A typical Caring Dads group usually runs for 2 hours, one night a week, for 17 weeks. Children and mothers do not attend the group however contact will occur with mothers to ensure their safety and that of the children during the course of the group. Groups are co-led by two facilitators. Men give feedback to each other and share experiences of fathering. They are expected to complete a short homework assignment during the week.
The goals of a Caring Dads group are to improve fathers’ relationship with their child and family, and to help them to better understand children’s development and needs. Some of the topics explored include:
How You Might Be Feeling
Men come to groups with a range of feelings including:
These feelings are normal and will be shared by other men in the group. In Caring Dads groups fathers are encouraged to work together, giving feedback to each other and sharing experiences with the common goal of building healthier relationships with their children and their children’s mother.
Myth: My child doesn’t even know what’s going on when we’re fighting
Reality: Children do know that their parents are in conflict. They may see their father hit their mother, or throw or destroy objects. They may hear their father threaten their mother, or give her the “silent treatment.” Even if they are not in the room, they can hear yelling, screaming, crying and slapping. They witness the after-effects of the abuse, such as a swollen lip, black eye, mum being “sick”, or having belongings destroyed.
Myth: Parental conflict has no real effect on children – they are not involved
Reality: Parental conflict is one of the strongest predictors of childhood problems. Children are even more damaged when parental conflict involves their father’s abuse of their mothers. When this occurs, children may feel terrified for themselves and their mothers, anxious that it will happen again, afraid that they will be taken away, helpless to do anything, and angry at both parents. They may be hurt physically while trying to protect their mother. They may experience learning disruptions, speech and language problems, attention and behaviour problems, and stress-related physical ailments (sleep problems, headaches, rashes, stomach aches). They may be too ashamed or feel too “different” to interact with other children, or may be aggressive or hostile in their interactions with peers since that is what they’ve learned.
Myth: My child may be upset for a little while but s/he’ll get over it soon enough
Reality: Witnessing abuse has long-term effects on children. Children who have witnessed family violence are at greater risk for anxiety, depression, alcohol/drug abuse and juvenile delinquency, bullying and violence in later relationships.
Myth: My children know that they shouldn’t hit. My “infrequent” acts of violence won’t change that
Reality: Children learn by what their parents do, not what they say. Boys who witnessed family violence while growing up are more likely to abuse their female partners than boys who didn’t witness family violence.
Myth: My children know that our fights are not their fault
Reality: Children often feel guilty in response to their parents’ conflicts. They may feel that they caused the abuser to become angry, and thus the conflict is their fault, or that they should have stopped the abuse. They also may feel guilty for loving the abuser, or for siding with the victim.
Myth: You can be a good father and a “bad” husband
Reality: When you hurt your child’s mother, you hurt your child.
Myth: Children today sometimes need a “good whack” to get the message
Reality: When children’s parents hit, slap, pinch, grab or push them, children do tend to comply – but only in the short term. In the longer term, behaviour problems increase. This is because when children experience violence at home, they learn that it is OK to “use your hands” to deal with disagreements, to make someone stop doing something they don’t like, or to make someone do something s/he doesn’t want to do.
Myth: Children today have too much control over their parents
Reality: Although parents sometimes feel like their children are “running the show”, the reality is that parents, not children, are the ones who have the ability and rights to make decisions for the family. When these adults are emotionally or physically abusive to get what they want, children learn that control comes from being bigger, stronger and meaner than others. They also don’t have the support that they need from their parents to learn how to make good decisions for themselves and “be in control” of their own lives.
Reference: Caring Dads website (Toronto)