Fatherhood isn’t exactly an easy experience to understand. To begin with, why do some fathers have no problem raising children, while others struggle. Some father’s eagerly tackle fatherhood head on and others are simply overwhelmed by the idea of taking care of anyone but themselves.
With this in mind, I ask the question, is fatherhood a natural instinct that all men possess or is it something that one needs to learn?
Does Paternal Instinct Exist?
Back in March of 2009, the Australian institute of Family Studies analyzed some 5,000 Australian parents (both men and women) ages 18 to 55. The government survey included questions about how one learns to be a parent. The results, which were published on that month’s issue of Family Matters, had rather interesting results.
In particular, what’s rather interesting is that the fathers were much more confident than mothers, with some 44 percent of them (aged 25 to 35) agreeing that parenting skills came naturally.
So, what does this mean for the dad to be? Does it mean that parental instinct really does exist?
Maybe. Maybe not.
To better understand whether Fatherhood is learned or instinctive, let’s take a closer look at how a man’s paternal instinct could be affected by a man’s relationship with his father growing up, or the lack thereof.
Growing Up With and Without a Father
One study shows that a father’s effect starts as early as birth. The said study conducted by the Father Involvement Research Alliance showed that babies with more involved fathers were more likely to be emotionally secure, confident in new situations and eager to explore their surroundings.
“Men who experienced a good relationship with their fathers are doing better at coping with stress”, says Melanie Mallers, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at California State University.
In contrast, Amy Guertin, a licensed counselor, wrote that men who grow up without a father figure often have “low self-esteem”, “exhibited negative behavior”, “had difficulty bonding”, and “showed higher stress levels to daily challenges”.
Regardless of circumstance, it is possible to assume that those who grew up with fathers are more likely to be successful than those who did not. Furthermore, it is also highly likely that how a man handles fatherhood is hugely dependent on his relationship with his father growing up.
Does this mean, though, that men who grew up fatherless are less likely to succeed at fatherhood and be bad fathers?
Parenting Is Learned
Frank Furedi, a sociologist and commentator who has authored multiple books, discussed in an article that “parenting can’t be taught, because it is about the forging and managing of an intimate relationship.” Adding that when it came to relationships, we learned from experiences because they have unique characteristics that “are only really grasped by the people involved”.
Furthermore, he also added, “people learn through reflecting on their experience of joy and pain, the exhilaration and the disappointments of their interactions with someone who is significant to their lives.”
Dr. Marilyn Heins, pediatrician and CEO of ParentKidsRight.com, also added that what we once thought of as instinctive was actually learned. That, “we humans learned how to parent by living closely with others whose parenting skills were modeled for us and taught to us.”
While growing up without a father (or a mother) may significantly affect how a man handles fatherhood, it’s not exactly the only major factor. There are, after all, other relationships that a man can be exposed to growing up, many of which he can draw inspiration from on how he would handle being a father himself.
If you’re a dad to be, don’t fret too much about how you’ll do as a parent. Believe in yourself. Believe in making the best out of yourself for your child. Most importantly, believe in your own judgment, intelligence and experiences.