Being a parent isn't just about paying out to keep your children fed and clothed, even if sometimes it feels like that's all you do. It is relationships that are the essential underlying part of families. The relationship between a child and their parent or guardian is not just about sharing the good times, as important as that is, but also they help to keep children safe and happy. Healthy bonds between parents and children encourage young people to share their problems and fears.
Bonding with a child doesn't always happen naturally for parents though, despite their best efforts. Sometimes parents struggle for a variety of reasons, like their living situation, the circumstances of the child's birth or health and wellbeing issues. This can happen with new parents and with those who have had children before. It is nothing to be ashamed off and it isn't the mark of a bad parent, however it is important to get help.
While this can affect any parent, our polling has found that men are more likely to report that they have a weaker relationship with their children than the other parent does. Twice as many mums as dads said they have a stronger relationship with their kids than their partner. There are a number of reasons for this, like men still being more likely to be the working parent and less likely to receive time off, but one that I want to focus on is the services available to support new fathers.
In our poll it was clear that many mums and dads agree that services for new and expectant parents do not include enough support specifically for fathers. This is an important gap in provision. Obviously the first priority is supporting expectant mothers with managing the demands of pregnancy and childbirth, but to support families there also need to be services that help prepare fathers. Many men want to share in those precious moments as much as women but sometimes they need space to ask questions and prepare themselves.
The best way to make sure that no parents miss out is to join up antenatal and early years services into one offer for parents. Children's centres are best placed for parents to access such a service as they can provide a "one stop shop" where parents can keep coming as their needs change. It's important within this that there is provision for dads specifically, and this is something Action for Children already does with dads groups at many of our services.
In the words of one father who attends one of our children's centres in the West Midlands: "The group has brought us closer together and helped me to have a loving relationship with my children. If we were at home the kids might be playing in one room or watching TV whilst I am doing some jobs around the house, but here we spend quality time together, there's no distractions, it's a great way to start the weekend".
Of course there are many families which aren't formed of a mother and father living together and which provide children with a safe and loving environment. We welcome all parents and carers to our children's centres.
If you are a parent who is wondering how you can develop or improve the relationship with your young child, don't feel like you have to face this task alone. Children's centres are there to help all parents and their children, and who need anything from a place to meet others, routine advice or more significant help.