Fathering a child in the literal sense isn’t so complicated, but being a DAD is a whole other story.
Fathers are critical to a child’s development. It’s easy to forget this amid the cultural acceptance of toxic masculinity as a legitimate concept, but we ought to keep in mind that fathers have an irreplaceable role in the lives of their children.
The Parental Duo
Fathers aren’t merely second adults in the home. From birth, children with involved fathers are more likely to be emotionally secure, have confidence in exploring their surroundings, develop better social connections as they grow older, and experience greater life satisfaction.
This begins with the father-mother relationship. Fathers who have good relationships with the mother of their children are more likely to be involved parents and raise psychologically healthy children. Unsurprisingly, happy and supportive relationships also make for better mothers. A positive father-mother relationship results in more responsive, affectionate, self-controlled, and confident parenting.
The dynamic between fathers and mothers sets the tone for their children’s behaviors.
The dynamic between fathers and mothers also sets the tone for their children’s behaviors. Fathers who treat their children’s mothers with respect and handle relationship conflict in an appropriate manner are more likely to have sons who will likewise treat women with respect and be less likely to engage in aggressive behavior toward women.
These fathers also raise daughters who are less likely to get involved in violent and unhealthy relationships. Girls with involved and respectful fathers develop healthy standards of how they ought to be treated by men. Contrasting this, husbands who hold anger or contempt toward their wives or give them the “silent treatment” are more likely to have anxious, withdrawn, and antisocial children.
While caring and involved fathers can be found outside of marital relationships, they’re more likely to exist within the context of marriage. One reason for this could be the legal obligations and social norms associated with marriage and raising children, which connect fathers to their family unit. This could partially explain why families with married parents create a better environment for child-rearing, compared to unmarried, cohabiting parents.
How Fathers Impact Educational Outcomes
Children who have involved fathers perform better in school. Various studies have shown that fathers who are nurturing and playful with their children raise kids with higher IQs, better linguistic and cognitive capacities, and greater levels of academic readiness at the start of their academic journey. For example, kids who grow up with involved fathers are more likely to earn mostly A grades in school, less likely to repeat a grade, get suspended or expelled from school, and more likely to go to college and find reliable employment following high school.
A Father’s Role in Psychological and Behavioral Outcomes
Fathers also play an important role in the psychological well-being and social behaviors of their children. Kids with involved fathers are less likely to get in trouble at school and around the neighborhood and to be more sociable with other children in early childhood.
Fathers and mothers interact with their children differently. Fathers spend more of the one-on-one time with their infants/preschool-aged children engaging in stimulating, playful activities. These interactions promote emotional and behavioral regulation in kids. For example, “rough-housing with dad” can teach kids how to regulate aggressive impulses and physical contact without losing emotional control.
Rough-housing with dad teaches kids how to regulate aggressive impulses without losing emotional control.
Fathers also emphasize independence, exploring the outside world, and achievement, while mothers are more focused on nurturing. Both of these are critical for the healthy and well-rounded development of children. Thus, kids who grow up with involved fathers (and mothers) are more comfortable with exploration, and more likely to demonstrate self-control and prosocial behaviors. Further, kids who have good relationships with their dads are less likely to experience depression, less likely to lie, and less likely to be disruptive in their behaviors. Additionally, they’re more likely to be physically and emotionally healthy, achieve academically, and avoid drugs, violence, and delinquent behaviors.
The Father-Daughter Relationship
“Daddy issues” is a term thrown around to refer to strained relationships with fathers, including absent or abusive fathers. The term is often trivialized and used in the context of jokes, but the idea it conveys is a serious one. Poor father-child relationships can have poor effects on children, leaving an impact well into adulthood. For example, children with insecure attachment to their fathers (such that they approach the relationship with fear or uncertainty) have lower levels of self-efficacy and higher levels of social anxiety as college students. However, insecure attachment with mothers does not predict these changes in self-efficacy or social anxiety. This suggests that mothers and fathers might have unique contributions to children’s development.
Colloquially, daddy issues are more frequently discussed in the context of father-daughter relationships. We especially hear young women labeled as having “daddy issues” if they find themselves in unhealthy romantic relationships or dating significantly older men. While most research has focused on the effect of fathers in the psychological development of children more broadly, some have specifically explored the role of fathers in raising daughters.
Higher quality fathering decreases daughters’ engagement in risky sexual behavior.
One study found that fathers who expressed interest and participated in their daughters’ life had daughters with greater self-esteem and higher levels of academic achievement. Another study found that higher quality fathering decreased daughters’ engagement in risky sexual behavior, by increasing the amount of parental monitoring they received and decreasing their affiliation with peers who promoted risky sexual behaviors.
Fathers also shape their daughter’s expectations of men in adulthood. Girls who receive lower quality paternal investment develop lower expectations for their male partners and tend to have higher numbers of sexual partners. Additionally, women who experience absent, harsh, or deviant fathering perceive greater sexual interest among men. Dr. Danielle DelPriore suggests this psychological change could “increase a woman’s likelihood of engaging in unrestricted or risky sexual behavior in response to growing up with a disengaged father.”
In recent years, on Father’s Day, many social media users have taken the day to call for the cancelation of the holiday, minimize it, or applaud mothers instead. There’s no doubt that mothers are superheroes worthy of infinite adoration. And in some circumstances, mothers have to take on the role of being both parents (just as some fathers have to do the same). But this doesn’t eliminate the unique contributions of each parent. Just as we need good mothers, we need good fathers to raise good children.
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