A small study released last week paints a revealing — and, to my mind, touching — picture of the role dads play in keeping their kids healthy.
Taped interviews with 31 men, whose average age was 31 and 41 percent of whom had incomes of $34,999 or less, were conducted to extract information about fathers’ perceptions of their contributions to their children’s health. The group was a mix of married, divorced and never-married men, mostly African American with smaller numbers of Hispanics and whites. The study was published online Oct. 10 in the American Psychological Association’s journal Psychology of Men & Masculinity.
The study’s authors note that although taking care of kids’ health is largely assumed to be more the mom’s domain than the dad’s, other studies have shown that many men engage in activities related to children’s health and well-being. This study, the authors note, is the first to look at that dynamic among a group of urban, low-income men.
The participating fathers reported that they kept an eye on their child’s health, had taken the child to doctor’s appointments and to the ER when needed, and had administered medication. They also tried to promote good hygiene practices such as hand washing. Many reported working in tandem with their child’s mother to get things done; one father said he provided the health insurance and counted on his child’s mother to make health-care appointments. Some said they kept track of their child’s immunizations.
The men further acknowledged their role in modeling and encouraging healthful eating and physical activity. One dad reported: “I do more vegetables, I eat better. I drink more milk now at the dinner table. I don’t drink as much beer now, because, unfortunately, monkey see, monkey do. So if I do things correctly, then he automatically thinks that’s the right thing to do. So I try to be a little bit better now health wise.”
The study turns poignant when it relates some of the men’s admissions of their shortcomings, ranging from feeding their kids soda and cookies even though they know those aren’t healthful foods to delivering incorrect doses of medicines and feeling ill-equipped to handle the challenges of the emergency room.
One father reported: “I know I messed up. I give her soda when she want it, and a child should not be drinking soda. That’s why her teeth rot. And I give her candy when she wants it. So it’s a lot of things that I learned, cause of the experience. So when she wanting cookies and I know she wasn’t supposed to have it, I shouldn’t give it to her.”
Another said, “When I ﬁrst [took my child to the ER] it was scary because I’m used to my wife being there, and she pretty much handled the majority of the things, I’m pretty much there holding my daughter. But now, I got to be the one there doing everything. It’s a little scary, because things that you forget and you don’t know [about her condition] you gotta try to call or ﬁnd out. And maybe . . . she’s good at it and I’m not. . . . I do the best that I can.”
The study concludes that helping men get past those feelings of inefficacy through simple measures such as teaching them to read a medicine label might lead to better health and well-being for kids and dads alike.
Who monitors and manages your kids’ health? Are you content with the way that work is divvied up?