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Father & Child Magazine Issue #46

Books And Reading; Football And Fathers; Dealing With Abortion; The Family of Grant Magrath; Truckie Dad; Fatherhood and Christianity; Paternal Animals.


Are You Strong Enough?

Given the traditional blame-and-shame approach of government institutions when it comes to male wrongdoings, the ‘are you strong enough’ campaign is surprisingly empathetic.

In fact it is the first ever government-sponsored campaign that acknowledges, even though only indirectly, that fathers play an active role in caring for babies. On top of that, that seething inner feeling when faced with a crying baby that just won’t stop bawling is rather well captured.

This feeling is not unique to fathers, or course. Mothers also do shake babies out of frustration, but it is the fathers that have started to feature rather strongly in the statistics.

This is not really a surprise. Any Plunket nurse is armed with some knowledge about how to handle excessive crying, especially if you are particularly sensitive to it and they, like midwives, generally make sure that mothers know one or two techniques to deal with it.

As infant health professionals they are well aware of the potential danger of extremely stressed-out parents to babies. But apparently this information has not been reaching fathers.

So I am left wondering whether the money spent on this campaign would not have been better spent in making sure that health and social professionals work with fathers as well as mothers from day one, and all information is equally available and accessible.

After all, a shaken baby is only at the extreme end of actions a stressed parent might take.

When we have to deal with a father that has hurt his baby as a result of stress in our practice it tends to be a young man, often in his late teens or early twenties. As Families Commission (and other)research has shown, this is a particularly isolated group least likely to have sufficient access to information.

Teen dads especially often report being left alone with their baby on Friday or Saturday nights, when the mother of the baby wants to go out, and end up spending the night alone with baby without having had much practice in caring for a baby by themselves during times when baby is more settled.

The failure to include these fathers in the otherwise excellent work that is being done with young mothers is putting babies at risk.

The need to fix this systemic ‘bug’ in the system becomes ever more urgent.

Harald Breiding-Buss

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