Opinion

Culture and Education

Benefits of Child Rearing by Fathers on Children

Yasushi Oyabu
Professor at Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

How Far Do Society and Culture Affect Child Rearing?

People’s views on child rearing are easily affected by the society at large as well as the time or period the society is currently in. There are however, aspects that are both easily and rarely influenced by culture of child rearing.

One known aspect that is not easily influenced by the culture of child rearing is the way parents talk to their baby. Even if they know that babies do not understand what they are saying, parents in every country talk to their baby in unique ways such as talking with a slow tempo, high-pitched gentle voice or rising intonation. This distinctive baby talk is called "motherese," and its characteristics were probably found in parents from past generations too. Parents intuitively know the kind of baby talks babies prefer and this is an example of child-rearing behavior that is not easily affected by culture. In fact, it has been pointed out that a biologically programmed system may well be involved.

On the other hand, parents evaluate the significance of child care based on children’s mental world, visions of how the family should be, and the understanding and values that people around them have of jobs in society. These factors often bring major differences in the way parents rear their children. Differences in culture of child rearing result in the different ways parents would adopt when raising child. For instance, they could affect how parents would evaluate children’s self-assertion or the attitude parents would adopt towards corporal punishment of children.

In Fact, Child Rearing by Fathers Is Highly Flexible

Which type, then, does child rearing by human fathers belong to? Recently, in morning commuter trains, I sometimes see male parents, who hold their baby in their arms using straps, on their way to a day care center. I have not witnessed such a sight before, nor have I had experience doing that myself. However, when I see male parents taking an active role in raising their children, I feel like voicing out my support for them. Moreover, whenever I attend the graduation ceremony of a kindergarten, it is not unusual to see children praising the cooking of their fathers in the compositions they write to express their gratitude to their parents. I am sure this phenomenon is influenced by the present society.

In the case of animals, it is common for father birds to nurture their fledglings. For example, male birds frequently bring food to their fledglings and male emperor penguins in the Antarctica take charge in incubating eggs during the dark, cold winter. In other mammals, however, child-rearing by male parents is extremely rare. It is believed to be the case even among chimpanzees and bonobos, which are biologically closest to human beings. It appears that male chimpanzees and bonobos do not even realize who their own offspring are. Therefore, child-rearing behavior by male parents is unusual and not arbitrary among primates as compared to that of female parents. On the other hand, child-rearing behavior of fathers among varies greatly from one culture to another, and this indicates how flexible child-rearing behavior is among human.

Positive Effects Fathers Can Have on Their Children

In recent years, as participation in child rearing become increasingly common among males in human beings, the study of child rearing among male parents in the field of psychology are advancing in Europe and North America. Research studies have made it clear that male parents contribute to the child development in unique ways. While female parent is the main nurturer and play an important role in social development in children, male parent plays an assistance role in developing independency and cultivating competitiveness and adventurous spirts in children.

There are also studies indicating that the participation in child care of male parents is related to the improvement of children’s academic performance and ability to regulate their emotions when dealing with others, a decrease in problematic behavior during their childhood and their occupational success. Furthermore, in the case of low-income families, the male parent’s active involvement in child rearing is likely to prevent developmental delay in children.

Growing Necessity of Fathers’ Participation in Child Rearing

However, the eminence of women in child rearing cannot be denied. Even in America, where male parents have a stronger tendency to take care of their children, they spend much lesser time than female parents. A close look at parents’ child-rearing behavior in pre-industrial traditional societies with a social custom that emphasizes on the equality between men and women also indicates the same pattern of child-rearing as the one found in today’s Western societies, in which female parent dominates child care. In the hunting-gathering society of the Aka in the Central African Republic, it is known that male parents spend the most amount of time looking after their children compared to the rest of the world. Nonetheless, the total average amount of time spent by Aka male parents on holding their baby in their arms was 57 minutes per day while it was 490 minutes for the female counterpart.

Among species which live in family groups, it is known that child rearing is characterized by allomothering or alloparental care; i.e. the care of children by individuals other than female parents. Human being is a typical example of such species. In that sense, it could be said that child rearing by male parents is a biologically programmed behavior. But at the same time, it is also a behavior that is greatly affected by society and culture. In contemporary society where women seek and are expected to take part in society, male parents’participation in child care is becoming inevitable. In addition, recent studies have shown that male parents’ participation in child rearing has positive effects on the child development

Yasushi Oyabu
Professor at Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Born in 1951
1979: Left Waseda University Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences after he completed the doctorate course
1992: Assistant professor at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Waseda University
1995: Professor at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Waseda University
Currently he is senior dean of the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the School of Culture, Media and Society, Waseda University. He is also professor at the University and a doctor of literature.

Field of expertise: Developmental psychology and infant psychology
Major writings:
Psychology of Newborn Infants, Kawashima Shoten, 1992
Joint Attention, Kawashima Shoten, 2004
Developmental Psychology of Babies, Nippon Hyoron sha, 2013
Infants' Sense of People, Shin-Yo-Sha, 2014(translation)