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The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children
|Author(s): Office on Child Abuse and
Neglect, U.S. Children's Bureau Rosenberg, Jeffrey., Wilcox, W.
|Year Published: 2006|
2. Fathers and Their Impact on Children's Well-Being
A noted sociologist, Dr. David Popenoe, is one of the pioneers of the relatively young field of research into fathers and fatherhood. "Fathers are far more than just 'second adults' in the home," he says. "Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring."6 Fathers have a direct impact on the well-being of their children. It is important for professionals working with fathers—especially in the difficult, emotionally charged arena in which child protective services (CPS) caseworkers operate—to have a working understanding of the literature that addresses this impact. Such knowledge will help make the case for why the most effective CPS case plans will involve fathers.
This chapter lays out the connection between fathers and child outcomes, including cognitive ability, educational achievement, psychological well-being, and social behavior. The chapter also underscores the impact of the father and mother's relationship on the well-being of their children. While serving as an introduction to the issues, this chapter is not intended as an exhaustive review of the literature. For the reader wishing to learn more, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (http://fatherhood.hhs.gov/index.shtml), the National Fatherhood Initiative (http://www.fatherhood.org/), and the National Center for Fathering (http://www.fathers.com/) are valuable resources.
2.1 The Impact of the Mother-Father Relationship on Child Outcomes
One of the most important influences a father can have on his child is indirect—fathers influence their children in large part through the quality of their relationship with the mother of their children. 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.7
One of the most important benefits of a positive relationship between mother and father, and a benefit directly related to the objectives of the CPS caseworker, is the behavior it models for children. Fathers who treat the mothers of their children with respect and deal with conflict within the relationship in an adult and appropriate manner are more likely to have boys who understand how they are to treat women and who are less likely to act in an aggressive fashion toward females. Girls with involved, respectful fathers see how they should expect men to treat them and are less likely to become involved in violent or unhealthy relationships. In contrast, research has shown that husbands who display anger, show contempt for, or who stonewall their wives (i.e., "the silent treatment") are more likely to have children who are anxious, withdrawn, or antisocial. 8
2.2 The Impact of Fathers on Cognitive Ability and Educational Achievement
Children with involved, caring fathers have better educational outcomes. A number of studies suggest that fathers who are involved, nurturing, and playful with their infants have children with higher IQs, as well as better linguistic and cognitive capacities.9 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.10
The influence of a father's involvement on academic achievement extends into adolescence and young adulthood. Numerous studies find that an active and nurturing style of fathering is associated with better verbal skills, intellectual functioning, and academic achievement among adolescents.11 For instance, a 2001 U.S. Department of Education study found that highly involved biological fathers had children who were 43 percent more likely than other children to earn mostly As and 33 percent less likely than other children to repeat a grade.12
|The Link Between Marriage and Fatherhood|
Caring, involved fathers exist outside of marriage. They are more likely, however, to be found in the context of marriage. There are numerous reasons for this, not the least of which being the legal and social norms associated with marriage that connect a father to the family unit. That may also explain, in part, why research consistently shows that the married mother-and-father family is a better environment for raising children than the cohabitating (living together) mother-and-father family.14
It is interesting to note that, contrary to stereotypes about low-income, unmarried parents, a significant majority—more than 8 in 10—of urban, low-income fathers and mothers are in a romantic relationship when their children are born.15 Most of these couples expect that they will get married. One study found that more than 80 percent expected they would get married or live together. However, only 11 percent of these couples had actually married a year later.16 Why they do not marry is an interesting question open to conjecture. However, as Dr. Wade Horn, Assistant Secretary for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has pointed out, it may be because these couples receive very little encouragement to marry from the health and social services professionals with whom they come in contact.17
2.3 The Impact of Fathers on Psychological Well-Being and Social Behavior
Even from 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. These children also are less likely to get in trouble at home, school, or in the neighborhood.13 Infants who receive high levels of affection from their fathers (e.g., babies whose fathers respond quickly to their cries and who play together) are more securely attached; that is, they can explore their environment comfortably when a parent is nearby and can readily accept comfort from their parent after a brief separation. A number of studies suggest they also are more sociable and popular with other children throughout early childhood.18
The way fathers play with their children also has an important impact on a child's emotional and social development. Fathers spend a much higher percentage of their one-on-one interaction with infants and preschoolers in stimulating, playful activity than do mothers. From these interactions, children learn how to regulate their feelings and behavior. Rough-housing with dad, for example, can teach children how to deal with aggressive impulses and physical contact without losing control of their emotions.19 Generally speaking, fathers also tend to promote independence and an orientation to the outside world. 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.20
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.21 This same study found that boys with involved fathers had fewer school behavior problems and that girls had stronger self-esteem.22 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.23
In short, fathers have a powerful and positive impact upon the development and health of children. A caseworker who understands the important contributions fathers make to their children's development and how to effectively involve fathers in the case planning process will find additional and valuable allies in the mission to create a permanent and safe environment for children.
|Dispelling the Stereotype of Low-income Fathers|
It is very important for anybody working with fathers, especially CPS caseworkers, to dispel one common stereotype: the image of low-income urban fathers as disengaged and uninvolved with their children. As Dr. Michael Lamb has stated, "Our research really bashes the stereotype of the low-income father. These fathers care about their kids, but may not show their love in conventional ways and sometimes a lack of a job, poor communication with the mom, or even their own childhood experiences can prevent them from getting involved."24 Too often, professionals may assume that a low-income, urban dad who does not live with his children is uninvolved with, even unconcerned about, his children. This can push a father away from his family, the exact opposite of what a CPS caseworker wants to see happen.
6 Popenoe, D. (1996).
Life without father: Compelling new evidence that fatherhood and marriage
are indispensable for the good of children and society (p. 163). New York,
NY: The Free Press; Stanton, G. T. (2003). How fathers, as male parents,
matter for healthy child development [On-line]. Available: http://www.citizenlink.org/FOSI/marriage/A000002226.cfm
7 Lamb, M. E. (2002). Infant-father attachments and their impact on child development. In C. S. Tamis-LeMonda & N. Cabrera (Eds.), Handbook of father involvement: Multidisciplinary perspectives (pp. 93-118). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum; Cummings, E. M., & O'Reilly, A. W. (1997). Fathers and family context: Effects of marital quality on child adjustment. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of fathers in child development (3rd ed., pp. 49-65, 318-325). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons; Lamb, M. E. (1997). Fathers and child development: An introductory overview and guide. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of fathers in child development (3rd ed., pp. 1-18, 309-313). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons. back
8 Gable, S., Crnic, K., & Belsky, J. (1994). Coparenting within the family system: Influences on children's development. Family Relations, 43(4), 380-386. back
9 Pruett, K. (2000). Father-need. New York, NY: Broadway Books; Sternberg, K. J. (1997). back
10 Pruett, K. (2000). back
11 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. back
12 Nord, C., & West, J. (2001). back
13 Yeung, W. J., Duncan, G. J., & Hill, M. S. (2000). Putting fathers back in the picture: Parental activities and children's adult outcomes. In H. E. Peters, G. W. Peterson, S. K. Steinmetz, & R. D. Day (Eds.), Fatherhood: Research, interventions and policies (pp. 97-113). New York, NY: Hayworth Press; Harris, K. M., & Marmer, J. K. (1996). Poverty, paternal involvement, and adolescent well-being. Journal of Family Issues, 17(5), 614-640; Pleck, J. H. (1997). Paternal involvement: Levels, sources, and consequences. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of fathers in child development (3rd ed., pp. 66-103). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons. back
14 Palkovitz, R. (2002). Involved fathering and child development: Advancing our understanding of good fathering. In C. S. Tamis-LeMonda & N. Cabrera (Eds), Handbook of father involvement: Multidisciplinary perspectives (pp. 119-140). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum; Wilcox, W. B. (2004) Soft patriarchs, new men: How Christianity shapes husbands and fathers. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press; Hofferth, S., & Anderson, K. (2003). Are all dads equal? Biology versus marriage as a basis for paternal investment. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65(1), 213-232; Clarke, L., Cooksey, E. C., & Verropoulou, G. (1998). Fathers and absent fathers: Sociodemographic similarities in Britain and the United States. Demography, 35(2), 217-228. back
15 McLanahan, S., Garfinkel, I., Reichman, N., Teitler, J., Carlson, M., & Norland Audigier, C. (2003, March). The fragile families and child well-being study. Baseline national report. Princeton, NJ: Center for Research on Child Wellbeing. back
16 Gibson, G., Edin, K., & McLanahan, S. (2003, June). High hopes but even higher expectations: The retreat from marriage among low-income couples. Princeton, NJ: Center for Research on Child Wellbeing. back
17 Horn, W. (2003). Closing the marriage gap [On-line]. Available: http://www.crisismagazine.com/june2003/horn.htm. back
18 Pruett, K. (2000); Lamb, M. E. (2002). back
19 Parke, R.D. (1996); Lamb (2002). back
20 Parke, R.D. (1996). back
21 Mosley, J., & Thompson, E. (1995). Fathering behavior and child outcomes: The role of race and poverty. In W. Marsiglio (Ed.), Fatherhood: Contemporary theory, research, and social policy (pp. 148-165). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. back
22 Mosley, J., & Thompson, E. (1995). back
23 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). Father absence and youth incarceration. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, San Francisco, CA; Brenner, E. (1999). Fathers in prison: A review of the data. Philadelphia, PA: National Center on Fathers and Families. back
24 Marsiglio, W., Day, R. D., Braver, S., Evans, J. V., Lamb, M. E., & Peters, E. (1998). Social fatherhood and paternal involvement: Conceptual, data, and policymaking issues [On-line]. Available: http://fatherhood.hhs.gov/CFSForum/c4.htm. back
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