There is a lot of well-deserved attention paid to mothers and kids. Study after study looks at the impact that mothers have on their child from birth to adulthood. Fathers on the other hand – not as much.
That’s a shame because fathers have a huge impact on the emotional, intellectual and social life of a child. Fatherhood is important whether it’s a biological dad, a step-dad, an adoptive dad or a male friend that substitutes in a father’s role.
The role that fathers play in the life of their children is a relatively new area of research, but more and more articles are beginning to surface by scientists, sociologists, psychologists and psychiatrists.
Interestingly, one of the more comprehensive looks at the impact of fathers on children comes from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. In preparation for a manual to help social workers protect children at risk, the agency looked at studies on the importance of fathers in the healthy development of children. Too often caseworkers didn’t work effectively with fathers when they were asked to investigate a family. It became a particular challenge when the father was the abuser in the case. But the authors looked at the positive impact a father can have in the family and noted that how well a caseworker understands the father’s reactions and feelings and how effectively the caseworker can address them will make a major difference when trying to either help an abusing father become a protecting father or engaging a father as an ally in addressing the family dynamics that made the situation unsafe for the child.
It seemed particularly poignant when looking at both sides of the fatherhood coin – abuser or loving father. A dad’s influence is enormous.
A number of studies looked at the impact of an involved father on their child’s education. The results show that:
- Children with involved, caring fathers have better educational outcomes.
- Fathers who are involved, nurturing, and playful with their infants have children with higher IQs, as well as better linguistic and cognitive capacities.
- Toddlers with involved fathers go on to start school with higher levels of academic readiness. They are more patient and can handle the stresses and frustrations associated with schooling more readily than children with less involved fathers.
- An active and nurturing style of fathering is associated with better verbal skills, intellectual functioning, and academic achievement among adolescents.
Other studies looked at the effects of fathers on the psychological wellbeing and social behavior of children. Findings show that the effects are impressive:
- Starting at birth, children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, be confident to explore their surroundings, and, as they grow older, have better social connections with peers.
- Fathers often push achievement while mothers stress nurturing, both of which are important to healthy development. As a result, children who grow up with involved fathers are more comfortable exploring the world around them and more likely to exhibit self-control and pro-social behavior.
- One study of school-aged children found that children with good relationships with their fathers were less likely to experience depression, to exhibit disruptive behavior, or to lie and were more likely to exhibit pro-social behavior. This same study found that boys with involved fathers had fewer school behavior problems and that girls had stronger self-esteem. In addition, numerous studies have found that children who live with their fathers are more likely to have good physical and emotional health, to achieve academically, and to avoid drugs, violence, and delinquent behavior.
- Fathers also have an indirect impact on their children’s lives. One of the most powerful is the relationship they share with the mother in a family. A father who has a good relationship with the mother of their children is more likely to be involved and to spend time with their children and to have children who are psychologically and emotionally healthier. Similarly, a mother who feels affirmed by her children's father and who enjoys the benefits of a happy relationship is more likely to be a better mother. Indeed, the quality of the relationship affects the parenting behavior of both parents. They are more responsive, affectionate, and confident with their infants; more self-controlled in dealing with defiant toddlers; and better confidants for teenagers seeking advice and emotional support.
- Fathers who treat mothers with respect and handle conflict in a thoughtful and patient way are more likely to have boys who are less aggressive towards girls and when they are older, women. Girls who have involved and respectful fathers are more likely to look for those qualities in the boys they choose to date and marry.
Being a parent, whether it’s a mother or father is probably the most important and difficult role you’ll ever have. There is no perfection in parenthood. Every child responds with his or her own interpretation of the meanings behind their parent’s words and actions. Try as you might, you’ll never get it right 100% of the time.
As Father’s Day approaches, the jokes about the presents and cards received start to circulate. Another new tie or tool typically gets a chuckle. But just like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day often makes us stop and reflect on the role our parents have played in our lives particularly when one or both of them are not around anymore.
To all the fathers who will be receiving an extra bit of acknowledgement this June 16th, and to all the dads who are no longer with us – Happy Father’s Day. You are now and will forever be very important.
Source: Jeffrey Rosenberg, Bradford W. Wilcox, https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/usermanuals/fatherhood/chaptertwo.cfm