"Any man can be a father but it takes someone special to be a Dad." -- Anne Geddes
This Sunday is Father's Day in the U.S., the perfect time to honor every Dad who shows up for his children. It's not an easy thing, being the best father you can be. But you're making a huge difference in your child's life -- now, and every day of your child's future.
Every hug you give, every joke you share, every moment that you listen patiently, every time you take a deep breath and see things from your child's perspective, every time you role model for your child how to handle anger responsibly and show up with integrity, you're shaping your child into a person who will make you proud. We celebrate you!
So if you're a Dad, please accept my deepest gratitude. Whatever else you may accomplish in your life, in my opinion it pales compared to your role as a father.
(If you're a mother raising her child without a father by fate or by choice, please just skip this post. Instead, I urge you to read this one which is specifically for moms raising kids without fathers.)
Now, to honor the contribution of Fathers, let's consider some research findings that may surprise you. Did you know that:
- Children whose fathers are highly involved with them in a positive way do better in school, demonstrate better psychological well-being, are less likely to get into trouble of any kind, and ultimately attain higher levels of education and economic self-sufficiency. One of the most important factors in girls’ academic achievement is their father’s belief in them. (1)
- Kids who feel they have good relationships with their fathers are less likely to use drugs. (3)
- An active and nurturing style of fathering is associated with better verbal skills, intellectual functioning, and academic achievement among adolescents. (5)
- Kids who feel they don’t have their father’s respect are more prone to anxiety. (4)
- When fathers are involved in their children's education, the kids are more likely to get better grades, enjoy school, and participate in extracurricular activities. (6)
- Toddlers with involved fathers 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. (7)
- Kids who have problematic relationships with their mothers grow up to be worse parents -- UNLESS they have good relationships with their dads, in which case they can become very good parents. (And of course anyone who was parented in ways that left them vulnerable can become a great parent if they're willing to do the emotional work). (8)
- Whether a girl has early and/or unprotected sex is greatly influenced by whether her father was loving and supportive to her. Adolescent girls living in homes without their fathers are 3 times more likely to engage in sexual relations by the time they turn 15, and 5 times more likely to become a teen mother. (10)
- Fathers who take a week or more off to spend with their newborn are closer to their child at every stage of the child's life, right up into young adulthood. (11)
- Dads often worry that they don't know how to care for a newborn. But research shows that men have a hormonal response to becoming fathers, including increased oxytocin, estrogen, prolactin and glucocorticoids, which creates a natural protectiveness toward the baby. So Paternal Instinct is as real as Maternal Instinct. (12)
- The more time dads spend holding their new babies, the more their paternal instinct is activated, and the more comfortable they feel comforting and caring for their newborns. This is usually a transformative experience for Dad, a tremendous relief to mom, and a vital relationship for the baby. (13)
- Fathers' parenting-related stress has a harmful effect on their toddler's cognitive and language development, especially with boys. (16)
- Fathers' mental health issues such as depression can cause behavior problems in toddlers, and can have a long-term impact, leading to differences in children's social skills, self-control and cooperation. (17)
- Teenagers watch an average of 21 hours of television per week. They spend only 35 minutes per week talking with their fathers. (14)
- 34% of kids in the USA today live without their fathers. (15) But that doesn't mean you can't be intimately involved with your child's life. Sure, it's harder. But you can do hard things. That's something you want to model for your kids, right?
Pretty impressive list, isn't it? More research is coming out every day substantiating the important role fathers play in their children's lives. But we don't need scientists to tell us that. You can see it in the face of any child looking up at his or her father. Happy Father's Day!
Rosenberg, Jeffrey. & Wilcox, W. Bradford. (2006 ) The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children. Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Children's Bureau.
3. Horn, W., & Sylvester, T. (2002); U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (1996). The relationship between family structure and adolescent substance abuse. Rockville, MD: National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information; Harper, C., & McLanahan, S. S. (1998).
Bronte-Tinkew, Jacinta, Kristin A. Moore, Randolph C. Capps, and Jonathan Zaff. (2006) The influence of father involvement on youth risk behaviors among adolescents: A comparison of native-born and immigrant families. Social Science Research. Volume 35, Issue 1, Pages 1-294 (March 2006)
4. Bögels, Susan & Phares, Vicky. (2007) Fathers' role in the etiology, prevention and treatment of child anxiety. Clinical Psychology Review 28 (2008) 539–558.
Gable, S., Crnic, K., & Belsky, J. (1994). Coparenting within the family system: Influences on children's development. Family Relations, 43(4), 380-386
5. Goldstine, H. S. (1982). Fathers' absence and cognitive development of 12-17 year olds. Psychological Reports, 51, 843-848; Nord, C., & West, J. (2001). Fathers' and mothers' involvement in their children's schools by family type and resident status [On-line]. Available: http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2001032.
7. Campbell, S., & von Stauffenberg, C. (2008). Child characteristics and family processes that predict behavioral readiness for school. In A. Booth & A. C. Crouter (Eds.), Disparities in school readiness: How families contribute to transitions into school (pp. 225–258). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.
8. Dissertation by Dr. Laura Markham based on research done at the Barnard Toddlers Center, Columbia University.
9. Harper, Cynthia C. and Sara S. McLanahan. Father Absence and Youth Incarceration. Journal of Research on Adolescence 14 (September 2004): 369-397.
Bush, Connee, Ronald L. Mullis, and Ann K. Mullis. Differences in Empathy Between Offender and Nonoffender Youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence 29 (August 2000): 467-478.
10. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Center for Health Statistics. National Health Interview Survey. Hyattsville, MD 1988.
Billy, John O. G., Karin L. Brewster and William R. Grady. Contextual Effects on the Sexual Behavior of Adolescent Women. Journal of Marriage and Family 56 (1994): 381-404.
Bruce J. Ellis et al., Does Father Absence Place Daughters at Special Risk for Early Sexual Activity and Teenage Pregnancy? Child Development 74: 801-821,
12. Study by Elizabeth Gould at Princeton, and Study by Ruth Feldman at Bar Ilan University: http://www.livescience.com/10784-dads-hormone-boost-caring-baby.html
16. Tamesha Harewood, Claire D. Vallotton, Holly Brophy-Herb. More than Just the Breadwinner: The Effects of Fathers' Parenting Stress on Children's Language and Cognitive Development. Infant and Child Development, 2016; DOI: 10.1002/icd.1984
17. Claire Vallotton, Tamesha Harewood, Laura Froyen, Holly Brophy-Herb, Catherine Ayoub. Child behavior problems: Mothers’ and fathers’ mental health matters today and tomorrow. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 2016; 37: 81 DOI: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2016.02.006