In an ideal world, families would stay together and children would experience a healthy, balanced, loving relationship with both their parents whilst living in the same home. In reality this isn’t always possible and sometimes it is in everyone’s best interests that parents part. If that happens, as long as there are no concerns around safety, it is really important that both Dad and Mum have a presence in their children’s lives.
In the main, Dad is the ‘non-resident’ parent - in fact in just 10% of cases, children remain with fathers as compared to 90% with mothers. Sometimes the non-resident parent, be it Mum or Dad, may feel that they are less important in their child’s life. This is not the case, both parents can offer something different, but equally significant to their children and a child can develop a more balanced view of the world when he or she is given the opportunity to regularly interact with both parents.
Whilst appreciating that roles can be interchangeable, fathers’ and mothers’ innate parenting styles are different; dads can be more focused on their child’s long term development and the need for future independence, whilst a mother may be more concerned with the here and now and meeting the daily needs of her child. Dads may be more willing to take risks and encourage their children to try new experiences. ‘Rough and tumble’ play is possibly more likely to be instigated by a Dad and this type of play is thought to potentially help children prepare themselves for working life in the Western world.
Sir Richard Bowlby, an expert on Attachment Theory recognises the significance of two people raising their children even if they are doing it in separate homes. He believes that one parent will be the highest ranking ’attachment figure’ for providing a secure base and a place of safety and the other parent will be the highest ranking attachment figure for providing exploration and excitement – different roles but equally significant he says.
There will be varying degrees of overlap between these two attachment roles, but each parent will usually provide mostly one or the other type of attachment relationship – the roles may be influenced by gender but aren’t likely to be gender specific.
Children raised exclusively by a single parent, male or female, may possibly develop a biased perspective of the world. Growing up with just one parent’s input may give children reduced exposure to the other gender’s interests, attitudes and views. In the main men like ‘masculine’ things and women like ‘feminine’ things and allowing children exposure to both widens their development and understanding of the world.
Of course how much involvement and influence the ‘non-resident’ parent has with their child can depend on the degree of support, or indeed hostility, demonstrated by the ‘resident’ parent. If the relationship between separated parents is reasonably co-operative rather than obstructive then a healthy relationship with both parents is far more likely.