Parenting by connections

A father showing his children a guinea pig

By Imas Marah and Erika von Kaschke

Becoming a parent is probably one of the most rewarding, but also one of the most daunting life events any human being can experience. All at once you experience a feeling of overwhelming love, but also huge responsibility when you see that newborn in your arms.

Parenting has evolved so much over the last century that the notion of ‘this is how it has always been done’ is no longer the acceptable way to parent. In the past, and in many cultures, fathers have played a very distant, and sometimes more disciplinary role in the family. If one then adds moving to a country with a completely different culture into the mix, the road to being a good parent can be quite challenging.

Multicultural Futures is working collaboratively with Meerilinga who is running the ‘Parenting by Connection’ Program. Participants learn different parenting techniques through the main principles which include respect, connection, listening and leadership. What we have seen is that the program caters mostly to many women from family and domestic violence backgrounds, but there is very little out there to help improve fathers’ role in the family.

Research proves that there is a significant positive impact that can follow when a father has an active role in child’s life, with improvement in peer relationships, reduction in behavioural problems, lower risks of criminality and substance abuse and improved self-esteem. The importance of having an active father figure in child’s life can reduce such risks to child development and wellbeing.

Research also shows that children and young people from a migrant or refugee background have higher chances of experiencing poorer social development and lower engagement in the workforce, higher risks of experiencing homelessness and mental health distress, have lower rates of accessing health services and partake in less sport and recreational activities. When the father (or father figure) does not play an active role in these children’s lives, chances seem to increase for these risks to occur.

See Fathering Project, Richard Fletcher’s  Fathers and Families Research Project, and the Father Inclusive Practice Guide.

We are working towards streamlining the ‘Parenting by Connection’ program to create a safe space for fathers from a migrant and refugee background and to encourage and foster strong connections between fathers and their children. Such spaces can encourage fathers to find support amongst one another and hopefully, even after the program finishes, they could still maintain these support networks. The program intends to put the role of fathers as an essential part of positive child development, whilst strengthening families. Therefore, creating a space for fathers only was deemed essential in order to highlight the importance of their unique role and the positive impact they can have in their children’s lives, whilst providing a space for them to explore fatherhood within a group space.

Creating such spaces for fathers from a migrant or refugee background to connect with their children helps to work towards removing the traditional patriarchal family structures that can be found in such families. It helps improve the relationship and highlights the importance of positive relationships between child and parent, forging safer futures by addressing what happens at home. It could help reduce family violence.

Changing the narrative of the father role to be one that is meaningful and just as significant as a mother role can hopefully encourage migrant and refugee fathers to be aware of their significance as fathers, and also help them better understand the culture their children are growing up in. We hope that the fathers’ shared experiences with other fathers, who may be going through the same thing, can provide reassurance that they are not alone in their journeys as fathers and that there is support available.

A father showing his children a guinea pig