; a great resource to understand the importance of early childhood development
- Parental Leave is not just about parents — Why it makes a difference in our kid’s health
- Washington Post on Quality time
- Why Mark Zuckerberg’s Paternity Leave is Beneficial for all working dads — and moms
- Working Time Flexibility and Parent ‘Quality Time’ spent with children
Luis Garza is the founder and CEO of Kinedu. He’s been involved in Early Childhood Education since 2009 when he co-founded Advenio, a corporate childcare chain in Latin America. He lives with his wife, Paulina, and three daughters, Paulina, Balbina, and Sofia in Monterrey, Mexico.