My kids' dad travels a lot for work. For seven years I heartily resisted his heavy travel schedule. Even though I knew that he didn't want to be away from us, I still longed for him to be more involved with the kids and household. But then I noticed the only return I was getting for all my complaining and negotiating was resentment. In January I stopped resisting; by February he'd signed up to attend an executive program at Harvard that is three weeks a year. He was gone for most of May.
The girls and I kept busy. They are older now and not so much work (they are in better happiness habits than they were in January), and so we had a good time doing our "GIRLS ROCK!" cheer and trying not to think about daddy being gone.
But his near-daily presence was missed. Mike is an involved dad when he's in town, home for dinner by 5:30 many nights and 100% on duty in the morning getting the kids off to school.
Mothers tend to get all the credit—and shoulder all the blame—for the happiness and health of their kids, but at least in my family, Fiona and Molly's happiness is heavily influenced by their dad, too. I assumed this was unique to our family, as father involvement varies so much more widely than mother's tends to. But then I wondered: are dads as essential as moms? I took a look at the research, and the short answer is YES, emphatically.
- Research shows that the love and care of fathers is equally important for the health and well-being of children as mother-love. Really.
- Children are WAY better off when their relationship with their father is sensitive, secure, and supportive as well as close, nurturing, and warm.
- One of the biggest problems with divorce is that when a father moves out, the father-child relationship frequently falters. If he stays in the game, his kids will cope far better with the divorce.
In general, kids who have dads that actively participate in their care and that interact with them a lot are more likely to:
1. Be smarter and more successful in school and work.
- Kids with involved dads are better problem-solvers as toddlers, and have higher IQs by age 3. One theory about why this is: fathers tend to talk to their children differently than mothers do, and as a result children to talk in longer sentences and use more diverse vocabulary when talking with their fathers.
- School-aged children with positively involved fathers are more likely to:
- Get As and have higher grade point averages
- Have better math, reading, and language skills
- Enjoy and have positive attitudes towards school
- Have higher levels of educational attainment and success overall
- Have a greater ability to take initiative, use self-direction and control
- Have better problem solving skills.
- Later in life, children of positively involved fathers are more likely to have greater success in their careers, and to earn more money.
2. Be happier. Children with positively involved fathers are more likely to be happier and more satisfied with their lives over-all. They experience less depression, distress, anxiety, and negative emotions like fear and guilt.
3. Have more friends and better relationships. Children whose fathers are positively involved have better social skills; they tend to be more popular and better liked. They have fewer conflicts with their peers. They are also more likely to:
- Grow up to be tolerant and understanding
- Have positive interactions with their siblings
- Have supportive social networks made up of long-term close friendships
- Adjust well to college both personally and socially
- Have long-term, successful marriages, be satisfied with their romanticpartners in midlife, and to have more successful intimate relationships.
4. Have happier, healthier mothers. When fathers are emotionally supportive of their children's mother (whether or not they are married), moms are more likely to enjoy a greater sense of well-being. In addition, supported moms are more likely maintain healthy pregnancy behaviors, an indicator that father support increases the odds that both mother and baby will be physically healthy.
5. And they are LESS likely to get into trouble, or otherwise engage in risky behavior.
- Positive father involvement protects kids from substance abuse in adolescence.
- It is also associated with a lower frequency of acting out, delinquency, disruptive and violent behavior, lying, and stealing.
- Kids with positively involved fathers are less likely to be bullied, and they are less likely to be bullies themselves.
Do fathers really deserve credit for ALL THAT??
Yes, they do. But research results like these don't necessarily show that father involvement causes all those great benefits for kids – we just know that kids who have involved fathers are more likely to have those qualities. Although many studies show the unique benefits of having an involved dad by controlling for other factors, the relationship between father-involvement and positive child-outcomes is complex.
For example, it could be in part about money: maybe having an involved dad also means that family income is higher, and the positive effects come from being able to live in a safer neighborhood and go to better schools. Or maybe having an involved dad means that your mom has to work less, and so some of the positives for kids come from the increased time that their mothers are able to spend with them. Reverse causality may also be at work once kids get older: happy and successful kids could be inspiring their fathers to be more positively involved. There are a lot of studies that take these factors into account in one way or another and, not surprisingly, the results still show that when fathers are positively engaged, their children benefit in a multitude of ways.
So this Father's Day, pat the involved dad in your life on the back—or better yet shower him with scientific evidence of his importance by forwarding him this posting. And if YOU are the engaged dad in the picture, sit back and relish your profound importance. There may be no greater way that you can contribute to the greater good than by being positively engaged in the lives of your kiddos.
This video about the strongest dad in the world makes me WEEP every time I see it. Dick Hoyt—couch potato with a heart condition turned world-class athlete—is evidence of what fathers will do for the health and happiness of their children, and of how children inspire us to be profoundly better people. See this link for the Hoyt story, which is background to the video below.
Next up: What makes a father likely to be "positively engaged"?
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