A growing number of resources are hitting the shelves talking up the importance of fathers in the lives of their children. Parenting Educator Rob Koch, the founding director of Better Men Australia, provides this brief overview of some of the research to encourage and challenge all dads - whether living under one roof full-time or not.
In his seminars across Victoria and at DIDSS Volunteer Training Forums, Rob is quick to remind separated dads that...
"All is not lost just because you don't live full-time with your children. You never did. No one does! In fact, if you make the most of your contact time you are probably doing a better job than many dads from intact families. Often I hear dads report that the quantity and quality of their time with the kids is better now that the war is over than when they were all living together, taking each other for granted.... The impact you have as a separated father can not only help them recover from the breakdown of the marriage, but also lay a great foundation for their entire lifespan."
Why Dads Matter to Kids
by ROB KOCH
(Adapted from Pit Stop - "the parenting tune-up for fathers who
like seeing their families firing on all cylinders".
Written by Rob Koch. Courtesy of the City of Casey.)
• Universal conclusions are still being drawn as the research on Fatherhood is relatively new.
• Fathers are not more important than mothers, but not less important either.
• Ultimately, children benefit most from positive and healthy parenting from both.
The research suggests that children with an involved and caring Father are more likely to:
- Develop a healthier body and mind
- A Yale study (1987) of premature babies found the more involved Fathers were in the hospital, the more rapid the weight gain and earlier the discharge of the baby. 1
- Various studies have shown that children’s gross motor skills and co-ordination are developed and excel where Fathers played and interacted substantially. 2
- A Melbourne RCH study (2007) found that Fathers appear to have more influence than Mothers in determining whether their children will be overweight or obese.3
- A NZ study (2003) has found that having Father physically and affectionately present in the family is a significant factor in delaying puberty in girls, and sexual activity, and teenage pregnancy. 4
- Have good social skills, self-esteem and relationships
- A study (1975) of Fathers and their babies found that the more Dads participated in bathing, feeding and diapering, the more socially responsive the babies were. Also a year later these babies seemed more resilient in the face of stressful situations.5
- Infants who have time alone with dad show richer social and exploratory behavior than children not exposed to such experiences. 6
- Researchers consistently report that Fathers, rather than Mothers, engage in play more frequently and more physically, contributing to the cognitive, social-emotional, and moral development of children from infancy through early adulthood. 7
- Teenagers who have grown up feeling close to their fathers in adolescence even if separated go on to have more satisfactory marriages. 8
- The Australian Government study (1999) concluded that ‘Fathers have a significant impact on the development of boys and girls; self-esteem, emotional well-being, capacity to love and be loved, and ability to participate positively in society’. 9
- Be less prone mental health problems and have greater resilience
- Dads tend to encourage their babies' curiosity and intervene later than mums which encourages babies to solve physical and intellectual challenges, even past the early signs of frustration. This establishes an early pattern of perseverance and builds resilience.10
- The Oxford Study (1959-2001) found that girls whose fathers are more involved in their upbringing are less likely to have mental health problems later.11
- Good relationships between children and their non-custodial Father can protect them against psychological problems in adolescence. 11
- Another study verified that regardless of the quality of the mother-child relationship, the closer children were to their father, the happier, more satisfied and less distressed they reported being. 12
- Develop academically, do better at school and find a career of their choice
- Substantial & supportive father involvement is connected to a range of positive outcomes for toddlers from better language development to higher IQs.13
- Father involvement at age seven is strongly related to children’s later educational attainment.11
- Firmer fathering, not more money is the best predictor of children's school success. For non-custodial children it has twice the effect of just paying child support.12
- A Harvard study (1993) of fathers and their children spanning four generations, found that fathers’ involvement was predictive of the educational, social, and occupational success of their children in young adulthood.14
- Be less likely to engage in unlawful, anti-social and destructive behaviour
- A variety of studies clearly indicate that good father relations can prevent children, particularly boys, from breaking the law, engaging in harmful behaviour, entering the justice system and re-offending. They are more likely going to contribute positively to society and be productive citizens. 11
It is important to note that while father involvement is a major determinant in how children fair in life, there are other factors, plus many other variables, and of course - your child's free will. There is no guarantee that ideal parenting will produce the desired outcomes, but it certainly increases the likelihood. At the end of it all we should aim to rest in the knowledge that we did our best at least 80% of the time, and not beat ourselves up for the few times we didn't get it right. In fact, our children should be spared an impossible example to live up to!
1 Pruett K. (2002) ‘How Men and Children Affect Each Other's Development’ citing studies of preterm infants, Gaiter (1984) and Yogman (1987) who also found that early involvement from Fathers had a significant effect on reducing vulnerability later in life.
2 Pruett K. (2002) ibid.,’ citing a 1980 study by Pedersen who found the more actively involved a 6-month-old baby had been with his or her father, the higher that baby scored on the Bayley Scales of Infant Development.
3 Murdoch Children’s Research Institute of the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne. Press release ‘Father’s Parenting Style Linked to Childhood Obesity’ (May 7, 2007)
4 Dr Bruce Ellis, University of Canterbury, Christchurch. View article http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/s958787.htm
5 Pruett K. (2002) ibid.,citing a study by Parke and Sawin (1975).
6 Adrienne Burgess (2007) ‘The Costs and Benefits of Active Fatherhood’ A Fathers Direct paper prepared to inform British parliament policy review on children and young people.
7Lamb, M.E. (1997). ‘The Role of the Father in Child Development’ (3rd ed.).
8 Buchanan, Hunt, Bretherton & Bream (2001). ‘Families in Conflict’. Citing the Oxford University Longitudinal Study: (2001) observing 17,000 children who were born in 1958 and who have been followed at ages 7,11, 16, 23 and 33.
9 Graeme Russell (1999) ‘Fitting Fathers into Families: Men and the Fatherhood Role in Contemporary Australia’ Exec. Summary
10 Pruett K. (2002) ibid., citing a series of studies by Biller and Meredith (1974).
11 Buchanan, Hunt, Bretherton & Bream (2001). ‘Families in Conflict’. Citing the Oxford University Longitudinal Study: (2001) observing17,000 children who were born in 1958 and who have been followed at ages 7,11, 16, 23 and 33.
12 Amato, P. R. (1994). ‘Father-child relations, mother-child relations, and offspring psychological well-being in early adulthood’. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 56, 1031-1042
13 Adrienne Burgess ‘The Costs and Benefits of Active Fatherhood’ A Fathers Direct paper prepared to inform British parliament policy review on children and young people, 2007. p30 citing a study by Yogman (1995)
14 Snarey, J. (1993). ‘How Fathers Care for the Next Generation’. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press